Tropes are something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, they provide convenient story devices to incite interest or draw people into stories or which can even help to elicit a mood of idea and thus set a scene. On the other hand, they can devolve into dull, meaningless clichés which can shove a viewer out of the story. This brief rant will be about the latter. I considered not numbering this post because (1) it is not the start of a series— though it could easily become a regular post—and (2) I’ll likely lose count of such rants and will have to search old posts to find the next tick. Oh well, the number itself plants an idea in your mind, kind reader, which is really my intent.
The trope I have alluded to in the title is not one of those that approaches the realm of subgenre (e.g. advanced AI seeks to subjugate humanity or jaded couple rediscovers their love for one another) but rather is one of those smaller in-story devices that span all genres. It is over-used, predictable, and end the end, nonsensical.
Scene set: The Go-Back-to-Bed,-Honey:
A parent or temporary child guardian is in the middle something they wish to keep from their young ward(s). This could be putting together a Christmas present or speaking of an illicit affair or, as was the case with the impetus for this post, listening to incriminating tapes that might reveal one’s double life as a Russian spy. (It was the finale of The Americans and it’s far more compelling than I’ve made it seem).
The scene takes place in the dead of night as the character sneaks about downstairs or in the front room. Suddenly, they hear behind them either the patter of a child’s feet or, more startlingly, a voice. They move quickly to conceal their actions and put on a disinterested face.
“What are you going up?” “I couldn’t sleep.” ~Brief exchange concerning guardian’s actions serving to heighten tension and present concern of child’s suspicion. “Go back to bed, honey.” Child shuffles off.
WHY? Let’s forgive for a moment that a scene of this kind plagues virtually every tv show at some point as well as far too many movies and books. Let us pretend that we haven’t seen this series unfold umpteen-bajillion times. We can even pretend that the scene still works, effectively heightening the stress of an already tense moment and causing us to worry about our character’s immediate danger of revealment. Even if we forgive or suspend all of that disbelief, the scene still makes zero damn sense.
If they are to be believed, this child has come to you in the middle of the night not because they heard a noise and came in search of mystery but rather because they could not sleep. There is no resolution in the parent responding that they should go back to bed.
“Oh, right, of course [mom/dad/auntie mae]. I hadn’t considered that. I’ll do that straight away.”
This is sloppy, lazy, terrible writing. The person has tried to find a way to make a scene tense and has (1) chosen a cliche and (2) failed to even resolve the child’s problem.
Dear writers of fictitious guardian seeking to hide something from a child, please stop doing this forever. If you must use this trope, try to do what so few attempt and have the guardian be just a touch less shitty and have them address the child’s insomnia. Not only will it stop shoving us out of the story, it’ll make the whole scene do what it was meant to in the first place. A child in the room for two seconds isn’t tense but trying to comfort said child while covering something up sure is.