Top 10 Storytelling Cliches Writers Need To Stop Using
1. Characters describing themselves in mirrors
2. Broadcasting an upcoming plot twist
3. Blaming bad behavior on bad parenting
4. Too many inside jokes/references
5. The chosen one
6. Countdown clocks
7. Veiling your message in a dream
8. Using sex as wish fulfillment
9. Magical Negroes and Noble Savages
10. Knocking characters unconscious for plot convenience
Follow the link to find out why you shouldn’t use them.
This is a good list. Here are some ideas on what to do instead.
- Describe your character’s appearance by how they feel about it. People have complicated relationships with their appearance and even what they wear. Don’t let the chance to explore your character slip away by neglecting that!
- Don’t broadcast – foreshadow. People broadcast plot twists because they think it’ll keep the reader’s attention. Hinting at what’s to come instead, with in-story clues or even just a general sense of foreboding, is a great way to keep your readers hooked.
- Explore the parents, don’t blame them. Your bad guy’s parents are just as much characters as anyone else in the story, even if they’re not actually there. If the villain blames his parents, why? Are they just trying to throw blame off themselves?
- Make your jokes accessible. A little reference here and there isn’t going to hurt anybody, but the more readers that can understand it, the more they’ll be able to enjoy it. This runs the risk of explaining the joke, but it can be done!
- The wrongly chosen one. The chosen one trope is never going to go away. All the more reason to screw with it as much as possible. Maybe they’re not the chosen one after all, but the sidekick. Maybe they were wrongly chosen, intentionally or not. Mix it up!
- Use time to your best advantage. The last second countdown is a trope that only works in certain mediums, and even then, sparingly. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to
- Don’t discard the use of dreams, but do tread carefully. Probably one of my favorite uses of dreams was a very brief mention of them in a webvlog horror series. The characters had no idea how relevant the dream was, but the viewers did, and that’s what made it effective. Dreams can be used right, but you have to make it work!
- Use as much sex as you goddamn want, as long as it’s plot relevant. People like to write sex. People like to read sex! If your genre of choice is romance or erotic lit, there’s going to be a lot of sex. There’s gonna be sex in other genres too, because, hey, it happens. One difficulty with it is that too few writers use it to advance the plot, but sex can easily used to show something about the characters. If you are working on some sex scenes, consider the plot and character development that might come from it.
- Don’t be a goddamn asshole and treat all your characters as people. Sorry, I’m pretty tired of these goddamn tropes. They’re lazy and racist and yes, so-called ‘positive stereotypes’ are racist. Your characters are people. You’re a good enough writer to write them as people. Don’t let other lazy writing tell you otherwise.
- Find other ways to take your character out of the action. There are plenty of reasons to take a character out of the action for suspense and plot necessity, but often times it turns into Because The Plot Says So. If you have such a scene, look at it carefully. Outline out alternatives; they might even be better than the original plan. Like the original post says, a blow to the head is going to cause a medical emergency, not a quick blackout. Don’t fall into this shortcut, because it’s just more lazy writing!
Creating Proactive vs. Reactive Characters
“Readers tend to like characters who are struggling to achieve a goal. This simple principle can be invaluable in creating sympathetic protagonists.
- Characters working toward a goal are active characters.
- Characters who aren’t working toward a goal are reactive.
Reactive characters are much weaker than active characters, and we tend not to like them. Unfortunately, many writers end up unknowingly creating reactive protagonists.”
Would you kill him in his bed?
Thrust a dagger through his head?
I would not, could not, kill the King.
I could not do that evil thing.
I would not wed this girl, you see.
Now get her to a nunnery.
~ Green Eggs and Hamlet
123 Ideas for Character Flaws
- Absent-minded – Preoccupied to the extent of being unaware of one’s immediate surroundings. Abstracted, daydreaming, inattentive, oblivious, forgetful.
- Abusive – Characterized by improper infliction of physical or psychological maltreatment towards another.
- Addict – One who is addicted to a compulsive activity. Examples: gambling, drugs, sex.
- Aimless – Devoid of direction or purpose.
- Alcoholic – A person who drinks alcoholic substances habitually and to excess.
- Anxious – Full of mental distress or uneasiness because of fear of danger or misfortune; greatly worried; solicitous.
- Arrogant – Having or displaying a sense of overbearing self-worth or self-importance. Inclined to social exclusiveness and who rebuff the advances of people considered inferior. Snobbish.
- Audacious – Recklessly bold in defiance of convention, propriety, law, or the like; insolent; braze, disobedient.
- Bad Habit – A revolting personal habit. Examples: picks nose, spits tobacco, drools, bad body odour.
- Bigmouth – A loud-mouthed or gossipy person.
- Bigot – One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.
- Blunt – Characterized by directness in manner or speech; without subtlety or evasion. Frank, callous, insensitive, brusque.
- Bold – In a bad sense, too forward; taking undue liberties; over assuming or confident; lacking proper modesty or restraint; rude; impudent. Abrupt, brazen, cheeky, brassy, audacious.
- Callous – They are hardened to emotions, rarely showing any form of it in expression. Unfeeling. Cold.
- Childish – Marked by or indicating a lack of maturity; puerile.
- Complex – An exaggerated or obsessive concern or fear. (List specific complex.)
- Cruel – Mean to anyone or anything, without care or regard to consequences and feelings.
- Cursed – A person who has befallen a prayer for evil or misfortune, placed under a spell, or borne into an evil circumstance, and suffers for it. Damned.
- Dependent – Unable to exist, sustain oneself, or act appropriately or normally without the assistance or direction of another.
- Deranged – Mentally decayed. Insane. Crazy. Mad. Psychotic.
- Dishonest – Given to or using fraud, cheating; deceitful, deceptive, crooked, underhanded.
- Disloyal – Lacking loyalty. Unfaithful, perfidious, traitorous, treasonable
- Disorder – An ailment that affects the function of mind or body. (List the disorders name if they have one.) See the Mental Disorder List.
- Disturbed – Showing some or a few signs or symptoms of mental or emotional illness. Confused, disordered, neurotic, troubled.
- Dubious – Fraught with uncertainty or doubt. Undecided, doubtful, unsure.
- Dyslexic – Affected by dyslexia, a learning disorder marked by impairment of the ability to recognize and comprehend written words.
- Egotistical – Characteristic of those having an inflated idea of their own importance. Boastful, pompous.
- Envious – Showing extreme cupidity; painfully desirous of another’s advantages; covetous, jealous.
- Erratic – Deviating from the customary course in conduct or opinion; eccentric: erratic behaviour. Eccentric, bizarre, outlandish, strange.
- Fanatical – Fanatic outlook or behaviour especially as exhibited by excessive enthusiasm, unreasoning zeal, or wild and extravagant notions on some subject.
- Fickle – Erratic, changeable, unstable – especially with regard to affections or attachments; capricious.
- Fierce – Marked by extreme intensity of emotions or convictions; inclined to react violently; fervid.
- Finicky – Excessively particular or fastidious; difficult to please; fussy. Too much concerned with detail. Meticulous, fastidious, choosy, critical, picky, prissy, pernickety.
- Fixated – In psychoanalytic theory, a strong attachment to a person or thing, especially such an attachment formed in childhood or infancy and manifested in immature or neurotic behaviour that persists throughout life. Fetish, quirk, obsession, infatuation.
- Flirt -To make playfully romantic or sexual overtures; behaviour intended to arouse sexual interest. Minx. Tease.
- Gluttonous – Given to excess in consumption of especially food or drink. Voracious, ravenous, wolfish, piggish, insatiable.
- Gruff – Brusque or stern in manner or appearance. Crusty, rough, surly.
- Gullible – Will believe any information given, regardless of how valid or truthful it is, easily deceived or duped.
- Hard – A person who is difficult to deal with, manage, control, overcome, or understand. Hard emotions, hard hearted.
- Hedonistic – Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure, especially to the pleasures of the senses.
- Hoity-toity- Given to flights of fancy; capricious; frivolous. Prone to giddy behaviour, flighty.
- Humourless – The inability to find humour in things, and most certainly in themselves.
- Hypocritical – One who is always contradicting their own beliefs, actions or sayings. A person who professes beliefs and opinions for others that he does not hold. Being a hypocrite.
- Idealist – One whose conduct is influenced by ideals that often conflict with practical considerations. One who is unrealistic and impractical, guided more by ideals than by practical considerations.
- Idiotic – Marked by a lack of intelligence or care; foolish or careless.
- Ignorant – Lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact. Showing or arising from a lack of education or knowledge.
- Illiterate – Unable to read and write.
- Immature – Emotionally undeveloped; juvenile; childish.
- Impatient – Unable to wait patiently or tolerate delay; restless. Unable to endure irritation or opposition; intolerant.
- Impious – Lacking piety and reverence for a god/gods and their followers.
- Impish – Naughtily or annoyingly playful.
- Incompetent – Unable to execute tasks, no matter how the size or difficulty.
- Indecisive – Characterized by lack of decision and firmness, especially under pressure.
- Indifferent – The trait of lacking enthusiasm for or interest in things generally, remaining calm and seeming not to care; a casual lack of concern. Having or showing little or no interest in anything; languid; spiritless.
- Infamy – Having an extremely bad reputation, public reproach, or strong condemnation as the result of a shameful, criminal, or outrageous act that affects how others view them.
- Intolerant – Unwilling to tolerate difference of opinion and narrow-minded about cherished opinions.
- Judgemental – Inclined to make and form judgements, especially moral or personal ones, based on one’s own opinions or impressions towards others/practices/groups/religions based on appearance, reputation, occupation, etc.
- Klutz – Clumsy. Blunderer.
- Lazy – Resistant to work or exertion; disposed to idleness.
- Lewd – Inclined to, characterized by, or inciting to lust or lechery; lascivious. Obscene or indecent, as language or songs; salacious.
- Liar – Compulsively and purposefully tells false truths more often than not. A person who has lied or who lies repeatedly.
- Lustful – Driven by lust; preoccupied with or exhibiting lustful desires.
- Masochist – The deriving of sexual gratification, or the tendency to derive sexual gratification, from being physically or emotionally abused. A willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences.
- Meddlesome – Intrusive in a meddling or offensive manner, given to meddling; interfering.
- Meek – Evidencing little spirit or courage; overly submissive or compliant; humble in spirit or manner; suggesting retiring mildness or even cowed submissiveness.
- Megalomaniac – A psycho pathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence.
- Naïve – Lacking worldly experience and understanding, simple and guileless; showing or characterized by a lack of sophistication and critical judgement.
- Nervous – Easily agitated or distressed; high-strung or jumpy.
- Non-violent – Abstaining from the use of violence.
- Nosey – Given to prying into the affairs of others; snoopy. Offensively curious or inquisitive.
- Obsessive – An unhealthy and compulsive preoccupation with something or someone.
- Oppressor – A person of authority who subjects others to undue pressures, to keep down by severe and unjust use of force or authority.
- Overambitious – Having a strong excessive desire for success or achievement.
- Overconfident – Excessively confident; presumptuous.
- Overemotional – Excessively or abnormally emotional. Sensitive about themselves and others, more so than the average person.
- Overprotective – To protect too much; coddle.
- Overzealous – Marked by excessive enthusiasm for and intense devotion to a cause or idea.
- Pacifist – Opposition to war or violence as a means of resolving disputes. (Can double as a merit in certain cases)
- Paranoid – Exhibiting or characterized by extreme and irrational fear or distrust of others.
- Peevish – Expressing fretfulness and discontent, or unjustifiable dissatisfaction. Cantankerous, cross, ill-tempered, testy, captious, discontented, crotchety, cranky, ornery.
- Perfectionist – A propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards.
- Pessimist – A tendency to stress the negative or unfavourable or to take the gloomiest possible view.
- Pest – One that pesters or annoys, with or without realizing it. Nuisance. Annoying. Nag.
- Phobic – They have a severe form of fear when it comes to this one thing. Examples: Dark, Spiders, Cats
- Practical – Level-headed, efficient, and unspeculative. No-nonsense.
- Predictable – Easily seen through and assessable, where almost anyone can predict reactions and actions of said person by having met or known them even for a short time.
- Proud – Filled with or showing excessive self-esteem and will often shirk help from others for the sake of pride.
- Rebellious – Defying or resisting some established authority, government, or tradition; insubordinate; inclined to rebel.
- Reckless – Heedless. Headstrong. Foolhardy. Unthinking boldness, wild carelessness and disregard for consequences.
- Remorseless – Without remorse; merciless; pitiless; relentless.
- Rigorous – Rigidly accurate; allowing no deviation from a standard; demanding strict attention to rules and procedures.
- Sadist – The deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others. Deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from cruelty.
- Sadomasochist – Both sadist and masochist combined.
- Sarcastic – A subtle form of mockery in which an intended meaning is conveyed obliquely.
- Sceptic – One who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions.
- Seducer – To lead others astray, as from duty, rectitude, or the like; corrupt. To attempt to lead or draw someone away, as from principles, faith, or allegiance.
- Selfish – Concerned chiefly or only with oneself.
- Self-Martyr – One who purposely makes a great show of suffering in order to arouse sympathy from others, as a form of manipulation, and always for a selfish cause or reason.
- Self-righteous – Piously sure of one’s own righteousness; moralistic. Exhibiting pious self-assurance. Holier-than-thou, sanctimonious.
- Senile – Showing a decline or deterioration of physical strength or mental functioning, esp. short-term memory and alertness, as a result of old age or disease.
- Shallow – Lacking depth of intellect or knowledge; concerned only with what is obvious.
- Smart Ass – Thinks they know it all, and in some ways they may, but they can be greatly annoying and difficult to deal with at times, especially in arguments.
- Soft-hearted – Having softness or tenderness of heart that can lead them into trouble; susceptible of pity or other kindly affection. They cannot resist helping someone they see in trouble, suffering or in need, and often don’t think of the repercussions or situation before doing so.
- Solemn – Deeply earnest, serious, and sober.
- Spineless – Lacking courage. Cowardly, wimp, lily-livered, gutless.
- Spiteful – Showing malicious ill will and a desire to hurt; motivated by spite; vindictive person who will look for occasions for resentment. Vengeful.
- Spoiled – Treated with excessive indulgence and pampering from earliest childhood, and has no notion of hard work, self-care or money management; coddled, pampered. Having the character or disposition harmed by pampering or over-solicitous attention.
- Squeamish – Excessively fastidious and easily disgusted.
- Stubborn – Unreasonably, often perversely unyielding; bull-headed. Firmly resolved or determined; resolute.
- Superstitious – An irrational belief arising from ignorance or fear from an irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome.
- Tactless – Lacking or showing a lack of what is fitting and considerate in dealing with others.
- Temperamental – Moody, irritable, or sensitive. Excitable, volatile, emotional.
- Theatrical – Having a flair for over dramatizing situations, doing things in a ‘big way’ and love to be ‘centre stage’.
- Timid -Tends to be shy and/or quiet, shrinking away from offering opinions or from strangers and newcomers, fearing confrontations and violence.
- Tongue-tied – Speechless or confused in expression, as from shyness, embarrassment, or astonishment.
- Troublemaker – Someone who deliberately stirs up trouble, intentionally or unintentionally.
- Unlucky – Marked by or causing misfortune; ill-fated. Destined for misfortune; doomed.
- Unpredictable – Difficult to foretell or foresee, their actions are so chaotic it’s impossible to know what they are going to do next.
- Untrustworthy – Not worthy of trust or belief. Backstabber.
- Vain – Holding or characterized by an unduly high opinion of their physical appearance. Lovers of themselves. Conceited, egotistic, narcissistic.
- Weak-willed – Lacking willpower, strength of will to carry out one’s decisions, wishes, or plans. Easily swayed.
- Withdrawn – Not friendly or Sociable. Aloof.
- Zealous – A fanatic.
From The Character Therapist