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Least Favorite Tropes

Tropes you hate (check all that apply)

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We had a previous post and poll regarding our favorite tropes and now I wonder what your least favorite tropes are.

Tropes you secretly (or not so secretly) love. Check all that apply.

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. JC
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 23:33:32

    I don’t like amnesia unless it’s done REALLY well. there are times when it works. I also like it a lot more when it’s the guy that has amnesia, instead of the girl.

    It makes him more vaunerable.

  2. Jane
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 23:37:12

    @JC: The amnesia thing really irritates me! It’s one of my least favorite tropes.

  3. Shanna
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 23:39:29

    I hate the secret baby trope with a passion! Runner up is the big misunderstanding. It just makes me want to crack the characters head’s together.

  4. Ann Somerville
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 23:50:24

    I’ve seen amnesia done well exactly once in m/m – it’s a very common device in fanfiction, but hardly any authors bother to research it. Like concussion, they rely on Hollywood potrayals of the condition, which robs it of its real impact and pathos.

    Having said that, there’s no trope that can’t be done well, just many that are usually not.

  5. Ms. Bookish
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 00:26:47

    This is very funny. My top five happen to be, um, the top five of the results, too!

  6. LAmonkeygirl
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 01:28:42

    Hate, hate, hate the Big Mis. If the heroine and hero can’t actually communicate with one another, then I have no hope for them as a couple after the book is over.

  7. MS Jones
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 03:42:10

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding the Big Mis, but aren’t Bet Me (by Jennifer Crusie), Beast (by Judith Ivory), and Pride and Prejudice (by Jane Austen) examples of that particular trope?

    A failure to communicate between two people who’ve just met seems realistic to me.

  8. Elizabeth
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 09:24:25

    I hate the Big Misunderstanding. When done well it’s good but it’s so rarely done well. Most of the time I’m left yelling at the book.

    MS Jones, I think those are examples of the Big Mis done well.

  9. Nonny
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:18:43

    My votes: The Secret Baby, The Big Misunderstanding, The Virgin Widow, and Amnesia.

    I come from a family of medical professionals, so how Amnesia is classically presented drives me bugfuck insane. It’s not realistic, and it’s cliched. It’s not “oh, a bonk on a head and you forget everything; bonk again, and you remember”; cases where there’s enough brain damage or psychological trauma for the patient to forget their entire past generally take years to recover, if ever. I believe there are a few Amnesia stories out there where the author actually did her research, and kudos to them. It could be a strong story if done right, but most readers (myself included) are going to hear “Amnesia” and not give it the chance.

    The Secret Baby has always seemed stupid to me. I can’t say I think much of heroines who get pregnant and then don’t tell the father. Even if you don’t think he’ll give a fuck, he deserves to know, and it’s unfair to keep it from him. I think I’ve read of a couple premises where the heroine didn’t tell him because she was afraid he was going to hurt her or the baby — so why the fuck would you get back with him later???? Arrrrrrgh. >_<

    The Virgin Widow — OK, I’ve seen this mostly in historicals where the heroine was married to some old coot that, for some reason, couldn’t or wouldn’t consummate. It doesn’t make any sense, because in many historical periods, consummation was the basis of marriage. If the marriage wasn’t consummated, the woman could in theory have the marriage annulled (rare but did happen). It’s not realistic. I’ve read (quite good) books where the heroine had her marriage consummated but might as well have been a virgin because the whole deal was not about pleasure, but finalizing the marriage and potentially making babies. :P

    The Big Misunderstanding… oy. I see this so often and it makes me want to beat my head against a wall. Communication is so important in any relationship. Yes, it can be difficult. Yes, it means you have to fess up to things you might not want to. But if the person truly loves you, s/he’ll understand. I have seen cases where this has been done well; the person had a valid, believable reason for not talking. For example, a woman who’s been beaten by a previous lover for disclosing (x) isn’t going to be easily forthcoming about the topic. Most times, the Big Misunderstandings are just drawn out with far too much angst for my taste.

    I didn’t check “Blackmailed For His/Her Love” because I’m not 100% sure what that means in practice. I don’t think I’ve come across that one. (Sounds like I should be thankful!)

  10. Ann Bruce
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:38:17

    You left out The Cabin Romance, although that’s one I enjoy.

  11. LAmonkeygirl
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 11:22:23

    @MS Jones: Meaning, that if two people just talked to each other, they could easily resolve a conflict, i.e. “I saw you embracing Miss Prattle at the ball. What does that mean?” “She’s an old friend whose mother just died. I was offering her my condolences.” “So you aren’t in love with Miss Prattle?” “No.”

    Very simple gaps in communication are simply remedied if the h/h are emotionally mature–it’s not necessarily about the duration of time they know each other so that they can’t speak candidly.

    Other Big Mis, as you cited, can work well, but it’s a common enough paradigm (I especially remember the one from Whitney, My Love, as an old example) that, to me, reveals an artificial means of prolonging the conflict.

  12. Randi
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 11:23:18

    I was in the middle of clicking a whole slew of Tropes I Dislike when I realized that I have read, at least, one book where those tropes worked. Where I believed it. Ergo, I really can’t vote on this one. While I voted on my favorite tropes easily enough, there is no opposite vote for me. Huh, how do you like that? Learn something new about yourself every day. ;)

  13. KarLynP
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:38:40

    You missed one of my most hated ones: TWINS!! (Or sometimes its a cousin who happens to look just like her missing husband.) Especially the Good Twin/Evil Twin twist. Argh!

  14. Janine
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:40:29

    I have a soft spot for amnesia stories. One of my favorites is Mary Jo Putney’s Uncommon Vows. The amnesia works well there because it’s implied that the memory loss and especially its return has a supernatural cause. But I think I’d love that book even if that weren’t the case, because it is one of the most psychologically rich romances I’ve ever read.

    But it’s also true that the question of what it’s like to lose all memories is so interesting to me that I’m willing to suspend disbelief to see how that scenario plays out.

  15. joanne
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:43:25

    Awwwwww. I LIKE the virgin widow.

    (and eating chocolate until I make myself sick, but they’re both fun occasionally)

  16. Jane O
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:22:09

    I hate the Big Mis when it is based on somebody keeping a secret that there is absolutely no reason to keep (other than to keep the book from ending on page 10).

    But I think my biggest hate is the self-pitying hero/heroine determined not to love/marry because
    a. Mommy/Daddy was cold and unloving and I am of course going to be the same … or
    b. Mommy and Daddy loved each other so much that the survivor was desolated when the other died and I don’t want to be that unhappy … or
    c. I hated Mommy/Daddy and since she/he would want me to marry and have children, I won’t So there!

  17. Kim
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:25:00

    I hope I don’t just do this twice, but Jane – I think you could add the “destined mate” trope – or is it one? Seems to be since I see too many of them. That would totally top my list!!

  18. MaryKate
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:42:49

    Mine is the “masquerading as someone else” trope. As in, “I’m playing a pauper, but I’m really a DUKE”. Or, “I’m playing a mechanic, but I’m really a kabillionaire.” And kind of premeditated deceit like that makes me nuts.

    Love by deceit is a super hot button and almost always a DNF for me.

  19. Sarah
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 18:01:16

    I usually hate the virgin widow for the reasons you all have already given, but I did want to point out that any of these tropes can be done well. The Virgin Widow is one that typically makes an immediate wallbanger for me, but I read one where it was a huge secret because her husband had been gay and she was actually friends with his boyfriend and it was a huge deal for her to “tell” or reveal her secret. In that book, and only in that book did it seem cohesive with the story.

    Sorry, if this seemed rambly but I wanted to chime in because a, I’ve been meaning to find that story in my massive pile of books, and b, like someone said P&P was one big example of a misunderstanding – these can all be done well, its just lazy writers tend to misuse them.

    And I didn’t even think of the one MaryKate mentioned but I completely agree. It just sets up all this false angst and conflict only for it to be brushed aside at the end. However, I did like Love Letters from a Duke (She mistakenly thinks he’s the footman an agency sent over) because the deceit only lasted a couple days and it seemed kind of vaguely plausible-ish.

    But I like this poll, its interesting what I don’t mind and others hate and vice versa.

  20. Susanna Kearsley
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 21:01:18

    @Jane: Have you ever read Random Harvest by James Hilton? One of the most beautiful romances ever, IMO. It might just change your mind about amnesia…

  21. Elle
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 21:30:01

    Maybe I'm misunderstanding the Big Mis, but aren't Bet Me (by Jennifer Crusie), Beast (by Judith Ivory), and Pride and Prejudice (by Jane Austen) examples of that particular trope?

    Perhaps *I* am misunderstanding the Big Mis, but I would not consider Ivory’s Beast to be an example of this trope. The hero of Beast *deliberately* approached the heroine while in disguise and seduced her, and she went along more than willingly *despite* the fact that she already engaged to the hero. Yes, she falls in love with her own fiance/husband without realizing it or later recognizing him when she sees him again, but there was never any confusion on his part (except regarding how to extract himself from the mess that he had made.) There was too much premeditation and intention on both of their parts for this to be a Big Mis plot (at least, as I think of the concept.)

    Like Kim, I also dislike the “Destined Mate” trope (which is so common in paranormals these days.) I know that others adore it, but to me it kind of sucks the romance out of the story.

  22. Corrine
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 06:35:29

    I agree with KarlynP: I hate the twins storyline, too.

    I really dislike older women/younger men storylines – but only if the older woman constantly dwells on that fact and breaks up with/can’t commit to hero just because he’s younger (which most of them do). Otherwise, it’s a really interesting and uncommon trope. In fact, if Zac Efron showed up on my doorstep tomorrow, I’d probably star in this trope (what? he’s only three years younger, a girl’s allowed to dream.)

  23. Cindy W
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 07:40:11

    I HATE it when the girl tries to hide herself and be a boy/or man. Gross. Although, it worked in Gentle Rogue, but he knew all along Georgie was a girl!

  24. MS Jones
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 08:54:12

    There was too much premeditation and intention on both of their parts for this to be a Big Mis plot (at least, as I think of the concept.)

    Elle, we may be in one of those apples/oranges discussions, where my definition doesn’t match up with yours (or anyone else’s – I could be out in left field here). – I think of the Big Mis as primarily a failure to communicate, that is, the plot moves along because people aren’t able to say what they’re thinking/feeling (for whatever reason – reticence or courtesy or misreading a person, as in Pride and Prejudice, or ulterior motives, as in Bet Me and Beast).

    People do wear masks in social settings, and I think well-done romance shows us people getting to know each other – taking off their masks – and falling in love.

    Beast is my favorite Ivory. They both know by the middle of the book that they love each other, but he doesn’t come clean about the deception until 5 pages from the end. It’s something that could be cleared up with one conversation, and it’s a tribute to Ivory’s writing ability that Charles’ reasons for not being honest are convincing.

    Which is all to say, that even the most annoying trope (lots of people seem to hate the Big Mis) can be done well in the hands of a skilled author, as Elizabeth noted above.

    Although I can’t think, offhand, of any excellent “secret baby” or “virgin widow” novels.

  25. Lizzy
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 09:55:26

    @Susanna Kearsley: I love Random Harvest. That is some amnesia done right!

  26. Maddie
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 11:17:13

    Can I add ….

    I slept with your brother but I love you for me it always seems kind of incestuous to sleep with your intended family members and really what would the neighbors think!!!

    The missing husband back from the dead doesn’t work for the soaps (for me at least) and always the plot involves the “widow” never having another relationship while her “dead hubby” is “dead” I guess the life goes on does not apply for the weak widow who drops her panties might readily when her “dead hubby” does appear, sure he wasn’t keeping his zip in the upward position while being “dead”
    I truly hated Lora Leigh last seal book who’s hero was gone for several years.

    The I forgot to tell you about your baby plot I truly truly abhor because there is not excuse for a woman not to tell that man that she slept with that she is pregnant, if the guy is such a loser she should not have slept with him in the first place plus it tells a lot to the reader that she TSTL twit and I’m not going to be rooting for her

    I also hate the plot where the heroine was done wrong by her exh and his ow and here comes the hero to save the day by being richer more handsome than the ex, etc etc etc, why can’t she pull herself out of the mire herself make herself a success and than meet the rich soon to be hubby #2.

  27. DS
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 11:41:00

    Agree about hating predestined mate especially if it is a paranormal and a whole series is set up on the premise that each character is going to find their predestined mate. Always makes me think of lazy writing.

    There are also stories based on misunderstandings and then there is the Big Mis. The Big Mis happens when anyone with some maturity or sense would have just asked about the ambiguous situation or the bad information they received from their honey’s ex about their honey– and oh so quickly and thoroughly believed!

  28. Marsha
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 12:36:33

    Agree about hating predestined mate especially if it is a paranormal and a whole series is set up on the premise that each character is going to find their predestined mate. Always makes me think of lazy writing.

    I like how Kresley Cole handles the pre-destined mate business. Although confronted with a mate early in the book, the heroines fight, fight, fight against it and the heroes, while more inclined to go along with the idea, still need to deal with their sense of being utterly flabbergasted. There is still a journey from meeting to love and although we know how the mate thing will end up it doesn’t feel that much different than the HEA in other genres.

  29. Kim
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 13:12:01

    Because Ms. Cole gets high ratings every time, I tried to read two of hers and couldn’t do it. I didn’t think she handled the predestined mate much different then most others do. Sure, the heroine started out fighting but from what I remember, and one in particular, the hero was all on board with this from the beginning and he’s chasing her down. Maybe I didn’t get far enough into the story and need to go back and reread but the reason I stopped, is because I saw the path going the same way as all the others I’ve read.

    Now, I loved how CL Wilson handled it in her Lord of the Fading Lands debut. There was mention of it and it was key to them getting together but it wasn’t the only reason they stayed together. You could actually seem them falling in love and the predestined mate was more of a sidebar. I haven’t read her other stories in that series because I loved how their story ended – I knew they’d be together and didn’t really want to witness their continuing struggle. I’m all for the rose colored happy ending in romances.

  30. Moth
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 13:46:36

    Mine is the “masquerading as someone else” trope. As in, “I'm playing a pauper, but I'm really a DUKE”. Or, “I'm playing a mechanic, but I'm really a kabillionaire.” And kind of premeditated deceit like that makes me nuts.

    Love by deceit is a super hot button and almost always a DNF for me.

    I hate it when he’s doing it because no one could possibly see past his money/title to love the REAL man. *eyeroll*

  31. Shannon C.
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 03:14:37

    I agree. I hate fated mates. I’ve seen them edone well (I agree about Kresley Cole), but usually not.

    I’m not sure how to articulate this one, but the trope I find I can’t read a book featuring is the one where by sleeping with the heroine, the hero is seriously committing some form of ethics violation. Either because she’s his secretary, his client or whatever. If the hero has to have the “I want her but it would be wrong to have her” conversation with himself, and if other people call the hero out on how being with the heroine is unprofessional, then he shouldn’t do it.

  32. Carolyn
    Nov 22, 2008 @ 17:38:14

    An exception to the Virgin Widow category – The Reluctant Widow, by Georgette Heyer. ;-)

  33. SonomaLass
    Nov 23, 2008 @ 01:12:21

    I HATE it when the girl tries to hide herself and be a boy/or man.

    See, now, done well that is one of my faves — and done poorly, it’s a wallbanger. It’s partly because that’s the subject of a lot of my dissertation research, so I know something about what makes for successful gender impersonation and what doesn’t (in the 18th through 20th centuries in England and the US, anyway — beyond that I’m seriously extrapolating). I’m always willing to give this trope a chance.

    Not so with captives — just hate ’em. I just never can trust love that starts when there’s that big a power imbalance. I agree that there are probably examples of this done well, but because I avoid this trope like the plague, I’ll likely never read them. I can handle it if the love blooms after the captive is released (male or female, doesn’t matter), sometimes.

    The will and amnesia are ones I rarely have seen done well. The will is common enough that I have sort of learned to look past it if the characters are worth it (but only because I’m not a lawyer). Amnesia has only worked for me in fantasy, where it can be magically induced (and thus magically healed). I will look for the examples recommended here.

    @Carolyn: I think Georgette Heyer is an exception to any of these she cared to try!

  34. DS
    Nov 23, 2008 @ 10:00:29

    I’ve been listening to The Reluctant Widow as my current audio book. I had forgotten how funny it was. I can accept the circumstances of that story much better than the one where the couple was married for ages and somehow never managed to getting around to doing it– and I really, really hate it when the reason for the virgin widow is that the husband is homosexual. I also really, really, really hate it when the husband’s homosexuality is the BIG VILLAINOUS SURPRISE which has been telegraphed like mad by the author–

  35. Kristin
    Nov 23, 2008 @ 14:16:26

    I don’t like any babies or toddlers showing up in my romances. None. Babies must come after the end of the book.

    Don’t mind virgin widows, but I prefer widows with little to no real sex experience, because that I could completely believe in an historical romance when marriage was more about alliances and money than love.

    I like woman-disguised-as-boy, but only when the hero knows right away that he’s a she and uses that to his advantage. But when he’s clueless the whole time, it creeps me out that he is attracted to what, in his mind, is a boy. So yuck.

    After the baby thing, I think my other least favorite is that the hero turns out to be related to a Duke or what have you and ends up with money and status. That just ruins the whole idea of the heroine falling in love with the hero for who is he…that should be good enough…even if that doesn’t fit with the realities of the time. Why can’t he just be superior in manufacturing or running a business? And make his money that way?

    One of my favorite movies is “North and South” which involves the daughter of a now destitute clergyman who falls for a man who is lower class, but worked his way up to wealth and owning a very successful business.

    This is a fun topic!

  36. Sarah
    Nov 23, 2008 @ 16:27:51

    Kristin, I absolutely love North and South! I bought the book but haven’t had time to read it. I especially loved that he would have returned to the lower class if not for her in the end. It seemed somehow a much more equal exchange. And Richard Armitage is pretty easy on the eyes… I also don’t like toddlers or children in romance – they’re almost always overly precocious and annoying.

    DS, I don’t mind when I read the the Virgin Widow’s husband was a homosexual, only because I’ve only read one where that happened. And it wasn’t a villainous secret so much as a dangerous secret – I think it would have put her position as a widow in danger or something like that.

    I agree that one of the biggest cop-outs is when the poor man suddenly becomes fabulously wealthy and gets a title. I read one book where at the end, they actually found a closer relative and he lost the title – and went back to relative poverty (or middle classery I can’t remember). It annoyed me for other reasons, but that one plot development made me smile. (As an Earl Desires by Lorraine Heath was the title, by the way).

    I also agree that this is a fun topic, its always interesting to see what makes a book a wall-banger to another person.

  37. Marg
    Nov 23, 2008 @ 20:42:40

    I hate the “ugly duckling turned to swan” trope. Actually, I don’t hate it itself (because it can be good character growth), but when it’s done badly it really annoys me.

    I really dislike the clueless/dottering/senile family/parents/guardians. I especially hate this cliche when it is the cause of the heroine/hero’s problems. It’s really not that interesting to read about such aweful, unrealistic characters. It always seems like their only purpose is to give a herione an excuse to act like a doormat for a nobel reason (“she loves her family, see?”)

    I also dislike any time the tension is about a character “not being able to love”. Unless there were serious issues (like abuse, isolation, etc), I just can’t fathom that an adult couldn’t figure out how “to love” someone. The best example I can think of for this is Untamed by Elizabeth Lowell. If I remember correctly, there was some magic aspect where the heroine had to be “truly loved” to have a prosperous marriage . The hero admitted that he respected, cared for, desired, enjoyed, ect the heroine but he kept on insisting that he was incapable of love. I feel like if he is able to do all the actions that make up loving, what was he missing that made it ‘love’. I guess it comes down to the question of what does it mean to love someone, and that’s for a whole other discussion!

  38. SEx - Silver Expressions
    Mar 23, 2009 @ 07:26:33

    […] few months back, Dear Author had a poll that asked readers about their least favorite tropes, and the second most disliked was The Big […]

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    Mar 31, 2009 @ 17:19:29

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