Annoying Hollywood cliches?
April 10, 2006 3:12 AM   Subscribe

After reading this question from last week I began to wonder: Are there any conventions/cliches in fiction that stray so far from reality that they distract you from the believability of the story and have no story telling merit?

I am very interested in writing fiction, and I know that there are some things that crop up again and again in stories that are pure inventions of "Hollywood" and are carried over from one work to the next and would never happen in the real world, but still are rarely corrected or questioned. For instance, a car would very rarely explode in a crash or even when shot at, and it annoys me when it happens in fiction, sometimes so much so that it spoils my enjoyment (assuming it is meant to be taken as serious). So the question is: are there any examples of things that are often included in serious fiction that annoy you? I love it when a writer surprises the audience by presenting them with a style that makes the cliches really stand out, so what should I avoid?
posted by Acey to Media & Arts (81 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Stuff that bugs me:

Protracted fights where the combatants have seven bells knocked out of each other, and then still get up and talk... nothing broken, no lost teeth, no concussion, etc.

Space and plane movies where the vehicular motion is totally unrealistic, and the combat is reminiscent of early-flight-era Red Baron-esque dogfights.

Inflammability of petrol - probably tied to your point about the exploding cars...

Can't think of many examples from written literature, unfortunately...
posted by Chunder at 3:43 AM on April 10, 2006

Generally I'm only annoyed when an author uses the same elements over and over in his/her books. I started reading fiction kind of late (HS) and picked up Tom Clancy and John Grisham.

Clancy's heroes would often be far out of training, but then pick up a weapon, train for a bit and, viola, they hit all bulls eyes after a week or two. Occasionally his stories were good, but the protagonists were pretty bland.

More egregious was Grisham. Let's see, main character - young white male, eked his way through law school, drives slightly beat up Saab convertible. Damn near every time I picked up one of his books.

Oddly, poor proof-reading gets me more than hack writing. I can't stand reading a book that has glaring typographical or grammatical errors. Makes me want to edit books for a living. And I hated English classes.
posted by efalk at 3:45 AM on April 10, 2006

Space and plane movies where the vehicular motion is totally unrealistic

This happens in video games as well. The last time someone tried to do a big release that used Newtonian dynamics for the craft flight was Frontier in the early 1990s. It bombed - people just don't like dealing with orbital trajectories, angular momentum, and interconversions between potential and kinetic energy. So pretty much every space combat game since has used simple "airplane" aerodynamics. So pretty much every space combat game before and since is a simulator training people to move incorrectly. Couple that with stuff like Star Wars and Star Trek and it's inevitable. And then there's modern stuff like Galactica, where the ships appear to be able to turn on a dime and undergo hundreds of gees without any pilot harm.
posted by meehawl at 3:55 AM on April 10, 2006

Roger Ebert's site has a section on similar stuff.
posted by Gyan at 4:07 AM on April 10, 2006

Magical realism bugs me. It works sometimes, as in the Tin Drum and Midnights Children but it's also a crutch for lazy writers (as in most of Salman Rushdie's other stuff).

Writing about writers also bugs me. We have had a lot written about that world. It's not that interesting. People writing about things that are bigger than if so and so won some prize and shagged some guys wife are better when they work.

Writing that is self-aware is often smug and annoying too. And again it has turned into a crutch for writers. I don't know what I'll write here, wouldn't you like to read that?

Cliched pictures of engineers and business people also does writers no favours. If people actually found that there is a life and value in people who have chosen paths different from their own their might be more to it than the endless repition that people who do science are introverts and socially strange and that businessmen are all creeps. Sure, lots of them are, but lots of them are decent folk too.
posted by sien at 4:08 AM on April 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Hollywood cliché that's started to obsess me is the thing where someone picks up the phone, listens for 1.3 seconds, says "right", and then turns around and relates about 5,000 words of information that they supposedly got during that brief interval.

Ring, ring ... "Detective Regan speaking. Uh-huh. Thanks. [puts phone down again] They've spotted the suspect, downtown coming out of a bar called O'Malley's, and getting into a red pickup truck with Ohio plates and accompanied by a tall blonde. They drove off toward the freeway heading north. He was wearing blue jeans, a red shirt and a Dodgers cap on backward."

But in literature? I don't know. I've grown to find the particular tics of some writers, for instance Martin Amis, rather annoying, but he's an extreme example. He's pretty much all tic these days.

There aren't literary clichés the way there are Hollywood ones, perhaps, because the writer can take all the time he wants and spend all the money he wants, so to speak.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:29 AM on April 10, 2006

Lack of realistic bullet penetration in action films.
Plaster, car doors, bullet proof vests, trees etc.

And, though nothing to do with screen writing, when so-called professionals BLINK when firing their weapons.

Also all bad techno-speak.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:33 AM on April 10, 2006

The magic "image enhance" button that all Hollywood computers seem to have whereby a pixelated, zoomed-in photo can be made crystal clear.

"Enemy of the State" does is especially badly. Not only is Will Smith able to enhance the image quality of a store's surveillance video, but he can view the video from multiple angles to get a better look at an item in a character's bag!
posted by teem at 4:47 AM on April 10, 2006

For me, the fact that in the movies it is ridiculously easy to knock someone out with one blow to the head.
posted by konolia at 4:48 AM on April 10, 2006

bad techno-speak

Oh, now you're talking. I've read some incredibly bad things in books about computers, from just basic things like the order you do stuff -- "he dialled up up his ISP then started up his computer" to just random jargon soup -- "the firewall was hacked by the IP protocol encryption running on the mainframe modem laptop".

Jeffrey Deaver wrote a book about computers in which steganography was a key factor and couldn't even get the word right. He called it stenanography throughout.

You don't have to get absolutely every detail right, but for god's sake give someone who knows about the field, be it computers or archery or hairdressing, a chance to correct your more obvious howlers.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:08 AM on April 10, 2006

In serious written fiction? Well, there are literary foibles. Extended description of how people say things. Excessively nuanced psychological exposition (unless you are Henry James, you cannot do Henry James). Generally, it falls into the category of piss-poor imitation: sub-Martin-Amis, sub-Rushdie, sub-Marquez, etc. Even those authors sometimes read like parodies of their own work. Oh, and present-tense narratives. Perhaps this is a personal thing, but it seems contrived beyond belief.

Fiction that embraces Hollywood cliches? Any 'airport novel' will have plenty of examples, particularly when violence, technology and sex are concerned. And that counts double for sex.

And slen is right that non-artsy characters in Serious Literary Fiction are often drawn with an unconsciously hilarious cack-handedness.
posted by holgate at 5:13 AM on April 10, 2006

I consider Magical Realism neither a Hollywood cliché nor a crutch of lazy writers...
posted by youarenothere at 5:36 AM on April 10, 2006

Guys who do card tricks but turn out to be "real magicians". First off, there's enough interesting about illusionists without that. Second, fundies believe that crap and it's just weird.

Kind of a corellary to the point about business people: how in American Beauty the guy quit his business job and got a job working fast food and that was so great. It's not. It's soul-destroying.

Another thing I hate: shifting around in time and perspective to cover for the fact you don't really have a plot.

Also, similar to stupid portrayals of business and engineering people: stupid portrayals of the Midwest. Or the South, I suppose. Don't think you know these places because you went to Wal-Mart once.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:39 AM on April 10, 2006

In serious written fiction?

In any fiction really... movies are obviously the worst for hackneyed cliches, but they crop up everywhere. Anything that is so unoriginal or wrong it outright hurts.

My pet hates for this include things like people flying backwards when shot, whilst the shooter experiences no recoil at all; lazers flying around in space; dying speeches from characters just before they kick the proverbial bucket; anything involving a timer where you know they will make it just in time; and finally painfully happy endings against all odds, especially when there clearly has been a lot of bad things happen which are quickly forgotten.

As far as movies go: slow motion got old quickly too.
posted by Acey at 5:49 AM on April 10, 2006

And thanks Gyan, that Movie Glossary is brilliant reading.
posted by Acey at 5:51 AM on April 10, 2006

The magic "image enhance" button that all Hollywood computers seem to have whereby a pixelated, zoomed-in photo can be made crystal clear.

Ha, yeah, that's a good one.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned these yet, but some of the worst cliches are when a bunch of crazy shit happens and then in the next scene the character wakes up and it was all a dream.

That and stupid implausible multiple personality stuff. Actually, they talk about a lot of these in the film Adaptation.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:56 AM on April 10, 2006


It is possible for people to meet, be attracted to each other and fall in love without years of pigtail-down-the-inkwell banter culminating in a sexual encounter that resolves everything. (I'm looling at you, Kate and Sawyer.)
posted by Biblio at 6:08 AM on April 10, 2006

The magic "image enhance" button that all Hollywood computers seem to have whereby a pixelated, zoomed-in photo can be made crystal clear.
As seen every week in every episode of every CSI clone and wannabe. As an imaging pro, every time I see some "criminologist" take a blurry, pixelated 72ppi frame from some b/w security cam and reveals the license plate numbers from a car parked a block away, it just makes me spit bricks.

That and the CSI canard that life insurance doesn't pay off in event of suicide. There are indeed policies out there that do. Sometimes there is a rider that stipulates no payout if the suicide happens within 5 years of policy activation, but you can definitely get a policy that covers it.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:15 AM on April 10, 2006

I can't read Turtedove anymore because of his horrible, horrible sex scenes (worse every year!) and the constant use of lines akin to "I'd like to tell you that you are wrong, but you are not." But then again, he's a popcorn writer so maybe that's expecting too much.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:26 AM on April 10, 2006

effect-less sex scenes (scenes where people just cuddle after, either gay or straight, and no one's interested in cleaning up or going to take a whiz).

Also, expanding a bit, a general defiance of the realities of having a body. That one Meg Ryan movie was, surprisingly enough, one of the few that got this right: the couple wake up, and instead of the usual doe-eyes and soft music and kissing on each other, she asks where's the cat.
"What cat?"
"The one that shit in my mouth."
posted by Tuwa at 6:30 AM on April 10, 2006

Now that you've brought up CSI, it bugs me when laboratory workers also do the crime scene investigation, as if there's time for the same people to do both. They're guilty of that on Bones, too. And on House, what authority do doctors have to routinely visit one of their patients' homes (while said patient is in a coma or in surgery or otherwise occupied) to poke around in the kitchen and medicine cabinets looking for clues to the mysterious ailment none of the doctors can agree on?

24 does ridiculous techno-speak like no other. "Open up a socket and upload the encryption algorithm to my screen!"

As for movie clichés, the massive interiors of airliners always makes me laugh.
posted by emelenjr at 6:42 AM on April 10, 2006

Following up on Tuwa's - whenever people in the movies wake up, they always look perfectly put-together and presentable (on the rare occasion that they do look less than perfect, it only takes a brushstroke or two before their hair is done, etc.)

Also: women who are overweight at all, even if it's just by 10 pounds or something, are always completely miserable with their lives and it's only after they lose all the weight that anything good happens to them. (This is not true for overweight guys - the fat guy is the life of the party!)
posted by SisterHavana at 6:43 AM on April 10, 2006

Dan Brown developed an annoying cliche (well, at least the one anyway!) whereby each of his stories starts with some poor sod getting killed. Got boring by the third of his books that I read.

Similar stuff to efalk, I suppose...
posted by Chunder at 6:45 AM on April 10, 2006

Tuwa: Hell yeah, whatever happened to "morning breath" in Hollywood? :-)
posted by Chunder at 6:48 AM on April 10, 2006


Unresolved Sexual Tension, for those people (like me) who didn't get this right away.

are there any examples of things that are often included in serious fiction that annoy you

To be honest, no - if we're talking about serious literary fiction anyway.
posted by teleskiving at 6:51 AM on April 10, 2006

The L-shaped sheets in post-sex scenes that go up to the man's waist and the woman's neck.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:52 AM on April 10, 2006

Fantasy. The entire thrice-damned sub-Tolkein genre. I hatses them.
posted by Leon at 6:52 AM on April 10, 2006

speaking of dan brown, how about when characters are abroad and speaking to non-english speakers who just happen to only use words and phrases that can be easily translated by most english speakers? For example, "mon dieu! c'est magnifique, mon cheri!" (if i have butchered french somehow with that example, i apologize). that usually brings any suspension of disbelief crashing down for me....
posted by exacta_perfecta at 7:23 AM on April 10, 2006

Supernaturally-capable serial killers/criminal masterminds in mystery/crime fiction that otherwise attempts to be realistic. They've got secret lairs that nobody notices, they weave intricate schemes that would fall apart the minute somebody says "sorry, buddy, you're gonna need a permit for that", they appear and disappear like they're being teleported. It's made the genre a joke.
posted by TimeFactor at 7:44 AM on April 10, 2006

If only that was the worst thing about Dan Brown. :)

The fake techno-speak bothers me the most, too. It also amuses me how everything technological (e.g., "put it on my screen") happens instantaneously. I want a connection like that!
posted by danb at 7:48 AM on April 10, 2006

And on House, what authority do doctors have to routinely visit one of their patients' homes (while said patient is in a coma or in surgery or otherwise occupied) to poke around in the kitchen and medicine cabinets looking for clues to the mysterious ailment none of the doctors can agree on?

On no one's authority. The doctors are breaking and entering. House admitted his guilt on several occasions. It's all part of his edgy screw-the-rules persona.
posted by malp at 7:55 AM on April 10, 2006

Not only is Will Smith able to enhance the image quality of a store's surveillance video, but he can view the video from multiple angles to get a better look at an item in a character's bag!

I hate to nitpick, but it was Jack Black's character that did this. Will Smith's character was the subject in the video.
posted by dobbs at 8:12 AM on April 10, 2006

Amnesia! It is almost unheard of for people to forget their entire past without some serious brain damage. It's even more unheard of for someone to see someone famillar and suddenly recover all of their lost memories.
posted by Alison at 8:29 AM on April 10, 2006

Also, dead (sometimes unknown) relatives who leave everything the main character, but only if they get marrried, go to school, spend 30 million dollars, etc.
posted by Alison at 8:32 AM on April 10, 2006

Locks that open with a single lockpick (no tension wrench) in seconds.

Villains who explain everything about their motives and activities before engaging some complex method of dispatching the hero (instead of just shooting or stabbing him).

For a real tutorial, read any Henry Rollins novel. Take careful note of everything he does with his characters, props, and plot. Never do any of those things.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:32 AM on April 10, 2006

Many great gaffs have been mentioned, above, but they mostly focus on technology and mistakes regarding the logic of everyday events. I want to focus on errors in character psychology:

-- The whacky/sarcastic best friend. This is a staple of sitcoms, but it shows up in other genres. I'm constantly driven crazy by totally unbelievable friendships. How often -- in real life -- does the model have a fat, wisecracking best-friend? Why is the best friend allowed to say all sorts of mean things without ever getting called an asshole?

Note: a sub-category of this is the mixing of races that occurs in EVERY group of friends. I wish the world was that way, but in my experience, it's not. Not all white guys have a (usually ghetto-speaking) black friend.

-- Lack of suitable amazement when something supernatural happens. Example: movie version of "The Witches of Eastwick," a film I generally like. But there's a scene in which Nicholson's character makes a tennis ball levitate, and the rest of the characters look on in joy. NO ONE says, "Oh my GOD! How are you DOING that?"

-- Bad guys who talk in a stock eeee-vil voice and yet manage to trick the hero into thinking they aren't evil.

-- Bad guys who put on a nice-guy act and then, when alone (and viewed in closeup) get a demonic (or creepily empty) look in their eyes.

-- People who needlessly talk to themselves at convenient points, points at which the writers couldn't think a better way to get across some exposition. Strangely, this often happens when it's TOTALLY unnecessary. We can SEE the giant lizard. We don't need someone to say, "Oh my God. A giant LIZARD!"

-- Grown men who act as if they've never seen a sexy woman before. She starts talking in a seductive voice, and sweat runs down their brows.
posted by grumblebee at 8:42 AM on April 10, 2006

emelenjr : As malp has just said, House sends his people off to break the law by entering houses with arguments about it being a recurring theme and (in the last episode of S1) the patient predicting the illegal activity. On multiple occasions it's stated that his department has sod all to do, so I'm not surprised that his doctors run tests either, if only to eliviate the bordom. :)

Enough defending house - I have to agree with the Dan Brown cliches. He also annoys me with his completelack of understanding in his books - the things that just make no sense. De Vinci Code had too many to remember while Deception point was (to me at least) relatively sound. Angels and Demons infuriated me with the premise of a rechargable battery that couldn't be recharged and Digital Fortress started its downward spirial with the concept of an email that appeared, reported home and vanshed without the recipient ever knowing.

I loathe the image enhancement that all policemen can do.

I hate the backdoors in all government computer systems that allow you to put missiles on your head if you tell them the password is Jeff.

BBC dramas whent through a phase about ten yearsa go when you could steal the private files on any system by plugging in an Zip drive.
posted by twine42 at 8:42 AM on April 10, 2006

Bad physics in general.

"The Core" was so bad that at one point I forgot that it was an action movie and thought it was a parody of bad movie physics. A giant geode? Using MRI to see through rocks? Oddly enough, Hilary Swank has been quoted as saying that the Core "put the science back in science fiction". ARG!

(This site has movies rated in terms of good and bad physics.)
posted by kechi at 8:44 AM on April 10, 2006

Why are half the responses in this thread about movies when that's clearly not what the asker requested?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:49 AM on April 10, 2006

Lack of suitable amazement when something supernatural happens.

A subset of the #1 pet peeve of mine, which is characters who completely ignore the reality around them. Alien pops up with a ray gun? I'm a fairly calm person, but I'd be shitting my pants. Found out my father sexually abused my siblings? Murderous rage.

As far as tech stuff goes, all that is known around my apartment as "shit on the right". As in, "Dude, what's all that blinking shit on the right there for?"
posted by mkultra at 8:50 AM on April 10, 2006

Optimus Acey did say "In any fiction really... movies are obviously the worst for hackneyed cliches, but they crop up everywhere. Anything that is so unoriginal or wrong it outright hurts."
posted by twine42 at 8:59 AM on April 10, 2006

[derail] I must give props to Dan Simmons for his space opera Hyperion, wherein he posits all sorts of sci-fi nonsense, and then actually thinks through what that nonsense would entail. For instance, the spaceships can move at many times the speed of light. But they're still subject to Newtonian physics: everything organic aboard such a ship is crushed to paste by the acceleration. This leads to a neat little conceit about suicidal starship captains, resurrection through DNA preservation, and symbiotic alien parasites with religious significance. [/derail]

I hate exposition through dialogue, voice-overs, plot twists that hinge on concealing something obvious from the reader that is known by the characters, and the way people act in horror movies as if they've never seen a horror movie. And sound in space. I hate sound in space.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:04 AM on April 10, 2006

While all the movie stuff makes for a fun thread, that's not what this AskMe's asking...

Writing about writers also bugs me.

Absolutely. When it becomes too clear that one's reading wish-fulfillment on the author's part (the smart young girl grows up to be...a writer!) it's really a story-breaker.

Fantasy novels with a faux British veneer should be outlawed.

Occasionally I'll read something that's too obviously by a woman, where the heroine is obsessing over what some perfect young man thinks about her. As I recall, I had to drop The Mists of Avalon for this reason. I'm sorry! Really I am! Please don't derail the thread with "Aknaton, you Philistine" comments that don't answer the original question
posted by Aknaton at 9:21 AM on April 10, 2006

The worst thing for me is the insufferably stupid protagonist. He or she is not drawn as a stupid character, but the evil plot unfolding against him or whatever it is that is about to cause no end of trouble, which is completely and transparently obvious, which even the most dim-witted of readers sees coming, is totally unexpected by the protagonist.

I hate that. I once tried to read Battlefield Earth by that hack Hubbard (on a friends recommendation), but quit after about the tenth time the main character fell for stuff like that.
posted by teece at 9:34 AM on April 10, 2006

Here's a list of clichés.
posted by glibhamdreck at 9:36 AM on April 10, 2006

I have a couple of fiction peeves:

1. Any story about a college professor, usually in the humanities, who has an affair with a student, or plagiarizes a student's work, or is a drunk or a depressive or otherwise mopes around some verdant Ivy League campus. See Richard Russo.

2. Historical fiction in which famous characters make off-hand appearances, especially if it is before they are famous and the readers aren't meant to recognize them until their last scene.
posted by nev at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2006

I can't read anything featuring "quirky" characters with ridiculous, metaphorical, hit-the-reader-over-the-head "symbolic" names (Precious! Destiny! Faith! America! Sugar!) who live in "quirky" small towns with ridiculous, metaphorical, hit-the-reader-over-the-head "symbolic" names (Heaven, Oklahoma!) and have "quirky," ridiculous, metaphorical, hit-the-reader-over-the-head "symbolic," and "magical" things happen to them. Ugh. I have to go brush my teeth.
posted by mothershock at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2006

In the Tony Parsons novel "One For My Baby" the protagonist's wife, who is a lawyer with a big London firm, dies in an accident. The hero finds himself in financial difficulty after her death. In real life, big City law firms all have 'death in service' benefits so he'd have been the beneficiary of a sizeable lump sum (usually something like 3 x salary, so probably at least £200,000) on her death. This lack of research ruined the story for me.

I watched a movie the other night, "Enduring Love" based on an Ian McEwan story (he also wrote the screenplay). A group of strangers witness a strange accident. At the end of the movie the hero returns to the scene, with the widow of the man who died in the accident, so she can meet up with two people who were peripherally involved in order that she can find out what happened. In the real world, there'd have been an inquest where all that would have been dealt with.
posted by essexjan at 10:02 AM on April 10, 2006

Optimus... Thanks for the concern, but I was only looking for suggestions. Chances are I will copy mistakes from film as much as from literature anyway.
posted by Acey at 10:31 AM on April 10, 2006

I despise, in movies and in books--it's especially prevalent amongst a certain type of fantasy novel--the conceit 'oh, they hate each other now, so obviously they're going to end up in love.'

Also, anything by Mercedes Lackey. Fuck off, you gay fangirl. She portrays gay relationships--and again, this is a very common trope outside of (some) gay cinema--as these almost holy things, only full of love and sunshine and buttrflied being farted out of cute puppies. There's absolutely no consideration that we're just normal people, with normal relationships. In mainstream cinema (and many books), gay relationships are presented as either that or as nonexistent--gay men only want to get off, y'know.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:46 AM on April 10, 2006

A couple of personal pet-peeves:

1. I find it really hard to read long sections of italicized text. Some writers like to set apart a book's prologue -- or some other section (a flashback, a dream sequence) -- by italicizing it. No matter how much I'm enjoying a book, if I come across a page of italics, I'm engulfed in a powerful weariness, and I have a hard time slogging through it.

2. Dream sequences. I have two problems with them: (1) assuming I'm told it's a dream, I know that little of what I'm reading will further the plot. Eventually, the character will wake up. So it's hard for me to care too much about the pages and pages of dream. True, the dream might contain -- SHOULD contain -- important character info. And if it does, I'll be interested. But too often, the dream seems to be a way for authors to show off their "fantasy" skills. (2) I don't buy the Freudian idea that dreams have deep meaning (I think it's possible that they do, but they jury is still out). In novels, they pretty much ALWAYS do. So I have to get over my anti-Freudian prejudice if I'm going to enjoy the dream at all -- and that's hard for me to do.

3. Puzzles in fantasy stories. In almost every fantasy I've ever read (admittedly, not a lot, but I've read most of the really famous ones), there comes a point where the hero has to figure out some sort of puzzle. It's usually a puzzle that no one has been able to figure out in hundreds and hundreds of years. And yet the hero figures it out.

This means that the author has to come up with a REALLY HARD puzzle -- one that believably wasn't solved for hundreds of years. But he also has to convince me that the hero solves it. This is pretty much impossible, which leads me to believe that the whole puzzle thing should be dropped (unless the writer is a mastermind). Fantasy writers tend to borrow this (and some other ideas) from the Mystery genre -- but fantasists are generally not good at crafting mysteries.

The most famous example is the door to Moria in "Lord of the Rings." Frodo "brilliantly" figures out the solution that Gandalf couldn't. I don't buy it. And the puzzle is stupid to begin with.

There's a similar scene in one of the "His Dark Materials" books, in which the heroine subdues the badguys by telling them stories. Over eons and eons, no one has ever figured out that they like being told stories. Don't buy it.

4. Also in fantasies, there's often a point in which an evil wizard (witch, spirit, etc.) casts a spell over the hero, forcing him to confront some unpleasant aspect of himself. Sometimes this is a test that he has to pass: "You will cross three rivers. At each one, you will undergo a trial. If you make it past the last river, you will be crowned king of Blobdoria!"

The "trials" are confronting the father that never loved him; seeing the evil within (in the form of a double of the hero with glowing red eyes); and seeing his own death.

This is bullshit. All this stuff is upsetting, but most people deal with it. They'd get very upset, but they'd deal. But in many fantasies, I'm supposed to believe that "facing the evil within" is as deadly as facing six armed men.

Of course, in fantasies, we're SUPPOSED to learn about the inner lives of characters -- but not in such a sloppy, obvious way.

There's a horrible horrible horrible example of this in one of the Star Trek movies. That one with Spock's brother. Horrible movie all around. I died a little inside when I saw it.
posted by grumblebee at 10:59 AM on April 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Other species finding human females sexually attractive.

For example:
King Kong being drawn to beauty.
Jabba the hutt surrounding himself with bikini clad dancers.
posted by malp at 11:03 AM on April 10, 2006

Why are half the responses in this thread about movies when that's clearly not what the asker requested?

Maybe because the thread title is "Annoying Hollywood cliches?"
posted by kindall at 11:06 AM on April 10, 2006

One publisher's list of story submissions they've seen too often. Also see the horror specific list.
posted by hindmost at 11:30 AM on April 10, 2006

Thanks to everyone for helping out. I now have masses of material to go through and learn from. I hope it has helped anyone else who is attempting to write fiction for whatever purpose.
posted by Acey at 11:55 AM on April 10, 2006

From grumblebee's link...

1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

This is a big pet peeve of mine with short stories, in particular. The world's quota of "descriptive" short stories has been well and truly filled.

2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it.

In other words, we don't care about the histories of your minor characters, and we don't care what becomes of them. I don't care to read five pages of padding because you thought it necessary to "flush out" your world. If it doesn't move the plot forward, I don't want to hear about it.

4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

Ah, the extensive supporting cast, born to fill pages and nothing else. By the way, in case you can't tell yet I'm not a real big fan of Dickens.

8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as "the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest," by either the author or the people in the tale.

This one is okay once or twice, but authors who spend their books repeatedly assuring the reader how wonderful something is should all be shot. The all-time record holder in this department is Dante's never-read Paradiso. (he's guilty of a similar crime in Inferno, but the imagery is more entertaining so it's not as bad)

9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

Deus ex machina. 'Nuff said.

10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

There are plenty of authors who screw this up by lack of craft, but my true ire is reserved for those who do it on purpose. They create an anti-hero, not in the sense of a villian or every-day joe (ala Arthur Dent) but in the sense of someone who is actively unappealing. The lead character in "Sideways" is a perfect example, as is the Thomas Covenent character at the beginning of Lord Foul's Bane. Twenty pages about what a weak, unhappy, self-loathing creature he is followed immediately by him raping a young girl. Way to draw the audience in, there, Donaldson.

I would cite more examples for this, but I usually burn the book after reading the first chapter. I realize that this is taking my irritation out on an inanimate object: What I really should be doing is incinerating the author.

14. Eschew surplusage.

Hemingway took it to an extreme, but you should be far closer to Earnest than to Mr. Dickens, if you catch my drift.

15. Not omit necessary details.

Once again, this sometimes happens due to lack of writing ability, but I'll be gouging the eyes out of the people who do it on purpose. It's cute when the confusion lasts a paragraph or two, but it's downright unforgivable if it lasts more than a page.

17. Use good grammar.
Yes indeedy, and even in dialogue. Accents and patois are very nice when introducing characters, but you'll notice that even Yoda speaks standard English when it would be distracting for him to do otherwise.

18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

And that sums it up quite nicely. Trying to use a "special" style of writing is a sign that the author doesn't believe the story itself is that interesting.

Unfortunately the big list of Science Fiction Cliches appears to have dropped off the net. Here is a lesser version of it.
posted by tkolar at 11:57 AM on April 10, 2006

Thanks, hindmost. I went looking for that but couldn't remember what magazine it was from.
posted by tkolar at 12:01 PM on April 10, 2006

Actually, tkolar, it still exists here.
posted by Acey at 12:13 PM on April 10, 2006

Yay! My life is complete again!
posted by tkolar at 1:15 PM on April 10, 2006

Metacliche: reviewers describing a work as "character-driven" to hide the fact that nothing happens.
posted by casarkos at 1:22 PM on April 10, 2006

I find it really hard to read long sections of italicized text. Some writers like to set apart a book's prologue -- or some other section (a flashback, a dream sequence) -- by italicizing it.

I'm looking at you, Perdido Street Station.

Here is an excellent essay on how not to write fantasy: The Well-tempered Plot Device
Here is an excellent parody of science fiction writing: If all stories were written like science fiction stories
Both are hilarious.
posted by Aknaton at 1:52 PM on April 10, 2006

The most famous example is the door to Moria in "Lord of the Rings." Frodo "brilliantly" figures out the solution that Gandalf couldn't. I don't buy it. And the puzzle is stupid to begin with.

Sorry, but this isn't how I interpreted it. The door of Moria wasn't supposed to be any sort of puzzle. It was their main entrance, and Gandalf just lost his key (i.e. forgot the password). Maybe he never really needed it before because the doors were always open, or you sort of get the sense that he thought that Balin was kind of dick and tried not to visit too often. And so he gets there and everyone is relying on him since he's the super-powerful wizard and he's reduced to, in a sense, checking all his pockets for the dang key. Embarrassing. And then Frodo is like "hey man, did you check your little change pocket?" and Gandalf is all, "oh shits! That's exactly where that darn key is. Thanks, little man." Old men = forgetful.

I read the books, too, so this is not based entriely on the movie.
posted by breath at 2:24 PM on April 10, 2006

breath, I can see how you might interpret it this way, and obviously an interpretation is personal -- not right or wrong. But I still think it's stupid. (I'm basing this on the book. I saw the movie, hated it, and then pretty much forgot about it.)

Gandalf doesn't generally forget things like this. I know he sometimes forgets specific spells, etc., but he doesn't forget how to use logic. This seemed like a contrived moment to show us how "sometimes the simple folk can trump the wise and powerful." That's a general theme of LOTR, and in general, I think Tolkein does a great job exploring it in a non-contrived way. But that moment doesn't work for me. I think Gandalf WOULD have figured it out.

In any case, whether you agree with that example or not, the general problem -- poorly thought-out, contrived puzzles -- occurs over and over, in many stories.

I think I know the reason. I think it comes from fairy tales. In fairy tales, you can have a simple puzzle, because the tales themselves are so simple: the treasure was inside one of three caskets...

Many fantasy writers use fairy-tale motifs as their base and then extrapolate into something fuller and more complex. There's nothing wrong with doing this, but you have to be REALLY careful about how you translate the fairy-tale items into your full-blown fantasy world.

To my tastes, the Harry Potter books are a total mess this way (and in many other ways). They are a hodgepodge of realistic, detailed incident, fairy-tale stuff, and Dr Seuss-like wordplay. I don't think it all fits together to form a coherent world.

Tolkein is much, much better this way. But his has his gaffs.
posted by grumblebee at 2:34 PM on April 10, 2006

I've always been annoyed by fiction that features young women (usually in their 20s) who are world experts in their subjects (main character is male, usually in his late 30s or older). Dan Brown springs to mind, as does Aurturo Perez Reverte.

It annoys me because it's not celebrating women's intelligence as much as trivializing the amount of work anyone (even a brilliant person) needs to do in order to become an expert in a topic.

Of course the women are beautiful, too, in whatever way the (male) author thinks is beautiful. (Carl Haaisen, you have a thing for small breasted women?)
posted by luneray at 2:41 PM on April 10, 2006

True, grumblebee. Thanks for taking the time to explain your reasoning, and I certainly agree with you in the general case. The trope of "simple, common-sense thinking trumps intelligence" is annoying and overused. It reminds me of both this thread on anti-progressivism and the embrace of truthiness in America. There are a lot of things wrong with such philosophy, but the most glaring to me is that simple thinking only trumps analytical, "intelligent" thinking as an exception, not the rule. If something could be solved just by getting all aw-shucks on it, it would have been done a million times over already. Of course, the counterpoint is that brilliant people can turn a previously unimaginable relationship into simple obviousness.
posted by breath at 3:01 PM on April 10, 2006

One more thought -- the preface to McSweeney's Book Of Thrilling Tales by its editor, Michael Chabon, is very good.

He complains about the American short story being completely taken over by a kind of winsome inconclusive story in which someone comes to a kind of half-assed realisation, and posits an alternative universe in which all stories were about nurses.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:53 PM on April 10, 2006

People always delivering whole, coherent lines with periods at the ends, even in agitated dialogue. It is a rare thing that someone gets interrupted in a book, or that several people speak at the same time. I guess this common situation can't be very well represented in written form.
posted by springload at 4:37 PM on April 10, 2006

Gratuitous expositional details has always given me the irrits (Grisham / Clancy / Cussler / Brown, I'm looking at you). For instance, I don't need to know that the bishop is getting on a twin-engined Gulfstream Jet IV with two Rolls Royce engines putting out a billion pounds of thrust with four pilots, 12 passenger seats and an inbuilt massage monkey, to fly to Rome. Getting on the plane and flying off is just fine. Thankyou.

Tolkien did a similar thing -- a page of glorious description about a rock by the side of the path, leading you to the conclusion that SOMETHING is going to happen with that rock. Is someone going to jump out from behind it? Is it a troll?? Maybe it's a magical rock that will speak?? A teleporting rock?

Nope. It's a frackin' rock. Just a rock. It doesn't even surprise them two chapters later -- it's not a spy rock, no sir! It's.. just a rock. ARGH. But look over there! There's this TREE! A fantastic tree, up in the distance! Reaching for the sky, limbs outstretched.. yadda yadda yadda. For another couple of pages, just on this TREE. It drove me batty.
posted by coriolisdave at 5:21 PM on April 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

or that several people speak at the same time. I guess this common situation can't be very well represented in written form.

It's not like movies are any better at this, really. There's a striking scene in Hannah and Her Sisters where a bunch of people talk at the same time, all conveying information, and it's so true to life. Striking, alas, because the audience is never trusted to be able to listen to such conversations.

Now that the OP has said that movie cliches are also welcome, let me mention how much I hate, hate, hate when one connected piece of information is delivered from several characters. There's a nasty case of this in Silence of the Lambs, when they're watching the living abductee's mother speak on television. 1: "She's mentioning her daughter's name over and over." 2: "That's really smart." 3: "It helps remind the bad guy that the daughter's a human being." If anything, person #2 should continue their statement, with ", because," and #3 should remain silent.

If you didn't already, you will now notice and be annoyed by this idiocy that appears in most any Hollywood movie. You're welcome.
posted by Aknaton at 5:25 PM on April 10, 2006

Gratuitous expositional details has always given me the irrits

Oh man, I know what you mean. I associate that the most with people in my college fiction workshop - and this was the intermediate level class, mind you. I was constantly making this criticism in class, but I felt like I was the only one who had a problem with it. It was like everyone was under the impression that description was always a good thing to have in a story, no matter how unrelated to the characters or plot it was. Gah.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:39 PM on April 10, 2006

I'm surprised no one has mentioned these yet, but some of the worst cliches are when a bunch of crazy shit happens and then in the next scene the character wakes up and it was all a dream.

I wrote this story for my 6th grade English class. My English teacher scrawled at the bottom, "Dream endings are TRITE."

Shocked, I looked at the list of words and symbols the teacher had given us to interpret his markings. There it was: Trite - used to indicate parts of a story that have been so overused by past authors that they have grown dull.

My budding literary career never recovered.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:47 PM on April 10, 2006

Aknaton: "Hey, you're talking about memories!" - that annoyed me very much last time I saw Blade Runner, and it's just the kind of construct you describe.

It's not like movies are any better at this, really.

No, it's common in movies too but, as indicated by this thread, compared to books there are more hangups about movies, and a greater number of common features that are out of line with reality.

Also, the movie medium permits more dynamic dialogue than literature does. Really life-like speaking is not common, but there are exceptions. Watch "Together" by Lukas Moodyson for a brilliant example.
posted by springload at 5:56 PM on April 10, 2006

Endless bloody technobabble in sci-fi. Using the story linked to above... If I were to write a story in which the main character was flying to London, the actual booking-the-trip part would take two lines. In sci-fi, it takes seventeen chapters, because the author has to show off How Futuristic My World Is. Feh!

It's common throughout all genres, though. Endless exposition, when simple reading of the book and immersion in the universe (Ursula LeGuin's Always Coming Home comes to mind) will lead you to an intuitive understanding of what's going on, rather than having it laid out point by point. Babylon 5 was (inconsistently) good at this; we got dropped right into the B5 universe, with things slowly making sense as we started learning about everyone's relationships.

Asimov wrote on this subject; I think I have the relevant book around here somewhere. In essence, he was complaining about SF (and by extension fantasy) authors needlessly complexifying the world: "M'gorg strapped on his fleebons, to take a grumple of seventeen flargs to the nearest gleepmorp." WTF? "M'gorg put on his shoes and embarked on the long journey to the nearest supermarket", as bad a sentence as it is, serves everyone's needs much better.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:49 PM on April 10, 2006

People always delivering whole, coherent lines with periods at the ends, even in agitated dialogue.

You know whose dialogue was brilliant? The late lamented George V Higgins.

His characters ramble and mis-speak and talk in circles and actually sound like real people.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:39 PM on April 10, 2006

Not so much a complaint, but it is related to what the discussion has brought up. The lack of any sense of magic or supernaturalism in certain stories. Want a good example? Try the first Harry Potter movie. What separates H.P. from the tradition of boarding school novels? The magic, duh. The expressions in the movie make it see like wearing a cloak that makes you invisible is a fairly humdrum gift.

I agree on the computers a lot. If you don't know anything about computers, don't use them. It's not like they are an essential plot device - better to say "rifled through her files" than the "I downloaded it to her using my TCP/IP whizzware super-duper yibbly-wibbly drive" (combined with a HollywoodWare interface). Nobody cares that you got her files from a computer or from any other source, only that they've got something secret inside them. If you know something about computers, you can hide a nice in-joke in this kind of detailing that a few nerds will pick up on.

Some other Hollywood clichés that annoy me:
1. The Eastern master of kung fu, spirituality and alternate realities. Yes, these guys exist. Yes, they are interesting. But why doesn't anyone in a movie ever say "Hold on a sec, you're talking B-S? Are your ideas even falsifiable?" to an Eastern master? These guys are just, well, guys, and they can be wrong too.

2. Related: most 'training' scences - the plot, so encompassing five minutes ago, just stops for a few weeks so the character can be existentially enlightened/learn karate/get certified as a plumber... This is going to expose my taste for B-movies, but an example of this has to be Jennifer Lopez's character in Enough. Her insane, abusive ex-husband who is trying to kidnap her and her daughter stops trying to kidnap her for long enough that she can go and hang out with this muscular black guy for a few weeks to learn how to beat the bejeezus out of said ex.

3. Us guys, the Brits, don't all speak like the goddamn Queen, James Bond or old-fashioned, dinner-suited BBC radio news presenters. There is as much variety in British accents as there is among American accents. You wouldn't have a film with a rural Texan farmer and expect him to sound like he's a lifelong Bostonian or New Yorker, so why not do the same for us Brits? We've got loads of different accents, we've got immigrants bringing in new accents and codeswitching, we've got accents differing by class, education, upbringing and loads more. Tip: BBC Voices website, Millennium Memory Bank, British Library Accents and Dialects and Wikipedia.
posted by tommorris at 1:23 AM on April 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

There is as much variety in British accents as there is among American accents.

There's much more actually, per head anyway. Especially in the North of England, were you could experience Liverpudlian, Lancashire, Mancunian, Yorkshire, Geordie and many many more unique and distinctly separate dialects in a space no bigger than the New York metropolitan area. RP (queen's English) is a marginalised dialect that you rarely come across.
posted by Acey at 4:00 AM on April 11, 2006

The conventions that get under my skin have more to do with the cliched manipulation of emotions (by movies and books) and the assumption of predictability by the authors. These may have storytelling merit so might not be what you're looking for.

- otherwise normal guy goes INSANE when family (especially daughter) is threatened or otherwise endangered. I'm sure there is an aspect of truth to this, but in almost all movie/book cases, the Dad that otherwise would obey laws, work with authorities, wear a seatbelt suddenly becomes a total fanatic obsesso outlaw killing machine. The general story explanations for what made the ordinary guy/gal "go crazy" (for women it's often rape, theirs or others) usually don't seem beleievable.

- lack of grief/processing. You just lived through a flood/fire/plane crash/diaster that killed 90% of the people around you. But, since your family is okay and you've just got a limp, it was a good day overall. See: LOST, The Day After Tomorrow, and many others.

- pets. Animals are used to tug heartstrings and move drama along "Don't leave Mr. Bumbles BEHIND!!!" but are often thought of only as having importance akin to children when they are endangered and often disappear for the rest of the book/movie after their scene is resolved. For pet owners, using an animal only as a shallow plot device rings falsely, I think for writers who are not pet owners this isn't as apparent.
posted by jessamyn at 5:37 AM on April 11, 2006

Something I really can't tolerate -- and I think it's more prevalent in movies than in books, but there's no reason it should be -- is when our main characters who live in an extraordinary world find it extraordinary in exactly the same way that one of us Mundanes would if we were put there.

It's just so much cooler if they take it in stride and find it unnoteworthy. Also, it comes across as the author trying to hard to say "pretty wacky world I got here, huh???" by having the characters say it rather than live it.
posted by Aknaton at 9:02 AM on April 11, 2006

I can't forget the most obvious one: the older man/MUCH younger woman coupling. You'd think all guys in their 50s or 60s were involved with women in their 20s or early 30s.

Pregnant women either have the perfect pregnancy, are glowing throughout and never get sick or anything, or they're extremely high risk from the moment of conception. And no matter how conflicted a woman is about the issue of having children or not, once she gets pregnant (especially if it's unintended), she's all about being a mother and there was never anything else she wanted. Well, unless she's getting pregnant to trap her man into marriage. After all, many domestic problems can be solved by having a child!
posted by SisterHavana at 9:32 AM on April 11, 2006

You wouldn't have a film with a rural Texan farmer and expect him to sound like he's a lifelong Bostonian or New Yorker . . .

Maybe not, but we do have a movie where Don Johnson pretends to be a Vermont native, while speaking in his Miami Vice voice throughout.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:09 PM on April 11, 2006

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