Book Tropes to Retire

Disclaimer: These opinions are solely my own, and are not fact. Writers are allowed to write however and whatever they want, and shouldn’t be discouraged based on my opinions. 

A trope, in the literary sense, has come to be a means of “describing commonly recurring literary or rhetorical devices, motifs, or cliches in creative works.” These are three of my least favorite book tropes, though they apply to movies and other media, as well. Without further ado, here’s three book tropes to retire from literature forever!

The Mary Sue.

For those of you who are unaware: a “Mary Sue” is a typically female fictional character who is written and perceived as “perfect” or “flawless.” She is often so competent that it’s boring and ridiculous, even in fiction. An example of a “Mary Sue” in fiction includes Bella Swan Cullen in Breaking Dawn, the last book of the Twilight series, or Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies (not the book series). In my experience, a “Mary Sue” is usually a character with little to no personality flaws, and one who picks up on and hones their abilities, like academia, magic, or any other sometimes supernatural powers, incredibly quickly, and sometimes also with uncharted finesse. 

An argument in favor of the “Mary Sue” character is that female representation is important – and it absolutely is. But, there is a major flaw in this argument; it implies that because there has been so little meaningful female representation historically, women and girls should be grateful for any and all representation given them. My rebuttal is that yes, women absolutely should be represented in books and media, because they are human beings. However, women are human beings, which means they are flawed, in personality, and abilities. Making a flawless, and also insanely and immediately competent character is not true representation, because they are unrelatable as human beings to actual, flawed human beings. People have flaws, and women are people. So please, by all means, include women in your stories as major, main, and side characters – but make them realistic!

Books that deviate from our world in one way, without majorly changing the social, economic, or political order at all.

I often see this in books that take place within our world, typically in a historical context, that add things like magic, though sometimes this can occur in books that simply remove vital and/or everyday items or occurances. Everything in the world is the same but for the addition of that different element or subtraction of a basic element. 

That’s great – by all means, consider what the world would be like with the addition or subtraction of a certain element, but remember – actions have consequences. Just think of all the decisions you could’ve made in your life that would have drastically changed it. Changing one thing in a society can alter history in innumerable and dramatic ways. Explore it!

If an author is being creative, as authors are supposed to be when writing fiction, they should have the creativity to imagine a world like our own that is deeply altered by the addition or removal of some thing or event. 

Books that take place in a completely new world, but that follow the conventions of this one. 

This trope is very similar to the last one, but I felt it warranted its own section. This is such unbelievably lazy writing. If you’re trying to write a breakthrough science fiction or fantasy book, and the world you create is simply this one in a different context, you’re being lazy and uncreative. (The exceptions, of course, would be if the novel is allegorical, or if it is simply a retelling of another story.) There are so many possibilities to explore when one is creating an entirely new world – perhaps a truly egalitarian society, or a matriarchy, or a planet populated by horse-looking creatures, for some examples. Limiting oneself to a society like our own in every way except setting is boring, and I’m sick of it. People often read books to escape reality, so if what you’re advertising is an escape from reality, commit! 

What are some of your least favorite book tropes? Let me know in the comments below!

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