Tropes I Love and Hate

Tropes are funny things. At their most basic level, they’re narrative devices, and in genre fiction in particular tropes form a fundamental part of what makes a story an example of a particular genre. A science fiction novel isn’t a dystopia without a broken society or corrupt ruler. A fantasy novel isn’t a high fantasy without a chosen one or a world-threatening danger. A good example of this is Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha books. The original trilogy is undoubtedly high fantasy – secondary world, magic, a chosen one, a threat to the country and beyond – while Six of Crows is low fantasy; it’s still set in the magical secondary world, but it deals with the trials and adventures of a group of people within that world rather than the trials of the world.

Sometimes tropes are inherently problematic, like the Magical Negro or Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and these should be avoided unless you’re doing a deconstruction or subversion, but for the most part, tropes are impartial building blocks for stories. Whether they’re good or bad in a particular story depends on the execution. Few readers I know express a particular interest in magical boarding schools, but Hogwarts is almost universally loved because of the way Rowling envisioned it.

That’s not to say readers don’t have tropes they like and tropes they dislike. Some readers are partial towards magical boarding schools, while others can’t stand them. And when it’s a trope you like, oftentimes even if the execution is fudged you’ll still enjoy the story. I know I tend to feel this way about chosen one narratives; while nothing compares to a nuanced exploration of unwanted responsibility or the influence of fate, I’ll take a whiny teenager and call it good.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed there’s one glaring exception to this for me: Romance tropes. For a long time, I thought I disliked a lot of these tropes, before reading a stellar example and realising that I actually quite like them, but with caveats. I don’t know if it’s because romance is so common across genres so I’m more likely to come across poor examples of these tropes, or if I’m just really picky, but I find with a lot of the romance tropes I love, I always qualify them with ‘good’, because there are a lot of times I don’t really enjoy them. So I like a good love triangle, a good hate-to-love, or a good forbidden romance, yet often when I see one being set up I mentally groan. Another bloated love triangle taking attention away from the corrupt government – or worse, a love triangle between the ‘nice guy’ and the ‘bad boy’ who disrespects the protagonist’s rights? Another nonsensical romance where I can’t work out why the characters end up in love – or why they hated each other in the first place? Another couple who put their desire for each other above their other obligations?

You could fill a book with my criticisms of these three tropes. At the same time, however, they’re some of my favourite romance tropes. I love it when a protagonist has two competing love interests, both of whom are good people and who represent very divergent paths for the protagonist to take, like Kiaran and Gavin in The Falconer. I love it when a romantic relationship forces characters to grow, turning them from people who were prejudiced against or unfair to one another to a loving couple, like Daniel and Eleanor in Something Strange & Deadly. And I love it when two characters are in love with each other but for very good reasons cannot be together, and they recognise this, like Emma and Julian in Lady Midnight.

It’s rare for me to come across an example of any of these romance tropes and be ambivalent about it. Either it will irritate me to no end and I’ll think the book would be better off without it, or it will be one of my favourite parts of the book. There’s very little in-between.

What about you? Are there particular tropes – or categories of tropes – that you both love and hate, but are never ambivalent about?


18 thoughts on “Tropes I Love and Hate

  1. Exactly, tropes are not an inherently bad thing because they’re just devices that are in almost every book. But some are generally bad ones, and the rest can be made good or bad depending on how they’re written.

    I actually don’t like the chosen one, so we have differing taste on that. But I do like love triangles. I know it’s one of the most hated tropes out there lol, but I love the heart-wrenching emotion it brings to a book when it’s done right. And even if it’s not done right, well, I usually still like it anyway. Though there have been a few times when even I could admit the book would’ve been better without it.

    I think my favorite trope though unlikely allies, enemies who suddenly have to work together because they have a common goal and need each others’ help, or even a group of people who are all completely different and would never associate coming together because of the circumstance and becoming friends (ok I don’t know if that second one counts as unlikely allies, but close enough lol). I don’t know if there are any that I’m never ambivalent about though.


    1. Ooh, yeah, I like the unlikely allies trope, probably becuase it tends to involve a lot of snarking on either side. I LOVE snark 😛


  2. When a book is really good otherwise (great writing, world-building, characterization, etc) I noticed I let pretty much any trope go. I read a lot [LOT] of paranormal romance and had to stop because the “mine” of all the alpha-males in all the books was driving me crazy 🙂


    1. Oooh, I hate the Alpha Male love interest. They’re actually a big part of the reason I’ve never been big on paranormal romance, which is a shame because there’s a lot of other aspects of the genre that I love, but I can’t handle Alpha Males.


  3. I guess it’s because romance tropes crop up SO OFTEN, since a romance sub-plot is pretty much guaranteed these days (sadly). But there are definitely tropes I’m more partial to, and ones that I can forgive more easily.

    …except insta-love. Which, as you’ve said, is a romance one 🙂


    1. Yeah, that’s a good point. Just about every YA book has a romance sub-plot, and for a while I’m pretty sure there was a legal obligation to include a love triangle 😉

      The ONLY time I can forgive insta-love is in Romeo and Juliet, but that’s because it’s not really about the romance, but about how two young people make reckless decisions that lead to tragedy because their feelings – infatuation, love, whatever – are forbidden for no good reason. Insta-love is actually really common in Shakespeare, because there isn’t room for a slow-burn in a play, but that’s the one example for me that doesn’t bother me, because the fact that Romeo and Juliet *believe* themselves to be in love is the important aspect.


  4. I totally agree that tropes aren’t even necessarily “bad” or anything…one just be cautious using them. *nods* I LOVE the enemies-turned-lovers trope, and also the bad boy with a heart of gold. I’m a sucker for that one!! It’s usually cheesy BUT I CAN’T HELP IT. XD But not the bad boy who treats the protagonist badly…gah, NO. The one that is kind of dangerous, but for the good of humanity?! But I agree that romance tropes are often cringeworthy. Instalove is rarely redeemable, bleh, it usually feels like lazy writing. And love-triangles…I AVOID them absolutely nowadays. It just feels like one party is never truly fleshed out so it’s obvious who the girl will pick. (And why is it so often 1 girl + 2 boys??!)


    1. The combination of ‘bad boy who treats the protagonist badly’ and instalove is why I CANNOT ship Clary/Jace in The Mortal Instruments. I mean, by book 5, 6, I can see why Clary loves Jace (and Clary is just awesome so I can see why he loves her 😉 ), but she basically falls for him while he’s disparaging her entire culture and treating her best friend like dirt. In the space of a couple days.

      Will Herondale, on the other hand, is one of my favourite examples of the bad boy with a heart of gold.


  5. I’m with you. MOST romance tropes can pull me in if they’re done well, and I know that I’m a complete sucker for some of them. A love triangle doesn’t inherently bother me, even though I do cringe a little bit at the thought of them (because when they AREN’T done well, they can be painful). The only trope that almost always bugs me is instalove – and even that one can work for me from time to time!


  6. I think tropes can be very useful if they are well done – and a well-used trope is a testament to an author’s excellence.
    I like the three romance tropes you mention, but like you said, they are so often cringe-worthy. The love triangle is probably the one I love the least, because it’s SO common, and so commonly used to create unnecessary drama.
    Hate-to-love can be a great one, I like the gradual change in the relationship, but I actually really, really like the friends-to-lovers trope. There always seems to be a good base for their relationship if they are already friends! 🙂
    Nice post, Nicola!


    1. I like friends-to-lovers, too! I actually didn’t mention it here because I almost always enjoy usages of it; I don’t know if that’s because it’s my favourite of the romance tropes (even when I was 12, 13 and just starting to care about romance I remember loving it), or if it’s less overused than some of the others so the overall standard is a little higher.


  7. I tend to like tropes, especially in fantasy. It’s one of the first genres I read when I was younger and it’s comforting to see familiar story elements. I also think it’s a lot of fun when people play with tropes. It makes me feel as though I’m in on a joke. Romance tropes tend not to be my favorite and I’ve yet to read a love triangle or love-to-hate relationship I didn’t despise.


    1. Yeah, I grew up reading fantasy, too, and like you I do find some fantasy tropes comforting because of their familiarity; the best is when someone plays with a trope enough to make it new but not so much that it loses that familiarity!


  8. The “reforming the rake” trope which has now become the whole bad boy thing is very problematic one for me.

    I deeply believe in the idea that people can change, but I don’t believe it happens simply because they “meet” someone. I hate that kind of story, because I think it encourages girls & women to make bad choices because they believe they can change someone.

    On the other hand, give me a good redemption story with solid reasons why a person wants to be better & evidence that they had to work at it, and I will eat it up every time.


    1. Yesssssss! I love stories where people grow and reform themselves, or when they appear cruel and cold but have deeper layers that reveal them to be far more complex, but I agree it’s incredibly problematic when the impetus for change is a female love interest, because the implication is that women are responsible for making men behave normally.

      Liked by 1 person

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