It started out as a comedic short starring her (at the time) small collection of dolls. As it got more installments, the plot became more complicated. A big part of it was due to readers being generous, buying Cleo more dolls to use in the story. This led to a mini Creator Breakdown. She eventually had to ask readers (very apologetically) to only send in props, since the number of characters had become overwhelming to write for and she was uncomfortable with getting such expensive gifts.
The story and humor is almost solely character-based. Although the dolls are similar in personality to the movie/book characters they are based on, they each are clearly unique from them (perhaps with the exception of Tonner Edward). Cleo says in story that she doesn't know what point in the timeline of their source material the dolls are from, so it's all pretty loose.
- All Women Are Lustful: Most noticeable in the earliest installments. The girls of the Shelf are like frat boys.
- Anachronic Order: Due to some spillover from Real Life Writes the Plot (Cleo's computer had a meltdown during 2009), recent episodes have been jumping back and forth.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Regarding Edward Dollen after he killed Ellowyne Two:The most frequent phrases to come out of his mouth in those days were, "I deserve it," "I can hardly blame them," and "Where did you put the Scrubbing Bubbles this time?"
- Ax-Crazy: Anna Dollerious is this most of the time.Anna: RAZORRRRRRRS!
- Badass Boast: Éowyn. OK, she's challenging Ellowyne for the rights to romance The Littlest Edward. But still:Éowyn: YOU THINK YOU'RE WOMAN ENOUGH TO TAKE THIS ON? BECAUSE I TOOK DOWN THE WITCH-KING OF FUCKIN' ANGMAR AND BITCH I'LL FUCKIN' TAKE YOUR CANDY ASS ANY DAY THAT ENDS IN Y.
- Berserk Button: Cleo has a few in the story, like when Tonner Edward asked her about having Crayons:Edward: You have Crayons?
Cleo: Yes, I have—
Edward: You're— how old are you?
Cleo: YES I AM THIRTY AND I HAVE CRAYONS, I HAVE A BOX OF EMERGENCY CRAYONS IN THE CABINET UNDER THE TV BECAUSE EVERYBODY NEEDS CRAYONS SOMETIMES, OKAY? EVERYBODY NEEDS CRAYONS.
- Beware the Nice Ones: White Arwen casually blasting squirrels. We probably should have anticipated this given how calm she was when Little Edward tried to bite Iorek.
- Bi the Way: Anna and Elizabeth.
- Butt-Monkey: Fugagorn, the Fug of Men (a "really frickin' ugly" doll of Aragorn that Cleo got because it was retailed less than a more expensive doll).
- Cats Are Mean: Bad Cat, and White Arwen's one-time pet Mr. Whiskers.
- Cloudcuckoolander: White Arwen. Her slightly smushed face makes Cleo imagine she's childlike. In something of a subversion, though, she's much calmer and more capable in emergencies than most of the other characters.
- Creepy Doll: Particularly bad with Tonner Edward Dollen, but at first when Anna Dollerious says what she thinks about getting The Littlest Edward◊:"[I'm] not so lonely that I wanna go to sleep and have THAT lurking over me when I wake up. And you know he'll, like, imprint on one of us or some shit — knowing your luck, E, he'll imprint on Cleo, and he'll just sit on her pillow all night, rocking back and forth.
And we all shudder together. It's a nice feeling, sisterly solidarity.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: In "The Gathering Storm".Cleo: You punched it in the nose?
- Double Entendre: Lots of jokes about swords. Also:"I'm not supposed to but I've tasted your shortcake!" [The Littlest Edward] blurted out (I immediately filed this away for future double entendre use).
- Fan Nick Name: Tonner Edward has: Tallward, Edward Tallen, Dollenpants, Doucheward.
- Fee Fi Faux Pas: Tonner Bella accidentally petting Pan.
- Flat "What": About one of the Tonner models for Edward Dollen at one point. In the form of, "Seriously. Oh my God. What." Also, The Littlest Bella after The Littlest Edward poured his guts out at her.
- Full-Name Ultimatum:
- Cleo has to stop mid-rant to look up The Littlest Edward's full name so she can properly express her outrage.
- Later on she doesn't even bother:Cleo: EDWARD SOMETHING WHATEVER CULLEN!
- It gets better.Cleo: EDWARD DAMN HELL ASS CULLEN!
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": poor Ellowyne Two.
- Happily Married: Fugagorn to White Arwen and Helm's Deep Aragorn to Purple Arwen.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Anna, in an installment which was named after the trope itself.
- Genre Savvy: Cleo saying:Cleo: I won't say anything. I mean, unless it gets all stupid up in here like one of those movies where it'd be over in five minutes if everyone just sat down and talked to each other.
- A Good Name for a Rock Band: "White Arwen and the Aragorns (have you heard my new garage band, White Arwen and the Aragorns?)" This becomes a Running Gag with Galadriel and the Arwens and Lyra and the Twilighters.
- Guilty Pleasures: Oh Trope-tan, is it this. A soap opera played by dolls. Multiple primary characters are from Twilight. And you CAN'T STOP READING IT.
- Hands-On Approach: Éowyn uses this to break the ice with Faramir.
- Incompatible Orientation:
- Faramir Two and Fugagorn.
- Faramir Two and Serafina.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Faramir Two to Fugagorn (or Strider, as he calls him). It's also one of the big CMOH from the Valentine's Day installment mentioned above.
- The Joy of X: The naming pattern The Secret Life of X is used for the title.
- Lampshade Hanging: There is a lot of this. Just one example:I did manage to raid our pantry for supplies, and if you were to ask me, "Wait, how do you use real-people ingredients to make plastic doll food?," I would reply, "LOOK! OVER THERE! TEEN HEARTTHROB OF YOUR CHOICE!" just before I ran away.
- Literal Split Personality: The Faramirs. Faramir Two has the charisma, tactical and strategic leadership abilities. Faramir One has the "Well Done, Son!" Guy complexes and Éowyn.
- Living Toys: Cleo's collection.
- Mars Needs Women: Dolls Need Man Dolls. Fugagorn just wasn't cutting it for the girls. Getting an Edward Dollen/Faramir doll was a central topic for a while, as well as getting a doll for Faramir Two. Then, later, Bella dolls were needed for the Edwards after they came.
- Meanwhile, Back at the...: Parodied (Cleolinda links to the trope page):I will leave behind the Middle-earthers (and the annoyerist fugitives) for a moment, if only so that I get to say, "Meanwhile, back at the ranch" and mean it literally. So. Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
- Mega Crossover
- Official Couple: Anna Dollerious and Elizabeth Swann, Fugagorn and White Arwen, Helm's Deep Aragorn and Purple Arwen, Éowyn and Faramir One.
- Running Gag: Swords/weapons, roll of felt, pie, have you killed anyone, etc. Also lots of gag immigrants from elsewhere in her writing, mostly the Twilight Recaps. Also, regarding the Bellae, "And then she fell over."
- Surfer Dude: Legolas (and, like so many other things about this, it works).
- Parody Names: The names of her dolls are often the same as the characters they're based on, but with slight changes, i.e. Fugagorn, The Fug of Men, Edward Dollen, etc.
- Percussive Prevention: In "Stars and Stripes", Lyra.
- Pretty Boy: Lyra and Elizabeth Swann had this discussion about a picture of the Will Turner doll:Lyra popped up over Elizabeth's shoulder. "That scarf is a girly scarf."
"Well, that's just how guys dressed back... now."
She sighed. "Sometimes Will was prettier than I was."
- Recursive Fanfiction: Although dollfics in general predate Secret Life, there are at least two dollfics that take direct inspiration and formatting style from it (Once Upon A Shelf and Authority Figures).
- The Speechless: Barbie Galadriel.Barbie Galadriel just sits on the shelf and doesn't say anything, because Barbies don't talk, silly.
- Unexplained Recovery: Anna Dollerious even Lampshades it with "I got better."
- Wham Episode: "Paradise Lost", in which Tonner Edward actually makes good on his warnings that he's dangerous, and kills Ellowyne Two.
- Yandere: The Littlest Bella, although it's played for laughs.