Fun topic from The Broke and the Bookish‘s Top Ten Tuesday today, about topics that turn us off from trying a book. I managed to come up with 7. Standard disclaimer, there is good media with all of these topics, and all of these points are a matter of personal preference anyway.
1. Vampires: This is not a secret. Vampires creep me out. It’s one thing when they’re supposed to be like that–though I don’t really like being creeped out at all, accidentally or on purpose– but when they’re portrayed as romantic heroes? The book needs to be really, really good. Let’s just say that.
2. Zombies: I like it when all characters, including antagonists, have complex motivations and personalities. Zombies are, by definition, kinda stripped of that. So zombie works immediately turn me off.
Of course, I do love Mira Grant’s zombie trilogy. I gush about it all the time. The difference is that the zombies in that trilogy are tools and reflections of a horrible future. They are not antagonists. Let’s not venture onto the topic of zombies as romantic heroes, here.
3. The Destined One: It’s not uncommon in epic fantasies, or even in other kinds of fantasies, for some one person to be destined to defeat some evil or do some great thing. Sometimes, this a reason to give a character from a background that wouldn’t normally have access to power and influence a chance in the limelight. I can at least respect that. Still, I can’t help but prefer my protagonists to earn their titles, not have them handed over to them.
4. A girl running away from an arranged marriage: As a history major, this topic usually feels anachronistic to me. I remember seeing something similar to the phrase “horrors of an arranged marriage” in a blurb once–this can be fine, as long as the word horror is used appropriately.
However, the problem that the protagonist usually has with these marriages is that they aren’t for love. This is a valid modern perspective. Keyword: modern. It shouldn’t be obvious to the protagonist that marriage is supposed to be for love, because that’s not what her society believes. In her culture, marriage would be one of those things everyone goes through–in modern Western societies, it would be like getting a job. Almost everyone does it, regardless of whether or not they like it.
Paired with the rebellious act that comes so often with the territory, this just makes the protagonist look spoiled. After all, everyone goes through the same thing, but for some reason, she should be exempt? That can be okay, as long as the character is supposed to be spoiled and this is treated realistically in the context of the society (aka, no one is impressed).
There are a few other ways to have this kind of mindset be realistic. She could be strongly influenced by a foreigner from a place where marrying for love is normal (which still makes her look a little spoiled). She could be one of the rarer individuals who can look critically at their own society and see what does and what doesn’t make sense–in this case, she should not be the quintessential “rebellious” personality type. Someone clever enough to come to her own conclusions should be able to come up with a more realistic game plan. Or she could be actively trying to change her society–not just for herself.
5. Dreams: This is a new one, prompted by how many blurbs for YA paranormals I’ve read where a girl meets a guy in her dreams before meeting him in real life. I don’t get it. I’m sure someone could work with this premise, but I don’t see why it’s such a popular one.
6. An everyday normal person suddenly discovers they have strong powers and/or are the lost heir to a kingdom they didn’t know existed: These plot lines can be well done and do serve certain purposes. I recognize that. TV Tropes talks about it some: Wish Fulfillment and I Just Want To Be Special.
It’s just not my personal preference. I value some kind of intelligence or independence in characters, and this plot practically forces the protagonist into a role where s/he has to go bumbling about with far too little information. I just like it better when characters have at least some level of control over their lives–either through a choice about what they do or knowledge about who they are. This kind of plot generally puts off the moment when the protagonist can actually exhibit some agency.
7. Princesses: This may be a bit hypocritical coming from someone who was a huge fan of the Royal Princess Diaries, but that’s different. For one, those are historical fiction books that focus on people who were (generally) in the position to become huge players in the political/social scene of their country. The important part was that these people–Elizabeth I, Cleopatra VII, Lady of Ch’iao Kuo–tended to be leaders in one way or another, and the books told a story of how they could have grown up to be people who affected change.
I would have loved to see a series about people affecting change who aren’t from prominent families, but the hurdle to overcome social class is high enough that there are a lot less of them.
The princesses I generally see as protagonists in most fiction are different–though again, not always. I read a lot more fantasy than historical fiction nowadays, so it isn’t all that unlikely that people from different professions and social standings could be our protagonists. And sometimes we get that, but there are a very disproportionate number of princesses. I’d rather read about the scholar who got her position by merit, or the farmer who was recruited into the army. The member of an order that only exists in this fantasy world. The spy, the refugee, the baker. Whatever–it’s fantasy, there’s room to be creative.
Anyone agree or disagree?