from a while back on narrative dealbreakers—specifically, the generally rarer/less-universally-condemned ones—got me thinking about what my own list would be…
I do have a “three strikes” system when I’m reading, i.e. if a book pisses me off three times it gets DNF’d,1 but most of the things that trigger a strike are obvious ones like “sexual violence” and “annoying iddy male gaze outside of a romance/erotica/porn context”. Some of my less common ones, though:
- “Multiple personality” plots that end with the integration or erasure of the alters. This is a really specifically iddy thing and only relates to “fantasy” style multiple personalities rather than realistic (or semi-realistic) portrayals of DID. Relatedly, if the character with the alters is part of a ship, I want all their alters in that ship, not just one. Probably related to my love of both identity porn and fictional explorations of multiple personas (which as it turns out is a pretty common cultural concern among kids who grew up with the early, nobody-knows-you’re-a-dog days of the internet, ref. the Wachowskis et al.).
- Most found family tropes. Found family in-and-of-itself isn’t an issue, but a lot of fictional depictions of it end up feeling really… cloying? Claustrophobic? With characters constantly all up in each others’ business having drama all the time. As an introvert from a very small family of introverts, I find most large families overwhelming and Too Much, and I struggle with the idea of people voluntarily choosing to live like that.
- Most depictions of motherhood, especially where they intersect with a kind of biological-essentialism-by-stealth. Again, as a woman with effectively no maternal instincts or desires, I find these stories difficult to relate to at best or, worse, outright alienating if they start implying motherhood is somehow universal or essential to womanhood. May be triggered by whole plot arcs or even just throwaway scenes or dialogue.2 Notably not triggered by fatherhood or paternity—possibly because I grew up in that weird 90s era when basically every kids’ cartoon was about a single dad—or by mothers who’re shown to struggle with their own relationship to motherhood, i.e. “bad” (or even just mediocre) mothers (extremely rare to find in positive, or even just neutral, portrayals).
- Pinching, specifically between friends as a “playful” display of disapproval. Not an outright dealbreaker per se, but a huge physical squick—even just thinking about it makes my skin crawl—and usually a red flag that I’m not going to like how other interpersonal dynamics are played out in the narrative. Seems to frequently go fingers-in-belly-fat with the types of found family tropes I dislike.
- Melodramatic romances of the sort where it seems all the pairing’s problems are caused by each other. I like UST and pining as much as the next fangirl, but as soon as a story veers to much into the “the characters are constantly hurting each other/pissing each other off/etc.” territory I’m outta there, even for my bulletproof OTPs. On the flip side, I love quiet, low-key-and-drama-free romances (though they tend to be much harder to find).
- American depictions of Australia. Just… stop. Don’t. You’re doing it wrong and it’s grossly colonialist and usually racist to boot, so just… fucking stop it. If you wanna play cowboys do it in your own fucking country.
- Relatedly, works from usually-American authors ostensibly about people in other (real world) countries/cultures… but where everyone has the same general assumptions and worldview as a middle-class American. Usually manifests as either, a) a kind of subconsciously chauvinist (on the part of the author) End of History-style assumption that liberal democratic (and non-monarchic) capitalism is the peak of human evolution and the socio-political state to which all other peoples of the world aspire, or b) more recently, attitudes towards the state and law enforcement that are very specifically the product of the current American political climate.
- “AWESUM LADEEZE FITE TEH SEXISM!!!!” plots. Partly because I read fiction to escape, not be reminded of my day job, and partly because these stories almost always involve some kind of Not Like Other Girls!!! baggage (i.e. they deal with why this particular AWESUM LADEE shouldn’t get Teh Sexism rather than examining more systemic issues) which… ugh. Hard pass. Not helped by the fact I have almost never seen this trope done without a heapin’ helping of fat shaming and/or femme-shaming, to boot.
- Relatedly (because it seems to turn up with the former a lot), characters who’re defined solely by what they don’t like, rather than what they do. I love a good curmudgeon as much as the next, well. Curmudgeon… but only in contexts where their negative outlooks are specifically rejected and challenged by the narrative. Narratively validated 2cynical4u-style characters just make me tired.
- Monster cure stories. Please no. The end of Beauty and the Beast was traumatic enough…
… Aa-aa-and that’s more than enough for now. So instead, it’s your turn! What are your dealbreakers in fiction? Keep the postchain alive!