Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Things I'm Tired of Seeing

I recently returned from Seton Hill University (where I teach in their MFA Writing Popular Fiction program...  Go look it up), and the powers that be handed down a topic of conversation.

What are you tired of seeing in your genre?

It's actually a very complex question that deserves a great deal of examination.  No matter your genre, there are tropes, cliches, overused situations and rip-offs that drive writers and readers up a wall.  If you are writing, it is your responsibility to try to constantly improve, to elevate the genre, if you will.  So, taking a cue from Rob Hart in his blog-post, I thought I might share ten things that make me kitten-punching angry when I read them for the millionth time.

10.  Weak Female Characters - Women that "need" a man, women that are incapable of making decisions on their own, and women that exist for no other reason than to be a damsel in distress, lead me to ask one question of the writers who create them:  Where the hell do you people live?  I'm in Texas, and women here don't act like that!  Point me to the city of simpering gyno-Americans and let me open up a Kajukenbo school there!  Please!  Look, when you create a character, you want that character to be real, right?  You want people to resonate with them?  You want them to be loved?  Maybe?  The women I've always found attractive, or even mildly interesting, have never been the "oops-I-fell-down-please-help-me" type.  They've been the "oh-no-he-DIDN'T" type that has opinions,  strength, and enough intelligence to accomplish her goals.

9.  Sex for the Sake of Sex - Look, I'm not a prude.  Really.  But if your manuscript reads like the plot to every bad porno that's out there, you're doing something wrong.  Sure, it's fine to have your characters bonk like rabid weasels.  But in your book, there has to be a reason for it.  It should advance the plot.  It should define the character.  It should not be "Well, I haven't put a graphic description of someone's wang in for about fifty pages..."  Even in erotica, the sex should do something to advance the story or character.

8.  Magic Without Consequence - Magic, by definition, is the manipulation of energy to influence an outcome.  That's the truncated version, and I don't feel like typing the whole thing when I'm ranting, so go with me.  That energy has to come from somewhere, right?  I mean, Einstein said so, right?  So that means it has to come from either an outside source or the user's body.  If it's from the body, that energy has to be generated by the consumption of food, otherwise the body will wither and die, so that character is going to be hungry all the time.  If it's outside, where's it coming from?  The plants?  Okay, they'll wither and die.  Gods?  Better believe they'll want something in return.  And if you're directing the energy through the character's body, how much energy can that body handle without going into "HOLY-SHIT-I'M-ON-FIRE!!!" mode?  Think these things through, people.  Please.

7.  "The Chosen One" - If I had a nickel for every story I've read (both published and not-yet published) where some kid is revealed to be the SAVIOR OF THE WORLD! (cue music) who has been hidden in plain sight for fifteen or so years, I'd have a rather large sack of nickels.  Please, people, I know it's a time-honored storyline, but it's been beaten bloody lately.  Let is rest for, let's say, ten years?  Fifteen?  That might be nice.

6.  Monsters who Aren't Monsters Anymore - Quick as you can, think of the last time you've been really scared by a zombie?  Or a vampire?  Or a werewolf?  Sorry, but we (I'm in America, BTW) just can't seem to have monsters that are, you know actual monsters anymore.  We have to make them fluffy.  We have to make them brooding and sympathetic.  We have to take away what made them scary in the first place and make them emo-kids or whining little snots that deserve our contempt and not the legions of lovesick sparkle-pants that flock to see their movies.  How 'bout this:  What about a monster that is (gasp) evil?  That is scary?  Would that be so bad?

5.  Chisel-Chest - You know damned well who I'm talking about.  The perfect hero.  The guy.  Former special ops, long flowing hair, damaged with a good heart, strong jaw and a body made of rock-hard granite just waiting for a squishy female (see number 10) to come and drill through to his ooey-gooey center of love and creamy nugat.  BLECH.  How about a real person?  Real people are overweight, out of shape, have bad hair and skin, and are constantly being told they're not good enough by mainstream media.  Why contribute to that problem?

4.  Poor Research - Guys and Gals, if you rely on what you see in movies and/television to tell you how things work, news flash:  You're wrong.  Your writing will show it, and people will point and laugh.  Your book will become the butt of every literary joke in the world.  For example, in an enclosed apartment, a man fires a gun three times, then whispers to his partner "you go around back..."  Guess what?  If he whispers, his partner will never hear him because guns are really freaking loud.  Espeically in an enclosed space.  Wanna know about a particular religion so you don't sound like a bigoted schmuck (or ignorant)?  Read a book.  Do some research.  Talk to people who know the subject.

3.  Ultra-Boob - Related to Chisel-Chest, Ultra-Boob is the female version.  Spunky, gorgeous, vivacious, always described as under 5'5," under 110 lbs, and able to beat the snot out of a mountain troll with nothing but high-heels and attitude.  Really?  Your (insert angry stereotype minority heritage that writers are constantly trying to prove how cool they are by perpetuating it) blood makes you more than a match for something twice your height and six times your weight?  Yeah, right.  Sorry, but it reminds me of one of those annoying yip-dogs that people all hate, but no one kicks because it wouldn't be worth the effort.  Yes, we all know she's a joke, and that one good backhand by an ogre would send her crumpling (possibly with internal hemmoraging and/or a mild case of death), but no one does it because... well, why?  What would be the point?  Writers, this person is annoying in real life and doesn't come across as a "strong female character."  She comes across as a bitch.

2.  M-Night-Shayammalammadingdong Endings - The twist.  Lead the reader through the whole book, and then, in the last ten pages, (gasp) he was the bad guy all along!  Or (gasp) it was all a dream! Or (gasp) insert-your-annoying-plot-twist-of-choice!  It's lazy.  It's lying to the reader.  It betrays the reader's trust and you need to form that trust relationship with the reader so he or she will continue on your journey of insanity.

1.  Vampires (and, to a lesser extent, Zombies) - Seriously.  Stop it.

Bonus:  The Mash-Up - We've all played the drunken game of "What book would be made better with zombies/vampires/leprechauns/smurfs," and for a while it was amusing.  Now it's old and played out and, really, did we need a version of "Moby Dick" in which the whale was white because it was an undead zombie whale?

So that's my list.  Feel free to share yours in the comments.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Super interesting!
    But, in your list, you listed just about every book I've read in the last year (probably 100+ books) Haha
    So... What do you like in books?
    However, I agree with several of them: 10, 9, 4, and 3!!!
    I'm one of thise that totally digs to read 7, 6, 5, and 1.
    2 I like very sparingly.
    And 8 I had never thought of, but definietly will in my current WIP and future stories!

    Also, I cant stand love triangles and they are everywhere!
    And, i don't know if youve heard of the New adult genre that up and coming right now, but i hate that it has to be basically YA but with erotic scenes! Why cant we have a 18-20something Main character, and have a new adult setting, without all the sex! (this kinda goes with your #9...)

  2. I'm not over vampires and zombies; I'm over the same-old, same-old vampires and zombies. Give me a fresh look at a good, old-fashioned monster, and I'm on board.

    The chosen one syndrome is getting pretty annoying, for the same reason you mention in #5. I'm NOT the chosen one. I'd like to see stories where there is no chosen one at all, or there's a chosen one who isn't actually up to the task, and then someone normal (someone I can relate to) steps up to win the day.

  3. I think you covered this with the boobs and number 1, but would it kill authors to have an intelligent female lead? "I kick butt and have lots of glorious sex with my werewolf boyfriend(s)." Oh, by the way, I also dropped out of high school to pursue a career in every-style-of-kick-buttery-known-to-man-aka-having-my-werewolf-bf-teach-me-and-always-having-those-sessions-devolve-into-sex. Blech.

  4. great list but I confess I love the ending of Sixth Sense

  5. As Irene said - there's some water (or blood, if you prefer) left in the zombie and vampire well...but brother, the same old junk is getting mighty tired. We're not afraid of the damn things any more as they are - fast, slow, smart, dumb. We have reached Peak Undead; let the dead rest for a while and come back to them with fresh eyes.

    Now, what I find really annoying is the Next Big Thing in monsters - Frankenstein's creations. We've got some cool stuff on the horizon - the upcoming Frankenstein Unbound film, Frankenstein's Army...but after that? Oy vey.

    So let me ask you, Scott - what do you think is an area of horror that ought to be explored, now and next?

    1. Honestly? I think horror needs to come from other cultures. I think we're relying on too many of the same monsters, and there are other cultures out there rich for mining. I think I'd like to see a hero to whom we can relate. Maybe someone who is a little overweight and has, y'know, bills to pay. I want to see characters that make decisions that are not based on convenient plot devices. In short, I'd like to see horror that assumes I'm intelligent instead of books that assume I'll swallow anything that comes my way.

  6. So Awesome I'll be tweeting this for the next six months!

  7. I admit - I have a #7. BUT it gets mentioned once by creatures that see the future, tell the guy they're working for, he says, "Does this have anything to do with me?" and they say, "We have no idea." It doesn't, and it won't come up again until a few books later - after she dies. So it's more like a little teaser for a future story than anything.

    I'm all for #6. That's why I like my bad guys so much, hahaha. A psychiatrist could ask my favorite one, "So you watched your mother murdered - is that why you do what you do?" And the answer would be, "No. I thought that was funny as hell." Then he would promptly eat her. ...Probably also why I love the Joker so much... :D

    My gripe is "She's the One." The one chick that EVERYBODY wants to hook up with because she's so pretty and perfect and Ultra-Boob. Like Sookie Stackhouse - every supernatural creature and it's grandfather wanted to hook up with her. That's why stories with love triangles turn me off these days. There's just too much of it out there.