This post is a bit more of me being a fuddy-duddy about writing choices, but I’ve been bedridden for four days with nothing else to do but binge watch some old favourite TV shows, and it got me thinking about some of my dramatic pet-peeves in storytelling.
So, you know, to get them out of my own head, I figured I’d throw them down here.
Please note: this is not a personal attack on any story in particular; just choices I’ve noticed that are not suited to my personal tastes.
- You might have seen my tweet about this, but why oh why do people blackmail murderers? You know this person just killed someone. It doesn’t matter what their reasons were, they were able to turn off their conscience long enough to exterminate the life of another human being, surmounting some of the basic barriers of human nature. You think they’ll turn to you with your request for $5,000 and go “Yeah, sure, let me get right on that. I absolutely trust that you’ll keep your mouth shut.” No. They’re going to come after you and bury you in their backyard.
- Why go upstairs if someone has broken into your house? Stay calm and find the nearest exit. This is the first thing you’re told in a drill, going back to when you’re six years old and the fire alarm in your elementary school is going off. Screaming like an idiot and running upstairs into your bathroom—unless there is a conveniently located fire-escape/porch with ladder attached to it—is silly, and you will likely die.
- One of my absolutely biggest pet peeves—and I catch myself doing it in my own first drafts until either I or my crit partner catch it and slap my wrist—is when characters keep secrets for no good reason. It’s too easy to see through this decision as a way to heighten tension in the story/between characters, and it’s incredibly frustrating. COMMUNICATE. Unless your character has been set up as someone who never tells anyone anything (which would be a very difficult character to empathize with), either spill the beans or give a really damned good reason why you’re keeping your mouth shut. A good lesson in relationships as well as storytelling.
- When the main character has proved time and time and time again that they know what they’re talking about and they’re really good at [insert skill here], but when the time comes where they make a life-or-death observation, no one believes them. Like the above, this is such an obvious “We are raising the stakes” moment that no real tension comes from it. Again, unless there’s a really good reason, like character wakes up in a parallel universe with all the same people where he usually isn’t good at [insert skill here]. Hmm….. Something to think about there.
I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones that caught my attention over the last many many episodes of many many crime shows.
Even sick, apparently, I keep a critical eye on a good story. I find it helps improve my own writing.
And it means watching television is research…
What are your storytelling pet peeves?