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14 Tropes about Writers: How readers see your ‘self’ in your writing

How does your writing fare against these writing ‘behaviors’?

We can always see the writer through the cracks to some extent when we read.  It is inevitable. Many will try to place you directly into your own story, even if you shout it’s a complete work of fiction.

But sometimes you do actually show yourself, intentionally, or by the choices you make about your story and craft.

Do you have a good handle on where and why you are showing your “self” in your writing?

Here are 13 ways readers see authors in writing. They are so common they have been named as tropes in the encyclopedic website TV Tropes. Click on any of the titles to read the full description of each trope about writers.

The first two tropes you want to avoid, if you can:

  1. Writers Cannot Do Math

“You have just discovered the fundamental truth: that your favorite author failed irredeemably at high school math and never wants to see a number ever again except in the corner of a page.”

  1. Sci-Fi Writers have no Sense of Scale

“Most people can’t get their minds around just how big the universe is. So it should come as little surprise that most Speculative Fiction writers can’t either.”

 Here are three tropes calling out when it’s apparent a writer has a message to deliver to audiences:

  1. Writer on board

Otherwise known as ‘authorial intrusion.’ This is when an author warps things to make a story progress in a particular way. Variations of “When the characters start behaving like idiots or acting against their established characterization because the writer needs them to tell the story in a particular way, often to make a point.”

  1. Author Avatar

Writer on board can result in the creation of an Author Avatar.The technical literary term for a character designed to express the author’s preferred opinions (often the Only Sane Man) is the raisonneur —here at TV Tropes the preferred term is Author Avatar.

A fictionalized version of an author who appears as a character in the events of the story is often called upon to comment upon the situation, deliver the author’s verdict, and possibly break the Fourth Wall in a self-deprecating fashion.”

Are you in your own works?

  1. Author Filibuster

The Author Avatar can result in an Author Filibuster, where “the plot stops dead in its tracks to give the author an opportunity to preach their message to the readers or audience.”

Do you soap box?

And readers do notice that writers like writing about writers:

  1. Most Writers and Writers

“In fiction, it is relatively common for the main character to be a writer or a reporter. This is in large part because many narrative works of art are initially driven by writers themselves (novelists, playwright, screenwriters, etc.)”

And it can push the plot.

For example, “This is the in-universe reason why Superman and Spider-Man went into journalism in the first place, so they could keep their ears to the ground and find out when and where superheroes are needed.”

Is your main character a writer?

Here is a classic behaviour every writer recognizes – and so it appears in books too:

  1. Writers Block

Any character can suffer from this. Are you writing your blocks into your piece? Personal writer experiences often flavour content right down to frustrations with the writing process.

And three tropes about where writers commonly get their inspiration:

  1. Author Phobia

“Sometimes a creator draws upon their personal Nightmare Fuel in an attempt to make their villains more fearsome and intimidating.” Such experiences often come out in author interviews. “In particular, Pet Sematary is full of Adult Fear and based on a real incident where King stopped his son from almost getting run over by a truck. He couldn’t shake thoughts of what would have happened if he failed and wrote a novel around it.”

Authors obviously draw on their own experiences and fearsome things make great content sources.

  1. Author Dreams

Many authors take inspiration from their dreams. It can push along a book as you get so deep into it you dream about it, or it can gift one seed material. For example, “Twilight was reportedly based on a dream Stephenie Meyer had about a sparkling vampire lying in a meadow filled with flowers.”

Have you been inspired by a dream?

Lack of inspiration can also show through:

  1. Writer Cop out

“A cop out is when a story builds to a certain climax and the writer suddenly wusses out and chooses a different, less ambitious or less satisfying ending, or worse, chooses not to end the story at all.”

Readers are always trying to get ahead of you and they will feel cheated if they can think of better options.

Here are a final three tropes about story believability:

  1. Artistic License

Anything is okay if it makes the story better. “Creators are allowed to be inaccurate if the inaccuracy serves the story better than accuracy would.”

  1. A wizard did it

“The standard all-encompassing explanation for any continuity errors noticed by hardcore fans of any given fantasy show: If it doesn’t make sense, A Wizard Did It.”

  1. Lamp shading

“Lampshade Hanging (or, more informally, “Lampshading”) is the writers’ trick of dealing with any element of the story that threatens the audience’s Willing Suspension of Disbelief, whether a very implausible plot development, or a particularly blatant use of a trope, by calling attention to it and simply moving on.”

What is the take-home lesson?

The overarching lesson of these types of tropes is that you will be seen in your work– and these are some of ways your machinations – or lack of them –impact readers.

What are the specific lessons from these tropes?

Do your math. Have a sense of scale. Keep up on all aspects of your story. Deliver a great ending. All can be forgiven if the story is great enough. Sometimes a rule needs to be broken to make the story work. Inspiration can come from anywhere and readers soak it up.

Audiences are astute. Make use. Get reader feedback before publishing. Here is one last ‘writer trope’ on how readers can help you develop your story:

  1. Author’s Saving Throw

You might just change an element in your story according to ‘fan’ interests. You need to write what you feel is right, but if you can please audiences, it’s win-win.


How do you intentionally make your ‘self’ known in your writings? Do you need more feedback to figure out what you might also be doing unintentionally?

Do you have other tropes in mind about how writers write the books you read?

Post written by Dawn Field

Dawn Field is a book lover and scientist interested in what makes great writing. She is the founder of Unity in Writing, LLC where she writes about writing, language and science and loves giving feedback and brainstorming with authors as a developmental editor. Her first book, Biocode, was published in 2015 by Oxford University Press. Contact her at [email protected].

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