Top 10 Tuesday: Freebie – Tropes I Hate In Genres I Love

I love fantasy, crime novels (especially mysteries) and romances but all of those have popular tropes that I can’t stand. So here are some and as a bonus some books from these genres that avoid (or subvert) the tropes.

1. The Noisy Mother (cozy mysteries)

The protagonist’s mother can’t stop sticking her nose in her child’s business. And to be clear: I’m not talking about calling them too often or occasionally appearing unannounced, I’m talking about pestering the child’s doctor to learn about their health, or opening every single conversation with questions about the kid’s love-life and (if it’s a daughter) when she finally intends to breed. That’s not adorable. That would make me require extensive therapy.

This doesn’t happen in:

 

Carola Dunn: Death at Wentwater Court
Rather the whole Lady Daisy series

 

Daisy and her mother have a complicated relationship and her mother isn’t even that likable (she is rather class-conscious and disapproves of Daisy’s marriage) but she never turns into a caricature.

2. Cold Openings (crime)

The classic crime novel opening has a person, usually a woman, running. While she is running she thinks about her family and then gets killed by a serial killer in more or less graphic detail. Sometimes the novel isn’t about a serial killer but e.g. a person from the character’s past coming after her because of a Dark Secret. In that case, her internal monologue just tells us enough to know that there is a Dark Secret but it could be anything from ‘When I was five I drowned my neighbour’s goldfish’ over ‘I sat in the car when my high as fuck college friend ran over somebody and didn’t stop’ to ‘We sacrificed the school bully to Satan’.

Variations of that are: she is already in the killer’s torture dungeon or she is doing something perfectly ordinary, talks perhaps about a bad feeling she has, hears a noise ‘and then everything went black’.

Here’s the thing: why should I care about a character I only met for perhaps 20 pages? I cannot remember an occasion where the cold opening told us anything plot-relevant. It just tells us that…there is a murder…in the murder mystery?

This doesn’t happen in:

Robert Galbraith: The Cuckoo's Calling

Cold Openings are quite widespread in ‘serious’ crime novels (i.e. not cozy mysteries). The Cormoran Strike series isn’t one of them.

3. No Life Without Him/Her (romance)

Romances are about two* people meeting and falling in love. Yes, I know. But I get annoyed when one chapter ends with heroine makes plans to meet with her best friend and the following chapter starts with ‘Meeting her friend had been fun’, completely skips the whole thing and we’re back to the heroine interacting with the hero/thinking about him (the two heroines/heroes interacting). I’m not saying that the two halves of the couple should only meet three times over the course of the novel but it’s also an important part of someone’s characterisation to see how they act when with somebody else.

* Or more

This doesn’t happen in:

Shira Glassman: Knit One, Girl Two

This is actually just a novella still manages to show how the protagonist has friends and family and yes she talks about her relationship with them but not exclusively.

4. The Bitchy Ex (romance)

Let’s face it: this is a big problem in m/m romance. One of the guys has an ex-wife who is an absolute harpy. When she finds out he is now with a man things get worse because she suddenly turns into the most conservative-evangelical Christian and screams how he’s going to hell. If there are children she obviously threatens to make sure he will never see them again. (And there are no other likable female characters in the book because ‘Women – eergh’). This is misogynistic bullshit.

Now that doesn’t mean that this never is an issue in m/f books. The ex of either of them can also make an appearance there and sabotage the relationship. Now I am aware that sometimes relationships end badly and people get hurt. But there’s a difference between that and ‘I want to make sure that my ex will never be happy again’.

This doesn’t happen in:

Rose Lerner: All or Nothing

It is unfortunate that I can’t think of a counterexample with a non-horrible female ex because Simon and Maggie from All or Nothing both had a relationship with a guy. And Simon’s ex isn’t a great person but he isn’t some ‘You are not allowed to be happy without me’-caricature. He is somewhat ignorant about other people’s feeling but more in a clueless than a jerky way (and he gets better from what I remember).

5. People Can Have Only One Meaningful Relationship (romance)

I guess this is slightly related to the previous one. If one of the characters has had a previous long-term relationship, it had to have been horrible. Exceptions might be made if the previous partner is dead but even then, they will mention how dead partner was a good person but never made them feel like new person.

I know I am reading romance and it’s not very romantic if a character goes ‘I loved my ex more than anything and if they were still alive I would still be with them but if I marry you now I can really save on taxes’ but there is enough between those two extremes.

This doesn’t happen in:

Rose Lerner: Sweet Disorder

Phoebe is a widow and it is made clear that her first marriage was also out of convenience than love but she cared about him and her feelings don’t suddenly disappear when she meets Nick.

6. The Chosen One (fantasy)

Now I should make it clear that I don’t hate all Chosen One narratives *pats her Harry Potter collection*. I do strongly dislike books where the chosen one is the hero because they are the chosen one but everybody else is more capable and do all the work while the chosen one stands around.

This doesn’t happen in:

Anything by Carol Berg. Her heroes are chosen ones in the sense that there is a reason that these things are happening to them and that reason is something they have no control over. But they still stand their ground. None of them are farm boys who need half of the first book to train. The characters have already achieved things before the book starts and they use the experience they got there to solve the problems in the book.

7. No, It Wasn’t Suicide (crime)

A person dies. It looks like suicide (or an accident). Everybody thinks it is suicide. Only Our All-Knowing Hero doubts it. It doesn’t matter that all he has is his gut-feeling, Our All-Knowing Hero is convinced that is was murder and refuses to obey any orders from his superiors about investigating that other obvious murder. Our All-Knowing Hero will shout, scream, stomp his foot and show all the restraint of a five-year-old in the sweet aisle of the supermarket.

Then it turns out that Our All-Knowing Hero was right all along. The dear reader is only mildly surprised because they were reading a murder-mystery after all. They are pretty fed up with Our All-Knowing Hero anyway because he acted like an absolute jerk and not even the knowledge that he was right makes him more likable.

This doesn’t happen in:

Josh Lanyon: All She Wrote

Here one of the protagonists thinks that there is more to some apparent accidents. His friend thinks he’s imagining things but is willing to look into it himself to give him some peace. (And then, surprisingly for a crime novel, it turns out there was something more to it…)

8. The Surprisingly Psychic Hero (historical novels)

The years is 1912. Our hero has an acquaintance who excitedly tells him about this unsinkable ship called ‘Titanic’. Our hero chuckles and says condescendingly “No ship is unsinkable”. Or it’s the 1920s and everybody is convinced that those Nazi guys over in Germany won’t be a big deal. Our hero knows better.

But in 90% of cases, it’s not convincing that our hero is so knowledgeable/cares about a subject so much. So all these things tell me is that the author knows that the Titanic sank which isn’t very impressive.

This doesn’t happen in:

Volker Kutscher: Babylon Berlin

A series set in the Weimar Republik and full of people who think the Nazis aren’t that big a threat. That includes the hero; there are no attempts to make him more likeable/brighter by constantly having him explain that the Nazis are bad and how this all will end badly because nobody believes him.
It’s also been made in a series with an awesome soundtrack which isn’t directly related to my point but I wanted to mention it anyway:

9. The Phrase “He didn’t yet know that he would never do X again” (everything really)

I have read this phrase more times than I can count. All it does is spoiling that this character is going to die a few chapters or pages before they actually do it.

This doesn’t happen in:

Colin Dexter: The Riddle of the Third Mile

The phrase “He didn’t yet know he would never return to his flat again” appear in the first chapter and it’s no lie. The character never returns home. But it turns out to be for entirely different reasons than the reader thinks.

10. Look How Awesome And Different Everything Is (fantasy)

Don’t get me wrong: I love fantasy novels where the world isn’t just ‘vaguely Western European middle ages with magic’ and instead have a truly fantastical world. But sometimes authors get so lost in the details and throw everything at the reader: look this world has two moons! Look that strange ritual they are celebrating! Look at the weird animals! And nothing actually adds anything to the story. (Not that it needs to be plot-relevant if the world has two moons, but don’t pile everything up and then do absolutely nothing with it)

This doesn’t happen in:

K. M. McKinley: The Iron Ship

The Gates of the World trilogy is set in a world similar to our early industrial age. Only it also has necromancy, talking dogs and some gods who are still quite present. But it never feels like the author is shouting ‘look how cool this is’. It’s just part of the world she created. Some things influence the plot more, some less but it all has a point.

11 thoughts on “Top 10 Tuesday: Freebie – Tropes I Hate In Genres I Love

    1. Glad I’m not alone with my dislike. Especially the Romance-ones are so popular that it sometimes feels like everyone but me likes them. (It is very cool, a bit slow but totally worth it)

  1. This is a great topic you came up with. Even though I don’t do a lot of genre reading, I’ve read enough to have seen all of these pop up and YES, these are all so annoying

  2. Oh oh the bitch ex is so annoying. And yes to some of these others as well.
    As to your last category, maybe you would also enjoy The Pyramids of London. The synopsis of The Iron Ship made me think of that right away.

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