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February 9, 2013
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Listen up and I'll tell you some "don't do this" and "look out for these tropes"  I've absorbed from my adventures in writing. Some are my own invention, some are from college professors, and some are from the glorious Ebert:


The Traveling Sloth - Brainless characters are dragged along a wild adventure in which they do nothing and learn nothing.  

Evangellion Effect - Huge world-changing events are happening but the characters are too obsessed with their personal problems to notice

Snow White - A character who does not act but inspires others to act for him/her.

Phantom Menace Challenge: Ask yourself and others if they can describe the characters in a story without mentioning what they look like or what their jobs are. The more the character can be described, the better written it is. Invented by RedLetterMedia.

Lots-O-Plots - A story with a main theme that strings many, many vaguely related characters together. There is no central character and too many people to pay attention to for a satisfying narrative.

Charles Dickens Dichotomy - The lead characters are impossibly bland and the side characters are impossibly interesting/loud.

Pride and Prejudice Plot - the plot hinges on a misunderstanding rather than an actual conflict.

Chosen One Syndrome - A classic example of self-insert writing in which an Average Joe(tm) turns out to be a hidden Messiah without any hard work. This is what  sad lonely kids write when they wish a magical being would take them out of their miserable lives, but he never does. He never does (This sometimes works out great if you handle it just right).

Onesa Characters - All you need to know about the characters can be explained thusly: "One's a cop, one's a redneck, one's a woman, one's an Asian, one's a nuclear reactor engineer...." Invented by Ebert.

Mary Sue - A beautiful, brilliant, perfect self-insert character who is always right and everyone who disagrees will change their minds eventually. Closely related to the Chosen One trope

Childish Heroes - The protagonists are innocent man-children and sexless women, whereas the antagonists are mature career men and the women are sexually confident.

Brotman's Law - If nothing has happened in the first quarter, nothing is going to happen.

Morality Play - There's a very clear moral to the story from the opening scene onward. The depth to which this is pounded into our heads defines the badness of the story.

Dare to be Different then Die - If the character struggles to be their own different self over the course of the story, then they are a success (Examples: Angus, Whale Rider). If the character is already brave to be themselves in the opening scene, they will be humiliated and die horribly, thus becoming martyrs against a cold unfeeling world (Examples: Boys Don't Cry, Million Dollar Baby).

Idiot Plot - A conflict that would be solves easily if all the characters were not idiots. From Ebert.

Woman in the Refrigerator - The female love interest/girlfriend/wife of the character serves no purpose except to die or be kidnapped, thus cementing the badness of the bad guy and the reason for the hero to do anything. This also frees the hero of anything to keep him from doing cool crazy dangerous stuff. Invented by Gail Simone.

Evil Trio - The smart man, the sexy woman, and the strong idiot man.

The Moses Story - A guy belonging to Group A enters Group B. Guy is confident in the greatness of A over B. After spending time with B he decides he likes B better and fights on B's side instead. As seen in The Bible.
Examples: Pocahontas, Avatar, The Last Samurai, Dances with Wolves, etc.  

Odd Couple - Two people with little in common are teamed into a situation with wacky results.

Wandering Hero - A stranger enters a microcosm. He will be a famous hero in said microcosm by the story's end.

Sturgeon's Law - 90% of everything is crap. Remember this before falling in love with a first draft.

(Thank you Attenuasis for reminding me of this one)
The Bechdel Test - Stories pass the Bechdel Test if they contain more than one female characters who at some point have a conversation that is not about one of the male characters.
This also applies to the main characters - do the side characters have scenes and conversations that have nothing to do with the main? Invented by Alison Bechdel.
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:iconsapphire--raichu:
Sapphire--Raichu Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thank you!!!
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
You're welcome!
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:iconcadmiumcrows:
CadmiumCrows Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
As an avid fantasy fan, I'm used to the "chosen one" plot. It's pretty much the standard for that genre. But It's so awesome when the person earns the hero title. It's not impossible to do a good chosen one plot. But unless they work their ass off for the title instead of fate handing them a mcguffin one after the other, it's pathetic and overdone.
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
It is, and it's also lazy.
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:iconcadmiumcrows:
CadmiumCrows Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
im too grounded in reality to make things that ready.
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:iconeyelids-pie:
Eyelids-pie Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2013  Student Filmographer
ive actually happen to have taken up an interest in the fine art of storywriting more than EVER recently so its awesome that you posted this haha

ive been reading robert mcgees STORY for the last couple of days and jotting down notes like crazy and i feel silly for thinking i knew anything about writing stories before haha

he gives lots of good tips on how to avoid cliche which are cool %}
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Robert McGee's "Story"? Never heard of it but now I have!
Thanks! I'll look it up!
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:iconeyelids-pie:
Eyelids-pie Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2013  Student Filmographer
ACTUALLY DO BECAUSE IT IS THE BEST
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:iconavye:
Avye Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is wonderful, thanks! :D
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
You bet!
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:iconultimalol:
UltimaLOL Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2013
This is really helpful. :)
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks!
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:icontheovercoat:
theOvercoat Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013
This one's fantastic! And at a perfect timing, I'm just about to get started on figuring out some plot for a graphic novel/short story and I really want to avoid as many lame clichés as I can xD
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I'm glad I could help!
Reply
:iconattenuasis:
attenuasis Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013
Chosen One Syndrome:

It comes in degrees. Avatar: The Last Airbender isn't a series I followed--just caught a couple episodes here and there--but it's probably the trope done well. Aang's the chosen one and everything, but it passes the Chosen One Bechdel Test: There are episodes which are not about him, in which other characters talk to each other about things that are not him. Other characters exist and matter. I think there might even be episodes where he's barely there.

Then you've got Harry Potter and LotR, which are maybe in the middle or something, I guess. Never got into HP.

I never read Eragon but it made me want to hit myself in the face repeatedly just hearing it discussed... but I'm old enough to have read Pern fanzines, and the author was a teen, so I can't rag on him too hard.

But after that... You're into the wooly wolf-felching wilds of Terry MOTHERFUCKING Goodkind, where the idiot ranger needs to find the hero and he is the hero, and then he needs to find the sword and it's the sword that's been hanging over his fucking fireplace forever, and he needs to find the wizard, and it's the creepy old dude who likes to sleep naked on boulders who he calls grandpa, then he falls in love with a chick with a curse that means every man who screws her will lose his mind, but he screws her anyway and is fine, and he needs to get this special power, but IT WAS INSIDE HIM ALL ALONG. And you know the bad guys are bad guys because they like to molest children. (And only a member of the evil dude's royal family can defeat him, but OMG SURPRISE Richard Rahl IS THAT LONG-LOST BROTHER and then I threw the book across the room. Then I retrieved it, and hit the person who gave it to me in the head. With it. He got better, I'm glad to say.)

And then Goodkind went into decapitating anti-war protesters. And evil chickens. At least Luke Skywalker got bitchslapped and de-handed.
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I suppose that a lot of these tropes appear so often because there's just something to satisfying about them. There's something in out nature that likes them a great deal.
Many follow the Joseph Campbell patterns of mythology (see "Hero With a Thousand Faces").

Also, that Terry Goodkind book you described sounds like he was making it up as he went along, which is the worst possible way to write, imho.
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:iconattenuasis:
attenuasis Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013
My best writing has been yanked out my arse like ben-wa beads I didn't even remember being shoved up there.

Goodkind is... Christ, I can't do this to an innocent stranger. I think the worst is on TvTropes, including the mutilation of the 12-year-old-girl and the beheading of the unarmed anti-war protester.
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
1. That is a great metaphor. Reuse it, plz.
2. I'm impressed! Very, very few people can improv-write and it turns out well! Nurture that!
3. Is he worse that Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird? (The exploitation novel that he tried to pass off as an autobiography)
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:iconattenuasis:
attenuasis Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2013
1. /Bows.

2. It's all down to how your creative process works.

So far my best stuff comes from ideas that've been floating around in my innards for years, only to be expelled in fits of artistic emesis that make that Alien chest-bursting scene look like a gentle caress.

That, or I'll just puke up plot out of nowhere.

3. I don't know that reference, but... if The Painted Bird is like that James Frey hoax, then yes, Goodkind is miles worse.

See, Goodkind really BELIEVES his own horseshit.
Reply
:iconbtomimatsu:
btomimatsu Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is very helpful! I am going to refer back to this a lot when writing my story. Thank you!
Reply
:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
You're welcome!
Reply
:iconelectricgecko:
ElectricGecko Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013
Very good list. I'm a huge fan of Ebert's Little Movie Glossary, though it makes me gouge my eyes out now because when I mention it in this world of 'TV Tropes', no one knows about it anymore. That Ebert. Smart guy.
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:iconattenuasis:
attenuasis Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013
I follow about five people on Twitter, because I don't know how to use it. I think I have John Scalzi, and I liked The Mary Sue's icon, so there, and I have personal friend, and this feminist thinger, and a joke political account, but Ebert is probably the meat of it.

Except when my friend posts crazy bullshit.

Reading a handful of his reviews will teach you more about philosophy, creative writing, and psychology than you'd get in a semester's course-load in a reputable university.
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:iconelectricgecko:
ElectricGecko Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013
True enough. I used to collect Ebert's books. Very funny AND instructive.
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:iconattenuasis:
attenuasis Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013
I still haven't read a whole one. I really must remedy that, and to hell with the whole "too many books and too little time" thing.
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I learned about a quarter of my storytelling knowledge from that man. Love him to bits.
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:iconredoctoberrising:
RedOctoberRising Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Sturgeon's Law is the best advice ever.

Actually, I easily avoid the Phantom Menace Challenge, because I almost never describe the appearances of the my characters. I think I only described Jack Shaara once, when he was introduced.
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
That's about the smartest thing to do ever.
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:iconredoctoberrising:
RedOctoberRising Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I think, if you can't say it in a sentence and doesn't matter to the plot, don't bother.
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Oh Lordy do we need more storytellers like you around...
Reply
:iconredoctoberrising:
RedOctoberRising Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I once wrote an entire novella without any physical description of the main character, except for injuries. Describing too much is what often makes an entry into UBC- covers are often too cluttered, especially in sci-fi.
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:iconirrendernarr42:
irrenderNarr42 Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
thanks, this was quite interesting and beneficial. i hope i can remeber this in my own work.
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Copy and paste it into a word document and save it for later reference, my friend!
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:iconirrendernarr42:
irrenderNarr42 Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
maybe
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:iconsmoludozerka:
Smoludozerka Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
True, some of these are really irritating, especially since we usually know something is bugging us about the plot but we can't put our finger on it. Still, perhaps using a little bit of some ain't all that bad, after all we can relate to what we know and a plot that is extremely original might just not seem very likely :) Anyway, the list is a good one, I especially like the Phantom Menace Challenge. Do you actually know some more challenges/tests like that? I think they might be more telling in practice than just keeping the tropes in mind :)
Reply
:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I just added the Bechdel Test to the list. I currently don't know of any others.

to be honest, the best advice I can give anyone to avoid certain tropes and patterns is to just study. Study the craft, study human psychology, study history, study biographies and learn what makes people do the things they do. These studies don't have to be broad, but variety is the spice of a good story.

Of course, you're already a great storyteller - I don't need to tell YOU this :)
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:iconsmoludozerka:
Smoludozerka Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Hah, thanks. Recently I've been seriously doubting myself in that, though. But I guess it's natural when/if I don't produce any story at all now.
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:iconclockworksnakeryo:
ClockworkSnakeRyo Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013
The summary is freaking awesome - I faved it and I'll print it and put it on my magnetic board.
I think this would look awesome as one of yours comics in Life with introverts style.
But you know... I like some of the concept and movies.
For example the Dance with wolves was good movie in my opinion. I'm fan of wantering hero concept - I loved Rurouni Kenshin series. And I really loved Million dollar Baby. Yes, it was frustrating but it was portraiting situations which should happen.
Is it bad?
Reply
:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I think this works better without illustrations since anything I would draw would either be a reference to an example OR turn out mean-spirited
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:iconclockworksnakeryo:
ClockworkSnakeRyo Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013
aaaah yeah... that¨s a risk ;)
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
It's not bad to enjoy these tropes.
Sometimes, when the writer knows EXACTLY what he's doing, they make something really amazing.
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:iconclockworksnakeryo:
ClockworkSnakeRyo Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013
Well - the choosen one is generally very popular for example. I'm not a fan not at all. I liked Harry potter, but that one was connected with the Charles Dickonson problem - all characters had MUCH more potencial and were MUCH more interesting than the main Hero who was also the chosen one.
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I'm not a fan of Harry Potter, as you know, but I have nothing bad to say about it. I dislike the tropes J.K. Rowling chose to go with, but that's a matter of personal taste and not actual criticism. She did a mighty fine job and I don't have to like the genre to realize that.

But as you were saying - yeah, the Dickens problem is a tough one to get over. What's strange to me is how often it seems to be encouraged in storytelling schools and ESPECIALLY in big media.

The heroes have to look, act and talk a certain way because they are self-insert ideals. The others are allowed to be strange and creative because they are not constructs for us to impose ourselves upon.

A lot of people love this. I don't, personally, but many do.
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:iconambreechristineskye:
AmbreeChristineSkye Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013
I have so much trouble with so many of these. TT-TT
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Ah, it's okay.
If I may, I'd like to suggest reading psychology and watching documentaries on people and places that are very different than what you're used to.
This can help you see beyond pre-set storytelling formulas and think about the content first.
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:iconbrandon-chung:
brandon-chung Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Student Digital Artist
Will definitely use this list as a checkup to make sure my writing stays healthy. Good job on compiling this. :)
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:iconromanjones:
RomanJones Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
You're welcome! Glad to have helped!
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