Writing clichés redux

So, my last post was driven by realizing that I keep seeing the same thing over and over in what I’ve been reading. I really did intend to open up the laptop tonight and at least consider thinking about finishing a book review; I’m so far behind you’d think I was running behind American Pharoah. (Gleeful as I am about a Triple Crown winner (I’ve been waiting most of my life for this), it still hurts to intentionally misspell “pharaoh”.) Or maybe a review of Kiss Me, Kate at The Hartford Stage while it’s still playing there would be nice. (It was wonderful, go see it! There. That’ll have to do for now.)

However, I’ve been catching up on a few tv series here and there, and when an episode of Ripper Street I watched last night and an episode of Game of Thrones I watched just now (GoT HBO this time, not GoT GRRM) used just about exactly the same tired gimmick, I have to complain about it.

I actually kind of already complained about this one back in January 2013 when I put together my first short list of nearly unforgivable clichés that almost have to be forgiven since even favorite and respected writers are guilty: someone is always going to be nearly dead of seasickness on an ocean voyage; if a woman is nauseated odds are she’s pregnant (unless she wants to be pregnant, in which case she’s just ill); boar hunts nearly always end in a named character being maimed or killed – – and a poignant moment between a parent and child just before they are parted means one or the other is going to die or be otherwise seriously interfered with.

This post is to refine that last entry. I’ll avoid specific spoilers for the two episodes I’m talking about (I won’t even name the episodes), but you’ll probably know the scenes when you see them. It’s okay, though, really, because the spoilers are basically written in. Anyone who’s read a few books or watched a few hours of tv can see what’s coming without using binoculars.

Ripper Street: a father is reunited with his daughter, who has been through a great deal of trauma, and he promises her that he is going to take her off somewhere peaceful. “When?” “Now.” Of course something comes up, and he feels he is needed elsewhere (which the more I think about it the more idiotic it is – he just broke or at least bent a barrelful of laws to get his child back, and now he feels a greater need for him lies elsewhere? Regardless, he leaves the (large-eyed and incredibly fragile) girl someplace safe “for an hour”.

I said “Uh oh.”

A few minutes later he’s lying bleeding and mostly dead on someone’s carpet.

Game of Thrones: A mother puts her two (large-eyed and clinging) children on a boat; they want to stay with her; she tells them she has duties still to perform and she will be “right behind you, I promise.”

I said “Oh, for God’s sake, she’s so dead. And I liked her, too.”

A few minutes later she’s lying bleeding in the snow.

It actually irks me more and more the more I think about it. If a writer has their heroine losing her breakfast repeatedly after one or more nights with their hero (or whomever), do they really think their readers are going to be surprised at the Big Revelation that it’s morning sickness? No – a lot of readers are going to roll their eyes and call the heroine an idiot for not twigging to it when they did. And, honestly, I don’t believe I can think of too many examples outside of commercials or sitcoms where a character told his child “go on ahead, I’ll join you in a minute” when the parent actually DID join the offspring in a minute. I mean, a writer of television or film  has a set amount of time in which to tell a story; a “print” writer has to keep her plot moving and on point. If a moment like “I’ll be right behind you,  I promise” is focused upon, it’s probably gonna be significant. And the significance is probably gonna be that Mom isn’t going to be right behind her kids. (Or – spoiler alert – if she is, it’s a Very Bad Thing.) I know there’s supposed to be nothing new under the sun (seem new? Ish?

Someday when I am the next J.K. Rowling I will use my vast fortune and influence to work to stamp out lazy cliché in books and television and movies. Till then, all I can do is keep writing – and in doing so do my damnedest to avoid such easy, easy traps as being surprised that someone large is also graceful, or forcing characters to break promises made to moppets (“right behind you!”), or … et cetera.

And I’ll keep collecting the cliché moments that are so very cheap and easy to rely upon.This is only the tip of the (appropriately clichéd) iceberg, I’m sure! Anybody?

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2 Responses to Writing clichés redux

  1. N. E. White says:

    similar to the kid one, the ‘I can handle this one on my own, go on ahead’ cliche. of course they won’t be able to handle it! but I guess that’s part of building suspension?

  2. stewartry says:

    Ooh, you’re right! There’s no real point to having someone say that except to let the audience/reader know that no, no they can’t. Tricky writers then proceed to follow the characters who go on ahead, and have the one who said he could handle it actually arrive awhile later, emerging from a cloud of smoke and flame.

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