Jennifer K. Oliver

Speculative Fiction Writer

Category: Writing: Gripes

Random Action Cliches

A couple of random action cliches that bug me:

Movies that start with a chase, usually a person running through a city or woods, often panting and screaming and stumbling. This is invariably accompanied by loud crashing orchestral music. The problem is, you don’t see what’s chasing them, not even a flash or flicker or dark shape, so it ends up looking like a random person is randomly running, screaming and stumbling through a random city or woods. I’m not invested in the character right at the start so this set-up isn’t scary. I don’t think books are quite so guilty of this type of thing, but it’s something for writers and readers to consider. An opening scene with no stakes and a load of pointless action falls flat. Nobody will care if your protagonist lives or gets caught and skinned alive.

I also dislike it when a movie character obviously has a nightmare, wakes up screaming and sweating, and their bedfellow or someone nearby says, “Aw, did you have a bad dream?”


(Yes, I watched a couple of movies that used these action cliches recently. I’m not saying it can’t work if done carefully, but often it looks uninspired and predictable.)

To make sure this post isn’t entirely full of my ranty-pants:

The Stephen King Universe – a very detailed flowchart linking his books and characters. I love book and character links. It’s something I’d like to do with my own stories.

Science Fiction Goes Hand-in-Hand With Real Research – via The Telegraph. Astrobiologist Dr Zita Martins says: “In Star Wars, there was the Tatooine planet, rotating around two stars. Recently the Kepler mission discovered a planet like that. Imagination always inspires scientists to go in a certain direction.”

Better Book Titles – A blog is for people who do not have thousands of hours to read book reviews or blurbs or first sentences. The author of this blog condenses book plots and puts the often amusing summarised text on the book covers.

Female Sexuality in YA Fiction – at Stacked. The post also links to a handful of other posts on the subject, and is well worth a read.

D Is For Disillusionment

Ever found an author, actor, musician, or artist’s website or blog and found that they are not as peachy-keen as you first thought and hoped?

This sense of disillusionment has happened a couple of times over the years. I remember hunting for a particular author whose books I loved as a teenager. I read their blog, and quickly noticed how regularly rude they were about their readers. The author isn’t writing as much nowadays, but it’s still bad form. Fans are still buying their books, which is the greatest praise. It shouldn’t matter whether or not a writer likes their old work. If the bacon is still coming in, the least an author can do is be quietly thankful and not insult the people who are spending money on their product.

I try not to let someone’s personal attitude get in the way of my enjoyment of their work. But sometimes it’s hard to look beyond their public conduct. This is why, when I discover someone new, I try not to dig too deep. The internet, social networking, and online marketing makes everyone incredibly accessible. But this can work against people, too.

We are entitled to our opinions, but how far do we take it? And how do we recognise when we’re not only damaging our reputations, but also unnecessarily hurting other people? It’s usually not until after the proverbial shit hits the fan, and by that time feelings are hurt, opinions are formed, and it’s hard to backtrack. It’s almost impossible to make people forget you’ve acted like an ass on the internet, because everything we say is copied and pasted, screen-captured, stored in caches, and caught on way-back machines and freeze-pages.

The lines between sharing our thoughts and airing dirty laundry are getting blurrier. I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about our feelings, but bear in mind that sometimes a little mystery goes a long way. We don’t have to leap head first onto every bandwagon that comes along just because we want to be heard.

There are certain topics I’d never discuss at a dinner party, and those same topics will never be discussed here.

On the Pesky Nature of Giving Creative Writing Advice

I love the writing article There Are No Rules – Just Results, by Nicola Morgan of Help! I Need a Publisher! Why? Because this is exactly how I try to approach not only my own writing, but the writing of fellow authors. It’s about creative writing advice, and how much or how little to give. To quote from the post:

Please. Just write your book in whatever way works for you, even if that means hanging from a chandelier naked. It will be judged only on the result. Don’t get hung up on method, or at least on other people’s methods. You will find what works for you and that’s all that matters.

This is sterling advice. There’s nothing at all wrong with reading about an author’s methods and rituals (we all have them). There’s nothing at all wrong with trying out their hints and tips. It’s often helpful finding out different places writers find inspiration and motivation. But don’t hang all your hopes on someone else’s lifestyle working for you. We should always discuss writing, the how and why and where and when; it’s healthy to be open about these things because it could help somebody out there who is struggling. The key is not to expect it to make a massive impact on your craft or output. That’s still ultimately all down to you and how you apply yourself.

I tend to steer clear of articles where authors outright tell others The Best Way to write or What Not To Do when writing. Writing is such a deeply personal and sometimes very solitary activity (unless you’re actively collaborating with others, and even then there can be stretches of solitude). I would never want to be responsible for putting a fellow author into a stressful tail-chase, just because Method A works for me. I can, however, let that author know what works for me, and then they can try it if they think it might be beneficial.

The same goes for reading. While I star books on my Goodreads account to show which ones worked for me and which didn’t, I’d never say “Don’t bother reading this.” One person’s trash is another person’s masterpiece.

So, if anyone ever asks “How do I…?” my automatic response will be, “Well, I do it like this, but you should explore all options until you find one that works for you.” It seems like the best advice I can give.

Writing Cliches: The Underworld is Dim, But Comfortable

The room was dimly lit, with threadbare carpets and an overstuffed armchair in one corner.

There are far too many dimly lit rooms and overstuffed chairs. Surely people in fictional universes can figure out how to screw in a sensible wattage light bulb or get LEDs? Those with advanced technology or a bit of disposable cash really have no excuse. Surely furniture manufacturers can work out how much stuffing goes into an average-sized chair. If it’s bulging and looks ready to burst, it’s probably a good idea to stop stuffing.

I wonder if this is a collective subconscious thing, where us writers worry that we’re just a bunch of dim, overstuffed creatures. Which is not the case. We are (generally) awesome.

In the Fiction Cliche Dante’s Hell, a level is reserved especially for people doomed to cram wads of foam into straining cushion covers, their knuckles raw and bloody. All the while, emaciated chairs stalk around with whips, reprimanding any of those lazy chair-stuffers for slacking.

Yeah. It could happen.

Everyone is guilty of hitting the writing cliches button from time to time. Occasionally a writer will use a cliche on purpose, to make a point, to parody, or just because they have balls. These two cliches are big bugbears for me, but that isn’t to say they will stop me from finishing a story I’m otherwise enjoying.

I’d like to hear what your bugbears are when it comes to writing cliches or overused descriptions. Which ones are you happy to let slide?

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén