Clichés! Tropes! Tired Sentences! Oh my!
Ok, so this might be another short post, but I’ve had a series of manuscripts lately (some very well-written by very skilled writers) that either have tedious and repetitious depictions of character actions/ feelings or have a spatter-pattern of useless phrases. I suppose that this could serve as a companion post to the “what not to write in your manuscript” blog post (yeah, I’m lazy and didn’t capitalize, sue me). And it would also go well with “the most common mistakes” blog post and a nice double-shot of cheap whiskey.
Even the best writers among us use tired phrasing, or awful clichés. Any first draft is sure to be chalk-full of them.
Let’s get this out of the way—the most useless phrase in the English language to use in a manuscript is this one: Needless to say…Why is it the most useless phrase? Because ten out of ten fucking times, the author goes on to then say the thing that was “needless” to say in the first place!
Oh! There’s also: There were no words to describe how he/she felt. What’s wrong with that, you may be wondering. Well, other than it being a cliché, nothing when it’s left at that, but all too often, I then see the author go on to fucking describe the shit that’s supposedly indescribable.
Don’t do that.
Suddenly.Sure, it has its place, but please avoid this if possible. Same goes for all of a sudden. Or all of the sudden. That just reads as if the author is uneducated. Now, in dialogue, fine, use them. Not in the general narrative.
If you’re telling a linear story, there is absolutely no need to ever start a sentence with the word then. You can use it inside your sentences, but don’t start one with it. Your readers should be able to grasp the order of events within your story. They don’t need to be told that anything happens next because a story is built on events that cause things, reactions that spawn more event, etc. And then. Ok, here’s my issue with this: pick one or the other. This reads unintelligently. By the way, I’m guilty of having done all of these (save there were no words), which is probably why I edit.
A lot of us lean on clichés a bit too often. I’ve found that in children’s books, or in MG, phrases like “stopped in his/her/their tracks” or It’ll knock your socks off”, are a bit more acceptable. I would still recommend all authors to avoid these, but there’s a certain level of acceptance with children’s books because children are still learning, and so the repetition can be somewhat helpful to the slower, dumber kids (sorry if that’s offensive).
It can be comforting for them to read familiar phrases. If you’re writing YA, romance, or anything else, don’t use clichés. If you aren’t sure whether the phrase you’re using is a cliché, feel free to use the internet to find out! There are so many sites devoted explicitly to terminologies to avoid
.I’ve said this before, but another wonderful thing to avoid in any genre, but especially horror/suspense is any phrase that resembles the following: Her gut told her something wasn’t right.
You’re giving the plot away. Ok? The reader knows something isn’t right, that’s why they’re reading a fiction novel—for the conflicts and the resolutions and the new conflicts that sprout from said resolutions. You don’t need to tell the reader that something is off. Show them something is off; The overcast sky split apart and droves of bats—blood dripping from their fangs—entered the atmosphere. A nearby tornado ripped the only home our hero had ever known from the earth. So, horrible sentence, but that’s an example of showing the reader that shit is going down.
You don’t need to allude to your character’s gut instincts, OK? Be creative. You’re a creative person, that’s why you’re writing.
While words can become trite and overdone, so can certain plotlines or character actions/behaviors. I am well aware that I did not include all of these in the title, but I decided it was tangent time.
If you’re writing a romance novel and your couple does any of the following, go back to fucking drawing board:
· Felt electricity the moment they met/touched/spoke/made eye contact. Or if they love each other right away without knowing each other (AKA; love at first sight, or insta-love).
· Have graphic sexual relations in a book that is not erotica. I have seen this too many times to count. It’s absolutely insane. If your book isn’t erotica, you can write soft sex scenes, but don’t talk about penetration. It’s not that hard (pun intended because I am that big of a loser).
· Have a third person influencing them (mostly referring to another love interest/ love triangle). Unless you can make the love triangle, cube, or octagon original, don’t go there. Rely on outside sources to strain the relationship.
· Characters have no personality but somehow the other person makes them “whole”. This makes me gag.
· Stare longingly into each other’s eyes, any sort of “gazing” (or alternatively shifting a gaze, which is a fixed thing and cannot be shifted), stargazing, carriage rides, flower deliveries, beach-walking, all the old-fashioned stuff. Write unique characters and have them engage in activities that match up with their personalities and that help advance the plot. The aforementioned things are so overdone they put the way Trump eats his steaks to shame.
· “Nice guy who stalks a friend he’s in love with and ends up with her by being a white-knight”. This can just die.
· Characters who are “just” special. No. Give me a reason why they are special. They’re interesting, which is why you’re writing about them and not someone else. Especially in a romance setting.
· “I’d never met a man/woman like him/her”. Oh bullshit.
· Soulmates or couples that are somehow predestined to be together. Ugh.
Most of my gripes are about romance or YA. I’ll list the common YA tropes now:
· Teenagers are always smarter than adults. Ok, well, whatever. But can’t you have one competent adult in your story? Just to set it off from the millions of others exactly like it?
· One girl/boy saves the whole world from some dystopian tyrant/regime. While this has worked well in a few books, there were so many copycats and horrible dystopian YA books inspired by this, it’s become a trope. Don’t do it. I love sci-fi dystopia. I wrote one. Please, write them, but make them unique. I worked with a client who wrote one that was brilliant; like a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and Children of Men. The tyrannical government was present (that’s almost a must, not even really a trope. It just must be), but the author did a wonderful job of not anointing one character as the savior of the entire human race. And it touched on some very important topics. Make your YA dystopian novel unique.
· Apocalyptic wasteland or maybe a maze without any backstory. This is ridiculous. I won’t name books, but there’s a huge best seller out there where it was clear the author gave absolutely no thought to the story questions behind his plot. And he milked that failure for even more money. Pissed me off severely. Backstory is necessary for the world-building and character development in such novels. If you leave it out, you’re going to either have a lot of pissed off readers, or apparently become a millionaire. So, I guess if you have no conscious, go for it!
· Harry Potter rip-offs. If you like to write fantasy; that’s awesome! Write your heart out but respect the world JK Rowling built and don’t mimic it, you asshole.
· Christ-like figures. I guess this would be the whole Neo-in-The Matrix-thing. Your character shouldn’t be “the one”, the savior, especially without reason. If you can effectively break this rule, more power to you, and I applaud you, but it’s rare that anyone can overcome the immense weight of this trope. Your readers’ eyes will roll as soon as they discover that this is your grand plot device. It’s just lazy. Unless there are additional, supporting elements and a rich backstory. Even then, tread with caution on this one.
Other shit I’m tired of seeing—villains who are evil for no reason. Villains who turn out to be the good guy for no reason. Characters who act like assholes, but we’re somehow supposed to like them. Weak main characters, lack of a well-thought-out plot, hand of god bullshit and cliffhangers when the author has either no intention to write a sequel or hasn’t started it yet.
I guess this turned into more of a “Super easy ways to piss off your editor/readers” post, but really, these things are all best avoided 95% of the time. I did, indeed pull that percentage out of my ass. I have worked on and helped develop some awesome stories that effectively broke some of these rules. I challenge you to do the same. All great writers can.