Thursday, August 2, 2012


By Gayle Carline

Trope: A common or overused theme or device (Merriam-Webster).

On Facebook, I have many more friends than in real life. (I suspect this is because they only have to put up with me in small doses and can hide me when they've had enough.) I've ended up with a lot of friends that were suggested to me, so I can't really tell you how we met. All I can tell you is, as a writer who wants to sell books, I hesitate to refuse anyone my FB-friendship.

I've only unfriended one person, a gentleman from Ghana who was lovely, but needy. Every time I checked into Facebook, he wanted to chat with me (via Instant Message). Nothing inappropriate, but it certainly felt like I was being stalked. Was he awake 24/7, waiting for my little green ball to indicate I was online? Of course, since I've unfriended him, I've discovered that when the Mayan calendar runs out and the Earth switches position in the Milky Way and all the poles reverse and geological havoc ensues, the only safe place to be will be Ghana. Damn.

But I digress.

One of the friends I did meet on Facebook is a man named Jim Thomsen from Washington State, who is currently a freelance editor and really funny. If you can find him, tell him I sent you. Unless you're a looney toon. Then, please don't even try to find me.

Lately he's been assembling tropes that weary him. One is the cops/lawyers/private detectives who are into old blues/country/jazz music and drive ancient, battered pickup trucks. Another is the sad-sack middle-aged male who is misunderstood by everyone except the hot, soulful, wounded woman in her twenties, who lures him out on a reckless, self-destructive adventure that refuels his narcissistic rejuvenation.

I concur. The hooker with the heart of gold, the incredibly smart, incredibly strong, incredibly damaged action hero, and even the stereotype of trying to turn a stereotype on its ear (let's make the blonde chick smart), are all beginning to bore me. Or maybe they're not beginning, they've already succeeded.

Here's the thing about tropes: How long does it take for one to go away? If you stop creating hookers with hearts of gold, at what point does that stop being a cliche?

What tropes would you like to put a stake through? And do they have a statute of limitations?


  1. I'm tired of the alcoholic (or pill popping) cop who's divorced (because she couldn't handle his job, or maybe his crappy attitude) who's bitter, bleak, and burned out.

    I'm also done with serial killers, no matter how clever or original they are.

    And I've probably offended everyone I know by saying both of those. Sorry! It's not personal, nor does it mean you're not a great writer. Most readers are attracted to both of those characters types, which is why they sell so well.

    And you can't please everyone, especially Jim Thomsen. :)

  2. The addicted cop is another good one, LJ, although I liked what they did with Agent Cho on The Mentalist this season. He's the logical, stoic, emotionless CBI (California Bureau of Investigation) agent, and he injures his back. Slowly, he begins to need more and more pain pills to ease the back pain, until now he can't stop taking them. It was interesting to see the PROCESS, of how the perfectly reasonable person who knows the dangers of addiction gets sucked into it.

  3. I must not read enough. I don't recall a music loving character driving around in an old truck. Or a hooker with a heart of gold. Those don't seem worn out to me.

    NOW, the alcoholic (or otherwise addicted) LEO is a little overused. So is the cop who is in a relationship who can't seem to make up his or her mind about where it's going.

  4. They also had Cho dating an ex-hooker/party girl too! They must have thought he needed spicing up.

    Yes, it works for a couple of episodes or for one novel, and for secondary characters, but it's not realistic for a series, and if it goes on too long, it makes a lead character seem weak.

  5. Peg, you just need to get out more. LOL
    LJ, yes, the secondary characters work better, or a short arc with the lead. There was a show with Holly Hunter as the boozing cop with the weird angel - Saving Grace? As much as I love Holly Hunter, and I was intrigued by some aspects, I couldn't identify with her character at all.

  6. I'm guilty of that one, Peg. But my readers are split down the middle, so I'm trying to keep everyone happy...or at least not mad at me.

    TV seems more guilty of all these than novels. What about House? A pill popping freak, but I watched the show to the end. And one of my favorite novels a few years back was Beat the Reaper, which featured another pill popping doctor. Maybe I relate to addicts and weakness, after all.

  7. I'm fed up with the hot-dog, rule-breaking, out-of-control cop as hero. It's been old since Dirty Harry's day. Such cops don't have long careers.

    I think writers use that trope so they have an excuse to put their character in real danger, but they could manage it with a cop who took his or her job seriously if they just took a little more thought.

    Of course, this kind of cop as villain or villainous sidekick works fine.

  8. Oh, yes, Linda - the rogue cop. Gah. Okay, I get it, you need something to make them stand out from the crowd, but do they have to be so rebellious AND so right about everything?

  9. I loved Mireille Enos' character in THE KILLING; a female cop who dressed suitably to chase down suspects. I get so tired of the female detectives who wear tight jeans and four-inch heels.

  10. I'm with you Marlyn, those tight jeans and high heels are ridiculous! You'll notice, those ladies never give chase.

  11. Good topic, Gayle. I get tired of the stereotypical bad-guy villains and also the detectives interviewing the most common suspects (such as the boyfriend/husband).


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