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Top Ten Thursday: Overused Plots

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Have you ever read a story or watched a movie/show and thought the plot seemed familiar in some way? It should be a common occurrence, since most ideas nowadays are just a spin on something that has already been done. But sometimes that plot has been redone so many times that it’s just lazy writing or catering for the masses at this point. I’m likely guilty of that as well, after all most of our ideas are born from the work of other people, but we could definitely do a better job when it comes to originality. Although, quite a few authors have managed to work cliches into their work without an issue. Can you think of a few overused plots on top of your head? Here are my top ten!

10. Switching Twins

It may not be as common as I believe it to be, but whenever I’m reading/watching twins my gut tells me they’ll be changing places. Not only that, but during crucial scenes where the identity is important, they’re bound to have switched places. Whether they end up kissing or killing them, they do that on the wrong twin. Insert collective gasping here because no one saw that coming.

9. The Prophecy

A not-so-vague prophecy which provides a detailed summary of all the events about to go down in the near feature, automatically spoiling the reader/watcher of what’s coming. It takes away from the incentive to read the book/watch the movie, though you may still wonder if it’ll turn out correct and continue reading/watching. But if you do so, and it turns out correct, there’s also a slight feeling of disappointment, unless the story was overall appealing, as to why you went through the whole thing when you could have just read/watched the prophecy.

8. The Wild One Tamed

People change, we all grow and evolve over time. But it’s shocking how many fiction characters change completely overnight or just over a short period of time. The dumb jock becomes the smart savior of the world, the flirtatious person turns into a saint, the naive virgin is now a bad-ass, and the reader/watcher is still who they are except they’re likely cringing at this part.

7. The Orphan

This goes especially for prologues, if there’s a story about a baby being abandoned you know right then and there that is going to grow up into one special human being. This is so apparent that if after said prologue it doesn’t turn out that way I’d blackout for a few days due to the massive shock. In my humble opinion this is even worse than the prophecy plot, as there you’re deliberately giving away your story while here you’re unintentionally spoiling it from the very beginning. Not at all entertaining if I’ve read it before already and if I know what’s coming, that takes away both the surprise and the freshness from the story.

6. Fake Death

The character dies and then surprise, surprise, they actually don’t. The ground in fiction isn’t very receptive of bodies, apparently. I tend to blame this one on Tolkien for bringing back Gandalf and even stronger than before, but there are older stories with that plot. It seems death is very rarely final or crippling, it’s more often reviving the protagonist or portrayed as rebirth of the character. Which isn’t bad, but haven’t we had enough of that already?

5. Ugly Duckling

This doesn’t refer solely to the romantic part of stories, but it’s definitely more prominent there. The character who was appalling and/or least desirable to everyone at the beginning of the story, eventually becomes the most appealing one. While its’s a great story on its own, this is used so frequently now I believe at least every third movie includes that plot. They don’t have to be appealing to everyone, no one is loved by all, but they don’t have to be so hated in the first place as well.

4. Funny Sidekick

Since the protagonist is so busy trying to impress everyone with their skill, they’ve lost all sense of humor and it’s up the sidekick to bring the jokes to the table. Not to mention the sidekick is literally useless and serves no other purpose but to provide sarcastic and witty remarks. Humor’s great, sarcasm’s even better, but the source needs to be any character as opposed to a single character with no other purpose.

3. A One-man Job

This has quite a few versions, from not accepting anyone’s help because they feel it’s their mission, or a specific character has to return to and old position because everyone feels only they can do the job. Heck, whole cities or nations would depend on a single person — are thousands of people so incompetent opposed to that single person? Were the other characters there just to applaud whenever the protagonist does something cool? Or were they meant to look dumb so the protagonist can look smart? Might as well use a laugh-track instead of supporting and minor characters if that’s the case.

2. Pure-Evil Enemy

Who is the protagonist and why are they so bent over to spread the seeds of chaos? We’re human being,s we all have a story and we all have our reasons for doing what we do, whether it’s good or bad (sometimes we just don’t realize when something is bad). The protagonist needs that to, they can’t just be born evil. No one’s born with the will to destroy the world, though they can get that will due to events in their life.

1. Love Triangle

Yep, that takes the first spot. Is this fun for anyone at this point? You have whole franchises where the world depends on the work of a few people, yet the focus goes to the girl’s inability to choose between her two suitors. They’re doing everything (read: fictitious exaggerations of love) to win her over but it’s too hard for her to pick one because they’re both so ridiculously good looking, highly intelligent, extremely courageous and kind and… Yeah, I need to rest my eyes now because they’ve been rolling for a while. It’s too much and it’s been done too many times, simple as that.

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Writing Issues N + ∞

They literally go to infinity, if not beyond. There’s an old saying (or at least I do believe it is one), trouble never comes alone. If this was true for something, it’s definitely for writing. Whenever you have an issue with any writing, know there are more issues behind the corner waiting to ambush you. Like the mythical Hydra creature with three heads which sprouted a new head (or by some legends two new heads) whenever you cut off one of its original heads, so can writing issues never really be weed out. Let’s go with a simple example.

Writing Issue N = Lack of Ideas

This is as basic as it gets, you’re literally sitting there with no ideas whatsoever. Still two issues in this path way — either you’re stuck in a loophole with this same issue, or you actually get ideas!

Writing Issue N +1 = Random Ideas

More like thoughts rather than full ideas, but definitely random. They can come to you at any time through the day, yet mostly unexpected. While you’re taking a shower, while you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep, during a bus ride, etc. The issue here is what to do with them. Do you grab a note and write down the initial thoughts? Do you try to keep the thoughts forming so that you use the moment of creative outburst? Or do you simple ignore them in the hope that you’ll remember them later (this has never worked in my experience)?

Writing Issue N + 2 = Idea Shaping

Say you wrote down the initial thoughts. What do you do with them now? They’re just thoughts, not a full idea, so do you try to bend them into something you’re already writing or do you try to create a new idea around them?

Maybe you kept going with the thoughts until a full idea was formed. Now you get to decide whether you like it or not, meaning if you’re keeping it or not. If you decide to write it down and use it, you have formatting and editing to worry about. If you discard it, you’re back to the basics.

I sure hope you did not leave the idea with the hope it will come back you at a more suitable time, because the answer is it won’t. Ideas are like the dust the wind carries — they comes and go in the blink of an eye. Either you work with them in the moment or you write them down so you can later iron them out. There is no third option.

Writing Issue N + 3 = Editing, Adding, & Removing

An issue as big as the Pacific Ocean itself. Even after you envision your idea, capture your thoughts and shape them into something grandiose, you have literally only taken a single small step in what’s a marathon you need to run. Your race has not even began. You need to go to your work, read it again, fix your mistakes, add new mistakes, remove mistakes, add more mistakes, fix additional mistakes, and keeping doing that dance until your feet hurt. Is this okay? Should I remove this or just change the wording? Maybe I should add a sentence in-between? The questions are never-ending, and the actual process itself pretty much feels never-ending.

But, say you’ve accomplished this. You’ve finished the Neverending Story, and we’ll assume you’ve even published it. However, the issue of what now? still remains. Do you start a completely new piece of work? Do you try to write something related to your previous work? Or do you just wait for another one of those random ideas to drop out of nowhere? Back to basics. I would call it the Phoenix cycle. An idea is born, and sooner or later dies, on its own or at your hands, but eventually a new Phoenix rises from the ashes of the dead one. Never ending and always changing, these writing issues.

The Unsung Peverell [Harry Potter Fanfiction]

This was done as an extra credit assignment for a class at HOL Virtual Hogwarts (hol.org.uk). The task was to write about a 4th Peverell brother. I’m Zoki Phantom at said site, and this was written in June 2012.

Although rather infamous and often omitted in the retelling of the Deathly Hallows story, the Peverells actually had a fourth brother. Grendel was his name, and he was the youngest out of the four. However, unlike his brothers, Grendel wasn’t very skilled in the arts of charms and he did not help build that bridge for crossing the river – this is probably why he was forgotten in the storytelling. Always being surpassed and humiliated by the greatness of his brothers, Grendel lived in their shadows and never grew up to his potential. He had a truly warm heart and a good mind, but the fact that he was always last created a fear in him that subsequently prevented him from succeeding in anything. In fact, Grendel was tremendously good at potion-making, way beyond his brothers were, but he never got the chance to prove himself. And in the end, what are “silly potions” compared to “magnificent charms” in the eyes of wizards and witches? Child’s play, that was what everyone told him he was doing.

Though Death wasn’t at all interested in his story, to him all that mattered was the fact that these brothers destroyed one of his best sources for taking souls and he was determined to repay them all, one way or another. Therefore he let the little Peverell request a gift just like his brothers did. Grendel had a hard time making his choice, until it finally hit him that he can use the opportunity to further improve his potion-making skills and hopefully finally prove himself in the eyes of his brothers. He asked for seeds that will grow into a unique herb with accommodating properties so that it would be able to substitute any known ingredient in any potion. His brothers laughed at his choice because they thought he could have asked for something much better.

When they finally separated from Death, they all went on their own ways. Grendel settled himself in a small town called Snowlog, located close to the river as he was just too eager to start working with his new herb. He waited patiently as the herb grew up, until it was finally ready for use. He first experimented with it in lower level potions like cure for boils, replacing it for another ingredient, and when he saw that not only did the herb made a perfect substitute but also made the potion stronger, he took his work on a higher level. From love potions to deadly poisonous potions, he created everything and all without the use of any rare ingredients that one could hardly find.

Soon he started his own business which later became one of the best known potions shops, and he himself became a famous potions master. Using the seeds from the grown up herb he managed to plant a whole garden with the same herb by the time his business blossomed. He never had any difficulties in his life ever again, except the fact that being so busy with his potion work he never found love and didn’t have offsprings to continue his work. After his death the garden withered and the shop was taken over by someone else and turned into a book store, covering up any possible trace of Grendel’s history.

However, his legend lived, at least for the people in the town of Snowlog, where the famous sign of the Deathly Hallows now had tiny black dots in the empty space between the cloak and the resurrection stone, representing the magic seeds that Grendel got as a gift from Death.