Several years ago a group of established writers got together and created the Turkey City Lexicon, a list of various story tropes that should never be used ever again, or only by experienced writers. Below are some additions to that list that my husband and I have created from our own personal experiences as writers and editors.
I’m Not Crazy – def. beginning a first person narrative or a third person exposition with a character stating that they are not insane. This has been done to death and often times heralds a story filled with cliches and borrowed ideas. NEVER start off a story with your character telling the audience that they aren’t crazy. It is poor writing and tells an editor that you have no imagination. That you couldn’t come up with a better way of telling your audience that weird shit was going to happen. Stories with this as the first line get an automatic rejection with me. Experience has taught me that if this is how the story starts it’s not worth finishing.
OH! It’s True – def. when a character makes an outlandish claim, to which their only means of backing it up is to state that they are telling the truth. This one is sometimes uttered along with “I’m not crazy” and makes your story even more unreadable. Now, I don’t mean this in terms of somebody being interigated by the police and pleading that their testimony is true. I’m talking about the speeches that are usually reserved for scientists, cultists, people who have seen too much, and dumb teenagers who’ve just escaped something nasty in the woods. Try to use it sparingly. Example: This clip from Mystery Science Theater from the movie The Dead Talk Back. The specific line is at about 2:30 but the lead up in the laboratory will give you context.
I just killed a small child, let’s talk about fish – def. when a character says two things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. This particular quote I actually received in a submitted manuscript. And no, putting it in context with the story does not help because the characters in the scene did not return to the subject of fish or dead children. Changing the subject in mid sentence is just bad writing. It’s confusing and gives your readers mental whiplash. This is where proofreaders come in handy, preferably ones who aren’t your BFF. Remember junior high english class… or school house rock. Remember how a sentence has one subject and one predicate to back it up. Remember that for your writing.
Hey! My dad has lots of books. Maybe he can help. – def. characters make an assumption that somebody knows what is going on based on the fact that they have access to general knowledge. This is also known as Thankskilling logic (the movie). If your character has come across something that they don’t understand (aliens, angry monsters, cults/conspiracies, vengeful spirits, extradimentional shit, etc.) do not have them automatically assume that the bookstore owner, school professor or scientist down the road will have books or knowledge about it. Assuming a bookstore owner MUST have extensive information on the ghosts chasing you is like assuming I know how to pilot an alien spacecraft because I’m Will Smith. It is a Scooby Doo assumption and it is lazy writing.
This bit isn’t going away. I will have more in the future. Feel free to leave all comments below.