On reading kinks (that one trope)

Posted January 29, 2016 by Nicky in General / 21 Comments

This could probably be a Top Ten Tuesday post or something, but Kate Elliott has a giveaway running at the moment which asks about your favourite reading kink/trope, and it made me want to expand a little on my initial thoughts and post about it. The description is perhaps best borrowed from Elliott’s own post:

[A reading kink is] a trope or type of character or a plot thing or whatever that if it shows up in a book kind of hits all your buttons (in a good way). So for example I might write: “Arrogant dudes who fall in love and have to get humble to get the love interest, a la Mr. Darcy” or “the outsider who is kind of bullied or ignored and who ends up finding she has special powers and a super destiny,” because those are both tried and true (and often cliched) tropes that are reading kinks for me.

As someone who has been involved in fandom and fanfiction (mostly years ago; somehow I seem to have fallen out of the habit now), tropes are something I’m fairly aware of. Favourites of mine include:

  • The childhood friend. The kind of love story that grows from friendship and familiarity; often seen in Mary Stewart’s romances, for example. That trust and support, especially when it’s an easy transition — it just sounds lovely.
  • Flint and tinder. I’ve definitely talked about this before — characters who argue, snark and snipe at each other, and yet turn out to be in love all along. That kind of relationship that makes me think that Mal was better suited for Simon than Kaylee, in Firefly. People who get under one another’s skin. Lord Peter and Harriet Vane.
  • The political marriage. Or other forced marriage tropes, but mostly when it involves coming to an understanding. “I don’t love you, but we can be good to each other and achieve our aims this way.” And I wouldn’t mind if it grew into the kind of steady, familiar trusting love of the childhood friend type, over time, or if the two partners found love elsewhere but supported each other in it. I keep thinking about the example in Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone — the three characters agreeing on a workaround which suits propriety but gets each what they want/need. Man, I need to reread that. Also features in Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage.
  • The second son. Not a romance trope! It doesn’t have to be the second son exactly, but that is a trope I’ve noticed: the quiet, sterner, dedicated younger son, like Raymond E. Feist’s Arutha, or Tad Williams’ Josua. Robin Hobb’s Verity, drawn into heroic sacrifice because he can’t be his brother. Faramir. The type of character who knows and relishes their place in support, not the spoilt and grasping ones (like Robin Hobb’s Regal).
  • The Protector. Joscelin from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books. He goes with Phèdre into any danger, for love of her. Loyalty, that’s the key.
  • Sacrifice. That would be the reason that Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Summer Tree and The Wandering Fire get to me so much.
  • Friendship. That unshakeable, unbreakable bond — without romance. Mal and Zoe. Simon and River, though that’s family. Paul and Kevin, in The Summer Tree.
  • Turns out you’re the hero. I’m just reading Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows of the Queen for the first time, and confess that I’m enjoying Talia slowly realising she’s been chosen. The kitchen boy who makes good; the kitchen girl who overturns the social order. The frail kid from Brooklyn who saves the world again and again.
  • The Paladin. That frail kid from Brooklyn. Mass Effect’s Shepard, if played as total Paragon. Someone with this complete goodness of heart, who enables others to be better, who is willing to strive and to sacrifice. Done wrong, they can be sanctimonious assholes. Done right, you get moments like in Captain America: Winter Soldier, when the SHIELD employee listens to Steve’s speech and refuses to “press the buzzer” (so to speak).
  • The shrouded past. The mysterious ruins, the old stories, the misunderstood relics. The “Prothean” technology which uplifts a species beyond their actual understanding. Old magic.
  • The heart of gold. The assassin or thief or space cowboy who actually cares about the good of others, sometimes against their will.
  • “You’re on my crew.” Found families, suddenly belonging… is anyone beginning to notice how many of these tropes Firefly can fill? I think I might need to rewatch it.
  • The bookworm. Immediately earmarks a character as a kindred spirit, from Anne of Green Gables to my meeting just now with Mercedes Lackey’s Talia.
  • The supporter. The character in the background who supports and enables, without putting themselves forward and without resentment. Leigh Bardugo’s Mal fails on this, for example, which was really disappointing to me. Mack and the other Santitos in Santa Olivia do it. This can, I realise, be part of the second son trope — Feist’s Arutha supporting Lyam, for example.

I could probably go on. And on. And on.

What about you guys? Have you got any reading kinks? Or how about anti-kinks? I’m trying to think, and right now I can’t think of anything that’s an automatic deal-breaker for me, if it’s done right. (E.g. Twilight’s Bella and Edward and their obsessive relationship, the “stalking is love” trope; contrast with Freda Warrington’s A Taste of Blood Wine — Karl and Charlotte are just as obsessed, but the book acknowledges that that is not really a good thing again and again and again.)

Go on, your turn!

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21 responses to “On reading kinks (that one trope)

  1. Ana

    Ooh, you’ve hit most of mine right here. I’ll also admit that I have a weak spot for world-first novel writing – as long as the plot doesn’t have any real turn-offs, I don’t necessarily care about it if the world is interesting and detailed enough. As examples, I’d use…. basically anything ever written by Mieville… and the first 2/3 or so of Ancillary Justice, before the plot picks up properly.

    My other writing kink is another worldbuilding one – the “holy shit I knew it I KNEW IT” trope. Subtle, logical foreshadowing of the “wow that one throw-away detail from book 2 ties in to book 10 in a major way” type, where you know that the author has a plan for the entire series and you can reread and try to predict the future based on the clues scattered through the text. Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series is a great one for this.

    • Ana

      Forgot to mention – in terms of turn-offs, an early “fridging” of a female character will generally make me ragequit a book; Lies of Locke Lamora narrowly escaped being abandoned in a fit of rage because of this. General grossness with regard to race, gender, or sexuality will also make me give up on a book before finishing – I tried to reread Stranger in a Strange Land recently and ended up going “NOPE” really quickly.

      • I’ve seen other people have that reaction to The Lies of Locke Lamora, re: Sabetha being so in the background until Republic of Thieves (which I really, really need to get round to reading).

    • Ooh, yes, I love “holy shit I knew it I KNEW IT”–I’d never thought of it as a trope! It just makes any series that much more satisfying for me. One of the many things I love about the Harry Potter series is how many little details like that there are; I find some new ones on each reread.

    • Yeah, I love that in writing — it’s why I really really love the game series Mass Effect, for example, because you really have to explore to get aaaall the foreshadowing and… yeah. It’s awesome. And it makes the story-world feel bigger, too.

  2. I agree, tropes are great if done properly. I will always be up to reading a friends-to-lovers story, they’re wonderful!
    Also, FARAMIR – I never thought about him as a trope but you’re right of course, the poor dear has to prove himself on every turn.

    Um, I tagged you for the Unpopular Opinions Tag: http://ofdragonsandhearts.com/2016/01/monster-tag-post/ I don’t know whether you’ve ever done it or if you ever do tags at all but I’d love to hear your answers! 🙂

    • I have aaaalways loved Faramir for that reason — and he’s really better than anyone, refusing the temptation of the Ring and helping Frodo and…

      I have it open in a tab! Just omg, so many tabs open, haha.

  3. Oh, gosh, forgive me for zeroing in on one thing, but I am so excited that you’re reading Arrows of the Queen and can’t wait for your review! You haven’t read any other Valdemar books yet, have you? I love those books, and there are some amazing things in them, as well as some seriously problematic ones. But Talia is probably one of my favorite fictional characters of all times.

    As for tropes, I seem to have a hard time identifying my favorites. Faeries (done right, as in dark and folkloric) and post-apocalyptic societies will certainly get my interest every time. I think the appeal of post-apocalypse to me is partly similar to your “shrouded past”–the idea that something huge happened before these characters lived, that we happened before these characters lived, but they don’t and can’t really know anything about it (because they’re too busy trying to survive). And sometimes they learn things about “our” society, but they either get it wrong or can’t make use of it.

    • Nope, that was my first Valdemar book ever! I had quibbles but also enjoyed it and read it pretty much in one go.

      “Shrouded past” definitely works in SF as a post-apocalyptic setting, too. Especially when it’s done really well and you have that oh moment.

  4. I do so like a good trope. :’) I mean, i don’t think tropes are bad at all?! But they have to be done RIGHT and given a just a teeny tiny twist that makes them their own *nods* I REALLY LOVE THE HEART OF GOLD ONE. Like the “bad boy” sort of tough aura, but he’s really a marshmallow inside? Omg. LOVE. <3 I also really like the small tiny girls who are really badass and kick things and are epic. :')
    Cait @ Paper Fury recently posted…Lies Bookworms Tell ThemselvesMy Profile

    • Yes, agreed! Sometimes when people just use a trope without making it their own, it’s really really terrible. And oh yes, small tiny badasses too. <3

  5. Ironically, most of the tropes etc you mention are the things that make me run screaming from a book! I hate in particular the love-hate relationships which now seem to dominate and destroy urban fantasy for me! Maybe that’s why I’ve switched to zombies-less trope more story!

    • It really depends on how it’s done, for me! Love-hate isn’t as such what I like — just that back-and-forth, getting under each other’s skin. Two people who are friends can be like that, too, you know? It doesn’t just have to be an enemy. (Kate and Curran in Ilona Andrews’ books really work for me, for example.)

  6. Distinctive but familiar tropes are the skeletons that, if fleshed out well, make you love a book or film or play but when clumsily introduced are cheapened, almost besmirched. Having said which, I do like the tropes you mention.

    I expect you know that wonderful storehouse http://tvtropes.org — a wonderful modern equivalent of Aarne -Stith Thompson’s folktale motif index — good for the occasional browse-through.
    Chris Lovegrove recently posted…A book about novelsMy Profile

  7. I absolutely love the trope of friends to lovers, and also second chance at love romances. Even more so if it’s the same couple that were together when they were young, then life happened and they were separated, only to find each other again later. I just get such amazingly good, happy feelings with those two tropes. When they are well done, they just make me all squishy 😀
    Apart from that, I’m pretty much OK with everything when it comes to romance, although I’m not usually a big fan of love triangles, because they often seem to be added just to create drama, nothing else.
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews recently posted…Review: Passenger 19 – Ward LarsenMy Profile

    • Oh, yes, that one’s cute too! And agreed on love triangles; it’s just so rarely done in a way which makes me genuinely care about the outcome.

  8. I’m not too picky about tropes, but I do fall for “the Paladin” and “the heart of gold.” Another one that isn’t mentioned here that always makes a book more enjoyable to me is the “animal lover.”

    I don’t know what you would call it, but the one thing that gets on my nerves is when characters keep going on and on about why they shouldn’t be with the other person. Maybe it could be called the “love isn’t for me” character. That gets old, fast.

    Great post! I never really thought of a lot of these as tropes. I thought of them as archetypes, since most of them have to do with stereotypes of characters. I can see how those carry over into the theme and plot of the book, especially if it’s a romance, so your way of looking at it makes sense.

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