Like genres (and sub-genres), certain tropes in fiction literature go through cycles of rising and ebbing popularity. Because “my” genre is romance, I’ll focus on those plot devices which I find tired and in dire need of abandonment in that genre.
- Secret baby. Not only does this trope glamorize or glorify promiscuity, but it promotes irresponsibility. For whatever reason, the heroine–who usually gets pregnant from a one night stand–cannot believe she’s pregnant practically until the time the baby is being born. Then, of course, she assumes all the blame and does not inform the father that she’s pregnant. Reasons–none of them good–abound for this failure to let the baby daddy know he’s got a kid on the way. In some variations of this trope, the baby is a few years old and occasionally near adulthood. Whatever happened to not falling into bed with someone on the first date? Sex has consequences.
- “Broken” hero/heroine. This trope usually alludes to some trauma–emotional and/or physical–in the character’s background. Oftentimes, it’s as simple as a nasty breakup of a relationship that leads the character either to swearing off all future romantic interests and/or treating the opposite sex as disposable. The authors who write such plot contrivances have obviously never heard of therapy and use the past trauma to justify the character’s ongoing, reprehensible treatment of others.
- Antiheroes. I love an alpha male hero in romance, but not those who are dismissive, abusive, cruel, or overly controlling. This typifies most “dark” romances with antiheroes and usually incorporates elements (if not wholesale adoption) of BDSM. Abuse, rape, and other abhorrent behavior of the hero toward the heroine typifies “Omegaverse” and mafia romances and similar fiction. Regardless of any future power exchange, the male protagonists of such stories start off as repulsive jerks and remain repulsive jerks.
- TSTL heroines. Imbecilic female characters usually end up paired with the antiheroes described above. Authors who write these female protagonists tout their characters as intelligent and feisty despite all evidence to the contrary. They either have backbones the consistency of overcooked noodles and do great impressions of a doormat, or they suffer from terminal stupidity shown by harebrained decisions, overreaction, and an impressive inability to engage in critical thinking.
- Lost job and cheating boyfriend/fiancé. This is the scenario that launches thousands of romances. The heroine loses her (crappy) job and discovers her boyfriend (or fiancé) cheating on her the same day. This, of course, sends her spiraling into a series of bad decisions, usually aided and abetted by a sympathetic friend, a gallon of ice cream, and too much wine. Honestly, it’s not the indulgence in wine and ice cream that gets my ire, it’s the idiotic advice given by the best friend for the heroine to sleep with as many men as possible in an effort to “get back on the horse.” The lost job part just doesn’t result in the heroine taking the next reasonable step of looking for new employment, generally because she somehow falls into the arms of the uber-rich hero.
- Billionaires. Anyone who reads romance might be forgiven for getting the impression that there’s a single, handsome billionaire standing on every street corner. It’s the Cinderella theme all over again … and again … and again. Well-to-do just isn’t good enough; the hero must be able to buy and sell small countries. In that same vein, I take issue with the authors of historical (e.g., medieval, Georgian, Regency, and Edwardian) romances, who seem to entirely focus on dukes. A quick glance at Debrett’s Guide to the British peerage quickly confirms that, really, dukes are in extremely short supply and bachelor dukes even more so. Like billionaires, you won’t find one on every street corner or in every ballroom.
- Abduction/Stockholm Syndrome. Yeah, I’ve written these myself. However, abduction does not necessarily lead to being loved or cherished, especially when combined with nonconsensual sex. In fact, I have a lot of trouble envisioning how such a scenario redolent of physical/emotional/sexual abuse would actually lead to a loving relationship, but the heroines of far too many of these romances cannot think beyond their excited hormones. In fact, my one novella that dwells on this trope–The Barbary Lion–I make two strong points: 1) the hero always keeps his word and 2) the heroine plots, escapes, and eludes the jerk for a good long while, during which he realizes the error of his ways. That novella ends with the hero, Atlas Leonidus, negotiating with the heroine for her willing return to him. The reader knows he will keep his promises to her.
Author Susan Stoker does a great job of using several of these tropes in ways that don’t demean the heroines and that don’t relegate the heroes to what have become stock antihero characters. I always appreciate an author who can incorporate a standard plot device or trope without it feeling worn and tired and strive to do the same in my stories.