A Novel Idea #3: Tropes or Nopes

Let me set the scene. A Newfound Poet (he went to one poetry society meeting – ‘It was two!’), a Walking Spoiler Alert (she keeps accidentally ruining episodes of The Last of Us for Poet), and I are sitting in the G12 café. Laptops open. Words from various critical sources and lecture prep burning into our retinas at an alarming rate. The sound of weights clattering to the ground in the gym upstairs reverberating (and literally shaking) the building around us. I glare at the ceiling again, cursing whoever invented the deadlift, glare at my screen, and close it with a resounding click. I have had enough. I turn to Spoiler with hopeful eyes, and announce: ‘I want to talk about red flags’. 

Now, you might think this is an interesting opinion piece about the trials and tribulations of online dating. But you’d be wrong. This debate was about the Red Flags of popular book tropes. As a romance and New Adult/YA fantasy reader, tropes are an important part of manoeuvring the genres. Tropes are utilised by an author to set a theme for their book. The characters manoeuvre said trope, usually to the ends of falling in love platonically or romantically. What is key about tropes is that they are recognisable to a reader, they usually have a clear progression and they make the story interesting by acting as a kind of dramatic irony: we know what’s going to happen, but the character doesn’t and it’s wonderful to watch it unfold. 

However, there is a delicate balance between tropes I adore and those I absolutely abhor. So, here is what I’m affectionately calling my ‘Tropes or Nopes’ list. 

“She’s not like other girls” 

This is a staple for so many fantasy and romance protagonists. Averse to all things feminine, she wouldn’t be caught dead in makeup and heels. She’s a fighter, with just the right amount of muscle, who eats what she wants when she wants without losing her perfect model’s body. Someone cool. Someone different. Someone better. No matter how much I cringe at it now, all I wanted as a teen was to embody that girl. Big Red Flag energy. 

I do wonder though, as a queer woman, if there’s something in relating to the ‘pick-me’ when you feel so at odds with expected expressions of femininity. The indifference to boy bands and male celebrities that made this tropey character so cool, might have been relatable for other reasons. The relatability and understanding I had for her dislike of stereotypical fashion and makeup may have actually been because these things didn’t resonate with my own definition of femininity or my presentation with femininity. 


I’ve seen a lot of people online bashing the immortal love interest/teen protagonist plot line and honestly, it’s given me some new perspective. Why has this person with a fully developed pre-frontal cortex with the experience of 300 years, decided the love of their life is a teenager fresh out of, (sometimes still in!) high school. I concede the point. 

However, I still don’t think I have it in me to fully red flag this one. When done correctly this trope can be the most gut wrenching, heart-breaking experience for a reader. Especially when you remove the age gap, and just have the immortal characters grow with everyone without getting older, only to watch everyone they love and care about die. I’m looking at you Will, Jem, and Tessa from The Infernal Devices. That plot evoked an unmatched level of agony when I was younger, and probably still would be today. 

Female Protagonist Loses All Her Badass Powers After Saving Everyone’s Asses Over the Course of Six Novels and I will Never Stop Being Angry About It

The title says it all. I hate this. Red Flag. 

Enemies to Lovers

You probably knew this was coming. I couldn’t get through a tropes article without mentioning the infamous Enemies to Lovers. I read something recently (I watched a TikTok) where someone said that the reason this trope is so loved, is because it’s about letting someone see and know all the bad things about you, and them still loving you anyway. My mind was blown. 

I will also say, it just sets up the perfect format for an interesting plotline. You have the conflict: hero versus villain, their differing ideals that unveil the morally grey workings of the human mind. Then there’s the tension between them, created from the back and forth of their witty dialogue, and underhanded tricks to outwit the other. Another thing I love about this trope is the way the character’s perfectly balance one another, as perfect mirror images, that is amazing to unpack from a reader’s perspective. Green flags all round. 

…. It was about this time that Newfound Poet, Walking Spoiler Alert, and I realised that the sun was setting outside the G12 café, and we had once again done no work. We tend to get carried away in our debates. Much to the chagrin of fellow students trying to study, I assume. So, I will cease talking, and actually get on with my looming assessments.

Georgia McHaffie

(A Novel Idea is a monthly literature column by Georgia McHaffie, exclusive to the qmunicatemagazine.com. Stay tuned for more installments!)


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