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Questions For All: Cliched Plotlines

     There are positives and negatives to this topic.  After all, chiched plotlines are what both drive us to read our favorite topics and what could potentially deter us from picking up a new author or delving into a new genre.  So here are two questions for all:

    What is your favorite cliched plotline?  What is your most despised cliched plotline?  (There is a reason why I don't say 'least favorite' here because that would still imply that you still like it.  I say 'most despised' because I want to know what cliched plotline, upon encountering it, makes you throw the book across the room or immediately turn the channel on the TV with such disgust that you then want to wash your brain out with Clorox bleach.)

      My favorite is the psychotic character.  I know that's not a plotline, but I don't really care how the psycho got into the story as long as he'she is there.  It's also a little more particular than just the general "babbling nonsense" kind of psycho character who wanders aimlessly and who the main character encounters for a brief moment, interprets his/her words or tries to, and then moves on.  This type of psychotic character has to have more of a stronghold on the story.  (From here on I'm going to say "they" and such because I get annoyed typing he/she all the time...I know it's "grammatically incorrect", but...well...deal.)  THEY (mwahahah) can be the main character (preferred, but not common) or a supporting/secondary character.  They can have a tragic backstory that has led to their going/being crazy in the story (preferred), or they can just have been born that way (much less common, and far more difficult to write).  All I'm looking for is that the character is clinically crazy.  If they have a definable disorder that I can recognize...awesome.  If they are a sociopath...fantastic.  Auditory and visual hallucinations?  Even better.  They just need to be there in their craziness.  If their psychosis is part of the story I am in my glory reading/watching the tale (see Batman, Dexter, American Psycho, Natural Born Killers to name some well knowns).  If it's a side factor, great.  I'm still game.  Many of my friends have often recommended books to me solely using the phrase "The main character is crazy" or something similar and I've snatched it up.   

    For those of you that have read further into the Assaudian War series, or who have read my fantasy novel Kraysh, my favorite cliche may sound a little familiar.  For those of you that haven't and enjoy this sort of plotline, these two series are just for you.  They are massively different, of course.  The Assaudian War is written from Caroline's perspective, the young abused noble with corrupted magic.  She struggles with this magic to keep it from infecting her mind and, she believes, turning her into Zurigan the Animal Assaud.  Kraysh, however, was a novel I wrote in response to Lord of the Rings.  I'd wondered to myself, "What would it be like for me to write a novel from the evil character's point of view?  But not an evil character that had any trauma, or abuse, or anything like that to have made it evil.  Just a character who is evil for evil's sake, and a character who can't be redeemed or turned good."  Thus was born the psychotic and inheritantly evil creature Kraysh, and a world that I had the most fun creating so far.

     Now, the psychotic crazy that I enjoy writing is not one of nonsense.  It's resembles nothing of Alice in Wonderland or even Richard Adams' Watership Down (Fiver) and The Plague Dogs (Snitter) though those are two of my favorites concerning the crazy secondary character types.  My psychotic characters, or as I often put it, my characters that are "a bit off", are coherent (most of the time) and rational (often too much).  The basis of my "a bit off-ness" comes wrapped in studies of dissociative disorders (related to multiple personality disorder though none of my characters suffers directly from that), sociopathy, schizophrenia, migraines (not in any way related to psychosis although it can feel like you are losing your mind or suffering a stroke while experiencing one...and Caroline does begin to suffer these because of her tainted magic in The Vein to Gainsay), anti-social disorders, addiction, and sado-masochistic relationships. 

      The most damaged characters make for the most interesting characters, especially if they are trying to hide it.  They may not ALL be crazy, but many come damn near close.  Caroline is "a bit off" from the start and progresses in very interesting ways because of the tainted magic that she can't get rid of.  Kraysh would never admit that she's a sociopath because she can't be anything else.  The rest of them, well, they speak for themselves. 


  Onto the second question: my most despised cliched plotline.  Easy.  Rescue the wimpy ass secondary female character.  Seriously?  Are we still doing this?  Come on people!  It's 2011 and you still can't think of a better plotline?  Wow.  The new twists nowadays are that she starts out as a strong character like a modern day woman, but she still needs to be rescued.  Even if she started out strong, the fact that she has to be rescued in the end makes her a lame character to me because of this cliche.  I can't help my prejudice.  They even put this cliche on top of other plotlines just to have it there.  I don't understand why this plotline is predominant among the male hero stories.  I just don't get it.  Maybe it's a guy thing.

     Ok.  So I gave my favorite and most despised.  Now I want to hear yours.     

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Reader Comments (5)

Whoever came up with the idea that every story has already been written may have been right. I guess my favorite cliched plot line would have to be high fantasy: protagonist starts off as a weak. incapable, and an ignorant fool but manages to save the world/land/people from the evil dark lord!
Seriously how many bad guys do you know that call themselves that in real life? Win!
My most despised cliched plot line isn't as specific it's more of a general loathing of cliched plot lines that are poorly written. I can read a million boy meets girl stories, but only if they are well written and focus on deep characters more than the cliched plot!

Glad I found your blog, thanks for the twitter follow.
Keisha Perry - www.judgeabook.org

July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKeisha Perry

My favorite is known on tvtropes as "Adrenaline Makeover" - the shy bumbler gets drawn into an adventure, eventually coming out of her shell, casting off her shyness, and comes into her own. The movie Romancing the Stone is a good example.

I like happy endings, or at least satisfying endings, but I do hate meaningless suffering. Robin Hobb's "Assassin" trilogy is just three books worth of suffering every horrible thing imaginable, ending with the next thing short of suicide. Katherine Kurtz in the "Camber of Culdi" trilogy killed my favorite character in an utterly arbitrary and meaningless death. By contrast, Arnold Schwarzenegger in End of Days has a satisfying and meaningful death scene.

And I loathe any sort of "Robot Wants to Become Human" stories. Possibly it's just overexposure, like hating "Stairway to Heaven" after hearing it a thousand times. Perhaps it's just me being cynical, but I don't belief that "human" is a state to aspire to.

July 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterScott Micheel

Much agreed with you on the best of plot lines though I'm going add to that seeing the bad guy win is awesome too. I love it when there is no redemption and the bad guys walk away. I think it’s just the chaos in those kinds of films that makes me love them. Even better is when you watch the good guy go bad, now I’m just starting to day dream. I think I just dig the characters that are not so simple as good or bad yeah know.

Plot lines I hate… there are way too many to list off. Ok not entirely true, but still there are so many bad ones out there. I think right now the one that kills me the most is strong female lead must be seduced by even stronger or mysterious male. UGH, enough, just cause she’s strong and willful does not mean the man that gets her has to be more so. Make them equal and it works just fine and it doesn’t have to be this constant power struggle between him and her. I mean if the man where the weaker that would just be awkward wouldn't it? I blame the books I’m reading for this particular growl at the moment. You’d think I learned not to read popcorn paranormal writers, alas I love my vampire stories and strong female leads. Watch yeah going to do, oh wait I know read better shit.

July 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterS

Great question.

I like Lord of the Rings. I don't like when other writers tell that story again. When a fantasy novel just swaps the ring with a sword, and the eye with some other great evil, I lose interest quickly.

My favourite plotline is probably the badass goodguy who is hesitant to act, but then finally does act and chaos and action ensue.

So J, when you write bad guys that are just bad and unredeemable, how do you make the reader care enough to read about them?

(Scott, I completely agree about The Farseer Trilogy. I enjoyed it, but man, I was depressed afterwards!)

-Jeremy K. Hardin

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy K. Hardin

So here are some responses to all of your comments:

I am in total agreement with Keisha regarding the deep characters. It's one of the things that makes me weep when they adapt good books into movies: all the character depth is removed first. Action always gets precedence. Bah! I would gladly swap an unnecessary action sequence for character detail that I can connect to so I will actually give a damn about what happens.

Scott, I never thought about being human as something to not aspire to become. Growing up on Pinocchio I had always thought of it as more wanting to be substantial, as though being a robot or toy somehow made one less significant so by becoming human one would be more important and validated in the world. A robot or toy could certainly aspire to greater things. They are, after all, technically immortal. Why waste it on becoming vulnerable to age, ailments, and human faults? Why not use the gifts that human technology has granted and become something completely different? It reminds me of those stories where a character is transported to another world where they gain powers and become the hero by saving everyone. Then, rather than stay and rule or continue to be worship as a savior, they return to their boring hum drum life on Earth. WTF?! I always shrugged it off as bad writing and came up with my own ending instead.

I also agree with the meaningless suffering. One can write all sorts of horrible events and suffering into a story (I am notorious for torturing my characters endlessly), but it has to have a purpose. You can't just kill a little kid's pet to make the reader cry. That's just mean and unforgivable. If you do that I will never read your stories. It's the same thing as writing a flying ship into a historical novel about George Washington. It would just be bad. (As for "End of Days"...I walked out of that movie. Sorry. I couldn't do it. I've only ever walked out of one other movie in my life because I hate losing money. It was "300".)

Shannon, there are far too few stories out there where the bad guy walks away. More common nowadays are the "grey" characters which are nice, but not quite as satisfying. They're like having a Garden of Eden without the melon liquer. Almost there, but missing something. Dexter is currently one of my favorites. Definitely a grey guy for those who support the death penalty. For those who don't he'd be a bad guy.

I think, too, that they should make more stories with the strong female lead and the weak supporting male romantic interest. I know it goes against the cAore of human instinct (I'm not talking strictly physical strength here either...it could be intellectual, political, social, creative, etc.) as females typically look for strength in their mates, but I would like to see believable stories pulled off with a strong female lead and a weaker male romantic interest who is NOT a geek/loser cliche. Any takers? I would, but I would end up doing horrible things to him. Actually...that might not be a bad idea...Hmmmm.....

Jeremy, I can't agree with you more about people rewriting "Lord of the Rings". I think, though, my hesitation with alot of fantasy might go even deeper as I tend to steer away from most that use any combination of Tolkien-esque creatures, especially elves that too closely resemble his. It just irks me too much and screams "plagiarism"!

In writing "Kraysh", the evil character actually drew upon the darker sides of human nature. I was looking to tap into the crueler aspects of humanity, those things about us that we call evil when they manifest in others too greatly, things we know we have, but deny. An example is when people "enjoy" others' suffering, like staring at a car wreck, or hearing about someone you despise's (ie-a celebrity)demise. These aspects of the character were intended to make people think about themselves a little differently, and make them a little uncomfortable, but the character is not 100% evil. Closer to 90%. She has a companion of sorts who constantly tries to gain her affection. Kraysh is a new type of creature, and her companion is a domesticated version. Though she treats him poorly (to say the least...often she manipulates him into being bait), she is still attached to him in obscure ways. In other ways she connects to human beings who she feels a driving need to destroy, though she is trying to understand why. So there are connections to characters, and she does become dependent on others when she is crippled in an attack (which amps up her appeal because it causes her to have to lessen her evil nature and become humble for a while), but her overall nature does not change. She remains deceitful, selfish, cruel, and vicious as is the nature of her wild species.

It was a tricky write. It's a self-discovery story, and it is pretty dark. I am actually proud to say, though, that my mother was unable to read it. She stopped after chapter 2 and said, "It made me too uncomfortable.". I felt I'd acomplished something. That had been one of the goals after all.

Thanks to all for the comments!

July 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterJ Starr Welty

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