Clichés that must disappear from stories

In books, stories, movies, series, TV commercials or any other type of stories, there are certain stereotypes, clichés, common places or whatever you like to call them, that have become part of the culture and have been used so many times that have entirely lost the desired effect.

Some clichés are ornaments that neither contribute or ruin the story (like a romantic kiss under the rain), but others turn the story so predictable and boring that I do not understand why people keep using them. I saw a movie recently (a romantic comedy) that used so many common places that I felt I wasted two hours or my life, and at all times I knew exactly what was going to happen. It was a 2019 movie, not worth mentioning.

Here is a list of clichés that I believe should disappear entirely of any kind of story, unless they are used to make a satire or as a joke.

1. A character lies, the lie is discovered, and he/she says it was to protect them.

I put this in the number one spot because lately it is the one I find more annoying (sorry if I sound grumpy). I believe we should leave behind lying to create a conflict between characters. If I have learned something from this cliché is that LYING IS BAD, at least it brought me a life lesson. I lost count on books, movies, or series where one of the characters lies and does this (in their wrong opinion) not to hurt friends, family or they romantic interest. It is not the fact that a character lies, the cliché is that when the lie is discovered, they say it was to protect them, they do not believe it and end up arguing and their relationship falls apart, which was probably worse than telling the truth from the start.

2. A jump scare that comes with a loud and fake sound.

This applies only for movies or TV series. If you watch a horror story from the 80s or 90s, when a monster or ghost appeared on screen, you were scared by watching something scary (even with the quality of special effects at that time). Lately and for some reason, most modern horror stories add loud noises to jump scares, that make the audience be scared of the noise rather than by what they are watching. The worst is when they add sounds in situations that are not scary at all, like entering an abandoned place and a rat shows up along with a loud sound that is impossible for a rat to make. The true challenge is to scare your audience without using sudden loud noises. That is why I loved a movie called “Hereditary”, that may be strange and out of line at times, but it had what for years I have not seen: moments that made me jump of fear without a single loud sound in them.

3. Characters hating each other at the beginning of the story and ending up in love.

This cliché speaks by itself. It is a common theme in romantic comedies, where a character sees another as the worst thing in the world, and in the end they are together as a couple. This common place is so overused, that when I see two characters argue with no good reason, I immediately imagine they will have a romance at some point in the story. There is nothing wrong when two people indifferent to each other fall in love. It is not necessary to try to trick the readers or audience into believing those two characters hate each other. The writer is the only one believing that farce. We don’t.

4. The villain ends up being one of the friends/companions of the protagonists.

This was truly surprising the first times I saw it, because generally the villain was established from the start, being the witch, the sinister man, the monster, the person with thirst of power and ambition, and then: surprise! The villain was one of the characters that went along with the protagonists and you never expected it to be the villain of the story. However, this tool was saturated immediately due to the success it had. Have you noticed that many of the Disney Pixar movies used this in their plots? It happens in Frozen, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc, The incredibles 2, Wreck-it Ralph, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, Coco. It even happens several times along the Harry Potter series, although this series is many years old, so I think at that time it was not an overused cliché as it is now.

5. When in a danger scene, a character is trapped and says to the others they should leave him/her behind, but they do help him/her and yet they are all safe.

This has become a common place in many stories. It happens mostly at the end, a building, temple, huge vehicle is being destroyed or collapsing and the protagonists run for their lives. One of them falls, trips or is hurt, and asks to be left behind, so the others can run faster and be safe. They lose precious time arguing, they do help him/her, and they save themselves, when they could have been safe faster if they did not stop and argue about it.

6. Finish an action, that has a time limit, in the last second.

This was stressing when I was a kid, when I did not understand that if a cartoon or movie character died, the series would end. I think we have had enough of bombs being deactivated 1 second before they explode or overcoming the magical curse just before sunrise. The oldest story I can think of where this was used is The Beauty and the Beast, where Beauty realizes she loves Beast just before the last petal of the magical rose falls. Let’s find new ways to create tension for our audience that do not depend in solving conflicts in the last second.

7. Placing a touching scene with a character that dies a few minutes later.

The death of a character in any kind of story can be an emotional conflict for the readers or the viewers, and can even bring tears to our eyes, especially if it is a loved character. Sometimes a character dies and you feel nothing, because a bond was never formed. That is why it is import to have enough time between the readers/viewers and the characters so they are loved. But a cheap trick is to place a flashback scene or a short scene showing how nice a character is, and almost immediately after a tragedy happens and they die. Let’s not do that, we should create loving characters instead, so we don’t have to resort to using this forced resources.

8. A character talking out loud with an invisible one, confusing people around them.

This, in addition to being nowadays an overused cliché, feels fake. If you know there is an invisible entity (a ghost, a specter, someone in your imagination or mind), you wouldn’t start screaming like crazy in front of a person that is actually talking to you. Unless you are too desperate, and in that case, you would say you have to go, went to a private place and there you go, you can argue with the invisible entity without looking like a maniac. It is tiring that when there is a scene with someone invisible, two people are talking and one yells to the ghost something like: “Don’t talk to me!”, and the other person believes they are addressing them and gets upset. Pure fakeness.

9. Foreign characters mixing words of their native language in their common speeches.

This has been done by writers and screenwriters for decades. For people that do know foreigners, or that live in a country where their native language is not spoken, how many times have you heard they mix words in their native language as a common thing in their way of talking? That only happens when we do not know a word. For example, a Spaniard saying: “I need to go to the… aeropuerto”, and we would kindly say it is called “airport”. But I have never seen a German saying: “mein Freund” after every phrase. Nor I, when speaking another language, refer to people as “amigo” just because Spanish is my native language. That is as stereotypical as placing a sepia filter in American movies to represent they are in Mexico.

10. A character arrives at an inconvenient moment and witnesses something that looks improper, but it looks like that because they do not have all the context.

I have lost count of the times that, in a romantic story, two characters kiss, or one forces the other kiss him/her, and precisely at that time their romantic interest happens to walk by and sees the kiss. And not only that, but they leave without asking for an explanation. It also happens in other stories, like when a character is pretending to hate someone, to protect them, but that exact same person arrives by chance and only listens to that part, so they immediately think he/she is hated. Please! If that happened to you, witnessing a kiss of your love interest with someone else, would you stay quiet and leave? It is more realistic that an argument would start at that time, or the person would remain hidden to see what happens. Us, readers and viewers, are tired of misunderstandings that occur because a character did not wait 10 seconds to understand more of the context of what was happening.

As always there may be many more clichés, and maybe some of these clichés may not be as overused as I make them look. None of these clichés are awful to me. It is just that as a book and movie lover, I wish writers find new ways of catching the audience’s attention without using tools so overused that the story becomes way too predictable.

Feel free to contact me for questions or additional comments in: jessav@mail.com.

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