Writers are often advised to avoid certain tropes in their writing, but let’s face it… some tropes/cliches are unavoidable. And some are irresistible!
Tropes and cliches can be bad, don’t get me wrong. They are dreaded and spurned for a reason. They can break a story and turn a reader away from a book or series completely. But tropes wouldn’t be so notorious if they didn’t work or appeal to readers in the first place. And if used effectively, they can ensnare readers instead of pushing them away.
As a writer, it’s vital to make a trope or common theme feel unique and fresh upon implementation, and to do it in a way that will attract readers. It’s about making a trope your own, if you will. So, as a reader… what are some tropes that are sure to draw me in?
Firstly, I love, love, love… love triangles. GASP! I know. I totally LOVE ‘EM. I know they’re controversial and lots of folks think they’re overdone, especially in YA, but I can’t get enough of them… as long as they are done well.
I don’t want a hero or heroine waffling between two flawless options. I don’t want to see two handsome dudes treating some girl like she’s a trophy to be won. No new girl in school draws the eye of a misunderstood loner, but his shy next door neighbor has always held a torch for him. I want real, grounded drama. Legitimate connections between characters. Angst that isn’t contrived. Complicated feelings that go beyond, “Oh, I like you….and I like you, too! UGH, life is so hard!” Something I can feel invested in – something with stakes, high tension, and characters with legitimate flaws that I care about. No Team ______ vs. Team _______.
And nothing pisses me off more than when a love triangle is resolved with literally no repercussions for anyone – like, some miracle perfect fourth person shows up at the 11th hour to save the rejected person’s broken heart and everyone lives happily ever after. I love a good HEA, but it needs to be believable, and there has to be some pain along the way. I also don’t like when one of the characters dies for convenience, so the protagonist doesn’t need to make a choice or whatever.
I also love like, “secret identity” stories, if that makes sense. Especially involving royalty of some kind. Royals hiding their station from their friends in order to appear normal, or to protect themselves from danger, or royals who don’t know that they’re secretly a prince or princess or whatever, then struggle to accept their identity once the truth is discovered. But, again, it needs to be convincing. There needs to be real emotional crisis. And if there’s going to be an HEA, it better be realistic! This one isn’t “royal” related, but to put the “secret identity” idea into perspective, my favorite manga of all time is Hisaya Nakajo’s Hana-Kimi, which is about a girl named Mizuki who masquerades as a boy and enrolls into an all-boys school in order to meet her idol, high-jumper Izumi.
I am also a big fan of “magical girl” stories, to borrow a manga/anime genre term for comparison purposes. This might not be a standard overdone trope, but I love a good series in the same vein as Sailor Moon or Card Captor Sakura. I love a bit of fantastical whimsy combined with female badassery – but I don’t like all series like that. On the literary side, I am always drawn to stories with protagonists that have a unique gift – like Suze’s ability to communicate with ghosts in Meg Cabot’s Mediator series – which ultimately leads to them solving mysteries, conquering evil, or what have you. A “unique gift” can be an ingredient into making a protagonist – especially a female – into a Mary Sue. But if an author can avoid that, and balance out the character, I’m hooked. A “unique gift” needs to basically be a blessing and a curse, and cause genuine conflict, or else it will fall flat for me. This is actually one I used in my own writing, as Remiel in I’m With You has a “gift,” which she perceives as a curse, and it spurs a major conflict and assists in delivering a theme… or that’s what I was going for, anyway.
I’m sure there’s more, but these are all I can conjure up at the moment… But I’d love to know the favorite tropes of my fellow readers/writers!