Sturgeon's Tropes

Sturgeon's Law says 90% of everything is crap. Oddly enough, tropes are largely an exception, at least when it comes to the examples. Most examples are in fact neutral, neither being good or bad examples. Or some tropes have a roughly even mixture of good and bad examples. Then some tropes seem to be good or bad by their natures (such as those on the Bad Writing Index).

Then we have these tropes, where 90% of the examples are crap.

Let's make it clear these tropes are not necessarily bad. They often leave plenty of room for adaptation, and a skilled storyteller can play them well. However, they are seldom if ever used to build a good story. Hence they are the tropes most likely to demonstrate Sturgeon's Law; i.e. 90% of the examples are crud. Like the corollary, the remaining ten percent can be worth dying for.

Compare Pet Peeve Trope and Trope Enjoyment Loophole.

Contrast Favorite Trope.


  • All Just a Dream: Revealing that the past episode, movie, season, or entire series was just a dream can be done well, if the journey was worth it in its own right (it helps if the dream nature is revealed beforehand). But most of the time, it leaves the audience feeling cheated, as nothing shown "actually" happened. This is especially true if it's used as a Deus ex Machina to write the protagonists out of certain doom.
  • Anvilicious: Some stories try to make a moral point, but some of those stories are so unsubtle that they wind up boring people and turning them off of the message. The aversion of this is Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped, where the heavy-handedness and lack of subtlety instead improves the work (regardless of whether one agrees with it or not).
    • Green Aesop: Can easily become Anvilicious, but sometimes can tell a good story.
  • Audience-Alienating Premise: Some survive on word of mouth and go on to become cult classics, if not quite successful, but most wind up dead right out the gate.
  • Author Filibuster: Making your opinions clear to the audience can be done well, but most of the time winds up offending people who disagree with you and boring those who don't care (or even bores and offends those who agree with you).
  • Auto-Tune: It's very often used not for effect, but simply to cover up that a singer can't sing or can't sing well. It also leads to a near-identical sound that wipes out individual vocal "differences" or "flaws" that might actually be seen as unique or interesting. (That said, there have been cases where its use for effect made a song or album better, or even its use to assist a singer in sounding better has, and it's a very polarized issue. That said, especially in some genres, using it noticeably at all will get your song bashed as crap, and overusing it without it being for effect will almost certainly result in at least some people hating the end product.)
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Many writers are incapable of effectively portraying a truly alien set of values and morals. Usually, it comes off simply as another variant of evil.
  • Bowdlerise: Some good writers have been able to make clean versions about as good as the original material, it's just that most merely substitute something. (cf. Disneyfication)
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory: Usually achieved by deliberately making the work less fun for those unwilling to pay the extra money. Most DLC has the potential to do this, but only this trope makes it nearly mandatory by definition. If unlocking more powerful items or unlocking them faster makes the game more fun, there's a serious design problem in the base game.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: While they can be entertaining, they nonetheless tend to be flat characters, especially if it's made to be one of if not their defining traits, and it's very easy to make the card too obvious — people in real life are rarely if ever that openly evil. It is also extremely difficult to pull it off convincingly in any non ironic context (I.e. Drama, most live action movies and tv shows) so it's largely limited to use in comedy or fantasy.
  • Clip Show: These can be done well, especially if there's a creative Framing Device provided, but they tend to be almost universally loathed by viewers (especially in the era of DVD boxsets for entire series). As a cost-saving measure, however, they are enormously important for any television show on a tight budget, so they aren't going anywhere.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Often overused to the extent of having no impact. This isn't to say either is in and of itself bad - but if you're just fucking going FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK, fucking asking yourself fucking why is a fucking good idea, because it can get fucking boring and lose its fucking impact fucking fast... though that can have entertaining results when the point is to do exactly that.note The trope itself isn't bad (no matter what Moral Guardians say) but it is one you have to think about because you as the writer have to make "fuck" an inherently funny word, or make it really express the emotion of your character as opposed to "must put in my allowance of 20 fucks."
  • Continuity Porn: Fans like acknowledging earlier parts of a work, it's just that too much of it bogs down the script so that no one but the hardcore fans can understand it.
  • Couple Bomb: If a real Hollywood power couple (current or former) puts too much of themselves into the characters they play, it can make the characters (and, by extension, the film/play/TV series) less compelling.
  • Cousin Oliver: Faces the same pitfalls as the Kid-Appeal Character, with the additional obstacle of a character being added to a formula that was working just fine beforehand. This especially goes if an older character is Put on a Bus just to make way for this one. Ideally, new characters should only be added if they can play a role no one else can (and still be written well on top of it).
  • Crosses the Line Twice: An offensive joke that falls flat is merely offensive. Touchy subjects are best left to comedians skilled enough to make them funny.
  • Dancing Bear: A solid work can still exist with a gimmick. It's just that most works that fall under this rely too much on the gimmick to substitute for the quality of the work.
  • Darker and Edgier: In theory, this process simply Retools a series to make it more cynical and to deal with more mature subjects. In practice, the majority of the time, it simply results in an increase in sex, violence and swearing (not to mention those limit the audience of shows that had broader appeal), and can even cause its audience to stop caring about the show.
  • Deus Angst Machina: Having things happen to a character just to make them angsty could make the audience mad.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Done well, these kind of scenes can add something to a work. It's just that most are boring and annoying.
  • Direct-to-Video: Usually a sign of a movie being cheaply and poorly put together, though it's possible that the limitations helped it.
  • Doing In the Scientist: Good examples fit the setting well and can make fantastic plot points more believable. Most examples come out of nowhere, don't fit the setting, and make things even less plausible.
  • Doing In the Wizard: For the same reason as scientists.
  • Dumb and Drummer: While it can be played well, it's also a tired joke (seriously, who hasn't heard all the stupid drummer jokes already), and it's also a way to make a lot of actual musicians watching/reading (if that's your market) roll their eyes and laugh (because in many genres of music, especially drum and bass, jazz, Hard Rock, and Heavy Metal, drummers are actually one of the most technical members of a band and the backbone of its sound - which requires a fair amount of musical knowledge and skill)
  • Dumb Blonde: While they can be comedic, these days they tend to be flat and can tick off feminists.
  • Escort Mission: Can sometimes make the level more frantic and urgent, but all too often forces the player to unfairly compensate for their ally's suicidal stupidity.
  • Executive Meddling: Neutral in itself and can result in good or bad things, and indeed there have been examples where Executive Meddling has prevented a bad idea from being executed, closed loopholes and exploits, or got a work put past production. The more negative examples tend to stand out a little more, are more likely to be mentioned, and are more likely to be included on this wiki.
  • Family-Unfriendly Aesop: Unusual morals in a work can sometimes make good points and make its audience rethink their morals, but most of the time, they just confuse and outrage the audience.
  • First World Problems: Can lead to Angst Dissonance if not handled well.
  • Fix Fic: Most of the time, these are written for Die for Our Ship reasons or turn the main character into a Possession Sue. However, the well-written ones tend to be among the most highly acclaimed fanfics by the fan community.
  • Flanderization: Can be used to rule out unnecessary traits and create an even more memorable character (e.g. Billy Mays, Chuck Jones' portrayal of Daffy Duck), but more often results in a complex character being reduced to a one-dimensional caricature of themselves.
  • Flat Character: A character that doesn't receive Character Development but still receives a lot of focus can end up being hated by the audience.
  • Follow the Leader: Sometimes a copycat can approach the quality of the original, it's just not common for that to happen.
  • Franchise Zombie: A few "zombie" continuations are considered to be as good or even superior to the original, the problem is that most attempts end up being of lesser qualities.
  • Genre Shift: A change in genre can sometimes be done well if it's gradual, foreshadowed, and doesn't clash with the works previous setting. Most of the time this just alienates the original audience, goes against everything established so far, and fails to bring in new fans.
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: Most examples in media are often dull, uninspired, and in need of characterization but some can either be an actual force of nature or an Eldritch Abomination, not intended to be a character but really a problem to be dealt with.
  • Glurge: Sentimentality is usually only a tasteful thing when not done with a heavy hand, and when it's used to manipulate an audience it comes off as rather vulgar. And that makes kittens and puppies cry.
  • Hand Wave: Can be used to gloss over a complicated plot point, but otherwise tends to indicate lazy writing.
  • In Name Only: You can still tell a good story that is completely different than the source one, it's just that most end up telling weak stories (often in the misguided belief that the brand name alone can make it successful).
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Can come across as patronizing to disabled or otherwise disadvantaged people if not handled carefully.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: This trope can still make sense if it is justified, but often, it is used to deliver an Anvilicious Aesop, without caring about whether it makes sense in-story.
  • Jump Scare: These can be scary if the story establishes a creepy atmosphere beforehand, but usually they're just annoying.
  • Karma Houdini: When said villain is a Creator's Pet or escapes due to a Diabolus Ex Machina. This might make your audience feel cheated, or for them to consider said character a Villain Sue.
  • Kid-Appeal Character: Very susceptible to becoming The Scrappy, either due to the character not meshing well with the tone, kids preferring to relate to the hero, or (in the case of comic reliefs) writers not being able to write comedy. Examples that defy all these pitfalls are often just as beloved as the rest of the cast.
  • Kids Rock: Often seen as a mawkish, overwrought attempt to draw out emotion, or, depending on the lyrics and atmosphere of the song and/or the style of the artists, just plain creepy.
  • Kudzu Plot: Make sure you tie up most (if not all) your dangling Plot Threads. Otherwise, your audience is going to get confused and most likely impatient.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Some works need a slow pacing to achieve the best effect. However, most works that fall under this trope don't know how to keep themselves interesting as they slow down.
  • Lighter and Softer: It can be a good idea to turn down the darkness if it gets too intense, but too often this can be the result of Bowdlerization or the intervention of Moral Guardians, resulting in weak plots and flat characters. See Tastes Like Diabetes.
  • The Load: See The Millstone.
  • The Millstone: When used intentionally (Played for Laughs or Played for Drama), they can add a lot to the work. In most cases though, the character ends up being The Scrappy.
  • Mr. Seahorse: M-Preg in any but the lightest of comedies (or darkest of tragedies) can be a very difficult trope to play out effectively. Unfortunately, it is prone to abuse, especially in Fan Fic.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Sometimes, if you hire a celebrity that is not known for acting or not even acted before, he/she can prove himself/herself a good actor/actress and it's possible to start an acting career for him/her, but most of the times, this celebrity doesn't have enough talent for acting and his/her presence will be just a gimmick.
  • Offstage Villainy: We need to see that the villain is evil. Being told so doesn't automatically make him/her "evil". It takes skill to finesse an effective Discretion Shot.
  • Pandering to the Base: Usually this fails to please the fans and only serves to alienate/lock out newcomers to the series. When done right however it can cause the fandom to rejoice while still keeping new/casual fans in mind.
  • Point-and-Laugh Show: Will be seen as classless and tasteless, or at best as a Guilty Pleasure.
  • Postscript Season: A few of these can be as good quality as the seasons before it, but mostly they aren't. After all, the main conflict has already been resolved, so where do you go from there?
  • Race Tropes: Tread carefully with these; as insensitive use of these may end up offending or angering your viewers.
  • Relationship Revolving Door: This can become aggravating to the audience after a while. See Yo Yo Plot Point.
  • Romantic Plot Tumor: A well-done Romance Arc can certainly make things more interesting if done well, but it shouldn't overtake the main plotline.
  • Ron the Death Eater: Shoehorning a good canon character into being a villain or making a villain significantly more evil than in canon. This runs a serious risk of having them act entirely Out of Character. You should have a good reason for the All-Loving Hero suddenly being a complete Jerkass.
  • Running the Asylum: It's just that most fall into the pitfalls listed in the description.
  • Sadist Show: How much cruelty is necessary depends on how relevant it is to the premise or its themes. Shows that fails to take either of these into account runs the risk of alienating its viewers, and even those that do can still go overboard.
  • The Sexual Harassment and Rape Tropes: Rape can be a topic for effective drama and even comedy, but usually it's either just thrown in for no other reason than to be edgy, or a lazy Kick the Dog moment for the villain.
  • Semantic Slippery Slope Fallacy: Might come across as comparing "apples and oranges" to some.
  • Shocking Swerve: Twists can be done right where there's a subtle build up that isn't necessarily noticed originally, but seems genius in hindsight. However, most are of the Vince Russo variety which are twists for the sake of twists, sometimes directly flying in the face of common sense or established story and character elements, and quickly begin to bore and annoy the audience. This is double true for Pro Wrestling, which seems to enjoy pulling baffling swerves out of their ass at every opportunity.
  • The Smurfette Principle: When said Smurfette is only there to be a love interest and contributes nothing else to the group.
  • Spice Upthe Subtitles: Making people swear constantly can become boring and annoying very quickly, especially in places where heavy swearing is frowned upon (such as noble families). It can be used effectively if that particular subgroup swears more in country X than in country Y, but it way too often leads to the above
  • Standard Snippet: Sometimes can be put to good use, but often becomes a cliche.
  • Static Character: Unless they have something that makes them cool, this character can quickly become dull and tiring if there is no visible change occurring.
  • Strictly Formula: Done right, even though all episodes of a show/installments in a franchise follow the same pattern, it can still be creative, the stories can still look new and fresh, and it's possible to subvert and double-subvert the formula once in a while, and sometimes the work can't be done right without it, but done bad, the work can become boring and predictable, and people won't like being told the same story over and over again.
  • Status Quo Is God: Can be applied to comedic works without much consequence. Trying to pull this in a dramatic context, particularly if a significant change is at stake, is cowardly and likely to irritate the audience.
  • Subculture of the Week: Can be offensive to actual members of a subculture (and people that know them), because it portrays them as over-the-top caricatures of that subculture.
  • Totally Radical: When including slang in a work, for the love of God, make sure you're using it correctly.
  • Trope-Namer Syndrome: Making a good Trope Namer requires the title to be understandable without requiring people to be familiar with the original work. This is difficult to do, and so a lot of Trope Namers end up overly opaque due to Fan Myopia.
  • Unwinnable by Mistake: It's always frustrating to have your save rendered impossible to complete, doubly so when it's not even something you could have logically avoided.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Some premises are best presented esoterically, and the fans of these works will appreciate the Unconventional Learning Experience they provide. This trope becomes problematic when writers deliberately make their works complicated and/or confusing, to the point where it comes at the expense of their story and characters.
  • Viewers Are Morons: At the same time, don't insult your audience's intelligence.
  • We're Still Relevant, Dammit: Often is poorly-researched, ruins the premise of the show, and comes across as being Totally Radical. Can often lead to a Dork Age.
  • A Wizard Did It: Attempting to Hand Wave away a Plot Hole or Continuity Snarl by using magic or advanced technology as an excuse is still a Hand Wave. As with that trope, it can be used to explain away certain issues without much of a problem, but using it to fix major plot holes can often lead to even bigger questions.
  • Writer on Board: You can include your beliefs in a narrative. It's just that most use it to try to force their beliefs or issues into them. Sometimes, this works but other times it can be annoying (and a lot of the time, it depends on the audience).
  • Yo Yo Plot Point: Unresolving and re-resolving plot points isn't bad in and of itself, but doing it too often with no justification or sense of lasting progress can eventually bore the audience.