Just in case you’re not in the know, a trope is a term used to describe a reoccuring literary device, often to the point of being cliché, and they are impossible to avoid in fiction novels. But there are so many tropes out there we don’t always realize we’re in the presence of one. Some just aren’t that common, some we actually love (breaking the Fourth wall can liven up any story), but some are just so overused, so stupid and so painful to see that it’s about time I made a list about the ones that annoy me the most.
The list is not exhaustive and entirely subjective; feel free to share your own!
#10 – Chekhov’s Gun
A seemingly insignificant object (sometimes presented to the protagonist) that later turns out to be an important plot device.
As seen in: Gates of Thread and Stone, Stardust, Snow and Ashes (TBC)
Chekhov’s Gun takes the tenth place on my list because, sometimes, it’s absolutely fine. And sometimes it sucks ass. This trope can be found in so many novels, and there are so many subcategories of Chekhov’s Gun that TVTropes.org has its own page dedicated to them. The thing is, when you’ve spotted a Chekhov’s Gun it’s annoying because the element of surprise is gone. The story has become predictable and, on top of that, cliché, and that sucks. But there are times when you don’t spot a Chekhov’s Gun, and that’s awesome. There are times when the Chekhov’s Gun you think you spotted turns out to be a Red Herring. And that’s a trope within itself, but I love a good Red Herring and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.
As irritating as Chekhov Guns can be on occasion, if you don’t notice them, they can end up being pretty cool.
#9 – Locked Out of the Loop
The protagonist has a deep dark secret, but is actually completely oblivious to it. These are two tropes on their own, but the bonus Locked Out of the Loop twist is that every other significant main character is fully aware of the secret and its implications, and they’re all collectively conspiring to keep it hidden from the main character – either for the hero’s own good or because it’s crucial that the hero not know for some reason.
As seen in: The Knife of Never Letting Go, Harry Potter, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, His Dark Materials
Hands up if you’ve read a book recently about a “normal guy/gal” who happens to be the long lost heir to something or other. Or who is about to fulfil a prophecy. Or has magic when they’re not supposed to. Is it just me, or more often than not is the hero blissfully unaware of their secret? I can only think of one series I’ve read recently where the protagonist is actually aware of their secret identity/powers/destiny. Again, the main problem with this trope is that you can often see it coming: these characters will often have mysteriously absent parents, or just be conveniently orphaned from early childhood. With no one around to tell them about their own deep dark secret, we’ve got novel plausibility, yay!
It hasn’t gotten to the point where it is seriously pissing me off yet, but it most certainly has the potential to.
#8 – Aerith and Bob
In some fantasy settings, people will have names that you would expect to see in real life. In others, names are made up to sound exotic. And then you have the mixed approach: people named Zelor and Lithnara alongside people named James and Catherine. Don’t expect the characters to acknowledge the distinction.
As seen in: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Masquerade, Evermore, Slammed
This crap annoys me so much I’m keeping a list. I really hate ridiculous character names. I’ll go easier on you if your novel is a high fantasy and everyone’s got a weird name, though if they’re all called something along the lines of Nebuchadnezzar I’m really going to struggle. But what I really don’t have the patience for is a character who has a very unique name when everyone else’s are so normal. And it’s almost always the MC, is it not? Uually to mark them as special, as apart.
Bonus – Related but slightly less annoying : The Overly Long Name Trope
I don’t care that you’ve got a highly thought over, original and well-researched epic high fantasy, if your MC’s name is Khordeshkhistriakhor I’m not reading it.
#7 – Informed Attractiveness
This trope is about characters pointing out how exceptionally attractive they think another character is, not whether they’re being drawn attractive, or whether the readers think they’re attractive.
As seen in: Snow and Ashes, Stolen Songbird, Evermore, Twilight, Fallen
It’s never enough to just describe a character’s physical appearance, is it? No, we always have to add the hotness scale, rendering the concept of subjectivity completely meaningless. I cannot suppress a groan of almost physical agony every time I see a character described as objectively and inarguably gorgeous. And that’s how you can tell straight away who the love interest is going to be. They’re always hot.
“He’s the kind of good-looking that physically aches, makes me stumble for chairs when I’m caught unaware. A few pieces of his white Winterian hair dangle by his cheek, the rest of the shoulder-legnth strands held together by twine.” — Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch
Now it doesn’t matter how I wanted to imagine the love interest. It doesn’t matter that I, the reader, don’t buy into that appearances crap and would like to imagine a love interest as kind of ordinary. Maybe even ugly. Even if just for a change. Or maybe I’m into that. Doesn’t matter though, I can’t not think of him as hot now. And it really grates my cheese.
Bonus – Related but slightly less annoying : Beautiful All Along aka The Ugly Duckling
This one’s so old and overused that I feel almost immune to it now. How many romantic comedies have a makeover as a main plot point? Some shy, ugly bookworm with glasses finally throws on some contact lenses and lets her hair down and she’s a sudden stunner. It’s ridiculous how often I still see this, especially in its more subtle form, which I oh-so-affectionally call the “he called me beautiful and no one has ever called be beautiful before” trope.
Part 2 Coming Soon!