Stupidly wrong but persistent tropes in books, plays, comics, movies and TV

A lot of authors seem to get their ideas from other authors rather than from reality, so a number of tropes live on, and on, and on. One persistent trope is gun safeties. Authors want to show that their characters are knowledgeable and careful with guns, so they have them set the safety on their guns, even on types of guns that don’t have manual safeties, such as revolvers and Glock semi-auto pistols. This happens over and over, even in books that seem otherwise well informed about gun handling.

What are some other tropes that keep popping up in books?


That people need personal drama and conflict to make their lives/stories interesting when the amount we don’t know about how the universe works is already more than enough to keep us busy for the next 100,000 years.


Bad villains.

A good villain is driven by the same drives as any other human is, just lacking a sense of judgement. For example, let’s use Mother Gothel from Tangled. She grows to genuinely care about Rapunzel, but doesn’t want to grow old and die. If she had been able to come to an understanding that would give Rapunzel more freedom but still provide the magic needed to sustain Gothel’s life, the main conflict wouldn’t have happened.

Dr. Horrible wants to rule the world and fix all of its problems, and impress the girl he has a crush on while he’s at it. Captain Hammer literally cannot feel pain and thus doesn’t have any capacity for empathy with the people he’s beating up. Both do some mildly evil things, but it’s all basically a game of one-upmanship. Things only escalate out of control when Captain Hammer makes it clear to Dr. Horrible that he’s only dating Horrible’s crush to make Horrible jealous, which pisses him off enough to bring a Death Ray to their next meeting, to end things once and for all.

On the other hand, we have Senator Palpatine from Star Wars, who wants to take over the galaxy (but why?) and exterminate the Jedi (but why?) and brutally suppress rebellion and dissent (but why?!). Palpatine does these things because he’s evil, and those are the things that evil people do. We’re not given any more insight into his motives.

Similarly, Voldemort from Harry Potter. His desire to live forever is understandable, but why the Death Eaters? (The fanfic Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality had an intriguing answer to this question, but it’s not canon, obvs.)

A good villain is the difference between a good story and a great story, and there are far too few of them out there.


Yes, far too many villains are the generic Evil with a capital E variety. Boooooorrrrring. Especially Supernatural villains who want to destroy all life because, well just because. Ugh.

On the other hand, Trump is proving that villains can and do monologue, and make all sorts of rediculously stupid, blatently obviously villainous fumbles and still succeed. If Trump was a fictional character I might well be railing about how utterly unrealistic and implausible he is. On the other hand, Trump’s clear motivation as a complete and utter narcissist, above all other things, does make for a villain whose motivations are clear.


Isn’t that like the choice between having no motivation, and being stereotype? Neither sound to be worth the effort. What I like about fiction is that (in theory, at least) it can be easier to encounter humans who are less stereotyped in their motivations and behaviors, that not being relatable is what would make them more interesting.

[quote=“Malory Archer”]Cyril, you have been given the opportunity of a lifetime! A new job, a new city, where no one knows you, which means you can reinvent yourself. You can be anyone you want.

So why would you keep being you? [/quote]

I think that this applies equally on the macro level as well as micro - aren’t heroes and villains themselves “wrong but persistent tropes”? Not unlike people composing music in even meters and twelve-tone scales, it is so predictable and limiting, so why does nearly everyone do it?


In both cases: because it resonates.


Or if you’re brilliant, like Shakespeare, you can have cardboard-thin villains and get away with it.


Second time tonight I’ve been reminded here of James Thurber:

“We all have flaws,” he said, “and mine is being wicked.”


Getting away from books for a mo, Breaking Bad was so great mainly because of the Mr Chips to Scarface metamorphosis.


Well"I hate the moore" is like half of Trump’s supporter’s motivation too.


If a character is smart with one domain, or has a top level skill in one technical field, they automatically are a swiss army knife of genius.

Because being really good at chess somehow means you’re also amazing at hacking, hand-to-hand combat and psychology.


Blame editor John W Campbell and his love of the “self reliant man”. He cultivated authors like Heinlein who wrote characters who could do anything they set their minds to.

Heinlein’s manifesto from Time Enough for Love

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, con a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

This is denial of the fact that specialization is what makes civilization possible.


Artemis Fowl is probably my personal least favorite offender.


It was cute in the first book or so, but after that…

An even bigger offender, and deliberately so, is the Bloody Jack series by L A Meyer. Kind of great, kind of awful, featuring amazing audiobook narration.

Jacky Faber can do anything better than everyone, no matter how little training or experience she has.

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I know this will open a rabbit hole, but can we include comic books and TV? They rarely account for inertia. Ironman may be impervious in his armor, but hitting the ground at 200 mph he’ll be a tin can of jelly just like anyone else. My other favorite idiocy is people setting off explosives in confined spaces like hallways or caves and thinking they’ll be ok as long as they hide behind something. Shock wave people.


In that case, super strong superheroes who completely ignore the need to pay attention to center of gravity. And who can pick up school buses by the end and swing them around like baseball bats rather than have to get underneath them.

Yes, and the “as long as your feet aren’t touching the ground leap for safety” - fire, shock waves and shrapnel can’t hurt you trope.


Mine would be Richard Rahl.


OK, at least this one I also read the book. Even as a lad watching the 6 Million Dollar Man I realized that the human spine between his bionic arm and legs would be pulverized by lifting a car.

I know the OP wanted narrative tropes. Does the hero in a TV show always finding parking right in front of his Manhattan destination count? Has there ever been a spoof where he’s towed? How about everyone has fabulous NYC apartments no matter how poor a starving artist they are.

How about no one ever being appropriately dressed for the climate the show is set in, or they manage to only have episodes set in one season year after year, like the Walking Dead never taking place in winter. The one that baffles me is everyone on Big Bang drowning in layers and layers except Penny. Raj is always wearing at least 4 layers. It’s fucking LA!!!


Nobody’s an average cook. Either they’re so hopeless they manage to screw up microwave popcorn, or they’re secretly a Michelin 3 star chef.