Common Trope Traps: A Reader's Guide for Writers

So the title of this post is a little misleading since I am not simply a reader, but also a writer. Yet, it is from the many books I have read over the past few months that fueled the need for such a post. There are, of course, a plethora of cliches and overly misused tropes in all fiction, however the literature for children's books, specifically books geared toward the middle grade and teen crowd have a set all their own. So without further ado, I present:

Seven Overused Tropes in Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction: (in no special order):

1. Redheads
We all know the ever famous redhead, Anne of Green Gables, but what about these fiery beauties (I'm a readhead so I can say that), makes for such an interesting character trait? My theory is this. Redheads only make  4% of the American population. Therefore if an author wants to create a character that stands out, one who is different, but doesn't want an ethnic minority, they can always use a redhead. Who are the most recent additions to this classification? There is Clary (City of Bones), Amy (Across the Universe), Fire (Fire), Quincie Morris (Tantalize), Bianca Piper (The Duff), Ellie (Angelfire), Eve (Eve). I think you get the point. Interesting note,  besides Ron Weasley, famous wizarding friend of a certain Harry Potter, ginger males are rather rare.

2. Self-Examination by Mirror
When was the last time you stood in front of the mirror and, in your head, began describing yourself? Your eyes, your nose, hair color, face shape. Anyone? This speaks to me of lazy writing. There are so many deft ways to insert such information, creative and beautiful ways that reveal more than just looks. "When she was little, Lana had wished she could just tell people she was adopted, for everyone in her family had soft honey colored hair, except her. Instead, Lana's jet black hair screamed to the world, my mom had an affair." An example that I hope makes a point.

3. The Awkward Uncoordinated Kid
I guess the cool kid would be a boring story, right? I mean, every single kid out there can relate to being the awkward uncoordinated kid. The trouble with this is that, although not everyone can be cool and coordinated, they can't all be awkward either. This may be a case of writers writing what they know, because to be honest, of all the writers I know (you guys correct me if I am wrong) many admit to being the socially awkward teenager that has become the staple of every teen flick out there. I myself was the bookworm, and it wasn't until my college years that I discovered rock climbing and hiking. Perhaps for my next book I should consider writing a character who is actually considered cool.

4. Realizing You Are Crying
What is this wet stuff upon my face? Why does water leak from my eyes? Unless you are a robot or a child who has never cried before, it is biologically strange for a person not to realize they are crying. Yes, the occasional allergy or sneezing fit does hit you unexectadly, but in the middle of a great disaster in which someone dies, would you truly be surprised by tears?

5. The Smile That Doesn't Quite Reach the Eyes
This is how we know that people are bad or lying, right? Admittedly, I am not the most observant person on the whole, however I wouldn't even know how to go about noticing if someones smile didn't reach their eyes. How can you tell if their eyes aren't smiling? Tyra Banks always goes on and on about this very thing with would-be models, but honestly, I can't tell the different between her "smiling with her eyes" and without. They look the same to me. Also, I would assume that a psychopath would be somewhat good at hiding the fact that they are in fact bad.

6. The Didactic Authorial Intrusion
I am aware that this has always been an issue, but bear with me here. I am not talking about the authorial intrusion in which the author wants children to learn how to share or not be a bully. No, the didactic authorial insutrusions I refer to go on a much deeper, sometimes even spiritual level. I get that sometimes it is difficult for an author to separate out their political, religious, or philosophical viewpoints from those of their characters, but it is important that the author question their decision to insert a four paragraph mantra about how the character is an atheist, when it has absolutely nothing to do with the story and never comes up again. If a character spends any length of time ruminating on something then one should only hope that this may be important information for the reader to know. If it is important to the story and the character, add it. If not, use facebook for your rantings. That's what everyone else does.

7. The Terribly Abused Child With No Psychological Damage
Kids are resiliant and human beings are often able to overcome some very terrible ordeals. The more realistic fiction, those dealing with things like death, cancer, war, and disasters never shy away from the knowledge of how terrible those things can be. Yet in the more fantastical worlds, the fact that a character would probably suffer from some serious PTSD due to the life they have lived, is ignored. After seven years of constant death threats, being abused by his relatives, and watching friends die, Harry Potter would definitely be in need of some serious help. On the lighter side, think of it this way. Ariel from The Little Mermaid would probably be considered a hoarder. Charlie Brown is clearly clinically depressed. The story doesn't have to be about mental illness issues, but it wouldn't it be interesting if more authors acknowledged that their characters may need someone to talk to. And for goodness sake...stop sending Harry Potter back to his abusive relatives.


Anonymous said...

I do have to argue the crying point. As a teen I was once in a situation where myself and a bunch of girls were utterly terrified in the literal sense. Like, the kind of fear where you think you might die and the only solution is to run.

After the screaming and the fleeing calmed down, and we were trying get control of ourselves, one of the girls looked at me and said "are you crying?"
And I felt my cheeks and it turned out I had been crying and I didn't even know it.

So yes, it is definitely possible to realize you're crying. I'd say it's even more likely when you're in one of those disaster situations, because you're too busy focusing on fleeing or trying to stay alive to notice that tears are pouring out your eyes.

Unknown said...

Good point. Something to keep in mind.

Anonymous said...

Protagonist wakes up and cannot remember where they are for the first few seconds. This has happened to me a few times when I've been completely exhausted and slept very deeply, but it doesn't happen every single time you wake up in a bed that's not your own.

Unknown said...

I am completely with you on that one Anon. I can only recall waking up confused as to where I was once and that was because I had a dream that I was somewhere else. In addition to this trope is the idea that the character has to recall all the things (usually terrible) that happened to them the day before. "Her memory came flooding back to her." I think when I write a Part III for this trope series, that one will go to the top of the list as a part of the whole amnesia trope.