Trope of the Week: Brat Prince

He’s entitled, spoiled, and an all around brat. This prince is constantly inconsiderate and rarely does anything for anyone but himself. If he does you a favor, expect to be indebted to him for a long time. And if you’re rude to him, expect him to raise hell.

brat prince

Why this can be bad: While this character type certainly has a place in reality, some writers will use this as the end-all, be-all for his personality. He’s a brat prince — that’s it. However, this is just generally poor writing. Without something to motivate him to act this way, your character is behaving in a two-dimensional manner.

How you can fix it: Don’t stop at brat prince when determining your character’s personality. Make sure you go about fully realizing him. Lestat (The Vampire Lestat) and Laurent (Captive Prince) are great examples of this trope being used well, as while each seems like just an entitled brat on the surface, they’re both complicated characters with histories and motivations that make them more than just spoiled brats. This also invokes sympathy in the reader and gives the reader a complicated relationship with them as the reader both hates and loves them.

Bottom Line: His lineage should not define his personality.

Trope of the Week: Philanthropic Savior

Seeing how oppressed and overworked the poor impoverished are, Philip Moneybags, now aware of this horrible tragedy, throws money at the poor. They are now happy and love Mr. Moneybags because he is their great savior.

Why this can be bad: When a story shows poor people being saved from their horrible states of life by a kind philanthropist, it takes away the agency of the poor and treats poverty and its effects like they can be fixed with sudden influxes of money. Not only is poverty a lot more complicated than “people don’t have money,” it’s not as easily fixed as giving the poor money. These feel-good stories of rich people making others’ lives better by giving them money also sets up the same kind of story as heroes saving princesses; the saved are incapable of saving themselves, and need someone outside of their group to save them. In other words, they are incapable of saving themselves.

How you can fix it: Mirroring Mad Max: Fury Road is actually a pretty good idea — in character structure, that is. The problem with most of these “privileged saving the underprivileged” stories is the privileged person is both the main character and the protagonist. In Fury Road, Max is the main character, but he is not the protagonist; Furiosa is. That means that Furiosa is fighting against the injustice she faces; Max isn’t fighting it for her. This same concept can be applied to parallel stories, like that of the rich helping the poor. This strategy will then give the story a heavier significance and greater representation. It shows a more appropriate use of power and how people can use their privilege to actually help people.

Bottom Line: The underprivileged must lead the charge for justice themselves, and the privileged can only help.

Trope of the Week: Suicidal Girlfriend

If you’re experiencing suicidal or depressive thoughts, you are not alone. Click here to find a suicide lifeline in your country.

This trope was extremely common during the renaissance, but still persists today. A woman’s husband/boyfriend/fiance dumps her or dies, and so the woman kills herself in her despair. Unfortunately, this happens in real life, but the way that many pieces of media handle this trope can be cause for alarm. (Due to the spoiler-y nature of this trope, I will not be giving examples, but you can find plenty here.)

Why this can be bad: When it comes to media, many of the women who commit suicide are disposable. These women are either used to further the male character’s motivation (because he’s not really dead or he feels guilty) or as a way to bring tragedy to the piece because “look how much she loved him.” But this trivializes the issue that is so deeply and often felt worldwide. These female characters often don’t have lives outside of the male character’s either, which is why writers can so easily justify the suicide — because she has nothing else to live for! But this is the result of lazy characterization and rarely an honest, accurate representation of suicidal behavior and mental illness.

How you can fix it: Before you have your girl off herself, consider what her support system is like (family, friends), her goals in life, and her mental health. All of these will influence her. If she has a strong support system, a good life, and good health, she’s probably not going to be driven to suicide (though of course she’ll be devastated). If one of these is lacking, however, then it’s a more plausible outcome. However, if you’re going to go down this path, then you need to be respectful about it. This is not something to be taken lightly, used as a dramatic garnish.

Bottom Line: Do your research. Flesh out your female characters. Don’t treat suicide lightly.

Trope of the Week: Useless Husband

Part of the Married… With Hatred couple, this husband will do anything to get out of doing chores or helping with the kids. Usually accompanied by a nagging wife, this husband is beloved by audiences for his idiocy because, well, he’s probably got a good decent heart.

Why this can be bad: Despite their incompetency, these husbands are always shown as the good guys. They just want to have a good time, and the fact that they shirk helping around the house or pretend to be unable to do anything so that their wife will do it instead is played for laughs rather than shown as the unhealthy, lazy behavior it is. In contrast, the wife is shown as being unreasonable when she gets upset despite the behavior often being hurtful or upsetting. Not only are the laughs cheap, but they are often at the expense of the “shrewish” wife who is actually reacting reasonably.

How you can fix it: If your husband is gonna be a bumbling idiot, don’t try to play the wife — or anyone else off — as being unreasonably disgruntled about it because chances are they’re behaving rationally. The issue with this comedic trope is that the husband gets away with it with either no consequences or just a shrug and “oops!” This puts all the onus on the other people rather than the actual perpetrator, and therefore the behavior is designated as acceptable. Those who react negatively to it are then designated as prudish, boring, or uptight.

Bottom Line: Let the husbands suffer real consequences for the dumb/mean stuff they try to pull, and stop pretending that everyone who criticizes them is just being a tight-ass.

Trope of the Week: Depraved Bisexual

basic instinct

This person is insane and probably murderous — and they’re bisexual, the icing on the depravity cake! TVTropes.org points out

This is a very different phenomenon from the Psycho Lesbian trope. Whereas the Psycho Lesbian is usually violent or deranged out of unrequited love and/or jealousy, the typical Depraved Bisexual is bi because, well, why not? Their willingness to sleep with everyone they can is just one facet of their being Ax-Crazy.

And if they’re not murderous, then they’re still manipulative, mean, and vindictive.

Why this can be bad: This is essentially always bad, mostly because of what TVTropes.org says. Many writers make their depraved killers bisexual only because they want to show just how “bad” their villain is, and all that does is present bisexuality as something hypersexual and evil. Bisexuals already face their own brand of oppression, and they definitely don’t need you to add more content like this to their lives. The big reason this character is so detrimental to the representation of bisexuality is not only the reason stated above, but also that this character is often the only bisexual presented to the audience, therefore linking the sexuality (bisexual) and the morality (evil) together. On top of this, writers like to think that bisexuals will have sex with anyone, when this isn’t true at all. If you’re heterosexual, will you have sex with anyone of the other sex? Probably not. Bisexuals have standards, likes, dislikes, turn-ons, turn-offs. They’re not insatiable nymphomaniacs. They’re just people.

How you can fix it: Think really hard about why your crazed villain needs to be bisexual. If it’s like the above (to show how depraved they are), just stop. If you continue to insist that this is “just who they are,” then you need to work on making sure they aren’t the only obvious bisexual in the work, otherwise they’ll become the token stand-in and representative of the entire sexuality.

Bottom Line: Depraved bisexuals sure as hell better not be the only bisexuals in your story, nor should they be bisexual because they’re depraved. And remember: bisexual does not mean “will sleep with anyone.”

Trope of the Week: Invisible Parents

Sure, in theory, parents exist, but have you ever actually seen them? In Young Adult novels and children’s shows especially, parents have a habit of just rarely appearing or interfering with their children’s lives. This means the kids can get up to all kinds of hijinks. You don’t even need to mention if your characters got permission to go on a horribly deadly journey! Just let the audience assume.

Why this can be bad: This has always been my biggest beef with kids’ media. Even when I was little, I always noticed how the parents were usually very prominently missing. Kids never had to ask permission to go to a friend’s house, they never needed to get money from their parents, and they certainly didn’t need to get permission to journey to an island to help their best friend get back his grandfather’s soul. This is a trope that’s still widely seen in YA, and often if parents are mentioned, then it’s just to act as plot points rather than to be actual characters.

How you can fix it: If the kids are leaving home for days at a time without telling their parents, there better be a good reason for that. Sometimes an audience can suspend disbelief enough to go with it, but when it comes to bigger decisions like going on a dangerous quest, the kids should at least think about their parents while they’re gone. And if they don’t, why aren’t they? There’s gotta be a reason for that. Make sure you explore this, even briefly, and it will help limit audience eyebrow-raising.

Bottom Line: Remember families exist, and kids almost always have parents to answer to, and those parents are people.

Trope of the Week: The Other Man Who Doesn’t Know he’s the Other Man

the other manSee the ask on tumblr.

Cases of “the other man” are typically like the situation you’ve described: the man is rarely at fault for the adultery because he doesn’t know or misunderstands the woman’s situation. (Don’t confuse this with the cheating boyfriend, though)

Why this is bad: It’s not necessarily bad. It’s only bad in the sense that when you look at how men are viewed when in this situation and how women are viewed, there’s a stark difference. Lori and Shane from The Walking Dead are perfect examples. Lori, believing her husband Rick to be dead, begins sleeping with Shane, her husband’s best friend. While Lori was convinced Rick was dead, Shane was only pretty sure – because he left Rick to die seeing no way to save him. However, fans reacted violently against Lori while finding dozens of ways to excuse Shane’s behavior – even when Shane continued to try to go after Lori, who refused him upon finding her husband was alive. So while “the other man who doesn’t know he’s the other man” isn’t necessarily a problematic trope, it does show the huge differences in the way audiences respond to male characters and female characters; the woman is always at fault (even when it’s not her fault).

How you can fix it: Since there’s not really anything wrong with this trope per se, there’s not much you can do to fix it. In this kind of situation, the woman is usually made out to be a selfish harpy using the unwitting man for her own personal gain or an abuse victim searching for love. Both of those tropes are highly overused and create the devil/angel dichotomy that you may want to avoid for the sake of keeping your characters complex and less predictable.

Bottom Line: The most you can do is make sure the woman who knows she’s cheating isn’t a lustful demon or a virtuous angel; make her complex, and you’ll at least put more creativity into this trope than most people.