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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Problem Tropes and Sterotypes

Hi everyone!
I am YA author B A Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for teens. My tagline says it all - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them. This month I join the other Genre-Istas in talking about romance tropes.




Last month I conducted a class for writer's seeking to add the Spice of Diversity to their writing.  One of the big lessons was on problem tropes. Of course, there is always the Too Stupid To Live blonde, or the Red-head who Just Isn't Like The Other Girls. The ones most romance writer's know to keep away from.  If they don't know it, their readers, or lack of readers, will clue them in fast.

Our class looked at a few others that sometimes creep in when writers try to add characters that aren't like themselves. The results of these tropes can be stereotypical characters that may be considered caricatures of a group.


Most writers are out to increase their reader base - the members of the class were no exception, many noted that as a prime reason for wanting to include diversity in their manuscripts.

It's one of the reasons I'm looking forward to Selfie. Instead of your typical Asian Nerd Who Can't Get A Girl trope, this new romantic comedy will follow the trope embodied by My Fair Lady where a girl who wants to belong (via social media) engages the help of an expert (marketing guru) and the interracial couple end up falling for each other. So far it looks smart, it looks sexy, romantic, and oh, so funny.


The Asian Nerd is only one of the tropes we learned to avoid. There is also the Asexual Cripple trope where the writer makes the mistake of forgetting that people with disabilities are still people with feelings, urges and needs, as well as a desire for an HEA. In The Drowned Cities, the biracial heroine is missing a hand - amputated by enemy soldiers in this war-torn futuristic Earth.  But she's still very real, and grows to be interested in the equally real hero who can't decide what side she's really on.

Another problem trope some writers accidentally fall into is the Wise-cracking Minority Best Friend where the hero or heroine has a minority friend who is there solely to provide comic relief and never gets to have any of the romance.  I partly spoofed this trope by combining it with the Red-head best friend trope in my second book, Being God. Here my African-American hero has a white, red-headed best friend. I make Cesare Russo easy-going, but not wise-cracking, and instead of comic relief he and the hero get into and out of danger together as they both travel romantic arcs in search of romance - at least as much romance as you can have as seniors in high school.

There's nothing wrong with tropes. They make a wonderful background to use when taking readers (or viewers) along for a ride. No matter what trope you use, it's only as good as the writing.  When we writers use them, we need to stay alert. Use all tropes wisely and remember to jazz up that trope up for the modern world and modern reader.  Then we succeed in both pleasing our current audiences AND bringing in new ones.


3 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

Thanks for sharing your views on this topic, B.A. One of the things I admire most about your posts at RTG is your consistent advocacy for more diversity in books. I Totally Agree we do need to show the reality of the world around us through our writing. Not all blonds are dumb, not all red-heads have fiery tempers, not all Asians are nerds, etc.

As writers of the most popular form of fiction we have the opportunity to introduce our readers to characters who do represent the "real" world of diversity. We do need diverse books, not just racially and culturally but also spiritually, geographically, and worldly (thinking of paranormal world building here).

Sarah Raplee said...

Aweome post, B.A.! When are you offering that class again? I'd love to take it, but couldn't last month because of a deadline.

Diana McCollum said...

Very interesting post! So true about the red heads and the comic relief minority characters. Glad to know your books are different.