Every once in awhile, I’ll read a bad book. Usually it’s a book I’ve picked up from a garage sale or inherited from a friend (pro tip: find friends who don’t hoard books — they’ll learn to give theirs to you for free). Most, if not all, of these books contain plot cliches that make me want to quit reading.
Some popular books have plot tropes, too — no story is perfect. But I feel it’s part of my responsibility, as a person who is slightly obsessed with trying to write as close to a perfect book as possible, to try to steer you away from easily avoidable writing mistakes.
Here are some of my favorite — and the most annoying — plot cliches. Get rid of them. Run away from them. Don’t let them fool you into thinking they’re necessary. They aren’t.
The alarming opener
For some reason, it’s tempting to open every story with the main character waking up to the sound of their alarm clock. How this started and why it’s forever burned into our creative consciouses, I don’t know. But I know I’ve done it, and if I’ve done it, at least a dozen of you out there are also guilty. STOP IT. I know it’s the easiest way to launch exposition, but it’s been done too many times to still be considered effective. You can come up with a better opening line than BEEP BEEP BEEPBEEPBEEEEEEP.
The romanic collision
People don’t run into each other in passing that often. And realistically, no one is carrying around an armful of books or so many groceries that dropping what they’re carrying is that catastrophic. AND it’s not very likely the second half of the colliding duo is going to be kind enough to bend down to help the first pick up everything they’ve dropped. People don’t make eye contact kneeling on a sidewalk or school hallway and have an instant romantic connection. It’s lazy writing. I’m not going to hold my head up high and say I’ve never used this cliche, but if it’s in your story, get rid of it. Unless, of course, your whole story is a cliche-driven satire. Then go for it.
The dream sequence
Are dreams in real life ever significant? Rarely. So why do we depend so much on dreams to move our plots forward? In some stories, it makes some sense. But in most, it now comes off as a lazy way to fill in the gaps of a story, and we need to retire it as a literary device (if it ever was one). I know there are people out there as obsessed with dreams as many characters in stories appear to be, but there are much more effective ways to motivate a character to do something than sending them on a journey to discover what their dream means. Also, if the dream has little to no significance at all, you’re just filling space. Don’t do that.
What’s the worst combination of these cliches, you ask? Waking up from a confusing dream to the sound of an alarm clock, only to realize you’re going to be late — and of course, in your haste to get to wherever you’re supposed to be, you run straight into a person who just happens to be attractive to you for some reason.
(Can you think of any more? I’d love to read them!)
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.