Top 10 Storytelling Cliches Writers Need To Stop Using

Cliché is the enemy of good writing. 

We, as writers, are trained to kill clichéd phrases in sentences. But that's not the only place they can hide—they can infect the spaces between the words, too.

Clichés can infect storytelling techniques.

Need to build some tension? Have a time bomb with a digital readout slowly ticking down to zero!

Is your narrator a dick? Blame it on abusive parents!

Want to get all writerly in conveying the plot? Put it in a dream!

These are storytelling devices that pop up again and again, crutches for the writer to lean on and help move the story along without actually having to stretch their abilities. What follows are, to my mind, the worst of the bunch. 

1. Characters describing themselves in mirrors

Why it's easy: Describing a character when you're writing in the third person is pretty easy when the narrative voice is omniscient. But first person is a bit of a challenge—how do you convey what your character looks like without making them sound vain and self-obsessed? Wait, how about using a mirror!?

Why it's a cop out: It's lazy, it's been done to death, and anyway, no one looks in a mirror and takes stock of all their features in severe detail. I would argue you don't need to belabor the description of your main character anyway. You can hit the big points—if your character's defining trait is a deformity or a hairstyle—there are ways to work that into the narrative. For the rest of if, you have to trust the reader. First that they don't need to be coddled, and second, that they'll project something onto the character. 

2. Broadcasting an upcoming plot twist

Why it's easy: Sometimes you need to give a little weight to a character who's been sitting around and doing nothing, or make sure the reader is on his or her toes. What's wrong at a little hint at things to come?  

Why it's a cop out: This is the "little did he know" principle of storytelling. In The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, toward the end of the book, the albino monk is captured by the story's heroes. And it says—I'm paraphrasing here—something like: "Little did he know that he'd soon turn the tables." Leading me to ask: Why would you broadcast a plot twist? Especially in a book that's classified as a thriller?! Dan Brown isn't the only author to commit this crime. It's just the first example to come to me. 

3. Blaming bad behavior on bad parenting

Why it's easy: It's hard to justify bad behavior. If your narrator is a dick, you still want him/her to be a redeemable dick, or at least someone damaged enough that their dickishness isn't so far-fetched. You know what makes people into dicks that you can't really question, you just have to accept? Bad parents! 

Why it's a cop out: Almost every fucked-up character in fiction can trace his or her issues back to being sexually abused or slapped around by parental units. Making the parents into monsters is an easy way to explain away bad behavior. It's too easy. The thing is, sometimes this can be profound or deeply affecting. But a lot of the time, the bad parents are there for the sake of it. You know what's scarier? Someone growing up in a normal household and still becoming a dick.  

4. Too many inside jokes/references

Why it's easy: Because you need to make sure everyone knows you watched The Big Lebowski

Why it's a cop out: Few things stop me as cold in a story as an inside joke or a belabored reference. We get it. You're funny and you watch cool stuff. But I would need two hands and both feet to count the amount of times I've read references to rugs that tied the room together. Writing for your friends, or for your own ego, is a sure way to alienate a reader. 

5. The chosen one

Why it's easy: Your hero isn't just special. He/she has been chosen by some higher force! 

Why it's a cop out: Characters can be special without being touched by the hand of fate. And anyway, if your character is the only person who can solve a given problem, does that make him/her heroic? Or just easily coerced? They have no choice but to be heroic, and that's not really heroism. Very rarely is this trope used well. Most of the time... it's not.  

6. Countdown clocks

Why it's easy: Stakes you can measure by actual numbers!

Why it's a cop out: Hey, remember in The Dark Knight Rises where Bane has an arbitrary countdown clock that's set for several months and the story still manages to converge on the final moments of the ticking clock? Yeah, one of the myriad of reasons TDKR is a shitty movie, and a storytelling device so lazy I'm shocked a guy like Christopher Nolan would use it. Countdown clocks should be outlawed. 

7. Veiling your message in a dream

Why it's easy: This is a great opportunity to show everyone that you're a real writer, because you can use imagery to convey ideas. Or else it's a way to drive home how a character feels about something—afraid, alone, horny, whatever. It's showing and not telling and that's how this whole writing thing is supposed to work, right?

Why it's a cop out: This rarely works—having your narrator describe a dream that just happens to correlate with the story. It's either way too on-the-nose and no one would ever have a dream that specific/ridiculous, or it's so esoteric you have to bend over backwards to connect it to the plot, and when you're bent over backwards, you look silly. 

8. Using sex as wish fulfillment

Why it's easy: Because sex is awesome, especially if the narrator is an avatar for you. 

Why it's a cop out: There are few things that make me as embarrassed for an author as when two characters—always bracingly hot—engage in porn-style sex, and you can just tell the writer is working out some kind of personal kink. Gross.  

9. Magical Negroes and Noble Savages

Why it's easy: Do you need a black or minority character in your story? Add him or her as a character who helps your narrator! Do it in a mystical way! This will prove you are not a racist. 

Why it's a cop out: Native American characters with deep connections to the earth; Asian characters with strict ideas about honor; black characters who start off as intimidating but posses an incredible sage wisdom. They all carry themselves with a quiet nobility. You know what I'm talking about it. It's white guilt in prose form.  

10. Knocking characters unconscious for plot convenience

Why it's easy: Sometimes you have to change locations with a dramatic flourish—and what's more dramatic than knocking your character out and having them come to in a remote, unfamiliar location, all without having to deal with the boring parts, like driving there? 

Why it's a cop out: If a person is hit in the head hard enough to lose consciousness they should be immediately taken to a hospital because they probably have a severe concussion. And yet characters are routinely rendered unconscious to move a plot along, or for dramatic effect. I can't think of one good example of a book or a film where a character is knocked out, and then has to be hospitalized with cranial bleeding. Because that's what would happen. 

Your turn!

Those are mine. Now tell me yours. What storytelling clichés do you wish would disappear forever? 

Image of New Yorked (Ash McKenna)
Author: Rob Hart
Price: $12.57
Publisher: Polis Books (2015)
Binding: Paperback, 304 pages
Rob Hart

Column by Rob Hart

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor, as well as the publisher at MysteriousPress.com. He's the author of New Yorked, nominated for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, as well as City of Rose and South Village. Short stories have appeared in publications like Shotgun Honey, Thuglit, Needle, Joyland, All Due Respect, and Helix Literary Magazine. Non-fiction has appeared at Salon, The Daily Beast, Birth.Movies.Death, The Literary Hub, Electric Literature, and Nailed. He lives in New York City. Find him online at www.robwhart.com

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.

Comments

Boo Bagabaldo's picture
Boo Bagabaldo May 12, 2013 - 2:11am

I was reading number nine, and was, like, "Goodie, I ain't guilty of any of these."

Then I read the last one. Guilty!

 

Nice lst.

ksrberck's picture
ksrberck May 13, 2013 - 9:08pm

The villain always has cold ('icy,' 'chilling,' etc) gray eyes; the charming new female interest's eyes are always green. Is the stock character warehouse so inbred?

G. X. Bradbury's picture
G. X. Bradbury from Corvallis, OR is reading The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the United States, by Paul Arvich May 14, 2013 - 11:36pm

Although I don't read romantic comedies, I'm often put in a position where I must compromise with the missus and watch them. They are almost entirely cliche. First twenty minutes are slightly humorous. Next twenty minutes are a little more tense. The following ten minutes are full of boo-hoos and woe-is-me dialogue with some close girlfriend/buddy. The last ten to twenty minutes are revelation and redemption with some sort of "I fucked up," apology and a make-out session. Cue credits and hoppy music.

 

 

Julie Leonard's picture
Julie Leonard May 15, 2013 - 9:32am

I think #1 is my biggest pet peeve, hands-down.  It's why I was done reading the entire 50 Shades trilogy in one page.

 

A storytelling cliché you didn't mention is a little bit genre-specific: in romance novels when the couple climaxes at the same time.  I understand that the audience is reading this fluff to find fulfillment where their own lives are lacking, but come on (pardon the pun!). . .  can't we just for once have a romp in a romance novel that reflects reality, and is still exciting/romantic?

Amber Drea's picture
Amber Drea from Brooklyn, New York is reading Drinking With Men May 15, 2013 - 11:11am

One cliché that I've noticed lately is the use of pregnancy to raise the stakes in a relationship. It's usually when someone is cheating on someone and then one of the people in the love triangle gets pregnant, which often makes the decision to dump someone all more the more complicated. Or if a woman wants to go to college/accept a job/do something exciting, she'll get pregnant and her plans will be foiled.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 15, 2013 - 11:38am

@Amber Drea - Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time someone in fiction wanted to have a kid unless they were infertile or such. No planned children, no pleasant surprises unless they are at least a boarder line miracle.  

Dana Pratola's picture
Dana Pratola May 16, 2013 - 9:14am

I've used a couple variations of these, but one of the worst (I've never used) is the young love - one leaves town - returns years later to save the family *insert business here: _______________* - one has a child from a failed marriage (or worse, dead spouse) - they reunite - happy, happy. 

Utah's picture
Moderator
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry May 23, 2013 - 9:27am

You know who publicly shames people for typos?

Self-important assholes.

Weird, because, well:  You know who gets hostile over having their mistakes pointed out?

Self-important assholes.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 23, 2013 - 3:33pm

Why put that here?

Utah's picture
Moderator
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry May 24, 2013 - 5:17am

Because this is a public forum that serves a membership-based writer's site.  The last person that should feel free to get their nuts in a knot over criticism and start name-calling is the Director of Education.  Sort of puts everything in a bad light.  It would have made me mistrust the integrity of the workshop if I'd seen something like it before I joined.

Stigz's picture
Stigz from NJ is reading Alt.Punk July 2, 2013 - 11:16am

#10 - you don't need to go to the hospital if you get knocked out, or have a concussion...unless, you're a hipster pussy who can't take a beating... Just saying. 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 2, 2013 - 3:12pm

Oh I forgot about this thread! I meant he'd said stuff about calling people out on typos in a few other places in the time between this came up and your comment.

steamspan's picture
steamspan July 3, 2013 - 7:35am

"My personal pet peeve cliche: Upon hearing bad or shocking news, the hero/heroine vomits to illustrate how upset they are. It's usually women characters reacting this way, and it reminds me of the Victorian Swoon: an easy way to evade a reaction by falling back on hyperbole.

I mean, how many people actually vomit (ie faint) as an immediate reaction to bad news? I've never come across it in all my days working in human resources, but I read it in books all the time.  Unless the character discovered the decomposing body of a lover, I don't buy it. Throwing up when  finding out a lover is unfaithful, or someone is dead, just reads ridiculous."

Sorry if it rubs you the wrong way, but I can personally verify this one: "throwing up when finding out a lover is unfaithful" happens in real life, to real people.

(Some people have intense physical reactions to bad news. When I found out that a friend of mine was tragically killed, I certainly felt physically sick, and I think the only reason I didn't vomit is that I never vomit.)

 

guitarbabe's picture
guitarbabe July 3, 2013 - 1:51pm

To be honest...I LOVE cliches! Yup. I love reading them and I love writing them. I love romances where the guy gets the girl or action flicks when the good guy defeats the bad guy (and the bad guy deserves it!) or plots where the main character is special somehow. I don't want to see a main character get knocked out and then have to spend the remainder of the novel obsessing with their family at the hospital (unless it's a story about someone overcoming their disability). Yeah--as unrealistic as it seems--I want the character to shake it off. That being said, if you're 'trying' to write hyper-realistic, fine, I agree with you--don't knock them out. But if you're writing a James Bond knock-off? Yeah, knock that guy out over and over again (especially if it's James). Have him run through broken glass with bare feet. Have him get the unattainable girl. I think the main thing that makes cliches boring (or dare I say, stupid) is not doing the cliche well. We've seen (and read) plots where cliches work, but I agree with you (partially) that these same cliches don't work when there is no thought behind them, for example: 'the reformed jerk who gets the girl who used to hate him because he was a jerk.' I bet you can think of a story where it worked for you and a story where it didn't (or a different example if you don't like love stories: 'the guy who beat impossible odds to attain his end goal'). Why do cliches work with one story, but not the other? I think we don't buy certain cliches because the writer/ director/ whoever didn't work hard enough to make you believe it. They 'lazily' depended on the cliche to bring them from one plotpoint to the other without really putting their heart into it--they were more worried about graphics or meeting a deadline. So I say; don't worry about being cliche--worry about creating good characterization, relationships, and motivations. Then what your character does after that won't be cliche--it'll just be your character doing what people like him or her do, and it works for them.

And another thing--and I'm aware that this is an entirely new argument, but hello? I want to know what the character looks like. I am, as you say, a lazy reader. So go ahead and use a mirror...or more creative...a puddle or even a polished 45 . Haha, I won't judge.

femmefan1946's picture
femmefan1946 August 8, 2013 - 7:39pm

About #1 - I checked the author's byline and sure enough-- male.

We women check our look in the mirror constantly, groom our eyebrows, add lipstick/balm, correct the hang of our garments, suck in our bellies and sigh, add a little more mascara. Every time we hit the ladies' room.

So, it would not be at all odd for a female character to use a mirror and describe herself as part of an interior monologue. It would be odd if she didn't.

Just as long as she doesn't describe herself as having a mouth that is "a little too big for beauty/fashion". That is a romance novel cliche that shows up in every freakin book where the heroine (never the villianess) can't be too beautiful because she would outclass the hero. I tend to imagine this as having a mouth something like the mid-20th century comic Joe E.  Brown, whose mouth was slashed to twice normal size by an annoyed gangster.

 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 10, 2013 - 11:15pm

i scanned the comments and don't think i missed this one:

waking up or coming to. i am SO sick of stories staring out with somebody waking up. i'm sure i've done it a million times, but man, reading the submissions for EXIGENCIES, seriously, of the 300+ stories we've gotten so far, there must be 50 stories that START with a guy waking up, or coming to in a pool of blood or vomit. PLEASE. no more. at least to start the story.

luebby's picture
luebby August 13, 2013 - 5:10pm

I don't know if anyone will answer this, but I was reading through this and I was wondering something, if your character is in the hospital for something, does having dreams about what happened before their accident count as "No. 7: Veiling your message as a dream"?

 

There's no real message in the dreams, it's just kind of what led up to why they were where they were when they were hurt (wow, that's a weird sentence). So I didn't know if that counted or not, because I don't want it to seem like No. 7, because that definitely is annoying. 

Scott VanKirk's picture
Scott VanKirk August 13, 2013 - 8:26pm

#1 The main  character is an orphan. It's like a prerequisite.

#2 Love triangles - especially between Hot Chick, Vampire and Werewolf.

Dani J Caile's picture
Dani J Caile from UK August 15, 2013 - 5:09am

LOL! Great list! I always use these things as jokes...always good to parody an old cliché :-) Will come back to this list when writing my next :-)

Ivan Bittencourt's picture
Ivan Bittencourt August 16, 2013 - 4:51pm

The funny thing is that Harry Potter series contain all this cliches you set and all the books are historical best sellers.

Great article!

CBid's picture
CBid August 28, 2013 - 8:54pm

One of the most annoying cliches for me is the time-honored and way over used tradition of the climactic scene where the antagonist/villain character has captured or gained the upper hand on the hero/protagonist and spends a couple of moments explaining his motives and how "I'm afraid that this is the end for you." Then, something miraculous happens that disables the villain, the hero slips or cuts his bindings, and kills or captures the villain.

 

Like Tuco said in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: "When you need to shoot, shoot. Don't stand around talking about it."

Katy Mann's picture
Katy Mann August 29, 2013 - 6:15pm

This was a great post.  I saw a few things I have done, including the mirror description.  I'm guilt-free on many of the others, though (Whew!!)

I would add - all this stuff about what people are wearing.  Who cares?  Unless they are wearing a uniform, announcing that the character is a cop of soldier, or some other plot-critical bit of info, it probably isn't needed. 

 

I know clothes are important to teen-agers, but really?  The color and style of the jeans and shoes?  If nothing else, it dates a piece of writing.  (I can hear those who read for the clothes saying, "That is s-o-o last year" in a few years.)  And as to those writiers who go into great detail about "undergarments," please just stop.

Thanks for the insightful column.  And letting me rant on a pet peeve.

Alec James's picture
Alec James September 10, 2013 - 6:51am

Love the list, and a lot of great additions with every ones comments, but does anyone else see the irony in using something as cliche as a top ten list to point out the cliches of others? Haha anyway, here's a couple of my cliche pet peeves.

Dude where's my boat!?

Why it's easy: So you need to steer your character off course to somewhere they don't intend to go? Simple! Just have their boat or plane get destroyed by a storm or swallowed by sea monsters and they will miraculously wash up on whatever shore you want them to, completely unharmed! That happens all the time right?

Why it's a cop out: You get one reprieve in a story guys, so why waste it on something that could have just as easily been explained by pilot error, or a drunk helmsman? Even the navigator falling overboard and drowning is more believable than being dropped in the middle of the ocean, floating unconscious for weeks, and somehow surviving. The only thing even more far fetched is when they seem to have developed amnesia after the ship wreck, oh my!

I know kung-fu...

Why it's easy: So we've all read a book or seen a movie where the main character can fly or throw fire from his hands, and you think, "heck yeah! What is the source of such awesome power?" Only to find out that their amazing abilities come from the same discipline practiced by your five year old nephew twice a week at that place on the corner that used to be a yogurt shop.

Why it's a cop out: I'm sorry, but no matter how long and hard you train at any ancient fighting style, it does not give your character the strength to punch people through concrete walls or jump forty feet in the air. These are physical impossibilities so please find a better explanation than "I know kung-fu."

Bandits burned down my village!

Why it's easy: We all know that openings can be difficult to write. You don't want to bore your reader with 50 pages of detailed descriptions and back story before they even get to know the personality of the main character, but you also don't usually want to throw them head first into some convoluted point in the plot that will confuse and frustrate them. So where do you start? How about when his parents are shot by an insane clown when he was just a child? What? That's been done? Well...How about she only became a slayer because vampires attacked her home town? That one too huh...? Damn this is hard...

Why it's a cop out: Time and time again the story of the simple farm boy or the average Joe having his/her life brutally torn away by some criminal element or enigmatic force that they must now pursue in order to avenge the memory of...whatever...has annoyed me to no end. Yes your protagonist needs a legitimate reason to forge their righteous path, especially if it's a violent one, but you couldn't think of anything fresher than avenging their family? Oh let me guess, it turns out those bandits were actually minions of the present day antagonist, and some how they missed the young hero hiding under a bed even though that was the person they were actually there to kill that fateful night so many years ago. This horse is dead, put down the stick and calmly step away.

Did they probe you?

Why it's easySo you can't think of a good plot twist huh? How about...Everyone is an alien! Isn't it strange these aliens seemed painfully human right up until the big reveal? Are these aliens like the Johnny Depps and Robert De Niros of their planet? Look, if your story does not involve space exploration or introduces the characters as extraterrestrials as a focal point of the plot, then please for the love of good writing leave the aliens in outer space.

Why it's a cop out: I've watched many good plots disintegrate right before my eyes, because as it turns out, they're all aliens. This is probably the grandfather of all cop outs in my opinion, and it applies to inter dimensional beings as well. They carry that same absurd air of overly convenient justification for anything in your story that you were too lazy or unoriginal to actually explain.

Mason Christian's picture
Mason Christian October 5, 2013 - 3:56pm

Getting chased by someone/something and suddenly you reach a steep cliff.  Biggest. Cliche. Ever.

Miles Lacey's picture
Miles Lacey December 15, 2013 - 11:18pm

The Most Annoying Cliches Ever....

It always starts with the good guy who is having problems with his ex in regards to how he seems to be neglecting his duties as a father.  He reluctantly ends up with the kid (usually his daughter) and takes them out somewhere but it's obvious he's going through the motions and she really doesn't want to be there.  They argue and end up seperating.  The disaster/alien invasion/terrorist attack will happen when the daughter is wandering around.  With some variations the hero will find an arsenal large enough to equip a small Third World army, it will be revealed he was in the military or the police at some point in the past, and he will be able to wipe out a spaceship/disaster damaged location/hijacked facility full of seasoned, combat trained aliens/thugs/terrorists almost single handed but not before they take his daughter hostage and kill someone close to him.  And there's always someone from the Pentagon who advocates wiping out everything so the hero has to race against time to defeat the bad guys and save his daughter which he always does.  The good guy gets a standing ovation from the populace, his daughter thinks he's the greatest dad and the seperated parents are reconciled. And the ex's current partner will either be killed or will leave after it's revealed he's not so heroic.  

To show us how bad the bad guys are they will always kill people who deliver bad news or do something dumb, dishonour the American flag in some way, and goes into tiresome dialogues about what he intends to do and why.  And there's always a turncoat minion, usually female, who will discover the error of her ways and either turn on the bad guy or join the good guy when it becomes obvious the bad guy is just in it for himself.

 

 

Eva Brooks's picture
Eva Brooks January 7, 2014 - 6:13am

Strip Clubs, run by the 'bad guys' where boundless numbers of diaphanous females swing effortlessly round greased poles while men whoop and holler.  Strip clubs again, in films about guys on leave from the military.. or just out 'for a lit'l R n R'.  Strip Clubs period.  Strip clubs pop up everywhere in films and television as if they are somewhere right next door. And yes, they are... but not quite 'that' much.

Jennifer Horsman's picture
Jennifer Horsman January 11, 2014 - 12:12pm

I am an old hack of many genres and I have committed all of these multiply times. Especially the sex one, but only because I got a reputation for great sex scenes and each book seemed to require an escalation. Sigh. While writing and plot cliches are indeed tiresome, a good writer can make them live again. 

Roman Martinez's picture
Roman Martinez January 21, 2014 - 5:41am

Monologuing, just robs a character of his/her charisma. While it's not as overused or as bad as other cliches, there was a time when Monologuing was actually cool, that it conveys the character's situations, emotions and uproar to the crowd. While I find a bit of a soft spot for this cliche, it's just not the kinda story element to put in such these days.

The stereotypical tough black guy. I just feel like I'm one of those people who' seen this quite frequentley. As an equal person, I say, putting this kinda character development is just down right used and racist in my book. Everyone has a sweet tender side to them, no matter what color. Putting someone with dark color in a story, be embrassive, would strike fear in those that cross him? Come on.

 

 

 

Okojie Blink's picture
Okojie Blink March 17, 2014 - 1:57am

My name is camiliedbrono from Florida I have to give this miraculous testimony, which is so unbelievable until now. I had a problem with my Ex husband 2years ago, which lead to our break up. when he broke up with me, I was not my self again, i felt so empty inside me, my love and financial situation became worst, until a close friend of mine Lucy told me about a spell caster who helped her in the same problem too his name is Dr Shiva. I email Dr Shiva the spell caster and i told him my problem and i did what he asked of me, to cut the long story short. Before i knew what was happening my husband gave me a call and told me that he was coming back to me in just 2days and was so happy to have him back to me. We have two kids together and we are happy with ourselves. Thanks to Dr Shiva for saving my relationship and for also saving others own too. continue your good work, If you are interested to contact him and testify this blessings like me, the great spell caster email address is:   noemail@noemail you are the best among all the spell caster online I hope you see my testimonies and also pray for my family too.

 

Your friendly, neighborhood moderator here.  Normally, when I find spam-bot spoor on the site I delete it and block the bot profile.  But...I just couldn't bring myself to erase all traces of this post, because it's brilliant.  Sorry for those of you who might have wanted to contact the great spell-caster; I have disabled the email contact.

Laura L Stapleton's picture
Laura L Stapleton April 14, 2014 - 7:55pm

I don't know if this is cliche' but it sure feels like it.

1. Weird event occurrs.

2. Secondary character says something about "Not in Kansas anymore."

 

In fact, I would LOVE it if no one ever quoted Wizard of Oz ever again.  Done. To. Death.

 

I also agree with the "children saving the day" device as old new.  Although, Steven Spielberg has made a ton of money using it, so what do I know?

 

Emily Carrington's picture
Emily Carrington April 15, 2014 - 4:24pm

I'm amused that I've either used or considered using all of these. Looks like my storytelling needs to be polished a bit.

On the other hand, I would love to see books where a disabled person *isn't* treated like either a) superhuman or b) a crutch for the main character(s). If your blind dude is going to be great at karate, PLEASE give him a reason to be, or a history, or something.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated April 16, 2014 - 1:45am

Or make him act like a normal blind person, that would be neat too.

Alicia Gilmore's picture
Alicia Gilmore May 17, 2014 - 8:32pm

One thing that pulled off the countdown clock thing pretty well; Homestuck

Zippydsm Lee's picture
Zippydsm Lee May 31, 2014 - 3:11pm

How about you have the chosen one charatcer but his life is hardly perfect.

Brian Barbour's picture
Brian Barbour May 31, 2014 - 6:24pm

Monza from Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold was knocked out, had a hole in her skull. 

Laila Johanna Balke's picture
Laila Johanna Balke June 1, 2014 - 12:59am

I actually really don't mind sex in books. I love it! And no, no,  I know what you guys think and stuff, but if a relationship is central to the plot, then their sex is, too. And I think it's our prudish ways that have led us to pretend that way people have sex doesn't say stuff about them or doesn't tell a story, when it really does. A lot! Literary Fiction has been proving that for ever.

 

But...

#1 Butchered Woman motivation. You know that thing where the tough hero needs a reason for his quest (and make it relatable why he's so tough and cold) and it's somehow waaaay too many times a butchered woman and/or child? Really? Too easy and kinda misogynist.

#2 Mavericks (can be men or women). Maybe I've just read too many of those lately, but the guy/girl who doesn't show any emotion, doesn't need any help, doesn't rely on anyone... that's just boring, I'm sorry. I like interaction and real communication!

EileenD's picture
EileenD June 1, 2014 - 11:13pm

TSTL, or To Stupid to Live: The most often heroine who suddenly loses all common sense, memory of intensive training and self-protective instincts just so she can do something stupid enough to keep the story going. Fave example. The world's most brilliant FBI agent and profiler finding out where the serial killer is and going to confront him alone, because...well, because she's so bad-ass nothing can happen to her. BEEP. You do not go on to Final Jeopardy

 

Ed Erdelac's picture
Ed Erdelac June 2, 2014 - 8:46am

The totally brilliant villain/criminal whom the good guys have to consult in order to solve their current dilemma a la Hannibal Lector and who can think circles around everybody. I am soooo bored by that.

Jesse King's picture
Jesse King June 2, 2014 - 9:25am

Time Travel, at least in any form that unfairly relieves or destroys dramatic tension - which is most of them.

Seriously, why should I care what happens to any of your characters - what ANY of the events in your story are, if you're just going to retcon them in 50 pages?

Then there's the matter of logical consistency and the near impossibility of even having a stable fictional universe when this kind of thing is allowed without exceedingly strict constraints (looking at YOU Star Trek).

Tom Cooper's picture
Tom Cooper June 2, 2014 - 10:14am

How about the string of expository facts speech? 'So, Mr. Mulholland, I see you were a special forces operative who did three tours of duty in Iraq and then graduated top in your class at Harvard before starting your own detective agency specializing in missing person cases . . . '

Why it's easy: It gets a lot of information out there quickly.

Why it's a cop out: Because you should learn to compose scenes, and write dialogue, in which such facts are revealed naturally.

Adrienne Dellwo's picture
Adrienne Dellwo June 3, 2014 - 9:12pm

My soon-to-be-out novel does involve an unconscious character, but hey, it might be the example you're looking for -- she wakes up in the hospital with severe spinal and head injuries. :-)

selenem's picture
selenem from Ontario, Canada is reading The Cider House Rules, by John Irving June 3, 2014 - 9:40pm

Not sure if anyone's mentioned it yet, but starting the story with a character WAKING UP or ending a scene with them falling asleep. Nothing is duller than reading about someone sleeping. I've done it myself, but now when I read a story with a character waking up, I rarely want to read more.

Writers who do this: WE GET IT. They're awake. If they're up and moving around, it's fair to assume they're well-rested, and it's not necessary to describe any boring morning routine like waking up, eating breakfast, or going to the bathroom, unless it adds to the story.

Rant over. :)

Oh, and one other thing: Women, especially in genre fiction, have LOTS AND LOTS of career options other than sex worker (prostitute or stripper). Where are all the grocery/store cashiers that ACTUALLY make up the top percentage of female employment?

Ed Parachini's picture
Ed Parachini June 4, 2014 - 4:13am

A concussion means the person was unconsious, nothing else.

Jessica Bloczynski's picture
Jessica Bloczynski June 4, 2014 - 8:53am

There is a moment in my novel where my character cuts off her hair because she's feeling alone and unnoticed and super stressed out. She does this in front of a mirror. Should I cut this? It's action rather than descriptive prose and yet the mirror is used. Thoughts. I love the scene and would hate to cut it. 

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this June 4, 2014 - 9:02am

Jessica--when a scene has purpose like that, it's OK. I meant this more in the sense of the writer wanting to get across a physical description and being lazy about it. 

Jessica Bloczynski's picture
Jessica Bloczynski June 4, 2014 - 9:20am

I also have a secondary character get whacked over the head with a staff. He then gets tries to drive and dies in a fiery car accident. I hadn't thought about the head trauma contributing but it makes sense. :) Also a dead parent, post accident anyway. 

Nickelini's picture
Nickelini from Vancouver is reading The Country Girls, by Edna O'Brien June 4, 2014 - 9:21am

To add to the pregnancy cliches, my current pet peeve is a girl or woman has sex for the first and only time, and gets pregnant. Yes, it's possible, but lately I've been seeing it at a rate of 100%. I was so annoyed by this that I looked it up. Your actual chance of getting pregnant from any single sexual encounter is 3%-11%. So please stop with the virgin gets pregnant as a plot device.

Jessica Bloczynski's picture
Jessica Bloczynski June 4, 2014 - 9:25am

I really hate the magical mystery supernatural pregnancy trope especially when it ends with the baby being appropriated, lost or dead. A great example of this is in Doctor Who. Wheee, drama of a pregnant character, but wait, this means we have to write in a baby and babies are boring. Ugh, so much hate. 

Janet Lingel Aldrich's picture
Janet Lingel Aldrich June 4, 2014 - 1:06pm

Gee, piss all Harry Potter much? You could have just written a blog post about how much you hate the HP books (or the Percy Jackson books, or ...)

I do agree about the self-description, to a point. And 8 and 9.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this June 4, 2014 - 1:11pm

I love the Harry Potter books. And they're an example of the chosen one narrative being done well, because it gets twisted and turned a few times throughout the story.