top of page

Don't Annoy You Readers Part 5. Tropes

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

This one is more complex than the others because the line for when readers get annoyed, or at least when I get annoyed is fuzzy. Very fuzzy.

First what is a trope? A genre trope specifically is a recurring idea and theme which frequently shows up in books and films of the same type. They're the aspects of a genre which define it, its glue. They are not inherently bad. If you write fantasy and not a single sword, spell, sorcerer, undead, dragon … etc.… ever shows up… you have violated every trope, and probably let the readers down. On the other hand, when writers are good at their craft, your readers might not even realize the tropes as they read them.

Here are some examples:

Science fiction and fantasy: Evil empires, ruled by evil villains, with rebels and protagonists who are here to overthrow them.

Action / thrillers: They love their chapter, or even book level, cliff hangers.

Horror: It loves to show us detectives who become bumbling fools when faced with a hint of the supernatural, or randomly impossibly isolated settings where literally nobody can hear you scream.

Are these bad? No. What is bad? What made me say all this?

I attempted to read a fantasy novel the other day by a new author I had never read before. I made it to my requisite fifty-page mark before I put the book down, and considered that it was only my deep abiding love of books that prevented me from shredding it to save others from mental harm. In fifty pages the author managed to wedge in all of the following tropes.

- An orphan hero

- A lost and rediscovered sword

- A villain monologue

- An empire than became ruled by said villain

- A villain killing a father to torture a daughter

- A literally completely impossible fantastic escape from the villain while the villain was suddenly incompetent for no particular reason other than the plot called for it. (See plot armor.)

- A reawakening of gods.

Add to that more telling instead of showing than I have seen in a good long while, terrible pacing and it was just a travesty. I largely blame it on the overuse of the genre tentpoles. The tropes were flying hard and fast, and it broke believability. I knew I was reading a fantasy book, not drawn into a fantasy story. I knew the author had selected them on purpose for effect but the effect was lost in the density and lack of buildup.

Different readers want different things. Some readers want all trope, and a familiar place to hang their reading hat. They enjoy small changes on familiar themes. That is just fine. Some readers want the genre to be twisted, turned and the tropes to be deliberately broken and played with, that is fine too. Very few want every single one of the highlights that make us recognize the genre put in the same book all at the same time.

Beware the overuse, or obtuse use of these storytelling structures. It might just annoy your readers.

4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page