More than a Trope: Examples of Subverted Tropes from a Christian Perspective
Tropes can be a powerful storytelling tool, but so often they’re overused and misused. Today I want to look at some trope examples that irk me personally (and/or that I’ve heard friends complain about) and provide some suggestions for how they could be subverted and given more thematic impact, especially according to a judeo-Christian worldview.
Strong Female Character
We all know this one. The girl who’s as strong as any guy, hides her emotions, and just generally could be swapped out for a guy except we need to empower women. By… telling them they can be just like guys. Right. How about we flip this around and tell girls that they don’t need to be just like men to be strong? How can we use this trope to empower actual femininity?
Subverted Trope Examples
Strength as a crutch
What if the SFC is focused on fighting as a means to ignore her weaknesses in other areas (diplomacy, getting along with her family, etc.), but realizes and addresses this as her arc?
Example: My WIP, The Masked Captain
What if she’s insecure and tries to be just like the brother or dad that she idolizes because she doesn’t feel strong enough on her own, but comes to learn that who she is naturally has just as much worth and she is needed?
Strength as an accent
There’s nothing wrong with women being able to fight, but why does it have to be the focus? What about women who can fight in certain contexts when needed (e.g. to defend her family when she’s alone), but are largely content to let others more qualified do the fighting? What about women who know how to kick butt with a sword, but also know when to put up the sword and be diplomatic or gentle?
This is another super common trope, I guess because it causes so much conflict. But… why? Why does it cause so much conflict? There are so many ways a love triangle could be handled without the overwhelming angst.
Subverted Trope Examples
What if one suitor is just clearly a better fit, and the MC is mature enough to acknowledge that and work things out with both candidates? It doesn’t have to go perfectly smoothly—maybe the MC struggles with their decision because they’re still attracted to the second suitor even though they know the first is a better fit, or maybe the rejected suitor doesn’t take it well—but this is still more believable and easier to read than the MC going back and forth for an entire book or, worse, an entire series.
Maybe the main character isn’t ready for a relationship yet. Or maybe they just want to wait until things are less complicated. Or maybe both options are a poor fit for the main character. There are many options for this one.
There is one type of love triangle that I can actually enjoy. One. And that’s where the suitors respect each other and respect the main character and want what’s best for the MC even if what’s best for the MC is the other suitor. That level of respect, I can get behind. I actually enjoy those, because I know that either option would take care of the main character and respect them, and no relationships are going to be ruined when the main character makes a decision. Strong friendships are my jam, so if we can keep those after a love triangle, I’m happy.
Examples: The Truth series by Dawn Cook; Dwight in Shining Armor; Not Cinderella’s Type
Romance Solves Everything
I’m not sure if this quite qualifies as a trope, but it’s definitely a trend in fiction. The main character is lonely (or insecure, or depressed, or anxious, or…) until one day the Love Interest™ shows up and True Love conquers all.
I have nothing against romance. I’m actually quite a hopeless romantic, especially when the romance is done well. But I’m also tired of romantic relationships being the sole focal point, often at the expense of friendships, family relationships, etc. So here are some things we could do instead.
Subverted Trope Examples
Lonely character sets aside the pursuit of romance
Let’s write about characters who have been seeking a romantic relationship to cure their loneliness, but realize it’s taking up too much of their time or damaging their existing relationships or distracting from their walk with God or…
Lonely character has friends
Maybe the MC is taking their friends for granted and learns to appreciate the people they already have around them. Or maybe they just… have friends. And aren’t looking for a romantic relationship. Maybe their friends are the ones to support them through depression and help them find confidence in the right places. Let’s have more strong friendships.
Characters who are (or come to be) content with their singleness
Maybe the MC isn’t mature enough for a relationship, and they know it. Or maybe they just don’t want one. Or maybe they do want one, but they realize that their person will come along when the time is right, and there are other things they can focus on in the meantime.
Lonely characters who have community
Family. Friends. The old lady down the street. What about the characters who have communities around them and find their support there? Maybe they’ve been taking that community for granted in pursuit of the perfect friend or the perfect romantic interest, and they come to appreciate who they have instead.
Lonely character finds the wrong person
Most of the above examples have been less subversion and more just… throwing out the trope altogether. But you can also twist the romance trope and show characters who settle because they’re lonely, but later realize they need someone who’s a better fit.
Lonely character still has struggles after entering a romantic relationship
Guess what: Romance is not a cure-all. What about the characters who do find the right person, but still struggle with insecurity? Who do find the right person, but still struggle with mental illness? Who do find the right person and realize their problem wasn’t loneliness, but discontent, and that’s still an issue they have to work through? These are all options ripe with internal conflict.
BONUS: Acknowledgment of toxic relationships
How about the characters whose “magic” person comes along and turns out to be abusive and it’s not romanticized? How about the characters who get out of abusive relationships and are more careful the next time? The worst occurrences of the “romance cure-all” trope are those in which the love interest is abusive in some way and it’s totally excused and/or romanticized. Can we stop doing that, please?
I get that this trope is meant to push the hero along on their journey and remove a potential crutch… but come on. Mentors are important, and a good mentor will encourage you to be independent even as they share their wisdom.
Subverted Trope Examples
(Okay, I’m mostly just throwing out the trope, again.)
Let’s have characters whose mentors last a suspiciously long time and are able to share their wisdom with the MC for as long as it’s needed. Let’s have mentors who commit to training the main character for extended lengths of time. Or, you know, parents? Who do that for a lifetime? Please?
Example: Merlin (I keep expecting Gaius to die and then I’m pleasantly surprised when he keeps on kicking)
Just like we often find different mentors for different areas of our lives, why don’t we create characters who have multiple mentors? Maybe they have one mentor they turn to for spiritual guidance and another they turn to for guidance in their work and another they go to for advice in their relationships?
Or what about characters who outgrow their first mentor and have to find a new one? Or whose mentor moves away (or dies) and leaves them needing a new mentor?
What about characters who learn to lean less on their mentors, but still go to them now and then? Characters who value both independence and the importance of wise counsel and seek to balance the two.
Teenager Leads a Rebellion Because They’re SPECIAL
Mare from Red Queen immediately comes to mind as an example of this trope. She’s thrust into a leadership role with a rebellion just because she’s an oddity: a red-blood with the powers of a silver-blood. That might be reason to recruit someone to a rebellion, but it’s a silly reason to give them a leadership position. Here are some different (and more believable) ways to handle teenagers and rebellions.
What if the teenager joins an existing rebellion and is perfectly comfortable letting someone older and wiser lead? What if they join because it’s important and not because they’re special or because they want to be in charge? What if they appreciate the value of experience in a leader?
Example: The Fire Rain Chronicles by Miranda Marie
What if the teenager wants to rebel because it’s important, but they’re not quite sure how to do so and they’re just trying their best? Maybe they end up leading by accident; maybe they find someone wiser who can help them figure out how to pursue justice effectively, or maybe they fail and give up because they feel like they can’t make a difference by themselves.
Example: The Fire Rain Chronicles by Miranda Marie
Maybe the teenager doesn’t even want to join the rebellion at first. Maybe they don’t want to rock the boat, or maybe they’re even firmly on the opposite side, but they’re later convinced that the rebellion is right.
What if the teenager does end up leading the rebellion, but only because there’s no one else to do so? What if they show the qualities of a leader almost by accident, influencing people to follow them because they were willing to rock the boat when no one else was? What if they grow into their leadership role consciously, aware of the responsibility they have to those behind them, and own up to their mistakes when they inevitably make them?
Example: The Hunger Games
Lone leader with a twist
What if the teenager leads the rebellion because no one else is willing at first, but they seek out someone older and wiser to take over once the rebellion gets off the ground? What if they understand the value of wisdom and experience and are content to just be the spark and let someone else lead once the fire is ablaze?
What do you think of these tropes? How about the subverted trope examples? Did I miss any tropes on this list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
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8 thoughts on “More than a Trope: Examples of Subverted Tropes from a Christian Perspective”
YES! Thank you for this! I am a hard-core fan of originality, and the lack of it that I see in fiction is kind of sad. Maybe I’m just reading the wrong books. 😝
Anyway, I love these ideas, and really appreciate this post. 😊👌
I agree. I’ve gotten so bored of the same old things. :P
Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it!
This is brilliant! I’ll definetly be coming back to this post as my writing ventures continue on.
I love these! I’m going through reading this and (happily) checking off the boxes of things that I do!
My ‘strong’ female character gets tortured and stuff and in the process kinda breaks, and realises that yes, she’s tough, but only with the support of others, she can’t deal with everything on her own.
A secondary character has a whole bunch of people saying ‘you should marry this guy’, but they become close friends and *don’t* get married (not yet, anyway – and when they do it’s not for love, but to avoid a law). There’s a brief love triangle-ish-thing where MC believes that her fiance is interested in her friend, but that gets resolved pretty quickly (like, a chapter max).
Secondary character is entirely content with her singleness! Also MC and her husband are happily married but circumstances put tremendous strain on their relationship. It survives, but he doesn’t fix all her problems – he just makes it so she can keep it together just enough.
The mentor is there for a while (few years, not quite sure of the timeline yet), but then gets put in prison. Some time later MC receives a letter, he was released free to go and preach somewhere else, so his last few years will be happy, and he hands the job of preaching over to her/those with her. So he’s not there anymore, but she’s also developed a strong rapport with an uncle she hadn’t seen for ages, and goes to him for advice as well, then instead.
She’s a teen, and she leads for a bit, but more that she happened to stumble on the Book, and is more able to go around actively preaching than the only other guy she knows who believes, since he’s pretty ancient. Once others discover the truth, she steps back. It’s more the authorities she’s fighting against who spotlight her and assume she’s still leading, so they target her since she was the catalyst for the whole thing. Instead, others lead.
I’m surprised that I was able to check off every box in this, trope subverted! Woohoo!
(I hope you don’t mind my excessive infodump. Sorry.)
That is so cool! It’s awesome to see that you’ve been able to put so many of these into practice! We need more of that. Thank you so much for sharing!