A Novel Idea: Terrible and terrific tropes

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With so many books out there, you don’t want to waste your time on something you feel you’ve read before.  Photo by    Thought Catalog    on    Unsplash

With so many books out there, you don’t want to waste your time on something you feel you’ve read before. Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

The use of literary tropes by authors, from romantic to worldbuilding, need to strike a very delicate balance. If a writer depends too much on a particular device or has too many in their work without unique thought, their writing becomes trite and frankly, not worth reading. With so many books out there, you don’t want to waste your time on something you feel you’ve read before. However, a proficient writer can use tropes to their advantage if they can skillfully interweave tropes into their stories to be familiar enough to readers. I for one can’t deny that there are some tropes I tend to gravitate toward when I see them used in books. In short: Some tropes, I’m wholly over unless an author manages to explore it in an insightful way. Others, I would gladly read the same book over and over for their clever incorporation. 

Terrible: (Not So) Special Star 

This category combines a host of tropes that are universal across all genres, from the “outsider” in contemporary fiction to “the chosen one” in fantasy novels. Like I mentioned, some tropes aren’t the most creative to include, but I’m still a sucker for them. Saying your main character is “special” but not showing how is just lazy writing. And placing them among even cooler supporting characters? That’s just cruel. This may be the result of less-than-stellar writing in general — examples that come to mind are white bread Thomas from “The Maze Runner” and complainer Clary from “The Mortal Instruments,” which, as you can tell, are not necessarily my favorite books. Neither have redeeming qualities that would realistically aid them in being a leading force in their large-scale missions of survival. Why would they ever be chosen?  

In the same vein, saying your main character “isn’t like everybody else” and leading the reader to believe that listening to some niche alternative band, having a token hobby like collecting every edition of “The Stranger” and dying their hair makes them special is not how to develop your character. 

Terrific: Enemies to Lovers 

I love the friends-to-lover trope as much as the next person, but the character and relationship developments necessary to successfully pull off an “enemies to lovers” romance often fleshes out both components very well. However, this trope can quickly go south — sometimes, writers or readers misread these abusive relationships or actions as excusable for an adversarial relationship. Writers that do not address abusive treatment, whether before or within a relationship, are setting a dangerous example for readers. 

But with a well-written romance? The tension adds to the conflict of the plot, and it’s certainly fun to read. Usually, when characters hate one another because of an overarching conflict, and not necessarily their personalities, writers can more realistically make their relationship work. However, situations of misunderstanding (can you say “Pride and Prejudice?”) work just as handily. It is one of the most satisfying scenes to read when a characters’ romance actually works out, like in “The Winner’s Curse.” 

Terrible: Token Diversity, Lack of/Inaccurate Representation 

If there’s only one person of color or woman in a story, it is not realistic. Same goes for other underrepresented identities, such as disabled characters or those of the LGBTQ+ community. And in most of those situations, the “diverse” character suffers from harmful stereotypes. Authors should stop including diverse characters for the sake of a token character, and they should stop writing their so-called characters inaccurately. If you want a realistic story, the characters should reflect an equally diverse reading audience. (I’m looking at you, J.K Rowling, and your mishandling of Cho Chang, as well as with Dumbledore’s sexuality.) 

Terrific: Redeemed Antagonist 

The first character that comes to mind is Zuko from “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” which I know is not a novel. However, his redemption arc is done so well that he has set up a standard for the “unpredictable” turnaround of the expected bad guy in a story. Whether the redeemed antagonist joins up with the protagonist’s group or simply reneges on their evil scheme, their development makes them a much more complex character that I enjoy rooting for. 

Honorable mentions:  

Terrible: Capitalizing Words for Worldbuilding, a “Big Bad” Antagonist, War to End all Wars 

Terrific: Morally Gray Characters, Fake Relationships, Happily-Ever-After Epilogues 


Hollie Lao is a staff writer and the social media manager for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at hollianne.lao@uconn.edu.

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