If there's one thing I love more than tropes, it's subverting them! Especially if they're cliches. Subverting cliches is perfection. A trope subversion is kind of like a bait and switch, but in a good way. You're setting things up with a specific formula, readers are going to expect the scene to play out in a very particular way...and then you pull a switcheroo! You surprise them, either by not having the trope play out the way it usually does, or by abandoning it midway, or by gender bending it, or by just doing the exact opposite of the trope. I live for this shit!
I love trope subversion because it's fun and unexpected. It allows you to take something loved (or something loathed) and put your own unique spin on it. This is why I got into writing in the first place. Fuck your tropes! I do what I want! Today I am breaking down my ten favorite tropes to subvert. The tropes that are just begging–no, pleading–to be flipped and twisted and bamboozled. Plus, some of these tropes are annoying cliches, and that is why subverting them is so much fun!
Ready to see if any of your favorites or least favorites are on the list? Let's get into it!
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Number 1: The Good Girl and the Bad Boy
There's nothing inherently wrong with writing about a good girl falling for a bad boy. It's not like this doesn't happen in real life. The problem is that this trope has been overdone to the point of cliche, and usually with very toxic characterization. This is precisely why I enjoy the subversion of this trope. Specifically, the bad girl and the good boy. I love this because it's so uncommon! People are so scared that the bad girl is gonna be unlikable and the good boy isn't gonna be sexy, but the way you dummies are writing good girls isn't likable either, and there is nothing sexy about an abusive douchebag. The fact that this subversion is so rare makes it refreshing! We get to explore character types and arcs that we very rarely get to see. This is a cliche subverted in my own work, and it's subverted in some of my favorite books. We love to see it!
Number 2: The Femme Fatale
A femme fatale is a gorgeous woman who uses sex as a weapon to destroy her enemies. It's also been done to death in a classless, sexist manner usually by cis het male writers. And whenever we get a sexy, villainous male character, he's usually the abusive love interest. This is why I love the idea of the homme fatale. An homme fatale is the subversion of the femme fatale; it’s a beautiful man who uses sex for his devious plans. He's not a love interest. He's not an anti hero or the leading man. He's just here to flash his abs and wave his dick around for the purpose of evil. I personally have little problem with objectification so long as it's within reason and it's equal, so if we're gonna treat women like walking sex demons, let's add some men to the mix. I, myself, have written an homme fatale in The Savior’s Sister and his big moment is one of my favorite scenes in the book.
Number 3: The Villain's Final Ominous Words
We all know that moment where right before the antagonist fails, or succeeds, or escapes, they deliver some ominous, cliched line that is supposed to spark fear in the hearts of readers everywhere. But what if instead, a train barrels into them and sprays their brains across the wall? What if the Wi Fi has low service and the call cuts out? What if the main character chops off their head before they can even say a word?
Look, nine times out of ten, their final words aren't even ominous. It's shit we've heard a million times over. Why not surprise readers by subverting the trope and kicking the words to the curb? As one of the best characters ever written once said, “Fuck your parting words.”
Number 4: The Evil Plan Monologue
I honestly don't have a big issue with this trope. It's just in the execution where things fall flat. Quite often during the climax of a novel, especially in an action or mystery novel, the antagonist will stop his evil deed in order to go into a long winded explanation of his plan. This trope is utilized because it's necessary; readers need to know the details of the bad guy’s plan so that they get their questions answered. The problem is it's not always realistic. Why would the villain ramble about their plan as opposed to...you know, actually finishing their plan?
What I love is when this trope is subverted in a comedic or self aware way, when the villain dives into their monologue and the reader is in on the joke. “Oh, I see. It's time for my evil plan monologue!” the villain proclaims. Maybe they pull up a PowerPoint presentation and break down their plans step by step. This makes the moment fun while still providing need-to-know information.
Number 5: The Naive Virgin
I have no problem with virginal characters. In a sex obsessed society, I actually find them super refreshing. But as someone who was a late bloomer myself, I personally find the naive virgin cliche very annoying and offensive. Just because you haven't put your genitals to work doesn't mean you're a doe-eyed moron!
This is why I really love it when the virginal character is someone you would least expect, like an assassin or a renegade. Someone who isn't naive or innocent at all. It's refreshing as hell because one, you don't see it coming. Two, sexual experience is not at all a reflection of your personality or character. And three, it normalizes anyone and everyone doing what they want with their body when they want to. Give me more powerful, intelligent, murderous virgins. I'm here for it!
Number 6: The Bimbo
The hot, dumb bimbo has been done to death. But you know what I love? A good ole himbo! The himbo might be one of the best tropes to come out of cliche subversion. Give me a dumb hunk with a heart of gold and I'm all in! This is a perfect example of how gender bending a cliche can make it new and enjoyable. I've yet to meet a person who doesn't love a himbo, and if you don't, you have bad taste. Plain and simple.
Number 7: The Chosen One
A lot of people have really strong opinions about the chosen one trope. I don't, myself, because that trope tends to be most prevalent in young adult fiction and I don't read young adult fiction.
But that, right there, I think is the problem with this trope. The chosen one is always some idiot, hapless teenager who kinda sucks at their job. Basically, at this point, all you have to do to subvert the chosen one trope is to create a chosen one who isn't a whiny teenager. How about a 45 year old divorcee who just got into Jazzercise and really loves to scrapbook? Or, a chosen one who's a side character? The main character is someone who isn't expected to achieve greatness at all, but somehow they're the one who saves the day. I would read the shit out of both of those books.
Number 8: The Tough Guy
Every book, especially every action book, has a tough guy. We've seen him. We know him. He sucks. What I really, really love is when a character looks hard and intimidating, but actually they're just a soft little butterfly. The perfect example of this is Terry from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. He's this mountain of a man with pecks that have a mind of their own, but he's gentle and sweet. He adores his daughters and he plays the flute! This is a trope subversion that has become a lot more common recently, so much so that it has started to become its own trope. And honestly, I'm here for it!
Number 9: The Miscommunication
We've all read a bazillion books that feature some kind of miscommunication, usually between the main character and their love interest, and often resulting in some kind of fight or divide. This is another trope I don't have a problem with in theory. Miscommunications happen in the real world and they can cause a lot of strife and tension. What's annoying is when the entire plot hinges on it...for the duration of the whole novel! The conflict of the romance is the fact that the heroine walked away before she could hear the end of the conversation, which just so happened to be the most important part.
I think the easiest, most common sense way to subvert this trope is not to eliminate the miscommunication, but to resolve it quickly. Unless one or both parties are immature bags of shit, miscommunication typically leads to a discussion. Don't make your characters immature bags of shit. Have them discuss the miscommunication a chapter or two later and squash the issue. This is way more believable and incredibly satisfying to read.
Unless one or both parties are immature bags of shit, miscommunication typically leads to a discussion. Don't make your characters immature bags of shit. Have them discuss the miscommunication a chapter or two later and squash the issue.
Number 10: The Nice Guy
In a lot of media, there is a nice guy. He's usually the main character or a potential love interest and his whole character revolves around the fact that he's nice, but he's not getting the sort of attention he deserves. He never gets the girl, he never gets respect, and readers are supposed to feel bad for him. Quite often the nice guy ends up saving the day and lands a chick miles out of his league and we are supposed to applaud him for defying the odds.
The thing is, this guy in real life usually isn't nice at all. He's actually kind of a dick. And even in these books and movies he doesn't come across nice, and yet we are still supposed to root for him? It's fucking annoying.
This is why I absolutely love it when the nice guy ends up being the villain he actually is. This trope subversion is satisfying because it's true to life and it corrects a cliche that perpetuates entitled behavior. A perfect example of this done brilliantly is the first season of Raising Dion. The main character has a friend who is clearly in love with her but the feelings aren't reciprocated. It really looks like he's gonna turn into the love interest, but instead because of his entitlement, he turns into the villain. I love it! I live for it! I want more of it!
So that's all I've got for you today!
Subverting cliches can make for a fun, refreshing, and unique take on an established concept and give the reader a memorable surprise (or shock, if that’s what you’re going for)! If you’ve been struggling to come up with ideas for how to subvert popular tropes or surprise your readers, hopefully this article gave you some useful ideas to use in your own writing. I’m all in for fresh ideas, and a bunch of other readers out there are, too!
What is your all time favorite trope subversion? Let me know about it in the comments below!
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