Top 5 Wednesday: Book Trends I’m Tired Of

Top 5 Wednesday is a Goodreads group hosted by Lainey from Ginger Reads Lainey and Samantha from Thoughts on Tomes. Every Wednesday of the month, readers and bloggers present their Top 5 Wednesday choices for a specific topic. Today’s topic are book trends we’re tired of, which can refer to both the appearance of books as well as their content. Because I’ll find something positive about almost every book cover, I’ll be focusing on content-based trends and tropes I’ve grown tired of. Of course, my top choices would be insta-love and love triangles since we still seem to get those worn-out tropes, especially in YA, but I’ve tried to come up with a few a bit more creative trends I wish we could erase from the publishing industry for good.

Superficial Diversity

The book community has been craving more diversity in literature, which is an extremely positive development. The world is diverse, so let’s portray it as it is, right? We as individuals differ in our genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions and so on, and it’d be ignorant not to speak to all readers when we create characters whom we’re supposed to relate to. What I’ve noticed, however, is that some authors heed the call for diversity for the wrong reasons: Sales. Look, it’s great that authors introduce diverse characters but, in my opinion, it doesn’t suffice if they don’t mean what they depict. For example, having a dark-skinned or gay protagonist on the cast without addressing how this character may feel about it––how skin colour and sexuality affects their self-image (both in positive and negative ways), whether this character is sensitive with regard to this topic, or if he or she encounters racism/homophobia––is superficial, half-hearted work. It is not enough to create a character and then paint them black or make them gay or have them believe in Allah. As a reader, I want introspection. I’m not satisfied with having diverse characters just because it’s trendy. I want to know how diversity impacts the characters and their lives. Foremost, I want depth, not superficiality.

Overly Flowery Language

I adore beautiful prose. I love descriptive writing, which has me paint a detailed picture in my mind, and metaphors and skilled wording. Flowery language can give a book its unique touch but there’s a lot than can go wrong. As positive examples, I’d name The Wrath and the Dawn, The Winner’s Curse and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The writing is partly flowery but well-balanced with clear, short, and concise passages. It is trendy to write poetically, but there’s a fine line between beautiful prose and purple prose. When I read the chapter sampler for The Star-Touched Queen, I was instantly mesmerzed by the writing. Soon enough, though, I realized I was only half-focused on the plot, for I was distracted by all the extensive descriptions and metaphors and poetic swirls of wording. There is such a thing as too flowery language. Too many adjectives, too many metaphors, too many fancy words. If I’m going to adore a writing style, I require a balance between extravaganve and simplicity, otherwise I’ll get lost in the prose and forget about what actually counts in a book.

The Chosen One

There is a father of all Chosen Ones and that’s Harry Potter. There will only ever be one original and unique literary figure which was chosen for a destiny of greatness, and every character that came after and tried to achieve the same thing was merely a copy of him. Now, I’ll admit that some books I love feature heroes and heroines who are chosen for a specific path. Personally, this trope is a matter of subtlety for me. It starts irking me as soon as I am reminded on every other page that the main character was chosen, is special, holds all the power, has to complete a difficult task alone, and above everything is the fucking Chosen One. In Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard, for example, I stopped counting at some point how many times the heroine rubs into the reader’s face that she is the Lightning Girl and will therefore lead the rebellion to its success and yadda yadda. If a character is the the main character, obviously there’s a reason for that, perhaps a certain magical ability or a social status that comes with power. A main character is special, for otherwise he or she would not be the pillar of the book’s cast. But let’s keep the specialness subtle, shall we?

Poor World-Building

Obviously, this applies mostly to fantasy and dystopia, but it’s not entirely redundant in other genres, either. I cannot believe that we’re still getting fantasy books with poor world-building. I mean, creating a 3D-world is the basics of How To Write Fantasy 101. Now, I admit that it’s hard with so many releases to keep your world original and unique, but you can still do a good job. My basic need for a fantasy novel is a world-building in which the realm is explained to me and this includes everything that sets a realm apart from the world as I know it. What does the realm look like? Are we talking pine forests or deserts? How do the people look? Are there different ethnicities? Is one ethnicity considered inferior or superior? How do they live? Houses or igloos or tents? What do they wear? How does fashion differ between ethnicities? What do they eat? What societal traditions and laws exist? What happens if one breaks said laws? What’s the role of men and women in this society? What does the governmental system look like? Is there magic and if yes, where does it strem from and how does it work? Are there different religions and belief systems? What do the people believe in and how does it affect their lives? I came up with this in 30 seconds, and yet I still read books in which these things are hardly explained.

Mental Illness Done Wrong

Hey you, yes you. The character in the front, to the right. I’ve heard you’ve been battling a mental illness––depression, you say?––for a while and I think I’ve come up with the perfect cure for your condition: Fall in love and all your sadness will dissolve like *poof*. So, I think you can guess what I’m hinting at here, but let me elaborate. The inclusion of mental health in literature, especially YA contemporaries, has increased a lot over the years but the execution sometimes leaves much to be desired. Now, as a Clinical Psychology graduate, I’m probably a little more alert as to how mental illnesses are portrayed in books, but I’ve seen many readers and reviewers, suffering from mental disorders, who have been seriously pissed off by authors moving mental health into a certain light. I’ve avoided each and every single release which has implemented the Love-As-A-Cure trope. Because no. If love were a cure for mental illnesses, I think mental health care facilities would’ve run out of patients by now (which we haven’t, let me tell you). Suggesting that love is a game changer with mental illnesses, such as anxieties and depression, and suicidality is belittling of the severity of these conditions and therefore offensive. Furthermore, a mental illness is not just a two-item checklist you can tick off. It doesn’t suffice to tell the reader “Here, my character has bipolar, so he/she suffers from episodes of mania and depression”. As with diversity, the portrayal of mental illness requires sensitivity, insight, and introspection. There is nothing worse than a cardboard character who is mentally ill, because if someone is mentally ill, then there is obviously more to this person and their condition than meets the eye. Look at the past and their experiences, look at their personality, look at how the illness impacts this person, and distinguish which thoughts belong to the illness and which don’t. Mental health is an important element of YA literature and it deserves extensive research, depth, and respect. And the same, of course, goes for somatic conditions.

So, these were some bookish trends, tropes, and clichés which have been irking me lately. Obviously, there is always a narrow line between the book trends I love and the ones I hate. Something I want in books, for example the representation of diversity and mental health, can easily tip into something I shake my head about. It’s all about how it’s done right, but that view is, of course, very subjective. Now, it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on the book trends I listed? And what aspects would you list among the ones you’ve grown tired of?

10 Comments

  1. I agree with everything you said. I think that out of the ones you mentioned, the flowery language is the one that annoys me the most. Shatter Me by Taherah Mafi is a great example. I don’t even know how I made it through the book. It throws the most random metaphors here and there. It confuses the reader and slows the pace. I wasn’t a huge fan at all.

    Another trend I would mention is the insta-love. I just don’t understand how authors have still not figured out that insta-love is a terrible idea.

    • nina

      February 8, 2017 at 10:29 PM

      Thanks for commenting, Kimi! Having written this post, I’ve realized that everything I had listed could be potentially positive, if only done right, which includes the flowery language. I haven’t read Shatter Me, but I can imagine by your description what it would’ve been like to read. I ended up not continuing TSTQ, either.

      As mentioned in the intro, insta-love and love triangles would be my obvious top choices. I honestly cannot fathom how those are still a thing. I understand it’s a little harder to avoid insta-love because you can easily step into that trap as an author, especially if your editor doesn’t pick up on it. Love triangles, however, are a deliberate plot device, and it hasn’t been cool since Twilight 😛

  2. About diversity – absolutely agree. I understand that authors get trolled or shamed publicly for not including diversity in their books (which is a serious issue too, because public pressure is not a joke, and I believe every person has a right to choose what to write about) and yes, diversity is good for sales, but I wouldn’t blame an author if they do not include diversity in their books just for the sake of diversity, as you rightly pointed out: including a superficial description of a gay friend or dark-skinned – I’d preferred none than in such way.

    Flowery language: in the case of TSTQ, in my opinion, it wasn’t language’s fault the book turned out quite surreal, especially in the second part of the book. I think it’s the plot itself; the author chose to show it through vague descriptions and surreal images, so we, readers, lost ourselves in the story and couldn’t tell one thing from another. But, of course, it’s also a matter of perspective: maybe what I weren’t able to comprehend, other people find the high of philosophy or the low or something else, haha. Now, why I am boldly declaring that it’s the issue of the plot not the language per se: because after reading book 2 and seeing how very solid plot was there despite of the language being as beautiful and flowery as it was in book 1, I didn’t have any problems with getting into the story or imagining the world author created. But, of course, it’s strictly how I see it; for every person it might be different 🙂

    What I find REALLY annoying and unnecessary flowery prose is Mare’s inner thoughts in book 3 (and for that matter in the previous parts as well). I swear she thinks in pretty quotes in attempt to immortalize her awesome self. And it’d be funny if wasn’t so nauseating >.<

    Chosen one: ahaha, it seems no conversation can go without remembering Mare. So good she provides us with perfect examples in how better not to act if you want to create a decent character 😀 Absolutely agree about subtlety! When authors rub in our faces how special their character is, it gets on our nerves, because no one likes to be said multiply times about one and the same thing. I admire authors who manage to "hide" special characters in plain sight. We on subconscious level understand that a character is special and all that jazz, but the subtlety saves the day and everyone is satisfied in the end: authors because readers liked their characters, and readers because they weren't rubbed with specialness in the faces 😀

    World-building: I usually go or try to go easy on this one if, of cause, some of the obvious and most important things, like the ones you pointed out above, Nina, are involved in world-building's explanation. Otherwise it's just a lame job and deserves a severe critique.

    Mental Illness: first rule for every author who wants to write about it: MAKE A THOROUGH RESEARCH AND THEN WRITE, otherwise I don't see a point. Again, it's like with diversity: to include mental illness just because it is in fashion these days. JUST NO! Of course, there's also an issue of an average reader who never suffered from mental illness or never studied it at university: it's hard to fully comprehend if the topic displayed correctly in a book or not, but for that we always have reviews and opinions of people who know more about mental illness and read the book, and they can tell us if a certain book is correct in displaying an important theme.

    Oh, sorry for such a large comment! I really love 5 themes you chose for the topic, Nina. Thank you for sharing this amazing post with us, I really enjoyed reading it! :))

    P.S. Yes, yes, love-triangles are still such a common… plague, it goes without saying that it's number one, haha.

    • nina

      February 9, 2017 at 7:09 PM

      WOW. Thank you for your overwhelmingly long comment, Nastya! I think you’ve broken a new record on this blog 😀 ❤

      I agree with you that every author should be free to right what they want, for the result of public pressure is not very satisfying to me as a reader. I do not wish to read about something the author clearly did half-heartedly. And yes, it’s a similar issue with mental illness, and though you cannot get the perfect depiction of of a mental disorder (because everyone who has suffered from, let’s say, depression has perceived it a bit differently), but you can try to make it as authentic as possible, not a cardboard portrayal of a severe topic.
      I have only read the chapter sampler of TSTQ, so I wouldn’t be able to make a statement about the rest of the book, but I loved the writing, just realized it was distracting me from the actual plot. It’s certainly a matter of taste, as you say, but it’s never a good sign to me when an author has to fill the blank with empty metaphors.
      Mare is like the BEST example for a Chosen One trope that constantly gets shoved in the reader’s face, it wasn’t even funny anymore! I was SO mad!

      Love triangles and insta-love are the secret Prom Queens of this post.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me! Lovely to have such friends 🙂

      • hehe, the length of my comment is entirely your fault, Nina: you said rant and here I am; as I mentioned, I can’t say no to rant xD

        Oh, I must’ve missed the chapter sample thing, thank god I didn’t spoiler you anything about the plot in case you will decide to read the book. But if you won’t, you still might give a chance to ACoF, it’s a companion novel and can be read as a standalone. Ahaha, I know, I know I look like a bothersome brat trying to make everyone read that book, I just loved it so much I can’t help it 😀

        Well, I know for sure now that if I ever want a book with authentic description of a mental-illness, I should check your shelves 😉 #PerksOfHavingClinicalPsychologyGraduateFriend 😀

        • nina

          February 9, 2017 at 9:35 PM

          You are right, of course, and I enjoyed your lengthy comment a ton! I’ve seen you gush about ACoW and it is your right to push a beloved book on all your friends! Since I know who Gauri is (thanks to the sampler) and you say it can be read as a standalone, I think I might very well give it a try. The novel following a debut is often stronger than the first book, so I’m willing to give Roshani Chokshi a chance 🙂

          Aw, thanks for your trust! That means a lot to me 😀

  3. You hit the nail on hte head with this post!
    I cannot agree any more on superficial diversity flooding the book market lately. It is not enough to feature diverse character if author does not do it properly. What is the point of having diverse character if you put him in the shallow story? What is the point of including racial diversity in the book if storyline isn’t catchy or adequate?
    Same goes for poor world-building. For me, detailed and properly developed world-building is a must when it comes to fantasy genre. Without it, fantasy novel always feels flat to me…

    • nina

      February 9, 2017 at 7:13 PM

      Thank you so much for commenting, Lucia! I’m glad you agree with my complaint about superficial diversity. Exactly, having a diverse character does not make a shallow story have more depth. A character’s being and appearance affects the way they think and feel and interact with people, so why not depict things as they are? A fantasy novel without a proper world-building is just a novel minus the fantasy, if you ask me 😉

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