More Storytelling Tropes That Drive Me Bananas

About a year and a half ago I wrote a post concerning common tropes used in children's books that make me want to chuck a book across the room or at the very least, put down and never pick up again. Most are still true, but I have a list of a few more:

 1. Countdowns I get it. You need a plot device in order to keep the pacing moving along at a good clip. This is doubly important for action books apparently. Here's the thing though...the number is completely arbitrary. We are closing the gate in five days. You have five days to somehow get to Chicago and back or else. The disease takes 48 hours to run its course and kill you, so you have 48 hours to find the cure. Don't get me started with the moment coming down to minutes and seconds. You have 48 hours to find a cure for a deadly disease? Why in the world would you stop to take a nap? You can take a rest afterward and figure out which guy/gal from the love triangle you are going to go with. Two days without sleep isn't a big deal, not with the end of the world at stake. I'm pretty sure adrenaline would keep you going.

 2. Love Triangles Am I the only teen girl who wasn't involved in a love triangle? It seems that teen fiction these days is suggesting that every girl and guy has to be in love and not with just one person. No, one must have two love interests, usually polar opposites who the guy/gal spends most of the book pining after. Eventually at the end of the trilogy, he/she will decide on the more adventurous one who is also the one that would make for a horrible long-term boyfriend. The setting doesn't matter. High school, space, the ocean. Love is also basically that butterfly-in-the-stomach infatuation/lust that sounds so wonderful and romantic I am sure, but is also about as long-lasting as the book itself. Characters are trying to choose between the handsome ignorant jerk and their nerdy best-friend or some other strange combination that makes no sense for that particular character. Of course, we cannot forget that the character will agonize over these two at the most inopportune times and even when one is a complete jerk, will still get fluttery feelings whenever they are around which makes it impossible to think logically. Even if the character is extremely logical, all that disappears in the presence of said human.

 3. Plot Twist Foreshadowing Again, I get it. If you are writing a mystery you have to lay down some clues otherwise the reader is going to think the murderer came out of left field or something. Everything should make sense in the end. However, you cannot go around announcing that there is a plot twist, which seems to be the particular sin of children's books for younger readers. They will never get that this is a mystery so I am going to just tell them so on page one. "Little did Sammy know, but his life was about to change forever." What? Why would you announce something like that? That's the ultimate in telling rather than showing. Let us see how Sammy's life changes, you don't have to announce it up front. It kind of ruins the surprise you know?

4. The Perfect Superhero Grandparent No one stone me for this one, okay? There are a lot of older people out there trying to write kids books these days. Many of them are grandparents. For some reason, these grandparents find the role of grandparent to be a very important role in all the books they write. The grandparent is, of course, always benevolent and kind offering all kinds of sage advice, usually during extended trips to their awesome house. I am not saying grandparents can't be like this, but the truth is not all are. Some grandparents live very far away. Some are too old to go do "fun" things. Others are in nursing homes and retirement centers (loved how the Wimpy Kid series handled that one, by the way). There are grandparents who are wise and loving and others who are crass and judgmental. Some grandparents' homes are full of toys, while others have homes more like museums in which boredom is inevitable. If you are a grandparent trying to write for children, please remember that the story is about and for the child and the starring role really should go to the kid.

5. Unconsciousness In the world of fiction there is this fantasy place where people can be easily and instantaneously hit on the head and this will lead to immediate unconsciousness. The blow is always aimed perfectly and the character either sees black or white. Rarely, despite receiving a very serious blow to the head, do they suffer from a concussion or any other side effects besides a headache. There may even be a few more head whacks throughout the story as the protagonist or antagonist is beaten. Even in moments, like say a tsunami hitting your cruise ship (The Living by Matt de la Pena), where a character is thrown about and drifts in and out of consciousness for half an hour are there any real lasting side effects. In the real world, a head injury that is serious enough to knock a person out would result in a concussion, brain damage, bleeding on the brain, and possibly death. I know, it would be terrible for a character to get knocked on the head and then die. Solution: Stop knocking your characters out. Find another way for time to pass without your character suffering from irreparable brain damage. 


Anonymous said...

Fantastic post! THANK YOU!!! May I add one, not for the books, but for reviews: the tendency to be too positive (ironic, coming from a self-proclaimed Pollyanna). Everything is not awesome. We don't grow from hearing that. Give me honesty - it IS the best policy.

Unknown said...

Agreed, Julie! I struggled with that for a while, because I am aware that some authors read my reviews and I wanted to be kind. However, it does no good to portray every book as perfect or great. My readers would not trust my reviews if I said everything was perfect when it was not.