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!
I agree with most of these, especially 7, 8 (we have a whole article on this topic), and 9.
But I do have a character in a story of mine who describes what her face looks like while looking in the mirror, but it’s because she’s been punched in the face and is inspecting the bruise. Thoughts?