Fun Lists

Tropes I Don’t Like in Books (Updated)

“By the time Alex managed to get the blood out of her good wool coat, it was too warm to wear it.”

First line in Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

It’s still March so I’m still talking about tropes. Around the time I started my blog four years ago, I, like so many others, wrote posts about the tropes I liked and disliked in books. A year ago I updated the post about tropes I LIKED through Top Ten Tuesday, but for some reason, I never got around to doing the same for the tropes I don’t like. So better late than never, I guess.

For this post, I’ve thought of nine tropes that I usually don’t enjoy reading about. They are the tropes that if I detect them in a synopsis for a book, I’ll almost always give it a pass. However, in order to make it a little more interesting I’ve excluded the tropes I’d categorize as “popular to not like” such as miscommunication and love triangles. Instead, the tropes I’ve included are all some I’ve seen listed as favorites among several other book bloggers. Not because I enjoy making enemies of people, I swear!

The last thing I need to say is that I’ll list examples of books that include each trope, both when I didn’t like the trope and the exceptions where I liked the book anyway (if there are any). Let’s get started!

The Split Timeline

A split timeline means the book continuously jumps back and forth between the past and the present and the plot is usually present in both timelines. I’m including longer flashback sequences here, as long as they appear several times throughout the book.
We’re starting off easy because this is not the worst thing a book can do. It’ll just have made me slightly annoyed from the get-go, but I won’t hate the book just because of this trope. It’s the let’s-take-a-break nature of it I don’t like because the time jumps do put a pause on the timeline you were just reading. And I very rarely don’t have a favorite that I’d rather just stick to. Then there’s also the way some books use this trope to play catch-up so they basically spoil the ending and expect me to care how we got there. I don’t.

Examples of books in which I hated the execution of this trope:

🕰️ Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – The two timelines had too little to do with each so the break-feeling hit even harder.
🕰️ Vicious by V. E. Schwab – Example of spoiling development for the reader but still wanting me to care about how we got there.
🕰️ The Invisible Life of Addie la Rue by V.E. Schwab (maybe stop using this trope, Schwab!) – The past timeline was too boring.
🕰️ The Name of All Things by Jenn Lyons – The case of someone telling their life story so the present timeline becomes short and irrelevant so why even make a split timeline?

Examples of books I love despite this trope:

🕰️ A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – Look, as long as it involves Jude, I don’t care what time we’re in.
🕰️ The Betrayals by Bridget Collins – I might have preferred the past timeline but I was too busy looking for clues that could help me solve this book’s mystery to care very much.
🕰️ The Absolutist by John Boyne – Both timelines are from the POV of the same character and there isn’t much plot to interrupt so I enjoyed both.

A School Setting

With “a school setting”, I mean that I don’t enjoy books that primarily take place in a school or academy, but it only applies to fantasy books. I get that YA contemporary characters go to school. That’s not the problem. The problem is that whole boarding school vibe where the characters just never leave that place. Them going to classes, doing homework at specific times mean there’s a lot of predictability about this trope that’ll just have me sitting around waiting for the good stuff to happen.
The trap that most of these books also fall into is that they forget to give their character time to actually do the schoolwork because they’re running around getting attacked by monsters. How are these characters not dying from stress or getting kicked out of the school?? It’s so annoying!

Examples of books in which I hated the execution of this trope:

ğŸŽ“ Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – This does not need to be set at a school like Yale! Why is Alex not getting kicked out?
ğŸŽ“ Master of Sorrows by Justin Call – I don’t need to follow every minute of every lesson. Please do a training montage!
ğŸŽ“ Legendborn by Tracy Deonn – The main character couldn’t care less about schoolwork and it’s frustrating to witness it having zero consequences!

Examples of books I love despite this trope:

ğŸŽ“ Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling – Duh. Literally the only series where the school element makes the books better.
ğŸŽ“ The Betrayals by Bridget Collins – I was too confused about everything to view any part of that academy as predictable.
ğŸŽ“ Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – I can’t explain this other than saying that Simon and Baz are very distracting.

Magical Creatures/Animals as Main Characters

Okay, so I’m going to try and define this because it’s a very specific thing I don’t like. The magical creatures I’m including in this aren’t the ones you can describe as human-like in appearance so no elves or dwarfs for example. It’s more about the ones you’d describe as animals such as dragons or unicorns. Then I’ve added the part about them being main characters because I will always find these characters boring BUT if they don’t appear as much they’re easier to ignore and won’t affect my opinion of a book.
But like I said, I find magical creatures extremely boring and I’ll never understand the appeal. I read books because I love reading about complicated human emotions and I can’t get that from animals. So those books where every character is an animal? You couldn’t force me to read them.

(I’m very adamant about avoiding this so I don’t have many examples that fit this trope exactly.)

Examples of books in which I hated the execution of this trope:

🦁 The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams – Well, a lot was wrong with this trilogy.
🦁 The Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb – I just want all the dragons to die, is that too much to ask?

Examples of books I love despite this trope:

🦁 Eragon by Christopher Paolini – It’s been a while and I guess I was able to ignore the dragon?
🦁 A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – Maybe the monster could be considered human-like so it didn’t matter as much?

(Like I said, I don’t have much.)

The Warrior Protagonist

Well, I don’t enjoy reading fight scenes so naturally, I don’t like following a character who gets into a fight every other chapter. A warrior as the main protagonist is a no-go for me and some assassin characters also fit in here. There’s also something about how these characters go on and on about honor and it rarely gets very complicated so I’m bored.

Examples of books in which I hated the execution of this trope:

⚔️ The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu – If one of the main characters hasn’t been in a fight for ten minutes, he’ll go find one.
⚔️ The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski – After killing one monster we’re off to find the next and it’s tedious.
⚔️ The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley – Only one out of three main characters is a warrior but it was enough.

Examples of books I love despite this trope:

⚔️ An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – The world was so distracting that I accepted both the warriors and the warrior academy.
⚔️ Red Rising by Pierce Brown – I liked this first book despite not liking the main character. Couldn’t get through the second because of him, though.

Found Family

Yes, you read that right – I’m the only person who does not like the found family trope. I’ve written a whole post about it but basically, I can’t stand the whole framing of friendships as a family because “family” isn’t a word I have positive associations with. I’ve noticed authors also use this family framing as an excuse to not build the relationships between the characters because they can just smack a “oh, but they are like family” on anything and move on. I find it very boring. However, I’m also at a point where I realize that I cannot avoid this trope because so many books have this trope even if it’s just a little. I’m also more okay with it if the friendships aren’t outspokenly equated with families.

Examples of books in which I hated the execution of this trope:

👪 The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune – Found family AND children? Please get that away from me.
👪 The Tarot Sequence by K. D. Edwards – With each book in this series, the author gets more and more vocal about this being the found family trope like it would make me like the books more (it’s the opposite).
👪 One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston – This “family” was built way too fast for convenience.
👪 Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan (all books in that universe) – Guess who won’t be watching the new adaptation…

Examples of books I love despite this trope:

👪 The Tide Child by RJ Barker – This is a very brutal world so the trope doesn’t have that sugary sweet angle making the relationships feel more like friendships.
👪 Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – Same reason as above, just with a little less brutal world.
👪 A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – Call it whatever you want, as long as it makes Jude happy.

Journeying

Journeying is something I most often encounter in fantasy and it is simply when characters need to travel from one place to another but they’re being veeery slow about it. I understand moving around can be essential in a fantasy world… I just don’t need to be there for every minute of it. If the characters haven’t arrived at their destination within a short chapter or two, we’re going to have words. When this traveling is drawn out, I will inevitably feel like the book is paused while we’re waiting for the characters to get where they need to be. It feels like nothing important or exciting can happen in that time, and no, those “surprise attacks” along the way don’t count because they’re often meaningless and the author only puts them there because they know this is freaking boring. I also don’t like the monotony of it and how the conversations are so often about either food or sleeping arrangements.

Examples of books in which I hated the execution of this trope:

🏕️ The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien – What did you expect? It takes them three books to get to that freaking mountain.
🏕️ Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan – Jordan copied a lot from Tolkien and that includes the constant journeying.
🏕️ The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson – Journeying while following one of the most obnoxious characters I’ve ever read about is not a good combination.
🏕️ Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb – They travel FOR THE ENTIRE BOOK FOR NO REASON!
🏕️ The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin – More than one perspective had us following traveling characters.

Examples of books I love despite this trope:

…Yeah I got nothing.

Social Media

It’s a bit vague but I don’t like it when social media plays a big role in a book, usually YA contemporaries. The worst cases are the ones where the main character is an influencer (or thinks they are) because it’s never done well. Please stop trying, authors, you can’t do it. And nobody needs you to. Nobody actually loves social media so why would we read about it? Social media also changes constantly and what is in today is completely out tomorrow. Publishing doesn’t work that fast. Books centered around it will inevitably be awkward.
This is another one of those cases where such books are easy to avoid so I don’t have very many examples.

Examples of books in which I hated the execution of this trope:

💻 The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper – Absolutely nothing about this book’s use of social media was realistic.
💻 Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon – The social media element isn’t huge but still very convenient.

Examples of books I love despite this trope:

💻 Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – It’s debatable if it’s “social media” to write fanfiction but there is an element of interacting with readers through comments.
💻 Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia – Same as above except it’s a webcomic.

A Positive Representation of Religion

Not trying to step on anybody’s toes here, but I’m an atheist and I really don’t want to read about religion in a positive light. I’m not sure if it’s because the market is so dominated by American authors that this is even a thing I come across in books so often.
The trope actually appears in both contemporaries and fantasy books but in different ways. In a contemporary setting, the main character would often be the religious one and show off parts of their religion without it being the main thing the book does. The problem is that it’s all positive without an ounce of nuance so I feel like I’m being advertised to. Big no.
In a fantasy setting, I don’t mind all religions because it really depends on how it’s done. However, if an author is too obvious about their made-up religion representing a real one or just the idea of real-world religion then it’s a pass from me. Again, it’ll all be a positive commentary on religion so I’m again feeling advertised to.

Examples of books in which I hated the execution of this trope:

⛪ You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman – The main character had made loving Jewish food his entire personality.
⛪ Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson – You could insert pretty much any Sanderson book here because he is a prime example of advocating religion through fantasy.
⛪ Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon – The main character suddenly remembered she was Jewish halfway through the book and couldn’t stop talking about it like she wouldn’t be herself without it.

Examples of books I love despite this trope:

⛪ The Daevabad Trilogy by S. A. Chakraborty – Gives nuance by showing different ways of being religious and also shows the problems that come with it. It also isn’t a very big part of the plot.
⛪ Autoboyography by Christina Lauren – Has a bigger focus on the problems of religion and how restrictive it is.

Murder Mystery

Murder mystery is a well-beloved trope but I have come to accept that there’s just no way it can get me excited. I think there’s way too little wriggle room for the author so every instance of it that I’ve come across reads the exact same. It’s so formulaic! That’s not interesting. It’s not even that I always think it easy to guess who the murderer is – It’s that I don’t care to make a guess at all.

Examples of books in which I hated the execution of this trope:

🔪 Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson – Not only is the main plot a murder mystery but the book also reads like it was written for depressed housewives in the 1950s.
🔪 A Restless Truth by Freya Marske – A murder mystery where the murderer wouldn’t have managed to hide for one second if the main characters were a little smarter.
🔪 The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley – I hesitate calling this a murder “mystery” because it was so obvious.

Examples of books I love despite this trope:

Would you look at that? There’s nothing here!

Just a reminder that these are just my personal preferences and you’re completely allowed to love all of these tropes. And I’d love to hear from you if you do! Have I totally misunderstood these tropes and do you love the books I mention? What are some tropes you can’t stand in books? Do we have any in common?

11 thoughts on “Tropes I Don’t Like in Books (Updated)

  1. Oh jeez these are all my favourites, haha! Except the animals as main characters one, that’s so difficult to do well. And I’ll admit the warrior main character is overdone, though I enjoy fight/action scenes so I’m generally happy to follow a warrior.

    I have such an abiding love for the found family trope, but then sometimes I wonder why people insist on the framing of friends as family. I suspect that a lot of writers just don’t think that friendship is “enough” to write about, and that platonic relationships have to become a sort of family to be worthy of attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol, I’m sorry 🙈 And yeah, it’s difficult to like fantasy but not the warrior main character because it does feel like they’re everywhere.

      I do also think authors consider family to be the ultimate bond their characters can have and that’s mostly like also the scenario for a lot of people. I just get so happy whenever an author elevates friendship as the most significant relationship for their characters because I don’t think it needs that family framing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re right – most of these are actually among my favorites 😂 The only one I also actively detest is the social media one, and you’ve named the only two exceptions to my aversion that I can currently think of, too.

    Although I suppose I wouldn’t be rushing to grab a journeying, warrior protagonist, or found family book, either… 🤔 Those tropes very much depend on the execution for me and don’t immediately make me as excited as, say, a bording school book. I love those! 🤩 And I also tend to adore animals as main characters, especially if those animals have a fantasyesque, human-like society structure. Like, as a kid, I was obsessed with Brian Jacques Redwall , Erin Hunter’s Warriors, and Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’Hoole series, and I still love rereading them 🥰 Which might also explain why I was way more obsessed with Dragon Haven than you were… The dragon parts were so good!

    I also usually tend to like dual timelines, particularly if there’s a big shift in where the character is now compared to where they used to be. Maybe that ties into me loving mysteries, but I always get so invested in how they got from one mindset to a completely different one! Although I also didn’t like the “now” timeline in Vicious and thought it spoiled way too much, so at least we agree there 😂

    And religion is actually a really interesting one! I actually find it fascinating to read from very religious characters’ perspectives BECAUSE they’re so completely contrary to my own beliefs. So I actually quite like those parts in Sanderson’s novels, for example. The only thing I can’t stand are Christian self-help books that actively tell you how you’re supposed to live your life and honor the Lord in the process 🙄 Like, I’m fine with reading about characters who are interested in doing that and believe in their religion ardently, but please don’t force your views onto me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I do like to be consistent in my unpopular opinions so I did have a strong suspicion not many people would agree with me on these 😅

      I remember hearing about Redwall not knowing what it was about but I kept seeing it mentioned as one of those must-read fantasy series that everyone grew up reading… and then I learned what it was about and went NOPE! 🙈😂

      I guess I do see how that split timeline can work but I don’t think I need to see the end to appreciate the journey there. Like, a character changing drastically happens in a lot of books (if they’re good at least) so this timeline jumping isn’t strictly necessary if you ask me 🤔 I don’t need the mystery to keep me hooked.

      And with religion, well, that’s the thing. I do feel Sanderson and especially those contemporaries are forcing their views onto me by making it all so one-sided. It’s like I’m purposefully being kept in the dark about the not-so-great things about religion. I’m just supposed to see how great it is and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? It makes me feel very weird.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, I’m afraid we have to be enemies now. Quite a few of my favourite tropes on this list 🙈

    Split timelines are hit-or-miss for me. I generally don’t reach for them, but I do like when the different timelines lead to a merging point in stories. But, I agree with you on long flashbacks and spoilt endings- I don’t have the patience to read that. I also agree on school settings. I’ve had enough of school in the real world, I don’t want to read about people going to school in my free time.

    Magical creatures is the first on the list where you completely lost me. I love magical creatures, especially dragons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I somehow accidentally pressed post while writing this 😂 I’ll keep going here 😂

      As I said, I love dragons and I would read whole books with just dragons in them. Glad to see Eragon on the loved list, it would’ve hurt me on a personal level otherwise (just kidding). And then, boom! Found family. Quite possibly my favourite trope out there. It has to be done well, so I can get the family vibe without the characters telling me so, and it just fills my heart with joy when it is used well. I do see why you don’t like it, though. Same for journeying. I see why people find it boring, but I do prefer this type of fantasy books. Lord of the Rings in the hated list… shot to the heart.

      Social media, I’m kind of indifferent towards. I haven’t read books with it I think. And murder mysteries I could spend my whole life reading so we definitely don’t agree there. But hey, it’s ok.

      As for religion, I agree with the point of the simply positive representation. Coming from a culturally religious country, I do find religious motifs and systems in stories interesting. But, I also know the ugly side of religion, so when it’s included in books I need it to be shown as double-edged, not just sunshine and rainbows.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You got so excited about dragons that you accidentally posted half a comment? Can’t relate but I guess it can happen 😂

        I’m making many enemies with this post and I’m very sorry 😅 But yes, I reread Eragon so many times as a kid and I think I loved Eragon (the character) so much that it didn’t matter that he was with a dragon the whole time.
        With found family, I’m very much aware that I’m the weird one and I wish I could like it as much as everyone else. There are just a lot of personal reasons why I can’t enjoy it and it actually makes me angry instead, unfortunately.

        And you like journeying?? That’s probably the trope in this post that I hate the most 🙈 And it’s also the trope I have the most trouble understanding why people like… so could you tell me? 😄 But yes, I’m the fake fantasy fan who hates Lord of the Rings.

        And with religion, I get what you mean. I also don’t mind religion in books in general, but it’s just such a touchy subject and it rubs me the wrong way when I can tell I’m not getting the full picture.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I like journeying because it gives off something cozy. It’s an adventure but it’s not busy, it takes time to show landscapes and characters and we get to see an inner journey parallel to travelling. And although sometimes nothing seems to be happening, mundane things like characters cooking or walking through a meadow or something can be very comforting to me. I guess at a certain degree I love journeying because it reminds me of travelling in the real world.

        Liked by 1 person

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