Saturday, 6 September 2014

Tired Tropes in fiction

There's an interesting thread on Kboards on the topic of over-used storylines, and here's a selection of my favourites:

1. The thriller hero with a mysterious past who used to do nasty things for the government, but now he lives near a body of water with no visible means of support. All he wants to do is live in peace, but the government/damsel in distress/national emergency that he just happens to be in the middle of keeps pulling him back in. 

He hesitates at first, but once he starts killing again, the old skills resurface because everyone knows that once you learn gymkata (or whatever mysterious martial art he practices) your skills never rust from disuse. Even though he hasn't done dirty work in years, all his old contacts are still in the same locations under the same names, as though they were waiting for him to return just so they can sell (or give) him weapons or vehicles, and that one piece of information he needs to put the big picture together. 

And no matter how many dead bodies he leaves in his wake, he's never branded a serial killer and the woman (there's always a woman) can't help but fall in love with him, but they don't stay together for long (the speech is given or implied, "You don't wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel").

2. The love triangle. The one that involves the heroine, her childhood best friend who has secretly loved her for years, and the hunky, mysterious bad boy she finds irresistible. (Lexi: I've written this one myself...)

3. The liberal arts serial killers.  You know, the ones who kill for the beauty...and the art.

4. Stories with a woman on the run from serial killers who, through some miracle of focus or oestrogen, find time to fall in love while everyone around her dies. (Lexi: worse to my mind is the mother whose child has been abducted, who embarks on an affair while the search is going on. Yes, that's so what you'd do when out of your mind with dread.)

5. Teenage girl discovers she has some mental power and that there is a dark family secret. 

6. The billionaire who falls inexplicably for an ordinary fairly dull and talentless heroine, is obsessed with possessing her, is hopeless at communicating with her despite his genius at everything else, showers her with gifts and wows her with everything about his lifestyle, but then one little misunderstanding makes her run screaming and pouting and sulking to some inane friend or other before she realizes he and his bank account were destined to be hers forever more.

7. The ubiquitous Big Misunderstanding in romantic fiction.  The hero and heroine don't speak, avoid each other etc., for chapters at a time.  And yet if they'd only be in the same room for five minutes it would have all been cleared right up. 

8. I have a particular aversion to characters who are too stupid to live. 
  • "No, we can't call the police to report a crime. Well, no we have no good reason for this stance, but we're still not going to call." 
  • "I know a serial killer is stalking me, but I'm still going to go for a pointless walk all by myself. What could go wrong?"
  • "I'm going to go to the empty house after midnight on my own to meet the writer of this anonymous note, because that's what he specified and he says he has information for me."
Any you'd like to add?


  1. I love "liberal arts serial killers." Just what we expect out of our liberal arts majors.

    I have to confess I've written - or am trying to write #5 - teenage girl discovering mental powers & dark family secret.

    #6 - is this a degrading of Pride & Prejudice? The point being that, while Elizabeth has no particular beauty or musical talent, she does have many other qualities that we understand how Darcy would admire her. But, maybe I've just got P & P on the brain right now.

  2. Good luck with your #5 - these themes are popular for a reason, and readers always want more.

    Re #6 - definitely not Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennett, dull and pouting? Darcy showering her with gifts? I think not.

  3. You forgot the exquisitely beautiful heroine who knows she's just so ugly. Coupled with the brilliant uber rich naturally fit hero who should be in movies, he's so gorgeous.
    Jayne Anne Krentz broke the mold with her one was especially gorgeous, except to each other, most of them were self made and the former spies/agents were getting by just fine in their retirement jobs.

  4. Some plots can be put in boxes like this while others push boundaries. But in the hands of a great writer the basic plot ideas are like putty in the hands of an artist. It can be moulded around the characters and evolve with the complexity of a living organism, to create something fascinating and unique.

    I refuse to put my favourite authors in boxes! LOL

  5. Yes, Monica. "My eyes are way too big for my face, and my mouth too wide. If only my nose was bigger and not tip-tilted, and my hair wasn't so thick and unruly, tumbling untamed down my back, tendrils everywhere. Why must I be so plain?"

    Q, I have to question your knowledge of art. And your command of metaphor. Artists modelling in putty? Putty is what you attach glass to window frames with. It's never going to evolve with the complexity of a living organism. It's putty, for goodness' sake :o)

  6. Lexi, I admit to limited knowledge of art but I fear that your knowledge of modern materials is also somewhat limited! I believe that sculptors now use epoxy putty among many other materials ... have a look at 'Ten commandments of epoxy putty'

  7. Hmm...interesting site, but averse as I am to pigeon-holing things, I'd classify the members as hobbyists rather than artists. What they make seems to be derivative D & D miniatures, with a bit of LotR thrown in - and why not, if that's what they feel passionate about? Nicely made, some of the pieces.

    My area of expertise is wax modelling for lost wax casting, coming under craft rather than art, which is just as well given my scepticism about the art market. I believe some modellers use other materials, including epoxy putty, but not so much in the jewellery trade.

  8. Some cliches can work but the ones that annoy me are the ones where things happen simply to advance the plot. "Yes, I know the police would never behave like that, but if they didn't then the heroine wouldn't need rescuing."

    Oh, and heroines that need rescuing. I don't like them either!

  9. That rules out quite a few fairy story heroines, FH...Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel...

    (Google's spellchecker has just asked me if I meant to write 'shrapnel'.)

  10. #8's most awful form is police procedurals where the police proceed like perfect ninnies: e.g., part of a body is found in a walled private compound and the police don't question all the residents; then they stake out the prime suspect's residence, sitting out front in a car while he sneaks out the back; then they belatedly discover a large room in a basement at the murder scene. "Oh, how did I miss that/!" asks Officer Doofus. Because the author wanted you to.

  11. Ah, but then Lord Peter or Sherlock or Poirot swan in and effortlessly work out clues too abstruse for the local bobbies in that tiresome way they have.

  12. Great post, Lexi, and, as usual, interesting comments.