Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Plot Cliches

So all writers know cliches are bad, right?  I mean, we all know not to start out stories with "once upon a time" and we know to avoid phrases like "disappeared into thin air," "wearing his heart on his sleeve," etc.  Sometimes I find myself using one, but I usually catch it and change it to something more unique.

However, it took me awhile to learn about the dreaded, subtle foe of a writer:  Plot Cliches.

To show what I mean, I'll be using a list from the new book by Jill Williamson and Stephanie Morill "Go Teen Writers."  It's an excellent book for anyone, not just teenagers.

  • The Love Triangle (I have started a war against Love Triangles.  I REFUSE to put a love triangle in any novel I write.  You can get enough angst out of just two characters, why add a third?  Love Triangles are one of my biggest writing peeves ever!  Especially in adventure novels!  *cough cough Suzanne Collins*)
  • The line, "Don't you die on me!"
  • A story about the chosen one.
  • A prophecy being fulfilled.
  • Prologues with an abandoned baby.
  • Portals to another world. (Hmm...define 'portal.')
  • The sequel where the couple has split up and must be reunited.  (I can't stand these too!  I mean, I'm no expert, but I did not have Hail and Ember split up in 'Hail Frost' and I still managed to get plenty of drama out of their relationship.  Sloppy conflict, that's what it is.  Can you tell I just adore romance? *eye roll*)
  • The magical item of great importance.  (I've done this...)
  • Prologue that happens many years before your story begins.
  • The best friend falls in love with the main character.  
  • The fake death.  We saw him die, but... he's alive!  (ANOTHER peeve of mine.  I like Bryan Davis, but he does this ALL THE TIME!  I have vowed to never ever ever bring a character back from the dead, or try to explain away a death because of his books.  I feel kinda bad about it though.  I keep getting asked by all these little eleven year olds (plus my Grandma!  o_O) if I plan on bring Coal back. I give them all the same answer.  Nope.)
  • A character goes to a magic school of some kind.  (Harry Potter wannabes!)
  • The minority sidekick OR comic relief sidekick. 
  • The evil other woman, ex-wife, parent, etc.  
  • A retired guy called back into service because he is the ONLY ONE who can get the job done.  
  • The bad guy who is really the main character's parent.
  • The minor character that's planning to retire.  You know he is going to die...and he does!
  • Big guys are dumb and oafish.  (I've done this one too...)
  • Just before the big battle someone says, "Are you ready?" And the hero says, "I was born ready."
  • The evil dark lord of whatever.  (Ha.  Ha.  HA!)
  • Main character is tutored by the old man.  (Proud to say I've never broken this one!  )
  • The rakish hero who falls for the virginal heroine.  He's a heart-breaker, but now he's met the one woman who can tame his wild heart.  Yeah.  Sure.
  • The bad guy could have killed the good guy but he monologues instead, giving the hero time to get away.  (In my defense, though Sicreet enjoyed monologuing, the hero never got away or escaped or whatever because of it.  All I did was terribly obvious cases of exposition to get information to the hero because I was too lazy to think of a more creative scene.  No big deal.)
  • The couple that hates each other at the beginning but end up together by the end of the novel.  (C'mon, Ember only hated Hail before she knew who he was!)
  • The plain girl who gets a makeover and all of a sudden she's gorgeous and all the guy's love her.  (Barf.)
  • The dying man's line, "Tell my wife and kids I love them!" 
  • The orphan who turns out to be someone really important.  (Well....)
  • Super important places always have REALLY simple names with a capitalization because the author thinks that makes it suddenly cool and epic.  Stuff like The Curse, The Cathedral, The Mountain, The Weight, The Realms....
  • The super fiery, headstrong heroine who falls in love by the end of the novel.  And this suddenly cures her need for control and freedom. 
And there you have it!  I'm sorry if you are feeling depressed right now.  Trust me, I know.  But it's always good to look over your plot to see if there are ANY ways you can fix these problems.  Usually, its better to spot them in your outline before you write it down.  But it's still possible to fix during the editing process.  And I'm not saying you should go and completely change your novel.  After all, these cliches are cliche for a reason.  They obviously work.  You could simply try to add a unique twist to the cliches.  Don't have your hero get into chase in a car followed by police cars.  Have him get chased on foot by a park Ranger on a horse.

Whatever you do, creativity is what fuels a novel.  If readers can spot too many of these cliches, they will know you aren't being creative.  That's lazy writing.  Subconsciously, they'll think, "Well, if the author was too lazy to care about the story, why should I?"

Maybe I'm too paranoid about this.  This has just (lol) been a hard pill to swallow for me.

Now if you excuse me, I'm going to edit out the manaical cackles Sicreet was so fond of in Ember Flame.  Maybe that'll help.  WHy don't I go ahead and give him a pink tux too?  I've never read about a villain with a pink tuxedo!  XD


  1. I believe you can use a good plot cliche here and there, so long as you do it with your own unique style. Hmmm, I sort of disagree with some of the items on this list, I wouldn't classify them all in the "cliche" department. Some of them are more of a "trope" or an "archetype" and these, used well (and sparingly) can actually make your audience love you even more. (ESPECIALLY if you write in the fantasy/sci-fi genre... we fantasy/sci-fi geeks love a good trope)

    For example: The Minstrel's Song is BUILT on the "prophecy about to be fulfilled" trope. There's a twist on it later in the series... when you find out it wasn't really a prophecy... but, shhhh, don't tell anyone!

    All that to say, despair not! Some people get depressed when they hear there are only 7 plots in the realm of storydom... others can be encouraged by it... because look at the sheer number of books out there... we obviously don't mind reading the same plots over and over again... like you said, it's the creativity woven around and through those storylines that make us pick up new books.

    1. IT'S NOT A PROPHECY?!?!?!?!? WHAT??? WHEN??? WHERE??? HOW??? WHO???

      oops, I promised to be quiet. I'll be quiet. This is me, being quiet.

      Seriously though. That's pretty awesome. I sure wish I knew what you were talking about (hint)... ;)

      I never really saw your use of the 'prophecy' as a cliche. You did it well, and the prophecy was not the reason Brant became who he became. I got the feeling that Brant simply wanted to be like his older brother. There are so many 'prophecy' books that completely fail because the whole reason the hero does anything is to try and fulfill (or not fulfill) the prophecy. I thought 'Dawn of the Dragon's Eye' and 'King's Warrior' were unique because it was Ky who pushed Brant out, not the other way around. I think that's what made it work for you.

      But this whole conversation is moot because, apparently, it is not a prophecy! What is it? Pleeeease tell me? Does it have something to do with Kiernan? With their dad? Is there a time machine? Pleeeeease tell me...or let me read the book....or something. HINT HINT HINT HINT! :P

  2. Hahahaha! I love your cliche list! I can think of countless movies, TV shows, and books that exemplify this list. It's sad how many people are just too lazy or uncreative to come up with original story lines and dialogue anymore.

    I especially hate the cliche when the main character does something they shouldn't have done, and then their superior sees it. He starts off frowning and angry, "I cannot tell you how much I absolutely, positively, definitely etc.. (insert sudden smile) ...LOVE this!!!!"

    And I REALLY hate the cliche questions often on the backs of books (especially in the Christian fiction section), "Will he embrace his destiny before it is too late??!!!" Why, no he won't! He's just going to sit there for the entire story! "Will she be able to see her need for Christ??!!" Of course not! She's going to stay a non-believer and you will have wasted your time reading it! "Can she move on and embrace the healing power of forgiveness??!!" Never! She's going to be a bitter, crotchety old maid by the end of the story! Seriously, I want to puke after reading some of them, and the obvious 'yes or no' questions reveal the entire story.

    Finding good stuff to watch or read is hard work, but finally finding that gem amongst the rubbish makes it TOTALLY worth it.

    1. Haha, I laughed at your rant about the questions on the back of books! XD Those often give me reason to smirk as well. I prefer questions that you can't answer with a yes or no. For instance, if done well, this could possibly work, "Will she be willing to give up her life, her destiny, for her family?" That's a bit more inconclusive because you aren't sure what the theme of the novel will be arguing for. If the theme is "Destiny is more important than family." Then the answer would be no. If the theme is, "Family is more important than destiny because they ARE your destiny" (which is one of the themes in 'Ember Flame') then the answer would be yes. I like these better because they give the feeling that the author wrote the story with a point/theme in mind, so the author obviously cares about the book. This helps assure me that the book is worth a look. Because if the author does not care, why should I, the reader, waste my time?

      As to the "this is absolutely....BRILLIANT" cliche you brought up, I totally agree with you. It rarely ever works. One of the only times I've EVER seen it work was in The Hobbit at the very end. I honestly thought the mentor was angry, and it made sense for him to be, and I started bawling like a baby when he wasn't because it was just so sweet.

      *sigh* I'm rambling. You brought up some really good points, and again, your tirade made me chuckle. Totally agree! XD

    2. I definitely agree with your point about questions. If the answer is completely obvious, then it's a waste of time, but if it could go either way, it becomes thought provoking and intriguing.

      Ramble all you want, I enjoy reading your thoughts! (: