I’ve got two weeks of finals this semester, and I’ve been having some health issues. Nothing that can’t be fixed, but I just can’t get into the frame of mind for a story analysis this week. So here, in no particular order, are some of my most-hated pet peeves.
1—Serial Killer Nemesis
I’m so sick of this trope, mostly this is due to over-exposure. I’ve seen it in multiple shows—mostly crime shows—but some others too. Bones, in particular, had one every freaking season. I finally had enough and stopped watching. Some shows, even ones I’d heard good things about, I refused to even start watching. This same problem can be found in book series—again, mostly the crime genres—and likewise I’ve refused to read some because of it.
If you really must have a recurring villain, there are many alternatives to the serial killer nemesis. Mob boss or gang boss; Person of Interest does that and I love it. A villain with good publicity, especially one that runs a corporation or holds political office, can be a powerful and damned scary foe; one of the best is David Xanatos from Gargoyles (which is awesome in many other ways too—seriously, watch that show). Or a plain old manipulative bastard; I haven’t watched Jessica Jones yet (though I plan to), but from what I’ve heard, her nemesis is scary good at manipulating people even without using his superpower.
These are so numerous and so prevalent, I could spend the rest of next year hating on them and still not be done. But some annoy me more than others. I’ll try to be brief, since I’m sure you’ve heard complaints about these, or had some of your own, before.
a—“The One” aka Soulmates
I find the notion that you have a pre-destined soulmate, a one-and-only person you’re fated to love, disturbing on a number of levels. It defies free will, emotional and personal growth, and the hard work that goes into making a relationship work. It also invalidates all times a person is in love except the last one, as well as the variety of types and levels of in-love there are. I’ll stop ranting about this now, or I’ll keep going ad infinitum.
b—Love Makes Everything Perfect
As I just mentioned, relationships are hard freaking work, for all parties involved—polyamorous relationships exist in fiction as well as real life. And don’t think only two are involved in a relationship even if it’s one-on-one. Family, friends—especially if one or both partners have children—work, exes (or the specters thereof)…all these people and more are involved a romance because they’re involved in the lovers’s lives. But even between the two people in love, there’s lots of points of disagreement and conflict. No two people will have the exact same values, views, and experiences. And as fond as fiction is of bickering couples and opposites attract, the idea that just being in love—even True Love—will magically make all problems of all sizes nonexistent, is ludicrous.
c—Romanticized Unhealthy Romance
Oh god, this one really is just everywhere. Even in freaking Disney. The Little Mermaid—give up everything, even your species, for a guy you just met and know nothing about? Sure, why not? Beauty and the Beast—what’s wrong with a relationship based on Stockholm Syndrome anyway? (For the record, I’m not a Disney hater. Sleeping Beauty is one of my all-time favorite movies.) The absolute worst I ever saw though, is still Twilight, where love is an addiction complete with withdrawal symptoms. *shudders* I watched Twilight because I wanted to get the jokes—it was not worth it. Twilight is the most boring movie I’ve ever seen, bar none.
Sexual/romantic attraction and/or a one-night-stand does not constitute love or a relationship. I think this one is so prominent because of laziness. Why go to all the work of building a believable romance when you can…not? Bleh.
3—Blunt Moral Instruments
It’s ok for a story to have a moral, just don’t hit me over the head with it or wreck the story for it. If you want to write a sermon, do that instead of a story. Subtlety, people. Done well, moral gets expressed as a story’s theme. It’s woven into the story, not plopped on top. It causes the audience to ask questions. Done badly, it forces the answers down the audence’s throats. No one likes that. And if you’re just trying to preach to the choir, seriously, just go write that sermon.
4—Plot Induced Stupidity
There’s a whole TV Tropes page dedicated specifically to plot induced stupidity (there is also a trope with that as a secondary name but it refers to a specific kind of plot-induced stupidity), so I’ll just say this. If you, as the storyteller, can’t find a way to make the event plausible—by creating a reason the character would react this way, such as being overwhelmed by other things or giving them actual motivations for the decision, or by arranging the plot to make this seem like the lesser evil at the time, or freaking something—then perhaps you should skip that whole plot event and let the plot evolve in another direction. It’s ok to throw away that outline, really. Yes, no matter how much work you put into it, or how well it works “on paper” (forgive the pun). If it’s just not working, please, for the love of humanity, don’t force your characters to do it.
This is when a trope gets thrown in for no discernible reason. It differs from a Dues ex Machina in that, that at least serves a purpose. It’s like someone felt compelled to force something into the story, maybe to fulfill a list of genre requirements? All I can say to that is, even in the oldest of myths, they all follows most of the steps of the Hero’s Journey, not every single freaking one. It’s ok not to use every trope ever associated with your genre—or whatever else it is making you feel like you have to include that trope. For more on this particular peeve, you can see point 4—I Killed Your Wife of my post on Snow White and the Hunstman.
This is when the product placement actually interrupts the story. Product placement is necessary evil; funding is needed to get tv shows and movies made. I’m fine with making sure the logo is facing outward or whatever. And if you want a bigger pitch, find a way to work it into the plot. If this can be done with a modicum of subtlety, so much the better. Burn Notice does a good job of this; there’s lots of nice cars, considering two of the three (and later, four) protagonists are usually broke. But they find a way to weave that, whether it’s because of one of Sam’s Lady Friends, or whatever. And when Michael’s voice over describes some of the selling points of a car, it’s plot relevant. In the middle of a car chase, good turning radius and brakes are desirable (and of course, Mike’s comments are always amusing). Bit it is unacceptable to interrupt the story for a product sale—that’s what the actual commercials are for. This was another reason I stopped watching Bones.
7—Magic Flip Flop
Either magic is possible in your world, or it isn’t. Pick one and stick to it.
8—Greatest Fear Come True—Meh
I’ve only actually seen this done once, in a book my brain refuses to remember the name of. Eve’s something, I think. The cover was almost totally red. But that one incidence was horrible enough to cement it forever as one of my most hated story treatments.
So the protagonist, from whose first-person point of view the book is written in—and who I mentally heard from page one as sounding like a ditz—makes constant mention of her fear of going crazy. Her mother is schizophrenic and the protagonist is terrified of ending up the same. Again, this is mentioned throughout the book. A book about the newly formed division of the FBI dedicated to dealing with supernatural crimes, in a world based on ours, where society doesn’t acknowledge such creatures as real. So of course she ends up being told by her boss and coworkers that she’s gone nuts, is diagnosed as such, and put on medication for it. She spends a week or two in a mental fug, then suddenly those same boss and coworkers tell her, yeah, no. We needed to get you out of the way for a little while, while we did…something important? (Not important enough that I remember it.) But no, you’re totally sane. Well, thank goodness! What a relief.
…and that’s it. What? All this build up, all this drama…for literally nothing. There is zero, absolutely freaking zero, emotional repercussion. Either from her worst fear coming true—and seriously, you never once wonder if you’ve just gone off your meds and really are crazy? Really? My god, what squandered story potential. Or from the protagonist’s coworkers—two of whom are her love interests and one of whom she’s known since FBI school—and her boss, whom she respects, getting her committed and drugging her. You’d think there’d be some trust issues resulting from a thing like that. But no. Nothing. Zilch. Total zero.
It would’ve been simpler, not to mention less destructive to the story and main character—who, again, is the one telling the story—to just put her in a Convenient Coma. Given the magical beings running about, one of whom is even stalking her, the temporary coma with no consequences would’ve been more believable too.
Wow. There were more of those than I thought there’d be. Well, at least it’s out of my system…for now.