Thriller tropes I love and hate!

orangutan list

We all have different expectations for books. Sometimes that’s more general (like good writing) and sometimes it’s a bit more genre specific. In the last few years, I’ve really changed things up and discovered a new love for psychological thrillers. And over time, I’ve realised there are really specific things that can get me revved up… or completely grind my gears. So, today I’m talking about some of those tropes I love and hate. And I’m going to do it without spoilers (the book covers don’t necessarily correlate with the list and are in a random order to avoid giving anything away!). Let’s get into it!

Thriller Tropes I Love

Secret sociopaths– one of the best things about thrillers are the bad guys. I love a lot of the villain types that come up- but do get a kind of particular pleasure when the person pulling all the sadistic strings is a secret sociopath the whole time. Bonus points if I can get inside that person’s head, which leads me onto…

Multiple POVs– I don’t always love multiple POVs in books, but it can really work in thrillers. Especially if we get inside the head of the bad guy (preferably not knowing who that is!) It’s one of the biggest pulls to the genre.

Unreliable narrators– on the topic of getting inside people’s minds, an unreliable narrator can be used very powerfully in a thriller. There are lots of different ways this can create a fascinating psychological profile and keep the reader on their toes, so most of them work for me. It’s just all about the execution.

Justified bad guy– oof this can be a masterful twist, especially if they get away with it, cos then you’re kinda rooting for it.

Person you least expect did it– this can be so much fun. I know that some people like it to be paired with justified baddie, however, cos apparently I’m a messed up individual, I actually prefer if this goes with sociopathic killers. It multiplies the creep factor for me!

Creepy kids– this is taking me back to my gothic roots and my love of Turn of the Screw. If done well, this subversion of cutesy innocence can be a killer move.

Isolated in the middle of nowhere– this also plays into the gothicy vibes I love. Not only is it a great way to build atmosphere, I also love how much it builds tension because YOU CAN’T ESCAPE!!

Dark past and buried secrets– I mean, this is pretty much a staple of most thrillers, yet I still love when the past is dug up and the truth is exposed.

Cliffhanger ending or final gut punch twist- I know a lot of people like a clean ending with everything neatly tied up… but when it comes to thrillers, I want the exact opposite. I want there to be a last second reveal that turns everything on its head and makes my stomach drop. Well, within reason. I still want it to make sense, which I guess leads me onto the tropes I don’t like.

Thriller Tropes I Don’t Like

An impossible twist– or anything really that comes out of nowhere. The worst example I’ve ever seen is in a book that thought (for some reason) it’d be a good idea to have a paranormal plot twist. Which, yeah, I didn’t see coming from a seemingly realistic thriller… but that’s also what made it really dumb. Don’t genre shift at the last second! Grr!!

*Surprise* not dead– this can also break my suspension of disbelief, cos while it happens an awful lot in thrillers, it never does in real life… so maybe it’s not the best trick to pull. Plus, I’m never keen on being robbed of an emotional moment. I guess the only way this could work is if a character was believed to be dead before the plot ever began and somehow wormed their way back into the story. I could just about get behind that.

Police procedurals– okay, this isn’t really a trope, it’s more of a subgenre, but anything in this vein doesn’t do it for me.

Clueless mc– this is probably one of my most hated tropes, because even if it helps the plot, it can be annoying to be in the head of someone really stupid. A lot of the time, if the book is otherwise well written, I can let this slide. But it will still make me dock points, because there’s only so much a person can go through before I think “wow this person has the IQ of a pigeon- and not even a smart pigeon, a stupid pigeon that keeps flying into windows” (this is why so many books involve unreliable narrators with substance abuse issues!)

Bad guy is irrelevant character– quite simply, this will spoil the fun of a good thriller. You want to feel invested and terrified of the antagonist. You don’t want to get to the end and go who?!

When the red herring was a better solution- similarly, I don’t like it when the misleading subplot would’ve been a better outcome. It’s disappointing when a writer lays down a roadmap to a really entertaining outcome… then veers off course. I end up wishing they’d taken the other route.

Agenda driven twists or plots– this is another way I’m seeing authors really spoil a dramatic plot. What makes this even worse is how heavily signposted and moralising this can be. It’s not that thrillers can’t deal with hard-hitting topics- I’ve read a number that really work. It’s that it shouldn’t take away from the thrill of a thriller. It’s supposed to keep me on the edge of my seat… not make me feel like I’m slumped over, held hostage in a lecture theatre by a crazed activist, trying to tell me something painfully obvious. Yeah, no thanks. I was reading this to be entertained.

They’re not so bad, really– this is very close to the justified killer- so it’s probably odd that it’s on the hate side. Still, I can’t help hating it when a character does something terrible and everyone in the story goes above and beyond to excuse their behaviour. There are times when this can work… and others when it can fall flat on its face. Even if a character’s justified and even if the plot demands they get away with it, I think it’s a delicate balance to reach, so I can’t stand it when characters keep going on and on and on about how the character shouldn’t be punished. I think it’s just a question of knowing when to stop.

Alrighty then- that’s all I’ve got for now! Do you love or loathe any of these? And do you have any thriller tropes to add? Let me know in the comments!

Fantasy Tropes I Love

 

orangutan list

Poor old genre fiction is often maligned- even by me 😉 Too often I talk about the downsides of tropes and themes I don’t like- so today, since I’ve got a lot of my Moaning Minnie opinions out of my system, I thought it would be fun to talk about some fantasy tropes I actually love!

hermione witch magic gif*Magic*- especially if there’s too much of it!! Which may sound weird to everyone- cos either you think like me “can there BE too much magic?!” or you think “welllll there are limits”. For me there are no limits! I’m always willing to suspend my disbelief for fantasy and this will always make me excited 😀

rhaegal dragonDragons– all the DRAGONS!! Now, I will admit, I’m a bit more discerning when it comes to dragons- as I said in my least favourite fantasy tropes post I won’t just settle for any old dragon. Still, that comes from a place of love, because I can’t really say it enough: dragons are my favourites!

 

Cgadget manool gadgets/magical artefacts– similar to the dragons, I’m not always into magical gizmo fixes all the problems/needs to be destroyed in order to save the world. That said, I do get a thrill when little magical objects find their way into the story and are shown off in a James-Bond-gets-his-gadgets kind of scene. 

zukoAntagonist turned ally– I just love redemption arcs. So, whether it’s an enemies to lovers twist, or an antagonist turned ally, I am super on board for this trope!! At the same time, I wouldn’t say no to… 

 

walder freyThe *just deserts* being served– as much as I love villains learning the error of their ways, I also enjoy them being punished just as much. Especially cos not all villains are created equal and sometimes it’s satisfying to see the Walder Freys of stories being served their own sons, Titus Andronicus style 😉

questQuests! A huge part of the fantasy genre is the hero’s journey and what better way to get them started than sending them off on a literal journey?! While I think this can easily go wrong or be done badly, I can still be tempted by a jolly jaunt into fantasy land. For me, this will never get old!!

 

Mirkwood_Peek_01Going into the *wilds* and coming back transformed– this is an age-old trick in folklore, which Tolkien drew on and famously made a part of the genre. It’s very typical to read a fantasy novel where the main character ventures out into the unknown (most often represented as forests) and learns something dark and twisted about the world or themselves. It’s a stalwart part of the genre- and I can’t get enough of it.

got-credits-picMysterious libraries/castles/schools– naturally, adding magic can make the mundane more special- who knew? 😉 Seriously though, some locations blend better into the fantasy realms. Personally, I really appreciate when buildings are transformed into something creepier and more enigmatic. Speaking of which…

casperGhosts and necromancy– blame Garth Nix’s Sabriel for cementing my love for this one 😉 Funnily enough, I’m easily creeped out, yet I still firmly believe the ability to bridge the divide between life and death is one of the best things about fantasy. It’s such a great opportunity to explore interesting and unearthly themes. I can’t quite get enough of fantasy books which draw up the veil and dance over this line.  

helms deep rohirrimAll hope is lost… oh no wait it isn’t! Also known as the “here comes the cavalry” twist. Maybe I’m a masochist, but I get all jittery when the author makes me truly believe we’ve reached the end of the road and then *DADA* reinforcements come at the last second.

 

And that’s all I have for now! What do you think of these tropes? Do you have any favourite fantasy motifs of your own? Let me know in the comments!