10 of the Worst Cliches in Fiction Writing
If you like to read like Mr. Bemis, then you notice these, too.
I’m a reader because all good writers are readers. Mostly, however, I read because I love to read. I am in many ways like Henry Bemis in “Time Enough At Last”, adapted from a Lyne Venable short story which chronicles the sad life of a chronic reader. I’m so glad I have a Kindle Paperwhite, because if I had to buy all the books I read my house would be full of them.
The beef I have with modern fiction is that it tends to wax cliche more often than not. I hope I never use any of these horrible cliches I’m about to list. If you use them, dear writer, I pray you revise them right out of your narrative. I think when you read them you will agree that these cliches need to go.
Seer Statements – This is when one of the characters in the narrative makes one seemingly psychic statement about the protagonist that sums up their character in a single sentence. This denotes lazy writing. Real people are much more complex, and there should be much more to our characters than what one character can say about them. Now that I mention this, you may be thinking of many instances of this, but one clear example is Haymich from “The Hunger Games” who basically tells Katniss who she is and who she will become.
Killing the Moral Center – This cliche is becoming more and more popular especially in film. For example, we can see on such television shows as The Walking Dead, every time someone has it together or becomes the moral compass of the group, they are killed off royally. This, of course, causes the group to become more unified and eventually produces another person who is the moral compass who is then summarily killed. I’m guilty of this one. I did it in This Broken Earth, introducing a mentor character for my protagonist who I then allowed to be killed by rocket propelled grenade. Shame on me. I won’t do that again.
Bombarding Us With Background – I’m running into the problem with my newest WIP. I’ve written over 15,000 words of backstory and pre-history complete with cultures, religions, flora and fauna, and I have found that the hardest thing to do was write the first line of the first chapter. Where do I begin? Sometimes writers overload the landscape with all of the background information rather than let us live in the environment they have created. This is hard to do if you have made all of this background information. The important thing is to tell an engaging story, and if we throw a miasma of stuff at the reader, most of it won’t stick but will end up on the floor unused.
The Burn Out – The main character used to be some kind of expert or mercenary or something-or-other and now is just an ordinary joe. I find it much more interesting if the hero is completely ordinary but has to rise to extraordinary levels to help others or survive. The list is huge on this one: “First Blood”, “Rainbow Six”, “The Bourne Identity”. This is a trope that really needs to be re-thought or deconstructed.
Explaining Things – In “The Life of Pi”, we have a lot of explanation as to why people are named what they are named. You know, I’d like to be the one who figures that out as a reader. The name “Rooster Cogburn” comes to mind here. Charles Portis gave Rooster his name because (obviously) the character is kind of like a rooster and is kind of an old codger, which sounds like Cogburn. I like figuring that out. Don’t explain your metaphors or your clever bits. I like to figure that stuff out myself, thank you.
Let’s Write “Twilight” – I could make an argument that “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” are the same story. I could also make an argument that they are playing on the same tired tropes that made “Twilight” a success. Once something sells millions everyone tries to copy it, even if what is being copied is so much literary tripe. “Hunger Games” is actually a plagiarized story, copying at least the premise from “Battle Royale”, a 1999 novel by Japanese novelist Koushun Takami. What I would like to see (and love to read, by the way) are original stories that do not try to expand on “Twilight” or “Hunger Games”, but delve into the reality of life while taking me to some far away and strangely science fiction setting. I don’t need teenage melodrama, and I think people are growing tired of it.
Stalker Love – The girl doesn’t love someone in her life who loves her back, and then after he stalks her repeatedly, she finally sees that he loves her and falls head-over-heels for the weirdo. If this is your love life I am describing here, then you desperately need therapy. If you write stories like this, then please stop.
Rush to the Airport – Oh my goodness! If I don’t get to the airport on time, the love of my life will leave me forever and there is no possible way they will ever know how much I love them if I let them get on that plane…even though you could just catch a later flight.
The Romantic Comedy Paradigm – This one is a big seller, and my wife will kill me for dogging this, but…here goes: Guy and girl start out hating each other for some reason, guy and girl begin to fall for one another, they fall in love, then one of them does something to screw it up. Later, one of them realizes his/her mistake, and they meet at the airport or somewhere romantic (an airport?!) and live happily ever after.
Romance Is Mandatory – What ever happened to a male and female character hanging out and just being friends? Do they really have to have a love interest? Is this real life? I think that if the protagonist has to have a girlfriend/boyfriend, then that shows a bit of a weakness, doesn’t it? I love strong female characters. If the female character doesn’t fall in love is that such a loss? By the way, I love rhetorical questions. They get you thinking, don’t they?
If you have any more cliches that you’d like to see disappear in fiction, then comment below. I’d love to learn from you!