I was lurking on a goodreads thread the other day, a thread about overused tropes in m/m romance which was really pretty funny. There was the “gay-for-you”, the “gay button”, the “suddenly magically gay”, and several others, all very truly overused in m/m romance. But then I thought: why are they so overused? Probably because they sell, right? Because the authors get great feedback on them and so continue to use them.
So I did a quick search of books on goodreads, and guess what? If you like one of these tropes, you can search for it by keyword and find a nice list of, say, “gay-for-you” books to choose from. I realized then that these overused, unrealistic themes are kind of a thing. Which made me think some more, about other overused themes, in romance and in all literature.
The one that springs to my mind is “the super-hero”, that’s a classic. You know: the main character who’s amazingly good at everything, plus outrageously handsome, kind, funny, smart, and of course a well-endowed and talented lover. This character is so unbelievable, and yet so common. One of my favorite examples is “Ty” in Abi Roux’s Cut & Run series. He’s incredibly hot, can kill a man silently with no weapons, knows several languages, sings like an angel, is a superstar on the FBI softball team, is a wonderful and attentive lover (to men and women), can tango like a pro, is everyone’s best buddy, and is like a foster dad to a small fatherless girl. Riiiight. But you know what? I eat that shit up! I love Ty!! And I love Abi Roux for creating him. (It’s kind of ridiculous. I feel similarly about “Jamie” in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Crazy, totally unbelievable… and I love reading him.)
I don’t think I’d specifically search for a book with this type of character, and I don’t want to read this kind of thing all the time, but I can still appreciate the fantasy and enjoy it when I stumble upon it in a book. I guess I feel similarly about all overused character types, tropes, conventions, etc.: It’s not something I look for, but it’s not a deal-breaker either.
I have a few authors that I will always buy. Because they are dependable and I love their stuff. Several of these consistently write predictable, formulaic stories, or use stereotypical characters. And I love them anyway. Why? Why am I so quick to lay down my cash for a story when I could probably write the outline of it without cracking the cover? And why are so many other readers doing the same thing? I have a few ideas:
1. Comfort. Why have I read Horton Hatches the Egg seventy times? Because kids like predictability. It makes them feel safe to know what comes next. It also helps them learn how to read and spell. Does it expand their awareness? No. Expose them to new ideas? No. But it sure helps them relax! So maybe I am the same- a little comfort, a little reassurance… that’s not necessarily a bad thing (once in a while).
2. It highlights the writer’s style. Ten pages in to a new book and you know who the two main characters are, you know their character “types” and you know with complete certainty that by the end of the book they will decide they were meant for each other and live happily ever after. Why keep reading? The writing. If I already know how the action is going to play out, I am focusing on the language more. The tone of the book becomes more important, because it is the only truly unique thing about it. (Case in point: the Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole. Almost every book follows the same formula, and yet every book is awesome. I will seriously be devastated when she stops churning these things out. They are delightful.)
3. It’s all about the fantasy. Yes, it is totally unrealistic to think that your super-hot neighbor who has had seven girlfriends in the past five years is going to suddenly look at you and say, “You know what? You look really hot in those jeans. I’ve never slept with a dude before, but for you… I’ll try it!” Still, the fantasy that is built up in the book is satisfying. Because that’s what books can do for us, they can make our dreams come true (at least on paper), they can fulfill our fantasies.
Honestly, for every single overused literary convention I can think of there is a book that uses it which I love. And I know I’m not alone. Even if you claim to avoid such shallow fluff in your reading, you probably seek it out in other areas (Really? You’re going to see another superman movie?) so, go ahead… I’m pretty sure it’s good for you.