We at the Ooligan crew love to hear, see, and read stories. In the course of devouring narratives, however, we have developed small pet peeves (and visceral rage reactions) to certain storytelling clichés. Everyone has a different trope that especially irritates him or her, but there are some patterns in the storylines that editors are sick of.
I started a conversation with current and former members of Ooligan Press to see what stories (or lines from stories) make them want to toss a book in the Goodwill pile . . . or a manuscript in the rejection pile. Writers who want to get published, take note.
Using deal-breaking opening lines.
“I’ll read anything as long as it doesn’t start on a dark and stormy night,” Meagan says.
“Interesting, Meagan,” Kellie says. “I like the dark and stormy night motif, as long as it doesn’t say that exactly. Though if I read ‘once upon a time’ one more time, I’ll go on a red-pen rampage.”
You don’t have long to engage a reader with your tale. Do not waste those first lines on salty old sentences that barely register in the mind. Even if you are writing within the realms of fantasy or mystery, a compelling quote or arresting action is a better place to start.
Ever have a secondary character appear in a book you are reading that is much more interesting than everyone else?
If they look like, as Vi says, “The underappreciated best friend who is inserted purely for comic relief; is either black, Hispanic, or ginger; and is ten times more interesting/likeable than the perfect main character,” you might want to reconsider your protagonist.
Mr. Mediocre saves the day!
Brandon says, “I’m not a big fan of the deadbeat/alcoholic/absent father who suddenly in an emergency/when aliens invade/zombie apocalypse is the one man who can save the world. But maybe that’s more of a movie thing.”
Whether it’s in a novel, a short story, or a script, if your character has what it takes to save the day, we would love to know why.
Oh thank goodness you’re here!
Angelina Jolie made a lot of people cry in the early 2000s portraying a passionate aid worker, but times have changed. Margaret, for one, is tired of the “white-savior” cliché, wherein a Caucasian makes his or her way into a different culture or community and saves the day/changes hearts/makes everyone get along happily-ever-after-the-end. Technology has made it so we can hear voices from pretty much every culture on the planet tell stories about their lives, adventures, and struggles. Even Jolie has retired from the white-savior spotlight.
Girl, you’re a special angel.
Melina and Alyssa have seen enough of the young adult plot in which an ordinary girl who feels out of place with the world discovers she is special and then saves said world, also featuring unnecessary romantic subplot with boy who teaches her that she is special.
Everyone wants to be special, but having your character accept herself (or himself) without any tricks is much more compelling.
If you are guilty of using any of these clichés in your own writing, never fear! The process of becoming a good writer involves a lot of exercise and toiling down paths well worn by other writers (and of course there are always exceptions to prove the rule). Keep reading to recognize which plotlines are currently worn out, and write the stories that you know, deep down, to be true.