Being editors, the Divas notice writing tropes, whether it’s in the manuscripts we edit or the books we read. I asked each of the Divas to write a bit about their least favorite writing tropes and why they don’t like them. Please keep in mind that these are the personal preferences of the Divas. There will be just as many readers, authors, and editors out there who love loves these writing tropes as hate them. No offense is intended by this. These are simply our personal opinions.
I’m not a big fan of alpha males.
I’m probably in the minority here, but that’s never bothered me before and I doubt it will now. Ha-ha!
I don’t want you to confuse my dislike for the alpha male with the strong male lead who can take charge, treat those around him with respect while putting people in their place when needed, or hand over the reins to someone else. When I say alpha male, I’m talking about the possessive male protagonist who lashes out at the female protagonist because he can’t control his “reaction” to her. The male protagonist who likes to taunt the female protagonist and make her angry because he likes the fire in her eyes. The male protagonist who constantly puts the female protagonist in her place, wins every argument, and make her “beg” for it.
Call me a feminist if you like, but these types of one-sided power struggles never appealed to me. Personally, I don’t find it romantic, and I often wonder why the female protagonist puts up with so much crap. No one is that good in the sack. Seriously, by show of hands, how many people feel like putting out for someone who’s constantly pushing the anger button? I can’t imagine wanting to spend the rest of my life with that jerk.
I guess it offends my sense of fair play and the idea that couples should actually be compatible, equally matched, and respect each other.
That being said, if the alpha male in a story can, at least, atone for his behavior in the end without turning into a complete milquetoast, all is not lost. There are actually a few books I’ve read that have handled the alpha male quite admirably, and those books have earned a spot on my favorites list simply because of the way the author handled the alpha male stereotype.
Why I hate cliffhangers.
Also known as where’s my happy ending?
If I’m buying a book, I want the whole story. Period. Most of what I read is romance, so yeah, I’m looking for that happily ever after. There’s very little that will piss me off more than creeping closer to the end of a really good book and realizing “Oh, for the love of Pete, there’s going to be a cliffhanger. Just shoot me now.”
I get why some authors do it, I really do. Build up the suspense, keep those readers coming back for more, establish a fan base of junkies who need a fix—well, maybe not that extreme. But I think it’s pretty fair to say authors want to keep their readers coming back. But it’s a little misleading to draw readers into your world, make them love your world, and leave ’em hanging.
But let’s not confuse cliffhangers with series. I love a good series. Revisiting with old friends, the world-building that happens in a good series, and details, interwoven story lines, and characters… sign me up. In a series, there’s an individual story arc in each book with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Most cliffhangers end somewhere around the end of the middle or the climax, and readers are left to read the ending or resolution in another book. Which doesn’t really make for a very good second book, in most cases, because what else happens? Filler? Fluff? All the good stuff already happened.
The funny thing about this is if you know me at all, you know I read fan fiction. Which is, in essence, chapter after chapter of cliffhangers because most authors post one chapter at a time. So why do I love it? First of all, it’s free. I can’t complain about waiting for an update on a cliffie of a chapter because, well… too bad. And if you’ve ever agonized over a cliffhanger in your favorite story, you’ve learned to wait until a story is complete before you start it. Unless it’s by one of your favorite authors, and then you’ll suck it up, buttercup, and wait like everyone else.
With books that I’m paying for, though, I’d like to know if it’s got a cliffhanger, that’s all. And most authors make it pretty clear in their blurb whether the story continues in book two or not. Reviews are super helpful as well—especially the negative ones. I am not the only reader who doesn’t like cliffhangers; trust me, reviewers don’t like the surprise. When I’m surprised by a cliffie, I’m not likely to leave a negative review, but I’m not likely to buy book two, either.
It’s no secret. I hate, loathe, despise love triangles.
To me, they are generally a sign of lazy plotting. Yes, I said l-a-z-y. Love triangles are little story destroyers. They ruin characterization. They are a sign the apocalypse is nigh. Okay, maybe that’s taking it a bit too far—maybe.
But to be serious, the issue with love triangles is that they undermine the plot in a spotlight stealing way. Instead of the story being about the characters and their journey, it becomes all about drama, drama, and more drama. Your female protagonist becomes instantly unlikable and weak because she has gone from awesome to inconstant and indecisive. Your male lead becomes obsessed with winning and playing games rather than growing in the way a healthy character would. The secondary love interest just comes off as a sleazy scumbag no matter how you tweak his characterization (unless of course you throw the primary love interest under the proverbial bus and ruin his characterization completely). And ultimately the trope conquers the antagonist in the story and replaces them entirely. Do you see what I mean when I say this trope is a story gremlin?
Diva Janine once told me about a writing contest she entered. In the instructions, the writers were told not to go with their first idea. This concept can be applied to so much when it comes to characterization and plotting. See, you shouldn’t go with your first plot line or your first idea for characterization or backstory, and you especially shouldn’t go with your first idea to create drama in your story. There’s a simple reason for this: your first idea is most likely going to be your laziest idea.
So the next time you may be tempted to employ this rampaging Godzilla of tropes, stop! Seriously—just stop. Think it through. Does your story need that love triangle or can you find a better, and more creative, way to generate drama and angst in your story? If you can, go with the thing your readers don’t expect. They’ll thank you and you’ll save your poor editor from major eye rolls. Just saying.
It’s better to be on the forefront of creating a new trope (soon to be overused) rather than relying on a trope that is old, worn out, and desperately needs to be retired.
Cheating is a hot button.
Nothing turns my stomach more than reading a fairly decent romance and all of a sudden a dreaded trope rears its ugly head. Cheating is a hot button for a lot of readers, myself included. Especially if the cheating involves the main male and female protagonist. I will drop a book like a hot potato if the hunk or heroine of the story is no longer attractive to read. I don’t care if they are redeemable later on or learned their lesson. I’ve already stopped reading before I can find out. Let me tell you why the cheating trope is one of my most hated: It feels that not only is the character cheating on the other but also on me. The investment of my time and my imagination feel wasted.
I read a book recently where the story was very compelling but there was a side plot of the male character was sleeping with the lead female behind his girlfriend’s back. I stuck with the story only because I saw some meat to the story and wanted to see how it turned out and honestly, he wasn’t cheating on the main chick so I was okay. And it was a very reluctant okay. By the time I got to the end of the book, the man didn’t redeem himself and never faced any consequence. It made me mad. What was the point of going through all the built up drama that the cheating caused to come out in the end pretty as a rose? The character obviously didn’t learn his lesson. So what made it a good idea for the main female character to forgive and forget? Nothing. The woman then becomes a pushover and a doormat. No longer did I understand the fact she went back to him for love. It was a failure on the author’s part to allow her characters to come around full circle.