I could wax lyrical about all the tropes I’m completely done with, that I never again want to see the light of day, or light of the moon for that matter. But that would just be a list – and this isn’t a Listicle. The tropes I mention below are ones I’ve had enough of in their lazy and basic forms – but still either enjoy them when they are done well, or tweaked in such a way that you don’t even notice the trope, or I understand their seeming necessity in genre fiction.
The Chosen One (bonus point for being Of Unknown Parentage / An Orphan)
Usually it’s A Prophesy or The Powers That Be that tell of a Chosen One – only one individual out of the many millions, billions, trillions of life forms out there who can do What Needs To Be Done.
Really? Just one, single person? So, what happens if they are killed? Oh, they (almost) never are? – So why do I want to read about this Chosen One when it seems inevitable that they will probably win whatever it is that only they can do. Let’s not even take into account their entire life leading up to their discovery of their Chosen One status where they are at risk of childhood illness (especially if an Orphan), accidents, diseases, war, mistakes when shaving for the first time with a sharp blade or a really bad batch of sushi?
And what is it with killing off their parents? Why do writers feel the need to make sure that the Chosen One is an Orphan before going out doing their Chosen One duties? Sure, the good parents will want to keep their child safe. Anyone should be rather suspicious of a Wizened Old Man coming to their house saying that their child is The Chosen One and thus needs to be taken away from home and live in seclusion with The Wizened Old Man. Who is a Wizard (of course! But don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret) to learn about their secret wonderous powers and abilities which have never even been hinted at before.
Pretty sure most parents would pass at that – and probably be reaching for their broad sword, forge hammer or skillet…
I’m sure you can think of at five Chosen Ones already whose parents have been murdered, gone missing or are never known before the story even begins. It’s a tired old trope.
The Better Chosen One (and Living Parents!)
Sometimes it’s just the person who is in the right place at the right time (or wrong time depending on the feelings of the person) who takes on the mantle of Hero and does what needs to be done.
Or they are The Chosen One but really just want to get on with their Normal Life. But once they accept that this is their new Normal (within the first few chapters please) they get down to business – and still find time for friends, Prom and a part-time job.
And stop killing off parents – especially before the story starts.
Reader: “Are we nearly there yet?”
Author: “No, 200 pages yet to go before we get close to our vague and unconfirmed first destination.”
Reader: “But we’ve already been through 300 pages and haven’t even left The Village yet. Where is it we’re heading again?”
Author: “Oh, you won’t find that out until the Wise Old Wizard gives The Chosen One a map in four chapters time. And it turns out you’ve been going the wrong way all along. Haha! Isn’t that funny!”
Reader: “So, the next 200 pages will be about the development of The Chosen One and his companions, about how they become such close friends and swear to stand by each other until The Final Destination? Right?”
Author: “Hahaha – oh dear no. I’m going to use this as an opportunity to poetically describe all the surroundings in great detail. Every single tree and mountain and hill and pond and cloud and weather change and food and creature will be described vividly to the point of almost becoming a nature documentary. All that information will then become relevent when I start to make obvious hints at the hidden metaphors. In book 3. But I’ve also added some random minor tension for added flavour.”
Reader: *throws book across the room*
A Better Quest
If we absolutely have to travel, can we only see the journey when it is necessary to the story. Thanks!
A Quest is usually for The MacGuffin. Really may as well be a McMuffin with all the detail that usually goes in to explaining why this specific goal, artefact, item or thing is required. It usually has a name like The Something of Someone. Go on, you’ve already thought of a few straight away. The importance to the plot isn’t the goal or item in question, but the effect it has on those trying to achieve it. Yet, the ‘why’ is never really mentioned in the narrative.
The Better MacGuffin
If it’s so very important that we have to go half way across the world to go achieve it, as maths test often say, please show your working; give some narrative about the item. If we care a little about the reason we won’t be spending time thinking about the ‘why’ and more concerned with the ‘how’ – you know, the story.
Or, better yet, if it’s an item, let’s have it straight away or really early on and get on with the story.
The Dark Lord
Mr Dark Lord (and it’s mostly always a Mr) is so unbelievably evil and Bad it’s probably in their name; Malekith, Darkseid, Diablo, Shai’Tan (really?) It’s like their parents either saw their baby and thought ‘That right there is hellspawn, let’s give him a name to match’ or they were otherwise hoping that their child would turn to evil / be evil and gave them a name to aspire to. Go parents!
No need for much of a back story though, or any real story at all – it’s The Dark Lord, doer of bad deeds and otherwise all round bad guy…it’s in the name. Although don’t expect to be shown much bad deeds other than a cackle or perhaps killing one person or planning to take over the world because they’re bored or something.
The Better Dark Lord
The Dark Lord is never The Dark Lord in their own mind. They are always the hero and what they do has to be done, even though, even to them, it’s distasteful or down right terrible. But to them, it’s also the right thing to do. No need for black and white morality, show us a complex villain (not anti-hero, which is different) and it will add to the overall story. Make them sympathetic – maybe they even have a family they love – but they are still the antagonist to The Chosen One. How about making her The Dark Lady too – why should the guys get all the fun? Erm, I mean…nevermind…
Girl In the Fridge
Otherwise known as ‘fridging’ – whereby female characters are injured, raped, killed, or depowered with the sole intention of moving along the story of the male character.
Yes, I know sometimes The Dark Lord will want to get The Chosen One all angry and upset enough to make a mistake by storming The Castle to get revenge for what has been done to their girlfriend / wife / daughter / best female friend / partner. But it’s too often that the Fridged individual isn’t given anything more than a few lines of background characterisation before being brutally attacked. It’s like their whole reason for existing is just to have something horrible happen to them and the reader is shown how it impacts on The Chosen One.
When a guy friend is killed off it’s usually in a heroically tragic way – they may even be resurrected later on – but to almost all the women it’s either game over Mrs The Chosen One or long-term damage seen in the background to The Chosen Ones life. Or they are never again mentioned, like the author has just used them as a plot device rather than a person who the hero cared so deeply about.
No Girl In the Fridge
If The Chosen One needs to be driven to react – make it realistic and not at the expense of another character.
If it absolutely depends on The Chosen One having their nearest and dearest hurt or harmed – how about we wait until we’ve gotten to know the characters involved, when we’ve seen their relationship blossom and have them be a well-rounded character. It’s guaranteed that when they die (heroically and after taking many of the enemy with them maybe) or get badly injured, the reader will feel incensed too.
Top 5 Tuesdays is a meme hosted by Shanah over at The Bionic Bookworm – I wonder if anyone else also doesn’t like these tropes…