Storytelling Pet Peeves


January 15, 2013 by jcfarnham

If we read, we all have them. Those few things that can ruin a perfectly good story if over relied on. After a recent discussion on Mythic Scribes I thought it would be interesting to list out my own pet peeves for you in blogland…

… and then purposefully give examples of why people should use them.

Let’s begin:

  • The Cookie Cutter Romance Machineinsert any random pairing into the machine, sprinkle with helpings of saccarine goodness and press go. This is the kind of romance plot where the character comes straight out and says “oh, I fancy him” and only by that virtue does the relationship work. A limited cursory fussing with will they, won’t they, no mess, and cliche sunset scenes. Lovely. It’s almost like they’re saying there’s a real life formula to love? Hmmm…


  • Instant Herojust because the protagonist isn’t fond of something, they now have the ability to save the day. Ever thought about learning martial arts but can’t be bothered with the years and years of intense practice and training? Well the Instant Hero is just the same. This also includes any character who is faaaar to young to have amassed the skills they have, and almost always stretches to include the farm-boy-turned-strategic-genius.


  • Rinse and Repeat Genre FictionAt one time you couldn’t move for vampires on your TV or zombies in your books. The most henous for me are Rinse and Repeat supernatural shows. It started with the brilliant Charmed and Buffy… and now includes such pointlessness as Secret Circle and fellows, and has even found it’s way onto the big screen as of late. There is hardly any variation between protagonists. They realise they have magical powers or something similar, are the chosen one, and eventually save the day and get the love interest. Yay… (oh and you can be sure that a number of bad Hobbit ripoffs will surface in the next few months or years)


  • Blindsided by <insert thing here>Oh it’s that girl the protagonist met once, and oh, they’re now doing sex on each other and talking of marriage… It doesn’t have to be sex though. This peeve also includes blindsided by romance plots, blindsided by power, blindsided by dark and grittiness… It isn’t so much the thing that’s the problem but the set up that utterly fails every time. Would it kill some people to foreshadow? Or God forbid actually have people getting to know each other first.


And now for the fun part: Why you shouldn’t be afraid to use anything I’ve listed above.

Everything has been done in fiction. If you happen to get a reader who’s been reading in your genre for upwards of twenty years or more, you can be damn sure it’s going to be hard to surprise them with anything totally original. So repeat after me: don’t sweat it.

There’s nothing wrong with the cookie cutter romance of fated lovers. Just ask Romeo and Juliet. Love can feel pretty perfect sometimes–but that isn’t, and has never been, an excuse for bad writing.

What about Rinse and Repeat Genre Fiction? I love a good supernatural-type show on tv, I love a good portion of the X-Files clones that SyFy produce these days. And I quite like reading this kind of thing in books. Again you have no excuse for poor writing, because this isn’t a tired genre. Is your heroine suddenly dumped into the world of magic? Fair enough. Don’t screw it up.

Most of all, I love being knocked out by plots I never saw coming, but I do need you to ensure they make sense in hindsight. A favourite character dying suddenly? Gasp! Killing off the Big Bad only half way into a book? Huh?! In both cases I’ll probably keep reading, or watching. I know something twisty is going to happen, but now I’m curious.

As TvTropes always says, just because it’s well-known enough to be considered a “trope” that doesn’t make it a cliche. So, just because people see it everytime they go to a book store or turn on the tv, doesn’t mean it’s out of bounds.

Put it this way: Eragon, more or less, rips it’s plot straight out of Star Wars. The writer was young and they were his first books, but wait, isn’t that an incredibly successful franchise and tetralogy of books? How many of you wanted a dragon after reading that? Everyones favourite stand-by to hate – Twilight – hits every single pet peeve on this list multiple times, but is still one of the biggest successes in modern fiction.

Remember the Don’t Sweat It mantra from earlier? I’d like to add to it…

Don’t sweat it, just write it well.

The wonderful thing about creative writing is that no one writer is exactly like the other. Nope, not even those who insist on stripping all stylistic flavour out of their tales. We all think differently and we’ll probably all write a different equally fun story given the same prompt.

Business isn’t magic, and there are no tricks. Write well, learn the ropes and you can sell anything you want to write.


One thought on “Storytelling Pet Peeves

  1. NyNy says:

    A nice list you have here! I totally agree with most of your points, it really annoys me! Rinse and Repeat Genre Fiction does happen quite often but I have this feeling most people just can’t help it >_< By the way I wrote a post about my own fiction pet peeves, it includes some additional ones that you may not have talked about but I hope you will read, comment and tell me what you think 🙂

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