Four Action Tropes That Need to Be Revolutionized In Fiction–A Guest Post by Logan
Last month we discussed four major action story types that need to die. Examples of what I like to call “cliché cancer” that are so negative to the soul of your story that no amount of medication (creative subplots), surgery (major editing) or radiation treatment (supercharging the plot with unexpected twists and surprises) can bring your story back into a healthy, energized balance. It might occasionally be possible to get a new spin out of these diseases, but realistically, you’re usually better off starting with a new idea.
This month, I would like to switch gears from the cancer metaphor into what I will call the “racecar” metaphor.
My granddad used to own a drag car, and after every race, they would disassemble the car and rebuild it, each time improving it in small ways. As a result, they almost never lost a race.
The action clichés I am about to discuss are not fundamental plot types like the cancers we talked about before. Rather, they are the small flaws in the body of a racecar that won’t prevent the car from driving, or even being very fast. But they will create unnecessary drag and weight on your story that will keep it from winning the race for you reader.
The items from today’s list are clichés, but unlike the cancers, you usually don’t have to terminate the story to get rid of the problem. Usually, all you need is a little surgery.
These are one of those plot types that aren’t quite cancer, but are rapidly approaching that diagnosis. Especially those car chases that exclusively involve million dollar Italian supercars. Such clichés are painful because they are becoming so ordinary. There’s nothing exciting about a car chase anymore, because they’re so predictable. If you must use this type, try to mix it up. Use the cars that the characters in your particular setting would actually drive. And find something besides the cars themselves to make the chase gripping (draw-bridges, peanut fields, a possessed llama in the back seat…you get the idea).
The brutalized showdown.
I’m talking about at the end of, you know, every action movie ever made when the hero and the villain face-off, and then proceed to have an all-out bar-fight for the last ten minutes of the movie, throwing literally dozens of punches while they scramble for knives and pieces of shattered chairs. This sort of last-scene face-bashing is unbearably unrealistic, stressful, predictable and just boring. Find something more creative. Like the last fight scene in the movie Safe with Jason Statham. Now that is what I’m talking about!
Bombs, bullets and car wiring.
Let me be clear: bombs don’t beep, bullets do not detonate cars, and the ignition system of your Mom’s Odyssey is not bypassed by a few manipulated dashboard wires. While I am sure some bombs do beep, and some cars have exploded after being shot, theses clichés are becoming unbearable in fiction. These things are simply not simple, and some quick research will disclose how ignorant they make your writing look. In addition, using any of these three clichés (or similar) is almost always a sign of lazy writing. The writer doesn’t want to devote the hard work into coming up with a cool plot twist, so the hero just hotwires a minivan and sets off a school bus with his daddy’s 38 special. Just don’t.
In the rising computer age we live in, people seem to think that breaking into any network system anywhere is as simple as overriding the computer via some complex black screen with white letters. The real offense here is that authors write hacking scenes (along with any other highly technical or scientific stunt) without providing detail. They describe the computer hacker typing away at a keyboard through a series of black screens with white letters, but they never actually describe what he is doing or how he is doing it. This is usually accomplished by viewing the scene through the perspective of a computer illiterate character, not the hacker himself, and throwing around some random computer lingo (network, firewall, virus, ect). But this cheap cop-out is both obvious and totally unproductive. If you’re going to write about a computer hacker, or an astrophysicist, or forensics genius, know your stuff and use details. Otherwise, you are almost certainly sacrificing all of your believability. If you provide even a small amount of genuine detail, the scene will feel a lot less contrived and convenient, and thereby a lot less clichéd also.
I could go on. But the point of this article is more to open your mind to a new way of thinking than to give you an exhaustive list of action story clichés. The idea isn’t just to cut out the bad, but also to replace it with the good. The original. The vibrant. The examples I discussed above are just a small case study of things that are best avoided or altered, and why. Hopefully, they will help you think outside of the mundane and the cliché and toward that edge-of-your-seat roller coaster that we all know you are capable of writing.
Logan Jordan is the author of four novels, with an special interest in mystery, action, thriller and suspense fiction that delves beyond explosions and burning tires and into the deep internal conflicts of his characters’ battle for identity. Logan loves to write stories that send his readers on the same emotional roller-coaster of adventure, heartache and suspense as his characters, and leave them with something to carry away. You can learn more about Logan’s work, along with his upcoming online action drama, Blood & Water, at www.loganjordancole.com, and facebook.com/loganjordancole.