9 Worst Tropes in Contemporary Fiction
It's time for more moaning and groaning! I am breaking down the nine absolute worst tropes in contemporary fiction in my humble, completely correct opinion. If you're not familiar, contemporary fiction is pretty much anything that takes place in the present day. It usually involves real people in real-world, present-day situations. However, it can be connected with other genres like contemporary fantasy or contemporary romance. Because of this, I will be focusing on contemporary fiction that takes place in the present day regardless of whether or not the work is multi-genre. Contemporary fiction can be awesome, but it can also be a flaming pile of shit, and that's what we're talking about today!
Please note, this is just my personal opinion and I am entitled to change my mind. But also please note that I am 100% correct and anyone who disagrees with me is a flaming pile of cat turd. 😉
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Number 1: Present Tense
This is not a trope, but it's my video, so...whatever! I do what I want! I am not a fan of present tense writing, to put it politely. I think present tense is gross and should be shipped off to a far away wasteland where it can die a slow and worthy death. But present tense is usually the tense of choice for literary and contemporary fiction, and this pains me. Why do you want your narrative to sound like a sports commentator? “She walks to the store. She sees the bird. She contemplates death. Score!” What's extra weird is that present tense writers are very protective of present tense, which is fine, but it's just a tense! Protect something that matters, like the rain forest or human rights. I'm just saying, present tense is kinda awkward and contemporary fiction is full of it, so...that's just great.
Number 2: Poor Little Rich Kid
I don't know what it is with contemporary fiction and rich people. It seems like every other contemporary novel I see–particularly contemporary romance–involves some rich bitch whining about how sad and lonely they are because they're so, so rich. Cry me a fuckin’ river! I'm not saying wealth doesn't have its struggles, but you know what causes even worse struggles? Poverty! You want me to feel bad for a character who is gorgeous and wealthy and popular just because they feel so alone in their mansion? Buy a fuckin' condo, then. You have the money! Maybe don't drive around in a Lambo. Buy a Honda and blend in with the regular folk.
“But Jenna, Hondas are so ugly!”
I know! So shut the fuck up and enjoy your money, you privileged dickhole.
Number 3: "I Just Wanna be Normal"
This is particularly prevalent in young adult contemporary fiction and young adult contemporary fantasy.
“I don't wanna be this really cool thing! I just want to be a normal teenager.”
This is bullshit. The only people on this planet who want to be ‘normal’ are those who are othered based on prejudice, but these characters never fit into these categories. They're always able-bodied, white, cishet teens who don't want to be the next fae princess or don't want to be the homecoming king because, “Ew, that's so weird!”
Have you met a teenager? They're constantly trying to stand out, to get noticed, to be famous. There's an entire app devoted to teenagers learning dances so they can become internet celebrities. Unless this kid is battling discrimination, you can't convince me they want to be normal. I'm just not buying it.
Number 4: Stakes So Low
I live in the real world. I buy groceries. I pay taxes. I shit and piss like the rest of 'em. I also experience real world problems, like arguing with friends, family conflict, or medical scares. So when I read fiction, I need the stakes to be pretty damn high in order to get invested, and contemporary fiction rarely delivers.
It's understandable why. In other worlds and timelines, you can have aliens. You can have wars, and monsters, and corrupt royals. In contemporary fiction, these options are limited, which is fine. But honestly, if someone isn't getting murdered, I don't care. I recently read a contemporary fiction where the breaking point was one character giving another character the cold shoulder. Oh no, call the police! I literally watched my fiancé almost die. If you expect me to care about some petty bullshit, you're sadly mistaken.
Number 5: The Hipster Douche
“I'm not like other main characters. I'm different. Contemplative. An old soul. My favorite book is The Great Gatsby, my favorite movie is Citizen Kane, and my favorite band is The Beatles. You know, just some of the most famous pieces of media in history. But they're old, and that's what makes me special.”
Contemporary fiction is filled with characters who pride themselves on being 'not like everyone else' because they like shit that literally everyone likes. The Great Gatsby is a classic. The Beatles is one of, if not the most popular bands of all time. But these characters are gonna wax poetic about how they're eccentric, when really they’re all the same! They're just these generic white teens or twenty-somethings who smoke cigarettes ironically and spout meaningless philosophy and wear ugly grandma sweaters to cover their pasty ass bodies. You're not unique just cause you don't listen to Cardi B and you're not smart just ‘cause you don't read smut.
Number 6: Inspiration Porn
Contemporary fiction is famous for its inspiration porn. An able-bodied author who did zero research writes about a disabled character whose trauma will serve as inspiration to the readers.
Someone give this author an award! We love exploiting people for personal gain. Besides, are you even allowed to write about a disabled or neurodivergent character unless you're doing it for the sole sake of inspiring readers who don't give a shit about disabled or neurodivergent people in real life? Why not write a love story about a disabled guy who kills himself at the end and we’ll all say it was so, so beautiful? That's a real book and they made it into a movie because people loved it that much... (Note the sarcasm in this paragraph.)
Holy shit! Obviously, inspiration porn comes in a wide variety but the disability variety is very prevalent in contemporary fiction. Thanks for making a huge group of people feel completely othered and exploited, assholes.
Number 7: Tragedy
A lot of genres eat up tragedy, but contemporary writers masturbate to it. They have a very particular formula. They're going to write a super boring story and then everyone will die at the end, but don't worry! It's supposed to make you think.
Yeah, I'm thinking about how I've lost hours of my life reading this shitty ass book! I'm thinking about how I could have been doing something fun, or at least reading something happy.
Contemporary writers, why you gotta give your characters a life-threatening disease just for the sake of a metaphor? I know I said I wanted the stakes to be high, but I also didn't want to fall into a depressive hole. My brain chemistry already has that covered! Look, it's fine if you want to kill people, but for God's sake, at least make it entertaining.
Number 8: The Nice Guy
Nice guys thrive in contemporary fiction, mostly because a lot of contemporary fiction writers are incels. If you're not familiar with the nice guy, I'm going to assume you're an alien. But hey, that's all right. Live long and prosper!
A nice guy is someone who said maybe one or two polite things to a woman and thinks that that has earned him pussy. Then he gets his panties in a knot when it doesn't work out that way, usually because he's ugly and a creep. There are so many contemporary stories that follow a man or a boy pining over a woman who doesn't want him, and we're supposed to pity him, because...he's entitled to sex, I guess? It's just gross and makes you assume all kinds of unflattering things about the author. He's probably gonna say his story is poetic, and he might even win some kind of award because the literary community is filled with basement dwellers just like him.
Number 9: Snobbery
If you majored in creative writing, then you already know. I didn't, because I knew better. Contemporary fiction, specifically within the literary fiction realm, tends to have an air of pretentiousness. This is why creative writing students are encouraged to...not be creative and write contemporary and or literary fiction exclusively. Fantasy, sci-fi, romance, mystery? Get out of here! It's not like those are some of the highest selling genres in the industry. Who cares about entertaining your readers and paying your bills?
I'm personally of the mindset that no genre or category is less than another. There are ones that I prefer, absolutely! But that doesn't really make a difference. Every single genre serves its purpose and has an audience, so I don't understand the snobbery around one particular niche. It seems kinda silly, like you're priding yourself on something pretty meaningless. Pride yourself in your character and how you treat people. And of course, you can pride yourself on the fact that you're a good writer, but it seems kinda weird to pride yourself on the fact that your stories are set in the present day and carry some kind of philosophical meaning. Get your priorities right. It ain't that deep!
Every single genre serves its purpose and has an audience, so I don't understand the snobbery around one particular niche. It seems kinda silly, like you're priding yourself on something pretty meaningless. Pride yourself in your character and how you treat people. And of course, you can pride yourself on the fact that you're a good writer.
So that's all I've got for you today!
While contemporary fiction has its gems, I’ve had to wade through a river of pretentious metaphors and unnecessary tragedy to find them. If you’re thinking of writing contemporary novels or stories, do your due diligence, actually research, and for your own sake, dodge all the overused tropes running rampant through the genre! In the meantime, it’s my sincere and unapologetic hope that this article gave you a bunch of big red signs to help you along the way!
What are your least favorite tropes in contemporary fiction? Let me know in the comments! Misery does love some company.
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