Why it’s done

There are many things that are rare in the real world, but very common in books. Sometimes, people think the authors are pushing an agenda, which can be true, but many times, the authors are just trying to write a good story. Here are a few of the things I was able to think up.

Dead parents
No, the author doesn’t have a vendetta against parents who stick around to raise their kid. The story is just a lot more interesting if the parents or mentor isn’t there and the kid has to take charge. I did a long post about this.


Kids leading everything, including being elected benevolent dictator.
Done for the same reason as dead parents. The main character must be active in the plot, not laying back and letting a bunch of “boring” elders lead. This will likely put them in charge of everything from their friends to the entire country. Then again, considering the current election, maybe teenagers in charge would be better than what we’ve got.



“Feminist” plot line where the girl crossdresses, beats up the guys, leads the military, or does something else that isn’t traditionally feminine.
This one is sometimes due to an author pushing his/her political opinion, but it’s also done by authors who are simply trying to write a strong character. Like I said with the last two situations, the main character is supposed to be moving the plot forward, so this often means the MC will be a leader, not a follower. If the society doesn’t like girls taking charge, this also adds another layer of conflict. Having a female main character who is submissive to guys or authority figures without having a dull plot line where the guys do everything is hard to write.


Romantic tension, including dating the bad boy and love triangles
Like I’ve said before, tension is what keeps a story moving. People don’t want to read about something with no conflict, so conflict in romantic relationships is often added. Bad boys (or more rarely, girls) can also keep readers turning pages because the reader wonders about the character’s past. The reader will also want to know if this bad boy/girl can be redeemed. If there’s a love triangle, the reader wants to know who is going to get the girl/guy. Note that love triangles can be dangerous since readers rarely love both the romantic interests, and if the character picks the “wrong” one, someone might be disappointed.



Interspecies/culture relationships, which may combine with forbidden romance
Ever heard of Romeo and Juliet? It didn’t end well, but it happened because it made a pretty successful story. These sorts of relationships are quite common for multiple reasons. If the families are at war, it adds conflict, and this is before the mixed species/culture/race kids start showing up. Who makes a better hero than some kid who is scorned by both his/her cultures and doesn’t fit in anywhere? Worse, he/she might look different from everyone else. What’s more relatable than a social outcast?
Another reason it’s done when it doesn’t add tension is because the author wants a diverse cast and doesn’t have two characters of the same race/species that are compatible. Other authors might be trying to push a political agenda by showing people real-world interracial relationships are okay.
Then there are the authors who just think it would be cool if their hero ended up marrying an elf girl. It seems most common for the female to be an elf. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a case where the female was an orc. (If anyone knows of a case where the girl was an orc, please tell me.)


Token minority best friend, who may be comic relief
Normally, authors feel most comfortable writing about a character who is very much like themselves. This means that the main character will often be similar to the author in some ways, race being a big one. Since the author wants diversity, they might make a secondary character, often the sidekick, a different race. Sidekicks tend to be the most likely character to become the comic relief, which is probably part of the reason for some minority comic relief characters. The good news is fans love well-done comic relief, so the author should think twice about killing one off.
In poorly written pieces, this can backfire when the only thing special or different about the character is their race or gender.


Cliches and stereotypical characters
Many of these probably appear because the writer saw a well-done version they liked. The problem is, when a dozen other writers decide they like something and try to copy it, some of these characters end up becoming cardboard cutouts. Mentors, minorities, antiheroes, and every character type can be cursed by this in the hands of the wrong author. These cases probably become the most obvious when they involve certain groups that the author doesn’t have much contact with, so their only knowledge comes from the media.
One way for writers to avoid cliches is to make sure that the secondary characters’ lives don’t revolve around the main character or change something about the character to break the mold. This will make the secondary characters feel more like real people, not a prop for the hero. Kelsier, who is the mentor in Mistborn, is a good example of a mentor that doesn’t fit many of the mentor stereotypes.


Villainous military
This may be done for political reasons, but it also happens in action stories because the military is much more frightening than a group of pacifist vegans. The main characters need a villain that’s seen as a threat, and militaries are scary. They’ve got guns, they’ve got training, they’ve got numbers, and they probably have backup. This makes them a terrifying foe.


Is there anything you think should be added to this list?


About Jessi L. Roberts

I live and work on my family’s cattle ranch in eastern Montana. I have a flock of chickens, a hyper golden retriever, some cows, and a few horses. I enjoy fantasy and science fiction and my head is full of wild sci-fi story ideas, some involving apocalypses and others involving aliens. I have been published twice in Havok Magazine, an imprint of Splickity.
This entry was posted in Controversy, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Why it’s done

  1. Dakota Caldwell says:

    Hmm. I think one thing that we often see in stories that we don’t really see in real life is the idea of endings. All books have to have their climax, then the falling action, then a solid closing. Some of the best books, like LOTR, have open endings that show the characters moving on with their lives. The vast majority, though, simply end the story at the end of the book. For example, we know that The Hobbit continues with Frodo in LOTR. However, just reading the book through, Bilbo gets back from adventuring and never goes on another exploration again. In Stardust, a novel I had to read for a class, it ends with the characters inhereting the kingdom and never adventuring again. Same with Princess Bride, Star Wars 6 (before we knew about Force Awakens), the ending of any of the Star Trek series, and so many more. But this doesn’t happen in real life. We always seek out new adventures, even if those new adventures are new plotlines, new books, new jobs, etc. Very few humans (at least the ones I know) are content to fall into a rut after some grand adventure and just stay there. My thoughts as I’m procrastinating homework this morning…


  2. Autumn Grayson says:

    I think one of the major problems that come with these plotlines is that people don’t take the time to write them well or show how they make sense in the context of the story. I know in my story I have lots of orphans, or other characters who have parents but are not directly raised by them. I do this partially because it’s what interests me, but it also makes sense for most of my story worlds. The lives of my characters are very dangerous, and in such hazardous worlds it only makes sense that there would be a lot of orphans. Also, a lot of societies in my stories, mainly assassins guilds, take in orphans and raise them as apprentices, so a story that focuses around my assassin characters would have to include a lot of orphans.

    So I guess when writing about any of the plot devices you mentioned, the authors should put a lot of effort into writing them in a way that is interesting and a little different, as well as showing why it makes sense for their story.


    • Very true. Some things can be made different, like the deal in Mistborn where the mentor was in his early thirties. Flipping the tropes around, or making sure there’s a good reason for them in the story universe goes a long ways to making it stick out less.


  3. These elements can and do make interesting stories. But there are so many other stories, conflicts, (and agendas), out there. Do we tend to stick with these ones because they’re familiar? Or maybe we like adding our own twist to the familiar?


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