Ciao, SEers! Last time, we talked about clichés in horror and how to fix them. This time, we’re going to look at stereotypes in two more genres and ways to turn them around.
- Title of the book is “the character in the place (often vantage point)” i.e. The Woman in the Window
- Solution: Find something more appealing to name your book. Often a word or line in the text will pop.
- Bad guy sees the voyeur investigating what they saw
- Solution: This is overdone. If you want to have a voyeur, don’t let the villain see the voyeur. Let the voyeur approach the villain. Maybe the voyeur is worse than the villain and blackmails him or becomes inspired by him and becomes a supervillain.
- Washed up grizzled alcoholic detective who lost someone and comes out of retirement to solve the crime even though competent cops can’t
- Solution: Why is this even a thing? Why is a chemically-compromised, out-of-practice cop better at his job than detectives who are actively working and competent? Avoid this one.
- Twist is a good guy was behind it all (the helper)
- Solution: This can be effective (all your characters are either good or bad, so it only stands to reason that at some point, you’ll have a killer who’s a “good” person), but you have to lay the proper clues, use red herrings, and have the right motivations. If you use this one, try making him a suspect early, then clearing him, only to have your initial suspicions prove correct. Or try making a different good guy being a suspect instead.
- Bad guy gets away when hero turns her head
- Solution: This is good to extend a series, but we’ve seen it before. If you’re going to do this, why not operate in shades of gray and let your cop decide to let your villain run? That will make her have a lot of guilt when, in book two, he breaks his promise and starts killing again. Or is it really him… Yep, it’s a much better way to extend a series.
- Aliens look like humans
- Solution: Make them look like absolutely anything else. Look up monsters on Google. Make them be microscopic parasites. Use your imagination.
- Crystals as a power source (especially unlimited power)
- Solution: Again, there are any number of things that can power something. I’m no scientist, but I can read a few articles and cobble together some jargon that sounds accurate (ish) for whatever I need. If you aren’t comfortable reading scientific journals and figuring out what to say, read articles geared for children. Talk to a science teacher. Watch a science channel on TV or YouTube. You’d be surprised at the information you can find and the concepts you can grasp rather quickly. It won’t take long to create an authentic (or at least an authentic-sounding) power source that’s a fresh take on an old concept.
- Mercenary at the rowdy bar where all species hang out
- Solution: I’m the first to admit the cantina scene in Star Wars: A New Hope is a favorite of mine (and Han absolutely shot first), but we’ve seen this scene a ton of times. Where else can you have this mercenary? Where might be the most interesting place? A worship hall? An orphanage, doing charity work? Having high tea with his grandmother at a fancy restaurant? Do something incongruous with him. Or her.
- Planetary ruler instead of a UN kind of body representing all the land masses
- Solution: Stop having a dictator over the entire planet. Planets are huge. It’s unlikely there’s one person ruling the entire globe. If there is a planetary government, it will be UN-like, with representatives from all the lands sitting on a board or congress of some sort. (Yes, there could be a ruler of that, but show this body instead of that one supreme ruler. No more Emperor Mings.)
- Beating the big bad immediately kills all alien soldiers
- Solution: Just don’t do that. I cut Marvel a lot of slack because I’m a huge RDJ fan, but even I struggled to make the leap when the nuke that Tony sent through the worm hole somehow killed the living army on Earth. Make sure your kills make sense.
Like last time, the solutions were eliminations or completely changing things. Everything was a matter of subverting the reader’s expectations. If you can surprise the reader (in a good way), you’ll leave them with a favorable impression and a desire for more.
So, did I miss any? Can you add to the lists? Let’s talk about it.