The List of Forbidden Tropes

I decided while packing Uber orders at work today that instead of trying to sound intelligent in today’s blog post, I’d just write out my thoughts conversationally and hope that even if it’s not informative, it’s at least encouraging. 

Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash

Six weeks ago, I started this blog post with a list of tropes I don’t like and explaining why I don’t like them. But I stopped halfway through, and took a break to think it over. I realised that while I can give advice on how to write romance, it’s not my place to block off certain tropes that you may use effectively and God-glorifyingly, just because I wouldn’t use them myself. 

And that got me thinking about what makes a trope Forbidden. What other writers have listed as Forbidden. And how it made me feel to find new tropes to add to my own List. 

I realised that the problem with my post was not so much how I was saying it, but the message I was saying. Yes, there are tropes that glorify dangerous attitudes or behaviours, and tropes we should be more careful with than others. Lists of them can be very helpful, even if they’ll never be exhaustive. 

But I don’t have any right to decide what another writer puts in their book. Saying “Don’t write these tropes” may be fine for an experienced writer to read, as they will know they can disagree with me. But young writers might panic when they find tropes they’ve used in a Forbidden Tropes List. I’ve been in that boat, and I don’t want to put someone else in there needlessly. Especially since a lot of the tropes I’m uncomfortable with are quite nit-picky. 

If you’re a new writer, you can and should learn from more experienced writers. Trying to figure it all out on your own is a waste of time when there are so many forerunners who are willing to share their experience with you for free. 

But you’re allowed to disagree with them. If you love a trope and they say it’s a bad one, think through why they don’t like it, and decide for yourself. If you hate a trope that someone else uses, let them be. They’re allowed to :). 

It’s like any other preference, but food is a good example. When you’re presented with a new kind of food, the best thing to do is to try a small part of it. If you don’t like it, at least you’ve tried it. If you do, you’ve found a new food to love! 

If you find a new piece of advice, try it! Sometimes it will work really well, and you’ll be amazed with the result! And sometimes, you’ll decide it’s not for you. At least you’ve tried it! 

So my list of Forbidden Tropes has become a List of Tropes that I Probably Won’t Use. I’m much more comfortable with that title. 

But if I can give a piece of advice regarding tropes, it would be to “think through them before you use them.” If you read someone else’s book or watch a film, and you find yourself uncomfortable with something about the romance, dig into what’s making you feel uncomfortable. Is it sending a strange but well-concealed message? Is it glorifying toxic behaviour? If it happened to you or your friend, would you be comfortable with it? 

Consider each moment of your romantic arc carefully and think through how they will play out, and your readers will feel that the characters they love are safe. 

Listen to other writers’ reasoning on the tropes they don’t like, and think it through for yourself. Make each romantic moment deliberate and thoughtful, and your writing will reflect it. Before you know it, you’ll find you have a book with a thoughtful, beautiful romance. 


Fantastic readers and writers, tell me about your own Forbidden Tropes. Why are they Forbidden to you?

Published by Debbie Coll

I'm a storyteller, songwriter and author who loves God, fairy tales and music. I write about tales, creative tips and process on my blog, debbiecoll.com.

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