Rob Hart over at LitReactor has posted his list of the “Top 10 Storytelling Cliches Writers Need To Stop Using,” in a bid to stamp out lazy, repetitive, and simply bad narrative. And while most lists of this type invite aggressive contradiction, with countless examples of how the cited cliches can be refreshed and used well, Hart makes a pretty fair roundup of the absolutely indefensible, not least those borrowed from Hollywood and thrust back into print, where they stick out like eyesores.
It’s special fun to go through this list and compare it to celebrated works from successful authors – where the comparison sometimes reveals stuff about the Great Author that they’d rather be kept hidden. For instance, #2: “Broadcasting an upcoming plot twist.” Hart cites Dan Brown. “Why would you broadcast a plot twist? Especially in a book that’s classified as a thriller?! Dan Brown isn’t the only author to commit this crime. It’s just the first example to come to me.” Could it be, perhaps, that Dan Brown really just isn’t that great a thriller writer? God forbid, eh?
Ditto perhaps Thomas Harris. Harris offends serially (no pun intended) against Hart’s #3, “Blaming bad behavior on bad parenting,” in the backstory to Hannibal Lecter, the Tooth Fairy, Buffalo Bill, and just about every other major villain he’s created. Should he have changed his M.O.? As Hart says, “You know what’s scarier? Someone growing up in a normal household and still becoming a dick.”
Well, how about #4, “Too many inside jokes/references.” Bret Easton Ellis and American Psycho, possibly? And #9, “Native American characters with deep connections to the earth; Asian characters with strict ideas about honor; black characters who start off as intimidating but posses an incredible sage wisdom.” Stephen King, anyone?
And so on. For each of these, it’s not hard to find an author who’s made that trope their stock in trade, or allowed themselves to be trapped into pedaling the same tired tat as their public marketing persona takes over their writing career. And others have picked those same devices up and retreaded them time and time again.
So if you’re a writer hailed as the next Stephen King or the next Thomas Harris, perhaps you should go back over your work and look very carefully for any traces of unduly exalted ethnic minorities, or childhood abuse plotlines, or so on. After all, there are plenty of other cliches out there to build your career on – just look at Dan Brown – and you can fool all of the reading public for some of the time. But Rob Hart has made it, thankfully, that little bit harder.