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Career in the Rearview Mirror

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Average Everygirl #8: Average encounters the Hot Guy, part 2 | Panel 1: The narrator says, "Average has a presentation to make for her class or career." Average pleasantly adds, "I've been prepping for weeks." | Panel 2: The narrator says, "Success here means advancement and accolades for her future." Average, with a determined smile, says, "I'm going to rock it." | Panel 3: the Hot Guy walks into frame. The narrator says, "Uh oh. Here comes the Hot Guy." Average says, "What? So what." The Hot Guy, waving, says, "Hey, Average." | Panel 4: The narrator, with a gasp, cries, "He knows her name?! Kiss that successful presentation goodbye!" Average arches an eyebrow and asks, "Seriously?" The Hot Guy, standing opposite her, smiles lopsidedly at the audience.

This is one of those scenarios I can smell from a mile away: the smart, put-together heroine taken off-guard by her potential love interest. Awkward hijinks ensue. It often occurs at a crucial moment of her education or career, and it often involves some form of personal humiliation.

“Love is more important than your career!” this scenario screams.

And while yes, it is (I’m not so far gone in my cynicism to contend otherwise), “love” usually isn’t in question at this point of the story. There’s only the jittery potential for love, but the heroine’s over-the-top reaction makes it seem like she’s already chosen baby names and squirreled away a down payment for a minivan. And, depending on the heroine, maybe she has. But is the reader supposed to admire that? Because as her wits fall to pieces, I’m usually screaming at the book, “Have some dignity, woman!”

(This particular scenario is also one of the reasons I’m banned from watching chick-flicks. I find no joy in it, and it crops up far too often.)

An attractive roadblock in one’s career

The Hot Guy plays a metaphorical glass ceiling to the heroine’s progress, but that’s okay because he’s more important than anything else she could be doing. He exists to reveal the true meaning of her life (Romance!). To achieve this elusive love narrative, the heroine must walk a path that requires her to beclown herself.

After that killjoy diatribe, I’m a little reluctant to make the following confession: I am a closet romantic. I like stories that require two people to sacrifice for one another, and personal ambitions make the perfect offering for that sacrificial altar. Why does it always seem so one-sided, though? The Hot Guy, perched on his pedestal, sits pristine while the Average Everygirl reassesses her life and reorders her priorities to make that relationship her center. It’s almost like he’s already at the destination, and she has to scramble through a dozen hoops to get there.

Or, he’s the god she’s sacrificing to. Yikes.

And I know I’m over-generalizing. (These are tropes, after all. Over-generalization is part of the game.) It’s not the metaphorical glass ceiling that I’m so against, or even the re-prioritization of her life.

Frankly, it’s that this particular trope is stale. Stale, stale, stale, like old dry bread left out on a clothesline in a desert world without any birds, stale like potato chip crumbs found at the bottom of a thrift store couch, stale like the close-kept air in a 4,000-year-old sealed Egyptian sarcophagus.

And, given that this type of scenario typically occurs to get a laugh, stale is the last thing you want. So don’t do it. Fight the urge. Resist the siren call of the “Hot Guy throws off the heroine’s game at a crucial moment” cliché.

The world will be a better place for it. And so will your story.