One of the more interesting discoveries that came with being involved in various book communities over the years is that there are a few things that can be found in some stories that people seem to hate. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most people… but particularly in communities like the bookish side of Instagram, there are a few that really surprised me. Things that people really deeply revile, that the entire book community seems to revile. Two stood out in particular, and part of what made that strange to me was that as far as story tropes go… the two most universally hated tropes were two of my favorites.
So this post is as described on the package: A short list of my favorite unpopular tropes, because we’re only touching on two, but they were big ones for me. One’s easier to understand, but we’ll start with the one I like more of the two.
Favorite unpopular trope number one: Pregnancy.
Apparently, a huge number of readers hate when a lead character becomes pregnant and/or has a child along the way. Me? I love it.
I can understand why some don’t, because I’ve definitely seen instances of it being done badly. Sometimes a character’s pregnancy is used as a source of dramatic conflict, forcing people together or apart in ways that seem stilted and unnatural. But when characters whose life ambitions involve raising a family of their own are able to do it? Ah, that’s a thing of beauty in a story. Even if the circumstances surrounding the child’s arrival are a surprise or a bittersweet note in a story, I love it.
Since I grew up reading a lot of epic fantasy, extremely few characters had children along the way, and it was essentially never the hero or “chosen one” in the tale. I’ve always felt like that was a niche that hadn’t been filled, and while it’s more common in stories than it used to be, characters settling and having kids is usually post-script. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as a parent, I especially prize stories where the heroes have kids along the way and figure out how to make it work. Seeing the heroes have kids during the progression of the adventure, without having to step aside and let the adventure move on without them? Those stories are treasures, things that make me feel seen and acknowledged as a mom, and I’ve greatly enjoyed including the arrival of kids in some of my books as something that’s part of the adventure, not the end of it. After all, that’s what real life is like for a huge number of us.
Favorite unpopular trope number two: Miscommunication.
This is the one where it’s easier to see why people don’t like it. It’s often done badly, amping up problems when sitting and having a conversation would resolve everything. So people get unhappy with this being used as part of a story, because people should just sit and talk!
But the thing is, real life isn’t like that. People don’t sit and talk. We don’t sit down and clear the air and fix everything just like that. A huge number of problems in our real lives aren’t resolved by sitting and talking, so why would we expect fiction to reflect our idealized desires and not our actual behavior? A well-done miscommunication, whether mistake or misunderstanding, can be an exceptional story addition because it’s a realistic way for characters to behave. The important thing is ensuring it’s a genuine obstacle the characters work around, not an artificially inflated plot device just to make them suffer and struggle without a satisfying resolution.
And that’s it. My short list.
Now, let me hear yours. What’s your favorite story element that other people seem to hate?