Has Your Trope Been Overdone? by Jaq D Hawkins

Long before I became a Fantasy writer, I was a long time Fantasy reader. I started reading Fantasy at the age of twelve, back in the days when Fantasy was a distinctive genre and readers knew what to expect of it… before the Romance and YA invasion that started in 2010 changed all that… but I digress.

The point I’m working towards is that as I read book descriptions to vet the gems from the dross in today’s open publishing market, I continually come across tropes that are being done to death so that I glaze over within a few words of the description. One phrase that is certain to send me to the next interesting looking book cover is “Fifteen-year-old [name]…

The writer has already lost me. The thing is, I’m not adverse to a young protagonist, or even a child character. I’ve written some myself in Demoniac Dance where a whole group of children are primary characters and Namah, the lead character, is far too young to submit herself to a forced marriage not long after she has her first woman’s blood.

The reason that particular phrase sends me running is that it is invariably the portent of a certain kind of story; one where a young person, usually a girl, will go through a prescribed script of growing up challenges and come out strong and happy, having accomplished great things. The stories tend to be very similar as well as one dimensional, effectively slight variations on a common theme.

These stories have their market, but if you look at their sales rank on Amazon, you might notice that the glut of these stories has spread sales very thin for most of them. A ranking with seven figures indicates a book that sells no more than a few copies.

There are other tropes that have become boring in their commonality; the romantic vampire or werewolf character, the damaged woman who survives through inner strength, the zombie apocalypse, the military outcast who saves the universe. There are more.

If this is the kind of story a writer wants to write, then they should certainly write it. However, if they are thinking of putting it up for sale, it is worth being realistic with expectations. Of course your story will be better than all those others with a similar idea, but that’s beside the point. The question is, are you writing it because you will get enjoyment from writing that particular story, or do you have an ambition to write stories that will sell?

If you write for your own enjoyment, I recommend uploading to Wattpad where readers can comment and encourage the budding writer. If you want to write for profit, I suggest studying the publishing market. A few hours of perusing sales figures on Amazon and similar stories to the one you want to write could save you many more hours of wasted creativity that will only add one more clone to an overdone trope.

Of course there is always the possibility of finding a new angle to a particular type of story. The last thing I would want to do is to discourage anyone from writing anything, but study your market. If several book descriptions sound similar to yours, find a unique angle and most importantly, put some extra effort into writing your description so that it doesn’t sound like all of the others. Avoid that phrase, ‘Fifteen-year-old..’ and another turn-off, ‘Follow [name] as he/she/they…’ unless you’re writing children’s books.

If you really must write yet another coming of age story, find a way to be original. Let the transition happen in original ways and shoot down the clichés that all the other stories have done over and over again. We are constantly told that there are no original stories. It’s an opinion that I don’t quite share. At the very least, show the reader that you can tell the story in an original way. Shine with original content and you won’t be wasting all the effort it takes to write a book by ending up among the slush pile of the seven digit sales rank.



Filed under General, Gumbee Fantasy Writers' Guild

2 responses to “Has Your Trope Been Overdone? by Jaq D Hawkins

  1. Cracking post and I’m right with you.

    The other day, I was doing a bit of seo with my books on Amazon and was surprised when I put in ‘coming of age fantasy’ and got page after page of ripped abs… In fact ‘fantasy action’ gives you similar results. Presumably because in some parts of the world, ‘action’ also means ‘getting it on’. I’ve no beef with erotic fantasy, I just wish it was easier to differentiate between that and the pukka article. But erotica and romance are hot selling genres, readers devour books, so even the ones that are doing less well sell better than many fantasy books so they are still going to swamp the listings.

    As for originality, I do worry a lot about this, myself. Personally, I try to write the books I want to read but can’t find. So I have a coming of age trilogy that ran to four books with a bog standard messianic plot and yes, there’s more than a hint of clean romance. But I hope I did it in a different way. I could be wrong though, because my books don’t sell very well. Perhaps nobody can find them…



  2. I agree entirely, with both of you apart from MTM’s last paragraph, your books are good, you just don’t have the exposure (sorry for pun given the context) or the advertising budget of one of the big publishing houses. I hear the same thing from my readers, “I can’t understand why you have had to self publish”. The six-pack book covers a la twilight are just there trying very hard to sell pulp fiction. But then remember when any fantasy cover had scantily clad women on it? Even Sir Terry’s early books did.
    and the whole YA thing is a bit of a con as far as I can see.

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