Those Ever-Persistent, Existent Character Tropes…

Last night, when I should have been getting some sleep, I stumbled upon this thread in /r/fantasywriters about Character Tropes, and which ones we like and which ones we didn’t. It’s not a new conversation, not by any means, but it’s definitely an interesting one, one that makes me go through a list in my head and tick off things I doing or not doing, with the constant reminder that you can’t please everyone. I also thought it might be a good topic to bring to the blog and open up for discussion.

Now, this doesn’t have to be limited to just fantasy writing, of course, though my biggest concerns about Character Tropes always lead me to Aryneth rather than my other fiction. I don’t know why that is. But I do want to know: What are the character tropes/developments that drive you up the wall? What do you want to see more of?

I know, for me, they hit it pretty quickly in the thread: I like to see a lot of moral ambiguity in villains, though I agree with one commenter who pointed out that the moral grey has become such a big thing that everyone seems to tread the line and no one really comes off as good any more, because everyone’s bad with a little good. It also drives me nuts when there’s a romance thrown in just for the sake of there being a romance, or when female characters have to be paired up. Obviously, this is different if we’re talking about a romance genre, but I just read a book where there was the most awkward romantic subplot between the two main characters (who were cousins, by the way), and it was just so unnecessary and weird. Personally, I’ve noticed that, if I’m doing a series, there’s very little romance in the first book of the series, because I don’t want it to be about that. I want it to be about the characters and the conflict first and foremost, and once they’ve developed their relationships, then we can see where it might be going in a second or third book. Not always. I have a few series where romance enters the picture pretty quickly, but there’s hardly any romance in The Slayer Saga: Soulless (though some is developing in Heartless, ironically), and there’s practically none in Serpent in a Cage. We get to that more in books two and three.

Characters whose gender don’t really play into things much is something I’d love to see more in fantasy, though I think it’s a little trickier in other genres, except maybe science fiction. I also love it when there’s a romance between characters, but it isn’t a big deal. I’m thinking Angua and Carrot from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series or some of Lois McMaster Bujold’s work: it’s there, it’s endearing and you get invested in it, but it’s not the main point of everything they do.

And, if you get a chance, hop on over to my Featured Story page, where you’ll find Miriam Sagan‘s short story “Red Coat,” which was featured in the recently published World Unknown Review Volume I! I’m hoping to feature a new story from the review every month or so, so keep an eye out for more, or, just skip the wait and pick up the book today.

/shameless plugging

Now it’s your turn, though. What are your favorite character tropes and developments? What do you absolutely despise? I’d love to get some thoughts on this, and who doesn’t love a good writerly venting?


  1. I don’t like characters who are too perfect. Almost all my heroes are good men with very dark sides. I like the war between dark and light, although I DO like for the light to win in the end. Most of my “sheroes” are more on the good side, but they tend to be impulsive. As far as villains who aren’t all bad, I think there’s a place for that in some stories. But some stories need a completely unredeemable villain. There’s a need for all kinds of characters in all kinds of stories. I can’t really think off the top of my head a character that gets on my nerves.

    I, personally, like a romantic thread in most stories. Depending on the genre, it can be a serious part of the story or sort of an aside. Whatever the case, it should never be forced.

  2. We have the same pet peeves! Pointless romance and wishy-washy villains – totally. I think the best villains are those who are so so bad, but they’re bad in an almost relatable way. Not “oh, his kid died, so now he’s insane and I feel bad for him” but “oh, he’s the asshole that most people are in their heads, except he takes it one step further.” Amy in Gone Girl was such a great illustration of this. If you’re a female reader, you FEEL where she’s coming from, but…you still don’t want her to win, really 😛

    I also hate the dark loner antiheroes. You know, the super emo kids with the dark past who sulk and snark until you find out they have a heart of gold – nope. I like my heroes to be generally nice people. The sarcastic loner has been done to death in urban fantasy. We need more well-rounded people, especially less “chosen ones” and “special snowflake half-human/half-werecorgi” mixes. I’m a fan of the everyman.

    Another trope that I’ve become fond of is the “leader jerk with a heart of gold.” Star Lord. Tony Stark. Han Solo. Someone who goes hard on people at first, especially his subordinates, but only because he cares and has legit high standards. But he’ll be the first one to lay down his life for his friends and his beliefs.

    • ^ ha, and I realize that it seems those two things contradict, but there is a huge difference between being a happy-go-lucky jerk and a scowling, grumpy one! 😛

      • Haha, definitely a difference, I agree! And I also agree that the Chosen One bit has been cropping up way too much lately. It’s a classic, there’s no doubt about that, but I’ve noticed it seems to come out in surges, where it’s like every other story has it as a premise, and very few of them manage to do it WELL. When it’s done well, though, it’s not too bad.

  3. I first read the subject line as ‘character typos’ and started pondering what that would even be.

    But as character tropes I’m tired of, well, that would be River Song, and the characters too much like her. This is mostly limited to Doctor Who, in the stuff I read or watch, but it’s still one that I’m really, really, really fed up with.

    I like characters who’re tranquil but curious and march their way into the story in part because they’ve found something interesting is going on and they’ll accept some personal risk because they want to be in on that. I’m not sure I have an example of one in fiction right now — it’s more a roleplaying session thing — but it also makes for characters who end up heroic because they happened to be there and of course they’re trying to make matters better.

    • Yeah…”Curious and adventure-seeking” does not usually make for a strong enough motivation to carry the story, and now you’ve got me wondering if maybe that’s why I’ve kind of tuned out of Doctor Who in the recent years…

  4. I am verrrry interested in seeing what people think about what I do with the elves in Benevolence Archives 2. And no, I’m not giving you any more hints, but something you say here is relevant. 🙂

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