4 Annoying Story Tropes I Want to Kill

Our favorite pastimes are full of tropes and cliches. It’s inevitable. Stories fall into predicable patterns. Not all tropes are bad, but it takes skill to make them feel original. And since I’m a romantic sap at heart, there are plenty of tropes I’ll willingly follow. But there are a few that aren’t just eye-rolling, they’re insidious. Those offenders need to be smothered before they can propagate. These four story tropes make me want to flip tables.

Loving the Person Who Hurts You
I recently read a book where a man held a dagger to the neck of the female protagonist. He twisted her wrist painfully and threatened her. This was the second time he acted threatening to her, though the first time it became physical. The woman was, understandably, upset and angered by this treatment. Yet, strangely, all she could do during the scene was look deep into her attacker’s eyes and ruminate on how handsome he was.

I wanted to puke.

This is shockingly common. A main character – usually female – will overlook mistreatment if her attacker is attractive. Especially if they’ve already admitted this attraction. If you’re wondering about the outcome of the above scenario, the main character falls rapidly in love with the man who held a dagger to her throat. He never apologized. In fact, the act of aggression fell quickly out of memory. Because, after all, he was pretty and he started paying attention to her and that made her happy. Insert gagging noises here.

It isn’t realistic to expect someone to fall head over heals for someone who mistreats them, especially if the aggression is never addressed. Let’s call abuse what it is and let’s hold people accountable for it. Real relationships need to be built on something other than mutual attraction and trust is usually a large factor. The next time you find your character looking deeply into the dark, handsome eyes of someone who’s treating them like crap, imagine your reader throwing your story out the window, because that’s what’s likely to happen.

The Requisite Love Plot
I can’t help noticing that every movie has a love plot these days. As if someone penned a requirement for every script to end with a kiss, no matter how tangential the romance subplot is. The genre of the movie doesn’t seem to matter. The hero MUST get the lady in the end. It doesn’t matter if they only glanced at each other in passing for two seconds within the two hours of the movie, it has to end with love and devotion. Or the tragic death of one of the lovebirds, because romance is required.

But if the romance doesn’t serve the plot, it shouldn’t be included. Especially in a movie, where you have a limited amount of time to cover a lot of ground. My biggest offender, at the moment, is Jurassic World. It’s a pretty typical action flick. For some reason, I can’t fathom, someone decided that the male and female leads should have a history. The only result of this is an awkward conversation that makes Owen seem somewhat sexist. And if you cut that scene? It wouldn’t affect the movie at all. Owen and Claire could have clashed over literally anything and everything would have turned out the same. Even the two of them ending up as a couple at the end of the movie. But let’s be honest; they shouldn’t. They spent zero time developing feelings for each other. Unless running for your lives is all the bonding it takes to form a lasting relationship.

Romance is great, don’t get me wrong, but if it has nothing to do with the rest of what’s going on don’t bother. The audience can tell when you tack something on to tick off a check box.

Women Require Redemption
I could probably devote an entire blog post to this topic. To sum up my gripe; it’s fine for male characters to be irredeemable assholes, but women need a redeeming quality to make them relatable. Male characters in the former category tend to be massively popular. Either the audience loves them, or loves to hate them. Either way, it works. There’s nothing wrong with a character who is simply rotten – art mirrors life.

But if someone tries to create a female villain of this type, no one will take them seriously. Women need redemption. Sometimes this manifests in the form of an evil woman who is only capable of caring for her children. Perhaps all her evil is merely to save her children or raise their status in the world. Usually, these characters are forced to see the error of their ways and take action to make it right. There’s nothing wrong with this particular plot type, the issue is that you can’t escape it. Female villains without redeeming qualities are deemed ‘unrealistic’ (or worse). Yet male villains don’t need to be held accountable for their evil acts (let’s say Lex Luthor as an example, off the top of my head).

The most glaring example, for me, is Kerrigan from the StarCraft franchise. At the end of the original game, Kerrigan is a merciless queen, slaying everyone who stands in the way of her triumph. The main character swears to hunt her down and kill her for her actions. Even in the second game she’s portrayed as tenacious, willing to carve a blood path through her opposition to get what she wants. But in the second game, she’s doing it for love. And (spoiler) when she realizes the error of her ways (the person she was killing to avenge turns out to have been alive the whole time – oops), she joins the forces of good to become a fiery space angel and make the universe good again.

But evil Kerrigan was so much more interesting. And the kicker is that people already loved her the way she was. For once, no one thought she needed redemption. They were looking forward to the confrontation between her and her former boyfriend. Normally I’m all for sappy romances, but this feels like a waste of potential. I want to see more female villains that just don’t care about the consequences of their actions. Show me why they’re evil and why they embrace it. If Lex Luther can want to destroy the world just to build some stupid luxury hotel, then there should be plenty of evil ladies who are evil for the sake of it.

The Unreasonable Wardrobe
I’m looking at you, MMOs. Why can’t I dress my female characters somewhere in between total, nun-like coverage and ‘I may as well not be wearing armor and how is this held to my body in the first place?’ This gripe applies mainly to fantasy or sci-fi stories, wherein women warriors are forced to dress in ridiculous armor with chest plates featuring cleavage. This fantastic Tumblr post explains the issue better than I can. To sum it up; armor is supposed to protect the wearer’s vital organs. Breast bulges actually deflect sword blows towards the sternum, while leaving a weakness in the armor that essentially makes the wearer more likely to die.

I’m also going to pick on Jurassic World here again, because it makes no sense to me that the female lead spent the whole movie running around in high heels. Given the nature of her job, she MUST have had a change of shoes in that van. And while I’ll give you that she might have been able to run around the paved theme park – though her chances of breaking a heel, falling and hurting herself would still have been much higher – I will not accept that she ran around a muddy jungle in high heels. She’d have been better off in bare feet.

But for some reason, we can’t seem to depict strong females without having to dress them up in specific ways. I’m reminded of the fact that Samantha Carter in Stargate SG1 was forced for several seasons to wear makeup that frankly didn’t suit her. You can actually watch the progress through the seasons of the show creators desperately trying to find the right look for her. It wasn’t until about season 8 when they finally found a natural look for her – and I’d bet anything they let her decide on her own how she wanted to wear her hair and makeup.

The kicker is there are plenty of artistic examples of ways that women in fantasy worlds can wear armor designed to make it clear they are women while still protecting them from combat, as is the point. And ultimately, why does a woman need to be distinguished as a woman on the battlefield anyway? She can still dress up fancy when she’s not, you know, trying to defend her lands or win a war.

What story tropes are you totally done with?

3 Responses to “4 Annoying Story Tropes I Want to Kill”

  1. » Rejecting the ‘He Hurts Me Out of Love’ Trope Megan Cutler; Stories from the Soul Says:

    […] this has become, for me, one of the most cringe-worthy tropes in fiction. I chose it as one of the top four tropes I’d like to see die. If I read a book where the female lead is constantly treated like crap by her love interest, to […]

  2. Krista Quintana Says:

    Wow, some of these I haven’t even noticed until you mentioned it, but I’ve got to agree with the first one. For me, I’m tired of the whole female warrior is perfect at everything and doesn’t have a single flaw or weakness.

    • Megan Cutler Says:

      Ooh yes! That’s another one which makes me cringe. I guess some people think if a female character in a position like that isn’t perfect, people won’t take her seriously. But people won’t take her seriously if she’s perfect either x.x Is it really so hard to write 3-dimensional characters?


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