There are always going to be tropes that irk people- it’s the nature of the writing game that not everyone will love what you do. But there are some that get trotted out regularly that really need to be sent to the old tropes home to live out the rest of their lives well away from modern writing.
I’m guessing this will develop into a series, but for now, here are the big ticket, ‘hell no’ tropes that are doing my head in at the moment:
All women want babies
Uh, no. Not all women want to be mothers. And that’s totally alright. No one is being thrown out of the sisterhood for refusing to spawn. This trope on its own makes me ragey, because there’s more than enough proof out there that parenthood isn’t for everyone, and that women (like men) can live fulfilling, wonderful lives without becoming parents.
The problem is that the ‘baby crazy’ themed tropes are a remnant of very old, not that relevant ideas around what women are, and what they want. It doesn’t say it’s okay to want babies (which it is), so much as it makes it mandatory for the female characters to be focused on motherhood above all else. It reduces female characters down to one course of action, and when all of your female characters are all about aspiring to motherhood all the time, without any other focus or real sense of self, it’s a parody of a gender rather than a group of realistic and well-designed characters.
It’s shitty, lazy writing.
But worse is when it leads to the next trope:
Women go crazy/dark side in the pursuit of motherhood
I kid you not, I read a novel this year where two women (who had up until that point had zero interest in having children) suddenly and inexplicably began acting out of character, becoming almost monstrous in their quest for motherhood. These otherwise reasonable human beings were suddenly demonic in their need to reproduce, pushing aside all of their morals and all of their earlier life achievements because BABIES.
They became such horrible people that instead of being sympathetic to their plight, I was furious that this was how women were being depicted in 2015. I was furious that it made a mockery of the experience of women who have struggled to conceive, who want children for reasons more honourable than ‘I’m bored’, ‘I’m lonely’, or my personal favourite, ‘how funny would it be if I got pregnant before my sister, who is devastated by her inability to have children?’
These are women I don’t understand, cannot relate to, and have never met in real life. I know women struggling with the realisation they may not be able to have children biologically. I know women struggling to conceive. They are hurt, they are vulnerable, but they aren’t turned into horrible people by an inability to conceive.
You’re pregnant? The love of your life might be your half-brother.
I am really sad to say that all of these tropes showed up in the one book.
I know, right?
Occasionally these tropes are done well, and they’re heartbreaking and add depth to the story. But more often than not it’s a lazy way of skyrocketing the tension completely out of left field. There’s no rhyme or reason for it, no signposting that it could be a possibility. You get close to the happily ever after, and suddenly, there’s this random dose of conflict thrown in.
Even the trope of ‘In love? He might be your brother’ bugs me, because it’s a needless way of adding drama that rarely comes across well. But when a woman finds out she’s pregnant, then has to deal with that in the name of narrative conflict and tension?
Ugh. Just no. Unless you’re really, really careful, it comes across as though you’ve created this foetus for the sole intention of debating whether to abort it or not. There are very few authors who can keep from making it feel like they’re holding the foetus hostage until the audience cries enough.
This isn’t to say abortion should be a taboo subject- honest discussions about the decision to keep or terminate a pregnancy are important in the real world, and in fiction. But if you’re throwing random emotionally charged issues into a story for no real reason beyond making readers cry, and you’re not giving those subjects the time and attention they need to be honest, then just don’t. It’s not fair to drop emotional bombs on your characters, and then act as though it never happened or had no real consequences. If you’re going to tackle difficult subjects, it needs to be about more than shock value.