Top 5 Worst Writing Tropes

Top 5 Worst Writing Tropes

Allison Woods, Staff Writer

Are you an avid reader or writer? Do you love all things fictional? Do you often find yourself engulfed in a book for hours without the need to socialize with others? If so, you are probably familiar with every writing trope and cliche known to man. However, some situations or plots used in creative writing are either problematic, overused, or just plan beat-to-death. If you are looking for ways to improve your writing skills or just to impress your peers, here are some of the worst writing tropes known to man. 

“Not Like Other Girls”

She’s quirky…she’s mysterious…she’s… a writing cliche that’s been done a million times before.  You know, those stories with the obvious female protagonists who the reader is supposed to be rooting for but often ends up hating instead?  The ones who are extremely “perfect” in very subtle and unrealistic ways? While having strong female roles in literature is very important, many of these characters’ values (and plotlines) are rooted in internalized misogyny. The “not like other girls” character is often portrayed as a “tomboy” or a girl who is disinterested in traditionally feminine things such as clothes, hair, and makeup, hence the name “not like other girls”. While there is nothing wrong with that type of character on its own, a lot of these female-written characters end up villainizing girls who do like such things by painting them as bullies, which does not accurately reflect real life. These types of cliches often pit women against each other by tearing down innocent girls and portraying them as “mean girls” just because of their different interests. It also teaches young girls that liking things such as the color pink or high-heeled shoes makes you inferior to girls who prefer tennis shoes and books. If you are trying to write a piece about feminism and “breaking the stigma”, you might want to steer clear of this trope and replace it with girls who support girls, no matter their differences. After all, it is hard to root for a character who would never root for you. 

Token Best Friend”

Every superhero needs a sidekick, right? And every fictional teen needs a wise best friend to guide them through their troubling life journeys. However, many authors just fish for representation points by adding marginalized people as the “best friend” character. While it is good to represent those who do not typically get to see themselves in books, there is a noticeable pattern with these characters. For example, diverse characters only seem to show up when the main character needs them there, not to accurately portray these characters’ lives or struggles. Some examples of these misrepresented groups include POC (people of color), LGBT, plus-sized, and many more. Along with only being added in for brownie points for those who deserve GOOD representation, many authors write these characters stereotypically and give them no other character arc or background. This is harmful because those who do not often find themselves represented in stories deserve to have a precise portrayal of themselves instead of authors just adding them in to be “woke” or to symbolize their “inclusive efforts”. Many people have pointed out that these “best friend” characters serve no other purpose than standing in the background to be inclusive. If you are trying to accurately write or portray people who are often swept to the side, it might be best to do your research or talk to someone with a similar background as someone you want to portray. Or…you could make a “bold” decision and start making more MAIN characters/protagonists of different ethnicities, origins, sexualities, religions, etc. 

“The Makeover Scene”

Every reader has seen this horse get beaten to death with every romance novel page you flip. In practically every other chapter, there’s a makeover scene. This is when the shy, “average” character takes off her glasses and straightens her hair and suddenly becomes a Victoria’s Secret  supermodel, everyone falling head-over-heels for her. This delivers the message that one is only considered “attractive” or worthy of love when conforming to Eurocentric beauty standards. Another version of this trope is when a character (male or female) loses a bunch of weight and is suddenly fawned over by characters who wouldn’t have given them a second glance just a few chapters ago. This insinuates that you are only worth how you look to other people and that love is conditional. 

“The Chosen One” 

This is a trope that has been used for ages. However, this writing style can go one of two ways: it can be very good and show a lot of character development, or it can be a dull, dragged out story with a perfect martyr figure that no one can relate to. The “chosen one” is typically a protagonist who  has something special about them to help save the universe. The reason why this trope can be so drawn out is because many authors fail to make these characters relatable to the audience. These martyr figures, written as “perfect-robotic-saviors- whose-only-purpose- is-to- save-civilization,” will make the reader tap out and become disinterested. There are no perfect people, so perfect characters do not appeal to the audience. If you wish to write a relatable “chosen one”, maybe give them some character flaws or a developmental arc that the reader can connect to. This will not only expand your audience, but will also keep your character from being a boring old Mary Sue. 

“Love Triangle”

Is it even a romance novel without a good love triangle? We get it, you’re emotionally unstable and unavailable. One of the most classic cliches is the love triangle. From Twilight to The Hunger Games, it’s all been done before; we meet a troubled, indecisive protagonist who is torn on who to choose. Using a love triangle as a main plot can be a little too predictable, especially in a fantasy novel. However using it as a subplot might not be a bad idea if you can blend it in as an integral part of the plot. While this is not necessarily a bad plot, per se, there’s a 99% chance that a literature fan will put that book right back on the shelf if a love triangle is the main focus of the novel. A good rule of thumb is that if Shakespeare’s done it, it’s been beaten to death. 

There is no wrong or right way to write a novel. But there is a good way and a bad way. Some of these tropes can be very well executed if done correctly. Other tropes on this list should probably be left in 2014. However you choose to write your novel, as long as you have fun writing it, ( and don’t hurt anyone in the process) don’t let mean writing critiques like me stifle your creativity. Maybe your cheesy, overused, problematic tropes can become a New York Times bestseller some day.