I’ve noticed a few journals have a list of stories they’d rather not see. These lists can be entertaining but also educational when you realise that your fantastic idea for a story has been done so often that magazines have actually gone to the trouble of including them as ‘things not to do’ in their submission guidelines
Here is a selection from the Strange Horizons Website (more at the link above)
- In the future, criminals are punished much more harshly than they are today.
- An alien or an AI/robot/android observes and comments on the peculiar habits of humans, for allegedly comic effect.
- White protagonist is given wise and mystical advice by Holy Simple Native Folk.
- Brutal violence against women is depicted in loving detail, often in a story that’s ostensibly about violence against women being bad.
- Baby or child is put in danger, in a contrived way, in order to artificially boost narrative tension.
- Aliens and/or far-future posthumans think, talk, and behave just like upper-middle-class Americans from the 20th or early 21st century.
- The narrator and/or male characters in the story are bewildered about women, believing them to conform to any of the standard stereotypes about women: that they’re mysterious, wacky, confusing, unpredictable, changeable, temptresses, etc.
- Strange and mysterious things keep happening. And keep happening. And keep happening. For over half the story. Relentlessly. Without even a hint of explanation.
Here is a selection from Clarkesworld (more at the link above)
- stories in which the words “thou” or “thine” appear
- talking cats
- talking swords
- stories where the climax is dependent on the spilling of intestines
- stories that depend on some vestigial belief in Judeo-Christian mythology in order to be frightening (i.e., Cain and Abel are vampires, the End Times are a’ comin’, Communion wine turns to Christ’s literal blood and it’s HIV positive, Satan’s gonna getcha, etc.)
- stories about young kids playing in some field and discovering ANYTHING. (a body, an alien craft, Excalibur, ANYTHING).
- “funny” stories that depend on, or even include, puns
- sexy vampires, wanton werewolves, or lusty pirates
- zombies or zombie-wannabes
- stories that take place within an artsy-fartsy bohemia as written by an author who has clearly never experienced one
The best place to learn about clichés and waste a year of your life is on TV Tropes but there are a few things I would like to add to the list:
- Any American adaptation of a property or idea that is innately tied to another country or culture (I’m looking at you Akira)
- “Subversions” of genre tropes that aren’t actually subversions of anything (Rothfuss)
- writers trying to be too fucking clever for their own good (Moffat)
- Strong female characters that are only sidekicks (Gaiman’s new novel is a good example of both that and the girl sacrificing herself to save a guy)
- gritty retellings. I like original stories that are gritty and I loved Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight but not everything works as a gritty retelling. Please cheer up, the more gritty stuff I read the more I appreciate absolute nonsense)
- Magic systems that are pretending not to be magic systems.
- Following on from that: magic systems that are very vaguely defined and can be used as a fill-all-holes plot fixer