More Genre Clichés

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.

Science Fiction Landscape

Science Fiction/Alien

  • 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.

Staci Troilo Bio

56 thoughts on “More Genre Clichés

  1. Hi Staci, thank you for these great examples. While I accept that there are only so many story types, writers need to be original. It is the most important aspect of a book for me. So many books are just the same old thing. I don’t watch movies or TV so I can’t speak to those.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t watch ANYTHING. I know a lot of people who watch very little. (And less all the time, as quality and variety seems to decrease everyday.) That’s amazing. I find after a long day buried in words, I need a visual break near the end.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the examples. Originality really does make a difference. I agree; there are only so many stories. But there are infinite ways to tell them. Thanks, Robbie.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interestingly enough, my whole family rarely watch TV. The boys either do homework or play on their computers and my husband has some complicated game he plays with people form all over the world on about 8 cellphones and 2 computers. I blog, read, write or bake and there isn’t time for anything more.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The fact that I had so many examples flash past as I read your different tropes shows just how relevant your post is! TV series, films and books seem to be stuck in a rut at the moment and I’ve increasingly made decisions to stop watching/reading early on. Loved your suggestions for alternatives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve found myself giving up on shows and books, too. There’s little variety anymore. I just saw that they’re rebooting CSI (after all the spinoffs) and going back to where it all started with CSI:Vegas. I feel like Hollywood needs to give new voices a chance instead of redoing the same old things. The same is true (in a different way) with books. Some authors seem to be following a cookie-cutter format. I much prefer originality. Thanks, Alex.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, Staci 🙂 I never did understand how an out of shape drinker was effective when a clear head is needed. I love your suggestions on how to make things fresh. My current aliens are canine based, at least right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good post, Staci! I will say, back in the day, I loved the “damaged” cop trope, and it was fun, but it needs a rest. I have a type of book that I am sick of seeing, and if I buy one by mistake, immediately stop reading. The serial killer who somehow harnesses his/her horrific tendencies to help a cop/ be a detective/ be a consultant; or the cop/detective /consultant /coroner who tracks the serial killer who killed a loved one; or the survivor of a serial killer who . . .you get the picture. Please! Enough books about serial killers!! How many of them can there be?

    Liked by 1 person

      • Although a serial killer might help a cop pin his murders on someone else…I saw that done in one of the In Death books by J.D. Robb (and it turned out to be a stupid idea, because if she’d just kept her mouth shut and stayed on her daily routine she never would have been on the radar to begin with).

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve seen serial killers do that, too. That one doesn’t bother me as much. Probably because I’ve seen it less. It’ll probably become a “thing” soon, too. Funny that in the Robb book, that’s what did her in. I wonder if that’s part of the trope, or a way to make it fresh? I’m inclined to say part of the trope, but I can’t be sure. Great example, Jean. Thanks for sharing it.


  5. A great list, Staci. When I read the “Bad guy gets away when the hero turns her head,” I immediately thought of Craig’s Vampire, Kevin in Mrs. Molony. Much to The Hat’s dismay, Lizzie lets him live, then he comes forward to help in the next book. Great stuff, guys!!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Excellent examples and solutions, Staci. As a mystery writer I’m always looking for fresh twists in my tales. I also work hard on red herrings, which hopefully pay off. As a reader, I’m on board with everyone else who mentioned the grizzled old alcoholic cop. The few times I read a story like that was okay, but now? Nails on a chalkboard! Even young alcoholic cops grate on my nerves!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: More Genre Clichés | Legends of Windemere

  8. Another great list, Staci. I know what you mean about the titles. I think ever since, “The Girl on the Train,” this has become too commonplace. And the alcoholic cop? Really? Can’t writers do better than that?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I connected so much with the alco retired cop thing … I’ve ignored so many novels using this overdone theme now, even if they’re freebies. I’m like … enough, already.

    Great suggestion about kid-level science! That’s definitely what I need these days 😁

    If I ever finish the trilogy I’m halfway through, my alien colony is based on the ants that keep invading our house … I did so much research … sigh.

    Great post, Staci. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  10. You are spot on with these suggestions, Staci. I was able to think of movies that fit most of these tired ideas, and though I enjoyed the movie, it does come to a point where “been there, done that” is tiring. I love your suggestions for ways to reinvigorate the theme. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Yvette. It’s not that I don’t like those movies, shows, or books. These devices became tropes because they were interesting. But they’re tired now. I’m ready for something new. And it was fun thinking of ways to turn them around.

      Liked by 1 person

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