Use That Trope!

4 December, 2011 Musing Musers 8 comments

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There are certain tropes and cliches that are often seen in books, movies and plays.  Tropes exist in pretty much everything ever written and usually they aren’t too bad unless they’re a negatively geared one like the Men are strong, Women are pretty trope.   Cliches are usually annoying because they’re something that’s been done to death and often used for no other reason than the fiendish lack of imagination the evil writers need in order to use them.

Well, I’m here today to tell you to use them.  If you can.

Did the above just sound like a challenge?  Why, yes it is.

Cliches are stupid and boring if you can’t use them the right way.  Your character is an orphan because their parents died in a tragic accident, you say? Wow.  Haven’t seen that one before.

There’s absolutely no reason why I’m putting these pictures up here.  They clearly have nothing in common.

Making your MC an orphan is usually a cheap, easy and semi effective trick for immediately gaining sympathy for your MC from the audience and making a simple pretense at giving a back story plus, ANGST!  What author doesn’t love angst?

But you know when you should throw the whole cliche rulebook out the window?  When it really makes sense to.

A lot of reviews rightly call out YA authors for neglecting the family in the young MC’s life.  I’ve seen it referred to as Disappearing Parent Syndrome because apparently anyone without rippling pectorals is of no interest to female audiences.

Readers are right to call writers out on this.  For a normal, average young adult living at home, there’s really no reason why the parents should disappear off the face of the earth.  It gives the character an amazing lack of balance and it shows poor authorship.

But then there are times when it’s totally, totally appropriate.  Because if your story is about a young adult going off the rails into a drug dependency then absent parents or abusive parents are simply what makes sense.  Everneath is a big one that people complain about since the father in that novel displays an alarming lack of interest in Beckett.  I understand the complaints.  That he doesn’t ask enough questions, that he’s never around, that he has no real participation in Beck’s life.

Wow.  Sounds like every parent of every drug addict I’ve ever known.  Which is exactly what the active metaphor behind Everneath is.  Her trip down into the Everneath is a representation of someone who is completely addicted to drugs.  Everneath painstakingly catalogues Beck’s slippery slope from grieving young school girl into addict and it involves every single person in her life somehow betraying or neglecting her.  A politician father who dismisses her and focuses on his campaign?  I’ve seen it.  So many times.  Except I’ve seen it in diplomats and high ranking business men and government employees and school principals and Church leaders.  What’s that saying about Pastor’s children?  Other than: “run!”?  No, I can’t remember either.

The same is true for Harry Potter.  Yes, he is an orphan and his abuse does garner a great amount of sympathy but he is also a character designed not to put a lot of trust in adults and to try and solve problems by himself without going to them for help.  This is a powerful aspect of his character and his story telling which is dealt with so much more masterfully than: “My parents died.  I has a sad.”

A cliche, used by a powerful, thoughtful, purposeful author can be an amazing story.  If you want further proof of that then look no further than Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.  A Romeo and Juliet, star crossed lovers retelling?  Get out of town.  And yet, it’s done so well, so masterfully that it’s easy to forget that Taylor is dragging out the same old tired, cliches.  In her hands, they’re not tired and they’re not cliched.  They’re just good storytelling.

At the end of the day, it’s not important what you write but how you write it.  That makes the difference between a cliched piece of trash, and a story worth reading.


Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy

Co-blogger at Cuddlebuggery
Kat Kennedy is a book reviewer and aspiring author in the Young Adult genre. She reviews critically but humorously and get super excited about great books. Find her on GoodReads.
Kat Kennedy

8 Responses to “Use That Trope!”

  1. Kate

    Ah Disappearing Parent Syndrome, never so well illustrated as in Shiver, where her LIVE IN parents don't seem to realize her LIVE IN boyfriend. ahahahaI hate to disagree, because I think you're… well… awesome sauce, but there are some cliches that deserve to be run over, burned, chopped into tiny pieces and thrown in a compost bin. For instance, LOVE TRIANGLES! DIE, DIE, DIE!!!(It should now be mentioned that this is just my opinion.)

  2. TToria

    ^^^^Agree with Kate on the whole love triangle scenario!But i suppose if written in a unique and captivating way i may just be swayed. But i can hardly see myself reading further into a book once i know the triangle is in there!Anywayssss…fab points you've made here, new follower :-)TToria @

  3. Lisa

    Kat, I completely agree with your analysis of disappearing parent syndrome. I've stated several times in my reviews on Goodreads that it's not that the parents are neglectful that bothers me, but that there's no reason given for their neglect. It doesn't make any sense, and the reader is just asked to believe it. Shiver is one of the worst offenders as is Hush, Hush where a reason is given, but one that is completely irrational. I'm fine if the parent is neglectful so long as we're given an explanation for it. I'm really excited to read Everneath because it seems to address YA Tropes, that when handled in the right way, can actually make for a compelling story.

  4. CuddleBug

    Andrea – that would be hysterical!Kate – Totally valid point, I could only think of a couple of valid instances where a love triangle would work. It's the most overused piece of shit plot device there is! Mostly because the girl usually ends up with the wrong guy!Thanks, TToria!Lisa, I hope you like Everneath! I loved it!

  5. Kate

    Kat-It's totally funny that you say that about the girl ending up with the wrong guy in love triangles… that was my mom's exact point, and when I thought about it, I couldn't help agreeing.We decided that there are three reasons we hate love triangles: when the girl chooses the wrong guy(Twilight); when both guys are great so one basically gets the shaft(The Iron Fey Series); when it feels like it's put in the story merely to "make something happen" (Demon Girl). I think Amanda Hocking handled it pretty well in her Trylle Trilogy, but just BARELY. I think the only reason I liked it is because it was pretty clear that one of the "loves" was a first love, and very immature (the two had nothing in common).

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