Since today is my birthday, and while I may do what I want on this blog anyway, I am going to continue the tradition of doing just that by spending the next thousand or so words talking about the things that I don’t like in fiction.
Now, while there are times where I am MORE than happy to embrace literary cliches (to be honest, happily ever afters are my jam), I do have to draw the line at some point. There are just some storylines that I will stumble upon in a story that will make me say something along the lines of, “Ugh, no,” and then I will put the book down and lament the nine or ten dollars I spent on it.
Obviously, I know it takes all kinds and all that, but as I say in every other aspect of my life, I am not willing to lower my standards for anyone, or in this case, anything.
But first, what’s a cliche?
Per the Google machine (via Dictionary.com), a cliche is a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.
And not only can they be words or phrases, like “chip off the old block” or “six feet under”, but they can also be plot lines in stories.
When it comes to me and books, the types of cliches that tend to turn me off are the ones that take agency and capability from otherwise capable female protagonists. I feel that there is a HUGE lack or well-written female characters out there in the universe, one that I am working very hard to remedy with my own work in the #WhoIsTalyaNightingale universe.
You know of any well-written female characters? Leave a comment and send your favorite titles my way.
What’s really interesting about cliches, especially in books, are that cliches were all things that, at one point, were all new and fresh and exciting. But unfortunately, the familiarity with cliches leads to the storylines becoming tired, because everyone has seen it before. Cliches are not new, they show a limitation of an author’s creativity, and a weakness within an otherwise strong storyline.
Hence why happily ever afters, which as I said are my jam, are also massive cliches. In a story, when readers can see that a happily ever after is clearly a foot, they may or may not want to bother reading all the way to the end. If there are no stakes, there’s no drama. But if you as a writer can stretch your imagination and present something that may come off as a cliche in a fresh new way, then you can overcome the somewhat stigma of someone opening your book and then stumbling upon a point that makes them say, “Ugh, no.”
You need to find balance.
So, click the Continue Reading button for my five least favorite cliches that popped into my head while I was writing this post, sprinkled with an idea or two about how to overcome them in your own story. But probably most of this is going to be semi-coherent ranting about things.
It’s my birthday and I do what I want.
1 The Damsel In Distress
I have a LOT of feelings about how women are portrayed in stories (I have a LOT of feelings about a lot of things, to be honest. Hopefully you’ve figured that out by now. If not because you’re new around here, then welcome) and my feelings tend to run along the lines of the disappointment spectrum.
There are so many times in so many stories and series’ that I have abandoned because a female character that I have been drawn to has suddenly, inexplicably lost her agency in favorite of the dominant make character in the story.
Don’t write that.
And that doesn’t even take into account the sorely lacking number of female-led stories in adventure or action-type novels (another thing I’m looking to remedy in the #WhoIsTalyaNightingale universe).
Female characters don’t always need to be rescued. Let your female protagonists work WITH the male protagonists. Treat them as partners, as equals.
Be like Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Daphne Blake from the Scooby Doo movies. (Or just be like a great many of the characters SMG has portrayed. Just do that).
Or give me someone like Winifred Burkle from Angel, who fought through every single step of her super tragic and untimely demise. Don’t just let your characters, especially the women, lie down and take it.
Or give me more badasses like Astronema from Power Rangers in Space. As cheesy and corny as Power Rangers is (obviously not talking about the movie-verse, at the moment, but I’ll get there), they have so many well-written female characters to take inspiration from. Sure Kim Hart from the MMPR season fainted at the sight of White Ranger Tommy, but let’s be real, that was a MOMENT. And it’s not like she can’t kick ass without his help (though, let’s not talk about the scene in the dinosaur graveyard in the MMPR movie).
As for Power Rangers, the movie verse, let’s talk about give-no-shits Trini Kwan, or Kim Hart, who was kind of a shitty person pre-movie and in her backstory, but understood and acknowledged what she did. And, as another reason why I loved that movie so much, the CUT her hooking up with Jason. Because no. As much as I may ship Kim and Tommy to the ends of the universe, I’d have Kim hook up with Trini before I rather have her hook up with Jason. That’s just how I roll.
And also, for the millionth time, write more characters like Jennifer Garner’s Sydney Bristow, or or Mary McDonnell’s Laura Roslin from Battlestar Galactica. Or Nicki Clyne’s Cally or even Athena or Boomer or Six (or any of Trifcia Helfer’s Season 4 variations), Starbuck (obviously), Kat (I guess), or even Racetrack (definitely need more characters like Racetrack. I will stand by that to the ends of the universe too).
There’s no reason why your female protagonists have to be weaker than the male characters. None at all.
2 Overused Miscommunication
It gets old.
It was old before it became a cliche.
Look, I’m all for roadblocks and eras where it’s difficult to get a message from one person to another (texting didn’t exist back in 1784, I get that), but it’s so tiresome to see the same types of miscommunication plots written over and over and over in stories.
Your character’s can’t possibly not be interested in understanding the entirety of the situation they’re in. Sure, you can give legitimate plot reasons why two characters can’t clear the air (major battle, they’re not in the same location and this is an era without cell phones, no cell service on an airplane, etc.), but if there’s a misunderstanding, a quality plot device does NOT include drawing out said miscommunication or understanding or whatever for 100 pages of text.
I remember when I was in the sixth grade, and my English class voted to read Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Since most of the novel wen way over the head of my eleven-year-old self, I barely remember actually reading the book, and I remember even less about understanding whatever the heck happened in the story, but—the inability for anyone to communicate drove. Me. Nuts.
And since this is my birthday, this is a post of things that bother ME.
So, miscommunication drives me nuts and should be used sparingly. There are better ways to draw up conflict between two characters (though, I will say that coming up next is NOT ONE OF THEM).
3 Love Triangles (Or Squares)
You didn’t think I was going to leave this off the list, did you?
Back in 2008, I was either home from college or it was before I left for my freshman year when my friends and I were at a bookstore. One friend turned and pointed to a shelf with all the YA bestsellers and told me those books in the middle would be right up my alley.
Yeah, we found the error of our ways when Breaking Dawn came out.
But I did read the first two books, and maybe some of the third?
I might remember pretty much all the things, but the specifics of what I did or did not read from the latter half of the Twilight series are honestly not things I’m really concerned about remembering. I know what happened thanks to the plot summary on Wikipedia, and that’s pretty much enough for me.
Don’t get me started on Jacob imprinting on the kid. Just don’t.
I may be here for certain ships that may have significant age gaps (in EXTREMELY SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES that I will not go into because I have stuff to do and agents to research for the #WhoIsTalyaNightingale novel), but I am NOT here for THAT.
I am also SO INCREDIBLY NOT HERE FOR THE LOVE TRIANGLE (and more importantly, the instance that the dead horse be kept in the storyline way past the point where it was dramatic and awesome. Which it really wasn’t at all, but alas).
I am Team IDGAF.
Actually, you know what I AM on a team. I am Team Edward James Olmos (because he is my captain), and because I have the t-shirt (somewhere in the depths of my closet). And I will probably never forget the day when one of my friends who was visiting me in college, and we both wore that shirt the same day and ran into a person I knew back then. It was hilarious.
But anyway, back to the point:
LOVE TRIANGLES ARE SUPER UNNECESSARY AND CLICHE AND NEED TO STOP HAPPENING.
You want to put your female protagonist between two men? Well, you do you, but can you NOT do what’s been done to death in the Twilight, Divergent, and Hunger Games ‘verses? I’m so tired of female protagonists being set up to think that she MUST pick between the only two moderately attractive men in whatever chosen universe this is.
Allow your female protagonist to sleep with multiple men throughout a book or series. It doesn’t have to be the be-all, end-all endgame. Let your female protagonist have multiple partners. It’s simple. She can sleep with however many men she wants. Or women. Or both.
As for Love Squares or Love Quadrangles of DOOM! (Aka: my life during the third and fourth seasons of Battlestar Galactica with all that stuff between Lee, Kara, Sam, and Dee), maybe just…don’t do what BSG did.
I don’t know. I just think that relationships in fiction can (and SHOULD) be conveyed so much better than they currently are.
Oh look, another thing I’m working on in the #WhoIsTalyaNightingale universe.
It’s almost like I decided to go into this writing thing for a REASON!
4 15,000 Words of Background
Unless your name is JRR Token, I don’t need sixteen pages about what the trees look like.
5 The Chosen One
We can’t all be Frodo Baggins.
You know what I really want to see when it comes to the Chosen One trope? I want to see someone who is groomed to be the chosen one, but AREN’T.
And they KNOW it.
Someone write that for me.
Just, take all the cliches out there and turn them on their head.
The Moral Of The Story
At this point t in the writing world, it’s all been written. If you’ve written something, the fundamentals of your storyline have probably been done somewhere before. And that’s okay. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
What do you do to stand out?
Do it better.
Put forth your work in a new, fresh, exciting way. Take what you’ve thought of and go outside the box. Do it so great that it can’t be ignored any longer, because better stories are out there and they do exist. And we need to keep adding to the count.
Wow, that was kind of cheesy and inspirational. I guess that’s what you get when I write a Writing Tips post while watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Captain Rogers just tends to bring that side out of me, I guess.
P.S. I definitely would not mind seeing a gender-bent Captain America and Winter Soldier. Or just more badass female assassins with cybernetics. Female assassins are my jam. I can only hope that the MCU stops screwing around with the Black Widow’s character, and PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY do not ruin Captain Marvel for us.
And also, I can only hope that Marvel takes into account the TERRIBLE job that DC is doing to market what could potentially be a solid Wonder Woman movie and…not do what they’re doing.
Bonus! Where Do You Start?
Because it’s my birthday, you should sign up for the twice-monthly #MondayMotivation newsletter by clicking that big red button below.
Volume Two is slated to come out on Monday, May 15, and the rest in the series will land in your inbox on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of each month. I’ll have some writing tips, some thoughts on inspirational quotes about writing from authors who have published writing credits (not me, YET!), and insights into the recently-release and upcoming writing prompts.
Check out Volume One HERE, and you can even sign up by clicking the button in the top-left corner of the webpage.
All signed up?
Then start writing.
Like what you read? Want to see more?
-Kathryn, the Fake Redhead