I have a deep-seated hatred for certain tropes and a special way to deal with them. Now, this is a loooong demonstration.

I have serpent men in my setting. Note though, the correct term is lizard people, as they clearly resemble monitors, several of which are mildly venomous, but not everyone knows that.

Just like in a certain book, these serpent men are capable of disguising themselves as humans and are infiltrating society.

They aren't present in large numbers, as that makes secrecy more difficult. Probably the most notable one is a serpent woman (?), disguised as a healer, complete with a fake identity.

Though she isn't a member of the royal court because no one trusts their own court, especially not the advisor, her services are frequently requested. Since most coups weren't spearheaded by general practitioners, no one expects the strange, introverted lady to be planning anything against them.

She also has a flame-bladed dagger. The undulating edge is mostly decorative with no occult meaning, but it helps a little when slicing up vegetables and dissipating vibrations from a sword strike.

Her job isn't to tear apart human society from within and top to bottom, but to report on the military activities of humans to the city of Node.

Oh yes, the city. While most of the serpent men's cities are abandoned, some aren't. Though they look ancient and mysterious to barbarians, many parts of these cities are nearly identical to modern ones, with the general tendencies favoring the concentric zone and the sector models. There are cheap, mass-produced apartments, the railways and sewage systems.

While the cult of an Old One, Yig, still exists, his worshipers are rather casual and it's more of a habit than true dedication (the same can be said about Yig's dedication to their followers). This also goes for ancient tech that was used to build their cities. Node is growing more and more disillusioned with the current leader's policies, believing him and his operations to recover even more lost tech to be nothing but chasing ghosts.

This bleak outlook isn't surprising, they can barely maintain their own city and it's only a matter of time before humans find out about Node's existence. Serpent men are low in numbers and their defenses rely completely on decoys and a few blast doors, neither of which would stop an army.

I think you can see it in the text that most parts of this description are framed as a hated trope, the refutation of that trope and the reasoning for it.

  • Instead of diabolical cults, there are only a handful of cultural references and idioms.
  • Instead of a scary eldritch abomination, you have a lazy Old One that doesn't really reward nor punish you.
  • Instead of having an entire political system overtaken by reptilians, you have a herbalist who spies on important figures and reports back to HQ.
  • Instead of an underground civilization that's plotting to take over the world, you have a crumbling city that struggles to maintain itself.
  • Instead of mindless cannon fodder, you have scared and bitter people (as in not just males, but females and younglings too) who, while not exactly friendly towards humans, do care about each other and are, indeed, capable of feeling love and compassion.

See, while this usually turns out good, it somehow feels weird. Also, there's Luke Skywalker from The Last Jedi.

When viewed through my lens, a lot of his aspects are understandable.

  • Who wouldn't be bitter after everything they worked for was piped into /dev/null by J.J Abrams?
  • Who wouldn't be scared of making the same mistake twice?
  • Who could go through their life (except for Diavolo) without ever failing or finding themselves overpowered? It's stupid and was stupid to think a single person could turn the tide of a war.

Now there are two things I'm afraid will happen to me that happened to TLJ and what caused the "Did it subvert your expectations?!" conundrum.

  1. People think my rage over chainmail bikinis and always-chaotic-evil races is a bit of an overreaction because it's just a story.


  1. Dragging all my hated tropes through the mud could create anomalies. For instance, if being a scantly clad amazon in my setting is a surefire way of getting killed (either by a flamethrower or Eliot Rodger), why'd there be any? The problem is these anomalies aren't always that apparent.

When writing things like background stories, lore or character bios out of spite, what should I avoid?

2 Answers 2


Do you still have a plot?

Seriously. As long as you have a functioning plot it doesn't matter what you do with a trope. The reason a lot of subversions don't "work" is because they neuter the conflict of the plot. They try to be subversive just for the sake of being subversive without adding anything to the narrative. The best subversions still have a good story in spite of or because of the subversions.

Let's say you have a bare bones setting with a lizardmen country and a human country. You try and subvert things by instead of having the usual plot two at war, the two are not at war and have been trading partners for decades. Well that's all nice, but if you don't have conflict in the story, you have no plot. Now, let's say you have a story set in a world where lizardmen and humans have been trading partners for centuries, but the plot is about a lizardman soldier trying to uncover a smuggling ring trying to sell illegal goods between the two countries. Well, now you have conflict and a plot.

There are real examples of this with stories involving lizardmen. Goblin Slayer and Overlord have heroic lizardmen (indeed, lizardmen are rapidly becoming a go-to member of a typical Five Races setting along with elves, dwarves, humans, and orcs/halflings), and Warhammer Fantasy is famous for the technologically most advanced species as well as arguably one of the most heroic (in a Lawful Neutral way) be the Lizardmen. But they don't harp on how it is a subversion, because the conflict of the story has nothing to do with whether the lizardmen are good or evil. Just don't be too overt with how you are subverting the trope and there shouldn't be a problem.

The other major issue with subversion for the sake of subversion is when an audience ignores previously established characterization, setting, or logic in order to make the audience feel a particular emotion. Especially one that takes away more than it adds to the story. You see this most clearly in cases where the authors make their characters behave in ways contrary to their personality to kill of characters or engineer the tragedy they want. This makes it seem like the events in question didn't arise as a result of the character's natural personality traits and flaws, but because the author hit the cast with the Orb of Confusion. Doing that feels like cheap attempts at pathos.

The reason people hated Luke's change in The Last Jedi is that they completely threw his established character out the window to make things edgier. Luke was always characterized by his idealism and his willingness to see the good in everyone to the point of naivete, as evidenced by his entire character arc in the Original Trilogy about him being willing to see the best in Darth Vader. Making him try to kill his nephew in a fit of paranoia over turning evil is the exact opposite of everything that was known about him. If they had stuck with his established characterization and flaws and done something like...Luke's idealism bit him in the butt because Kylo Ren showed clear red flags but Luke ignored it until it was too late under the belief that he could bring out the good in him like he did with Vader and then he became a depressed wreck, that would fit with the flaws previously established for his character and would be subject to a lot less complaint.

People also hated it because it invalidated everything Luke and the cast did in the original trilogy: Luke failed to rebuild the Jedi Order, Leia failed to truly defeat the empire and reinstate the Republic, etc., and as a result it makes the audence wonder why they are watching this if the cast cannot accomplish anything.

If you're writing an original story you don't have to worry about being consistent with previous tone, setting, or characterization, because you're starting things from scratch. If you write several novels with the lizardmen as clearly evil with no redeeming features and don't foreshadow that the species as a whole has greater depth and variation in morality, readers will throw a riot. If you portray the lizardmen as nuanced from the start readers will not see them as evil. If you have a setting where, for example, humans and lizardmen have lived in harmony for centuries and have three-dimensional lizardmen characters, no reader is going to see the lizardmen as "evil".

Readers believe what you as the author tell them directly and indirectly through the story, because they have no additional context in the setting to tell them otherwise. If you tell/show them the lizardmen are evil, they will believe they are evil. If you tell/show them the lizardmen are good/neutral, they will believe as such. The only lens they have to interpret the setting is the one that you give them, unless you are writing fanfiction or works in a pre-established setting.

Additionally, just based on what you wrote above, I would advise being very careful about handling tropes you hate. I can only base my inferences and interpretations of what you are saying based on your original question, but it seems like you are writing a Conan-esque sword-and-sorcery story but you hate all the trappings of the genre. I mean, hating a particular trope or genre is understandable but just based on your question alone by the end of it you just seem to be spitting venom about how much you hate it (no pun intended). It raises the question to the reader of why are you are even writing this kind of story if you hate it so much and it seems to make you miserable.

Most of the best deconstructions come from people who love the genre they are satirizing because they understand why people like the genre and they know the genre's weak spots and where to hit. By contrast, deconstructions by people who hate the genre they are satirizing often come across as shallow and mean-spirited because they refuse to try and understand why people like the genre and end up talking down to the audience (because said audience likes the things the authors hate). E.g., Garth Ennis and anything to do with superheroes. It typically ends up having the message to the readers of "this is bad and you are a bad person for liking this", rather than logically taking apart the assumptions and cliches of a particular story. No one will want to read a story where all the author is doing is slinging vitriol, and if they do it will only be because of bile fascination.

I have my own tropes and cliches that I really hate and I always love the idea of heroic or neutral lizardfolk (or general anthropomorphic reptiles), but whenever I deal with a trope I hate I always try to avoid getting overly worked up about it because I wouldn't be able to stay objective and then I couldn't argue against the trope logically and efficiently. You already seem to be upset over negative feedback on your interpretation when so far it seems like nobody has said anything negative about it. If you're that angry over a trope I would recommend taking a step back and get some breathing room so you can skewer it more effectively.


Confusing the real-world and in story reason.

In the real world these things exist because you hate the trope and wish to subvert it. This is fine but it cannot substitute for the in story reasons for those things because tropes generally do not really exist in story. So you must check that the in story reasons exist, make sense and are discernible by readers.

It is fine if the reader notices you are subverting a trope. It is not fine if the reader thinks you are just messing around out of spite. You must have an actual rationale for things being the way they are and it must be compelling enough for the reader to buy it.

Basically when you use a trope and subvert it you are imposing a non-trivial cognitive cost on the reader. That cost must have a payback; it must make the story better in some way. Otherwise the added cost simply makes the story worse and less enjoyable to read.

The Luke Skywalker example is a different version of the same issue. The cost there is not cognitive, it is emotional. If you alter a beloved character people have an emotional attachment to, you need to give something in return. There must be some gain beyond "wouldn't it be cool".

From what you told your serpent people should be fine IMHO. It actually makes more sense than the original trope, so it should be easy to justify in story. Only specific issue is that if you make the trope more realistic, the same more realistic tone should be consistent for the rest of the story.

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