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

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Comments

Laurence O'Bryan's picture
Laurence O'Bryan from Dublin, Ireland is reading The Twelve June 5, 2014 - 8:10am
Raven Dane's picture
Raven Dane June 5, 2014 - 8:22am

Guilty as charged for number one...but in my feeble defence, the character, a Dark Kind vampire was notorious for his extreme vanity and I thought it would be a good way to introduce him to the readers...and it wasn't actually a mirror but a  moonlit pool. 

I'll get my coat.....

Randy Paré's picture
Randy Paré June 5, 2014 - 10:49am

I agree.. except for #5... you'd almost eliminate the entire genre of heroic fiction if you adhered to that one.

agent385's picture
agent385 June 5, 2014 - 1:38pm

The cliche' that always makes me cringe is the one where boy meets girl by bumping into her and his stuff gets mixed up with hers etc.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 5, 2014 - 11:14pm

@Randy - What are you on about man?!  Of course heroic fiction can go on without a chosen one.

Amy E Gentry's picture
Amy E Gentry June 6, 2014 - 7:42am

". . . no one looks in a mirror and takes stock of all their features in severe detail."

Except zillions of women, every day. Definitely a cliche, but not a particularly unrealistic part of living in a culture where you're judged harshly by your looks. Just a thought.

gamermomma's picture
gamermomma from Utah is reading Steelheart - Brandon Sanderson June 6, 2014 - 7:56am

"My husband is abusive/neglectful and so I must have this affair with The Perfect Boyfriend".  Two of the worst cliques in romance.  The husband is the worst person ever.  The Perfect Boyfriend gives the wife mind-blowing sex like she's never had in her life, plus he's thoughtful, sweet, model-gorgeous, rich, single, and on an on and on.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 6, 2014 - 8:19am

@Amy - I think they are going for the fact that most people might think more "my hair looks bad today" and less in terms of a detailed description you could use in a book.

Astralwolf37's picture
Astralwolf37 June 6, 2014 - 11:00am

I think some of theses have been stated above, but I have a list myself I'd like to post because they piss me off so bad:

1. Amnesia- It's a very rare condition that never really happens the way it's portrayed- when it does happen it's typically a symptom of a fatal neurological disorder.  Yet lots of people in fiction seem to get it like it's the common cold. 

2. I'd like to add to Chosen One self-fulfilling prophesy, those stupid statements about the future from seers that would be meaningless schizophrenic babble or not have existed at all had someone not heard one and acted accordingly (usually to try and stop it), thereby creating an infinite bad logic loop.  They're not clever and cool and genre-subverting because they can't exist.  You can't predict the future if the future does't exist outside your prediction.  You see? There's no timeline to predict. Modern Fantasy has lost the idea of fate, but wanted to keep prophesy and it hasn't worked.

3. Mysteries fueled purely by Idiot Main Character's utter lack of observation skills and ability to infer things.  (I'm having flashbacks to the Harry Potter "Who is the Half-Blood prince?" posters.)

4.  Nothing truly bad happening to the main character themself by virtue of them being the main character.  People around them may die, but they have a handy arsenal of luck and coincidence at their disposal. 

5. "Oh no, I'm pregnant!  No, wait, false alarm, haha!"  Check with a doctor then talk to people dummy. That or "Whee, we're all pregnant at once," usually unexpected.  Good thing birth control fails when it's convenient for the plot.

6. "Oh my god, you're supposed to think I died, but I really didn't!"  Everyone you care about in comic book universes is immortal for whatever pulled-it-out-our-butt reason.

7. "I'm so normal and dull, but I have a raging love rivalry following me around!"

8. " I know I havn't spoken to you in 20 years and in real life people move on and forget about each other, but you've been the center of my universe all this time!"  It's not romantic, it's creepy.

Olivia Marcus's picture
Olivia Marcus from Chicago, IL is reading "Twenties Girl" by Sophie Kinsella June 13, 2014 - 7:57pm

This article was great! One of MY least favorite cliches in chick lit/romance novels is = popular kids being mean, kind of like in "Mean Girls" starring Lindsey Lohan (it's a movie, not a novel, but a good example nevertheless, I think). It's probably one of the most overused and it doesn't make any sense! Why would someone be popular if they were a jerk? In my high school the most popular kids were popular because they were (1) talented and (2) friendly and outgoing. I wasn't very popular myself but one of the "popular" girls was a casual friend of mine, and she is one of the nicest, most talented people I know!

Another one I hate (just another one of the reasons I stopped reading chick lit) is when a girl loves a guy, finds out he's a jerk, and then falls in love with ANOTHER guy who she thought was lame but then realizes he ISN'T. Maybe it was okay the first couple times, but it really got overused. In this one book, a girl loved this guy and right before prom he just randomly started acting like a perv and telling her "all the guys score" and she cried a little then dated another guy. I mean, come on! Maybe sometimes he is the right guy for once!

Third one is (you see this in romance movies ALL. THE. TIME), a couple is like this: they meet each other (or maybe they knew each other from grade school and bumped into each other later on), get along, maybe go out for coffee or something, then this thing happened that makes them have a huge fight, then they realize it was a big misunderstanding or whatever and they make up. Even my favorite movie ever has this in it!

Kevin A. Ranson's picture
Kevin A. Ranson from West Virginia is reading Lots June 7, 2014 - 10:52am

Pet peeve cliche: Rape of a woman as a plot device.

A) in action/thriller, it punishes the hero because "his" woman is raped as a slight to him - never mind what it does to her.

B) when the heroine is raped in order to show how strong she is by overcoming her assault, usually by killing everyone who participated, knew, saw, or dismissed the fact that she was raped.

Not overused: the man who was raped by the villain to slight the heroine.

Dellani Oakes's picture
Dellani Oakes June 16, 2014 - 7:40am

I agree with all these. I'm guilty of some. In fact, I've used the dream thing in a story I'm working on and I realized as I read through it last night (before reading this article) that it was BAD! Going to cut the whole thing. Fortunately, the story isn't too far along yet.

One thing I really want to see die an unhappy death: Romance novels where the two main characters fight the entire time. How am I supposed to believe they will have a Happily Ever After, if they can't even communicate without yelling? Oh, they usually have sex before they really know one another, then lust after each other throughout and feel horribly guilty for it too -- which is one reason they fight.

I want to punch those people in the face and tell them to grow up and learn how to respect each other. Idiots!

willow B's picture
willow B June 17, 2014 - 9:15am

The female protagonist is a teenaged girl who falls in love with a slightly older brooding male character, who may or may not be a supernatural creature. She then proceeds to fumble around the adventure getting kidnapped and saved and falling even more in love with the brooding male character. Happy ending standard.

This needs to stop.
How about the love interest is a slightly older brooding female character. Or howabout the protagonist has no feelings for the boy and just helps him as a friend. 

Also, some teenaged girls will not stand for being kidnapped - they'll fight back. I for one do Jiu Jitsu and weapons training, I'm 16, woe betide the motherfucker that tries anything funny with me: I'll have his ball sack for fuzzy dice. So, some girls can handle themselves in a fight. Not all girls, but it'd be nice to see a teen-fiction book with a girl figher in. AND NOT ONE THAT STILL HAS TO BE RESCUED BY THE MALE PROTAGONIST! Howabout the female protagonist resuses the male protagonist for once, that'd be a nice change. 

Same goes for most action movies, I've yet to see an action movie (appart from Hanna which is just fucking heaven) with a strong female lead who is not rescued by the male lead and who is not over sexualised either. 

This is why I stopped reading teen-fiction at 12, most of it is luke warm shit. 

Aggghh - I need some vallium and a lie down. Appologies. 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 17, 2014 - 12:50pm

I'd settle for someone who is supernatural and life isn't 100% violent insane right after they get a gf. I mean aren't there any other conflicts?   Floods?   Drought?  Forest fires?  Land slides?  Hurricanes?  Tornados?  Terrorist attacks (in the wow the whole town is shut down and is there enough food scene, not Edward & Bella VS. Al-Qaeda)?

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 17, 2014 - 12:53pm

Edward & Bella VS. Al-Qaeda

I typed that and realized it is really a thing and Googled it like an idiot.  https://www.fanfiction.net/s/7289457/4/Letters-to-a-Stranger

Aj Zender's picture
Aj Zender June 18, 2014 - 5:54pm

Would it still be considered a chosen one scenario if the main character is one of a group of men and women who were all chosen? All of them have the potential to fix the situation, but my character is the one. 

Graccha's picture
Graccha June 19, 2014 - 12:24pm

I'm tired of the Monomyth arc. Yeah, it's a classic, but it also means everyone knows the story. It's been done to death and I'm tired of seeing people act like it's the One True Plot Arc. Do it if you want, gods know Rowling made it work for her, but stop cramming it down young writers' throats.

Samah Mohamedzein's picture
Samah Mohamedzein June 19, 2014 - 5:49pm

#1: The  dead  parents syndrome.

Usually used for characters who say they don't want pity yet blame their choices on it. Easy to find in the romance section of Barnes and Nobles.

and 

#2:The I-don't-know-that-he/she-likes-me kind of character.

To all authors: Please. Just don't. This type of character is irritating.

readmebackwards's picture
readmebackwards August 21, 2014 - 10:08am

@SammyB you'd like the story THrough the Heart, she never really confesses why, it isnt left unsloved, but nobody breaks down and confesses and I completely agree with you, no one really confesses to what they've done.

readmebackwards's picture
readmebackwards August 21, 2014 - 10:21am

QUite honestly, even though I do have a habbit of finding books like this, the completely unrealistic of a prince giving up everything to marry a commoner or something of that sort, yes, we've all seen the prince and me, but its completely unrealistic, if you want characters with real feelings, you'd create a man that dumped the girl for his position of power fame and money, because no prince would walk away from his crown, for a girl he me t two days ago. The unrealistic situations are okay, but  the thoughts and feelings arent even real, to make your character seem real, make them act like humans, couples fight, no child is perfect, no ones life is perfect, and no, guys arent going to give up everything they have and have spent their lives working for, for cute barista at a town he just happened to visit on the other side of the country.

 

or the most common one: The "we barely know each other, but can pretty much read eachothers minds with one look" senario. I recently read a book that contained two people that had, had one awkward, brief conversatio with one another and all she had to do was tell him to go check on his wife, who was in her fiances hotel room and he knew that she was cheating on him and had the whole story figured out, but neither of them even knew the whole story. THat kind of connection takes time to build up and you have to know each other pretty well to be successful with it.

readmebackwards's picture
readmebackwards August 21, 2014 - 10:25am

I am going to say, I am partially guilty of the last one, one of my characters blacked out, but that was so I could switch point of veiws, rather than locations.

Salah Ahmed's picture
Salah Ahmed August 21, 2014 - 8:02pm

Any time I write something down, I always use #1 and the thing about the abusive parents if there is a fucked up character. Should probably stop doing that >_>

Thanks a lot for this, very helpful

SarahElizabeth's picture
SarahElizabeth from Pennsylvania is reading All the Light We Cannot See; Monster October 30, 2014 - 8:02pm

Characters refusing to communicate just to keep a story going. And then, at the end, New Information is revealed by a third party in the nick of time, and all is well. When all could have been well in the first five minutes if the characters would just sit down and have a conversation. And usually an easy one, in the beginning. It only keeps getting worse because they keep refusing to talk. 

And yes, definitely the leaving the place of safety for some inane reason, such as, "I'm bored," or, "I'm annoyed with you and need space, even though there's a whole army of evil trolls out there." Or, "Stop treating me like a child! I can handle 10,000 zombies on my own! Geez!" *Storms off to prove one's self and immediately dies or causes the death of the well-meaning character who goes after them to make sure their idiocy doesn't cause their demise.*

Jack V. Butler Jr.'s picture
Jack V. Butler Jr. November 5, 2014 - 9:34pm

Idiot Plots in general.  If your plot won't work unless everyone is a moron, your plot sucks.

Lack of Communication Over a Misconception Masquerading as Drama:  You know the bit where Character A and Character B have interpersonal problems because Character A said something or did something and Character B utterly misinterprets it?  This situation would be cleared up in a heartbeat if one of them would just ask, "Hey, this happened, and it confused me. What's up?"

Not Thinking Through All the Implications:  Female Character A and Male Character B are in love, have a torrid romance, but she realizes that a life with him would derail the plans she has for the rest of her life and leaves.

Six years later, they re-encounter each other and the romance is rekindled because she's "in a much better place" than she was six years ago.  And he's always pined for her, so that's cool.  But what she never told him, not once in six years, nor immediately upon re-encountering him, is that she was pregnant when she left and now they have a child together.

Funny how he's never furious with her for keeping him from his child for six years, isn't it?  He never sues her for custodial interference or parental kidnapping, never tries to take the kid from her in a horrible court battle.  Generally he just goes along with it, because he's a doofus.

Even worse, he doesn't object because he's a guy, and we all know guys don't have those sort of emotional attachments to their kids, right?

 

 

Asiansareeasy Murray's picture
Asiansareeasy Murray November 23, 2014 - 11:10am

 

Top 10 Storytelling Cliches Writers Need To Stop Using

"Writers" who write "lists?"

 

NoButMaybe's picture
NoButMaybe March 18, 2015 - 2:34pm

Hey, now. That was unnecessary, Murray. I came across this list just now, today--months too late, but late enough to be able to claim that this list stands true for amateur writers. I am guilty of all the things on Rob's list (except the minority one, but that's because I had a good time learning the intricacies of orgasm from a black partner that then told me he was "too wrapped up in a personal journey" to stick around, so I'm mad now--and he's not allowed in my stories)

I agree with all the feminist comments (Willow B, where ARE the girls that save the boys?) 

I do have a trope I hate. I hate when the author tells us (or shows us) that the sexual mate is hot, or can fly or whatever. What happened to those days when you were just pissed off in general, and locked in an argument where nobody was right and the point was pointless? What happened to Wednesday? 

I pile on a lot of drama when I write--mirrors, dreams, guns, and getting clogged on the head for no reason--but there is nothing sexier than that Wednesday when your beautiful picks something out of his bellybutton, turns his head your way, and says : hey, you wanna get it on real quick before the commercials end?

 

 

Logan Ramsey's picture
Logan Ramsey May 11, 2015 - 5:19pm

My question is how do you know if your using number 5 correctly? Does anyone have examples of stories that did it well?

Logan Ramsey's picture
Logan Ramsey May 11, 2015 - 5:19pm

My question is how do you know if your using number 5 correctly? Does anyone have examples of stories that did it well?

Jim Black's picture
Jim Black May 17, 2015 - 11:15pm

Hi! I agree with several ideas in this article, but I thought I'd post my few disagreements.

I disagree with #3. I agree that you shouldn't try to justify your character's actions by saying, "Oh, well, he was raised in a negative environment, so you should just forgive him." If your character has an awful temper, and he punches a stranger in the face, then by all means he should face the consequences for that action (prison, lawsuit, etc.). On the other hand, we ARE products of our environment. Someone mentioned that we PRODUCE our environment, but that isn't always the case: a three-year-old does not produce his own environment. The years most crucial to your psychological development are the first ten, I believe, and for the most part a very young child has no control over his environment.

To use a real example, my father has an awful temper, and all of my father's children (who were subjected to his temper) also have an awful temper. That doesn't mean I get to shout at people and break things without consequence, but it's likely that I developed a bad temper because my own father has an awful temper, and that was a very, very large part of my environment. This is basic psychology, here.

You use the example of a person becoming a dick despite growing up in a postive environment. Yes, that's scary. Why? Because it usually doesn't happen, and when it DOES happen, it's usually because the child has a mental disorder (which is beyond the control of the parents, obviously). But, in reality, a child's personality is overwhelmingly influenced by their parents' personalities. Even loving parents can produce a mean-spirited child, because if you spoil a kid like crazy, he just might grow up to be a self-entitled jerk.

I think the problem exists when people try to JUSTIFY their characters' actions by blaming the parents. Your parents might have spoiled you, but that doesn't mean you get to steal other people's things without suffering the consequences. I actually think it's quite intriguing when characters have flaws that their parents also had (probably because I'm the same way). For example, Mary struggles with her self-esteem because her father struggled with HIS self-esteem. I think that makes for very complex family relationship and also very complex psychology in general.

Realism is important in a story, and although it's "scary" for a character to be a dick even though his parents raised him well, it's just not realistic. I'm sorry, but it's absurd to argue that a person's personality ISN'T heavily influenced by the people who raised them.

I also disagree with #2, but it might be because of a misunderstanding between you and me.

I think there's a difference between broadcasting a plot twist and foreshadowing a plot twist. I only say this because you use the word "hinting," and I think there's a difference between hinting and broadcasting. Hinting is GOOD (it's foreshadowing). Foreshadowing prevents the plot twist from seeming like a deus ex machina. Or, if you have a plot twist that just seems too coincidental, then you can make it seem more interesting by hinting at it throughout the story.

For example, it seems like a huge cop-out if Mary suddenly reveals, at the end of the story, that she has kung-fu skills that she can use to defeat the bad guys who've just captured her. But if it's hinted throughout the story that Mary has kung-fu skills (maybe she mentions her "sensei" and talks a lot about fighting) then it'll be a pleasant surprise when she suddenly starts beating up the bad guys.

Response to an unforeshadowed plot twist: "What the HELL? That's so stupid! Suddenly she's a kung-fu master? What a copout."

Foreshadowed plot twist: "Oh my God! I should've realized earlier that she knew kung-fu! All those comments about her 'sensei' make sense now! That's so cool!"

But I agree that broadcasting a plot twist is silly. "But little did the bad guys realize...Mary was a kung-fu master!" That's just a simple breach of the "show, don't tell" rule.

Otherwise, I agree with your article. :)

toluadisa's picture
toluadisa July 31, 2015 - 5:40am

I am gulity of quite a lot of these...I can't stand when a writer introduces a #9 and then kills them off because they just wanted to show they weren't racist...I will also vow never to use a mirror, unless it is needed. 

Chance Harrison's picture
Chance Harrison from Earth is reading The Godfather March 13, 2016 - 9:27am

The Juvie Three by Gordon Korman has a realistic example of a character being knocked out. It isn't from the narrator's perspective, though.

Ashley Balaresia's picture
Ashley Balaresia May 30, 2016 - 4:21am

I totally agree, but I'm a bit confused with #10. I'm a bit guilty, but I did try knocking my main character out in my story, but he has more a---dream sequence because he didn't try to look where he was going and in excitement he got hit by a wall. And it wasn't from the narrator's perspective. It was in first person view. But he didn't end up in the hospital though. He was still in the place himself. Does that count as a cliche? I'm trying to avoid cliches and post this article in my room for literary studying. 

Wendy L. Schmidt's picture
Wendy L. Schmidt June 20, 2016 - 8:46pm

I actually like some of these so-called cliches. And, I don't believe using a black person or native american person equals white guilt. I just finished watching, Penny Dreadful, a great series. Should I assume the apache father in the story is a white person guilt device? Because his character made a lot of sense for the storyline. Why can't black people or native american's have magical qualities without it being considered a cliche? Some cultures are simply more interesting have more depth or mix of beliefs and make for a better story. I say, if the storyline is intriguing then don't worry too much about lists. Writers have enough trouble coming up with and  putting down a story without worrying about whether or not their characters or a plot is cliche. Obvious or clumsy cliche is a different story. I write poetry to and once heard a professor say, "Anybody that uses the word, moon in a poem is showing their ignorance." The only thing he was showing was his arrogance. There is no such rule. And, sometimes the moon is a lovely thing to include.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 17, 2016 - 2:36am

@Wendy - You can have a non white person with magic and it not be white guilt. The show Magicians did a pretty good job of that. If the only person who has magic is a ethnic person and the reason is that they are ethnic that is odds on white guilt.

Lucy Oswald's picture
Lucy Oswald July 30, 2016 - 4:28pm

"And then the main character woke up and discovered it was all a dream" cliche. NO. NOT OKAY. I read a fanfiction once where this happened. I forced myself through 135 chapters of not-very-good writing, and the last paragraph had the main character waking up from a coma.
In a story I'm working on, the character is sucked into a fictional world she's created. She dies in that world, but she stays dead. She just stops existing in her world.

"The main character happened to pick up awesome, bad-ass fighting skills but there's absolutely no training shown". This might just be in fanfiction, but I hate it. It's really rare for anyone to be a natural at something, to the extent of never ever needing to show training scenes.

I have to admit though, I'm guilty of #5 and #10. I don't know how you'd write the effects of a Stunning spell though XD

hawkeyislife's picture
hawkeyislife August 8, 2016 - 3:04pm

I am just happy I ridded myself of most cliches a while ago. However, I am editing the final draft of my book and I still see a lot of things that need to be corrected. #clichesareasin

Awesome read, I'll definitely be on the lookout to not use these nauseating devices in the future.

Kenneth James Vos's picture
Kenneth James Vos August 31, 2016 - 5:04am

Hey guys,

I´m an amateur writer and currently working on a sort of fantasy story. First off, thanks for posting this list and giving me confirmation of certain aspects people are sick of reading over and over again, allthough I wasn´t planning on using them anyway, appart from the sex scenes that is. Still, I´d like to know if something I had in mind concerning a cliche which is not listed here would still work. It concerns two characters who talk about their past at one point. One of them left his village to lead a life of adventure, the other became the warrior he now is because his village was burned to the ground by raiders and comments something like "Why prefer a life of killing over a life of peace? I don´t think you understand what you´re giving up here, just for the sake of exitement!" I thought it would make for a good conversation once I´ve fleshed out those characters a little more. 

_Anonymous_'s picture
_Anonymous_ December 4, 2016 - 11:48am

When the villain is about to kill the protagonist but before he kills him he explains his whole master plan. Villains don't take the time to explain their master plan to the hero. They kill the hero and leave them. 

Alex Reiden's picture
Alex Reiden from Florida January 30, 2017 - 11:20am

Interesting, and I agree on most. So, I decided to run the gauntlet.

#1: Did this in a first draft early in my writing career, and since edited it out. Granted it was one character giving another a makeover and presenting the results, but still a flaw of the first-person perspective.

#2: Sometimes I try to give hints so the twist makes sense without really broadcasting it. Others I just spring upon my readers. My readers have repeatedly told me they almost never know where my stories are going next, so I think I'm safe here.

#3: Let's be real. In many mixed groups of people, you are undoubtedly going to find at least one that has been wronged by bad parents, and it helped them fall in with a less than scrupulous crowd and behave poorly. It happens in real life, so it can happen in good fiction. I have one; it doesn't define the work, and there are many other characters, good and bad, with different pasts.

#4: I don't have a problem with this. I make minor references to other works in my fiction, often through character dialogue. Say, a comic relief character that quotes Yoda when the group is "trying" to succeed at something. Characters can be nerds, too.

#5: I have one character that is potentially powerful due to her parentage and circumstances of her birth. Other characters try to manipulate her and tell her she is special for their own gains. One character, a seer of fate, refers to her as someone who can change destiny. In the plot, she moves things due to both her power and inexperience (mistakes), but not necessarily more than the other characters. Not sure how far this falls into the trope.

#6: I have never done this. Yay!

#7: I have a character that can access another world, and in one case the past, in timely dreams. It's a magic power rather than my attempt at imagery, though. So, not sure if that counts.

#8: Only in niche, early work, that has undergone severe edits since.

#9: Not sure here. My "mystical negro" is a main character that is part of a diverse team who have similar mystical abilities. He is perhaps the most wise of them, coming from a family of Egyptian mystics and moving on to a Harvard education. The leader of the team is a Harvard professor in the same field. So... maybe his family collectively qualifies more than him? But what do you expect when the oldest “mythology” in the world originated in a black-dominated civilization?

#10: I have KO'd some characters to end scenes on a cliffhanger, though they always require medical attention of some kind, even if it's a regenerative ability, which I admit can be a whole other cliché. Or they actually died from it.

So, how'd I do?

Anyway, onto my personal hated cliché: passing the Idiot Ball. Those infuriating times when otherwise sensible characters take turns making completely dumb decisions just to drive the plot or raise tension. I'm not talking about making a big mistake; that's fine and happens from time to time. I'm talking about those times where the act is so stupid and out of character, that it breaks immersion in the story – and often leads me to repeat in my head as I read/view on in other scenes, “if Woody had gone right to the police, this would never have happened.” Oh crap, did I just do #4 again? :P

CornSilk's picture
CornSilk March 23, 2017 - 8:12am

I hate the "perfect parent" cliche. You know the one. Usually it's a single mom who works herself to the bone to provide, yet still radiates calm livingness regardless of the situation. This happens in the Percy Jackson series, the mortal instruments... Parents are human too. Another thing is when this type of perfection is projected upon someone's poor dead parents. So overused

Anthony Payne's picture
Anthony Payne July 5, 2017 - 10:51am

As an RPG player, i get tired of seeing the world saved by preteens and high schoolers. What were the adults doing?

WolfWriter's picture
WolfWriter August 17, 2017 - 7:10pm
One of the most bothersome cliche's are when you're are in a school (most persistently high schools) and there is the group of popular girls and the popular group of boys, commonly the lead boy\girl and the two or three followers. The main role, being pegged as nerdy, has a crush on the other gender and is always turned down, or they get with them and kick them to the side as an outcome to being a player. In most situations, their best friend, also being the opposite gender, comes to their rescue and ends up being with them. Ugh​! ​​  
WolfWriter's picture
WolfWriter August 17, 2017 - 7:10pm
One of the most bothersome cliche's are when you're are in a school (most persistently high schools) and there is the group of popular girls and the popular group of boys, commonly the lead boy\girl and the two or three followers. The main role, being pegged as nerdy, has a crush on the other gender and is always turned down, or they get with them and kick them to the side as an outcome to being a player. In most situations, their best friend, also being the opposite gender, comes to their rescue and ends up being with them. Ugh​! ​​  
Kevin L. Schmadeka's picture
Kevin L. Schmadeka October 30, 2017 - 2:19am

Right alongside "chosen ones" would be "prophecies" and "objects of ultimate power."  Joss Whedon, I'm talking to you.

VILLAIN: There is...

HERO:  A prophecy?

VILLAIN:  Yes, a prophecy, that-

HERO:  The chosen one?

VILLAIN:  There's a little more to it than that, but essentially yes, the chosen one, will find -

HERO:  The object of ultimate power!

VILLAIN:  You begin to annoy me.

SOURCE: Every single Buffy episode ever written.