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3 Things Not To Include In Your Novel

Updated on July 23, 2015
Bernadette Harris profile image

Bernadette is a proofreader, online blogger, and freelance writer. She graduated from Franciscan University with a B.A. in Literature.

So you’ve finally decided to quit your cubicle and commit to becoming the next F. Scott Fitzgerald. Great! There’s always room in the box of unemployment for one more, and really, it’s not as bad as it sounds. We don’t have even have to clean the bathroom here; we just go right in our shorts.

Okay, but seriously, if you’re really going to do this, please, please avoid putting the elements listed below into your masterpiece. There’s nothing new or interesting about them anymore. In fact, for your readers they’re like the kiss of death—only not as sweetly releasing.

At least their costumes are different. Katniss clearly wears black and Tris is obviously
At least their costumes are different. Katniss clearly wears black and Tris is obviously

1) “Strong” female characters

We all want our heroines to be smart, interesting, and capable. What we don’t want them to be is dusty literary molds that are about as interesting as yesterday’s toast. Enter one of modern literature’s favorite breakfast sides: the “strong” female character! She’s the perfect complement to the wimpy man omelet, also a modern classic. What’s not to like about her, after all? She is tough, sassy, and entirely indistinguishable from her other strong female peers.

Katniss from Hunger Games, Tris from Divergent, Teresa from Maze Runner—yawn. Snoozetown, people. Wouldn’t it be interesting to go back to the old-fashioned woman so frequently scoffed at these days? Hell, I’ve love to see an old-school homemaker who enjoyed girly things like knitting while solving murders or something in the meantime—oh wait. Christie already did that. Her name was Mrs. Marple, and she was the last interesting “strong” female character to appear in the last thirty-odd years. And notice how her strength as a character has nothing to do with physical power or acting like a dude.

I’m utterly sick of this so-called “independent” heroine, and I can’t think of a single new angle to take with her. She used to be “new” and “edgy,” but at this point? Dump her. You’re out to create the next Great Gatsby, and the only thing this chick can do for you is lose an audience.


2) The government is behind everything

We are currently experiencing a massive expansion of government, and this concern has been made manifest in the growing literature preferences of the modern reader. For instance, you may have noticed a recent explosion of post-apocalyptic novels. These books address the varying aspects of power gone horrible wrong. Cool, right?

Not anymore. This trend has spawned a plethora of plots and characters that have already become old and tiresome.

The plot is simple: sometime in the future the government is out of control and everybody becomes screwed, until one group of rebels decides to fight against the tyranny. I think one of the best examples of this was actually done decades ago and hasn’t been done well since. You know, in that series that begins with “Star” and ends with “Wars.”

The books already mentioned above are great examples of this. Divergent, Hunger Games, Maze Runner—they all have various futuristic setups with the same stale explanation. “Oh, we don’t know what’s going on? This puzzle is impossible to solve? Omg it’s the government!’’

DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING! Look, if you’re thinking about writing a novel where the government becomes too big and makes people do bad things, don’t. We all know it could happen and at this point reading about it is just depressing. Not to mention boring.

Totally loving you for your mind right now
Totally loving you for your mind right now

3) Sleazy romance

“Listen to you heart.” What exactly does that mean, anyway? When you think about it, it seems to be an invitation to listen to one’s “feelings” over one’s head. Great advice. I foresee no possible negative consequences from this at all.

But there's plenty, obviously. You know it and I know it. A quick look at the bestsellers list reveals the results of this "liberating" philosophy that has been rammed down our throats for over a decade: a confusing blurring of the line between love and lust, with the result that the former is usually considered to be the exact same thing as the latter.

The most famous example is probably Bella and Edward from Twilight. Their biggest problem as a couple isn’t Bella “neediness” or Edward’s “possessiveness.” It’s the fact that their relationship is defined by physical attraction.

They can go on about how deep their “love” is, but at the end of the day, every scene they share consists in descriptions of beating hearts and sweet vampire scent. And when they are removed from the physical presence of one other, they become quasi-humans who can’t even perform basic life functions. That's not romantic; it’s just sick.

Another example would be Christian and Ana in Fifty Shades of Grey. Disclaimer: I haven’t read this backup piece of toilet paper. Nor do I intend to. But we all know what it’s about: a sadist pervert and a dumbass college student decide to engage in some torture-porn. Let me repeat that: their relationship is initiated in order for Christian to satisfy his sexual perversion. That’s it. Yet it’s actually classified as a love story.

For all you future authors out there, kinky sexual abuse and utter emotional dependence on your beloved has nothing whatsoever to do with genuine love. It does, however, have everything to do with unhealthy obsession and a total disregard for the dignity and respect that is owed to the human body.

So unless you’re going to explore why this is wrong (and please God tell me we still think this is wrong), don’t drop another turd into the sewage of mass-produced romance novels that circulates ‘round the public these days. Focusing on lust alone--but a single aspect of love-- is like saying the only worthwhile ingredient in a cake is the icing. Don't buy it. Make a cake with all the good stuff so that you can feast with pride and grow fat off the fruits of your literary labors.

As a novelist, you should enlighten and inspire your readers to reach their ultimate potential, not be the means by which they get their jollies for the day. Let's aim for higher things, people.

Big sexy is more than his chocolate drizzle
Big sexy is more than his chocolate drizzle


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    • profile image

      the muffin 2 years ago

      However when one is a voracious reader and can predict what will happen most of the time because old cliches are used reading new works loses its thrill.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      I quite agree - it's not what y0u say, but how you say it.

    • M. T. Dremer profile image

      M. T. Dremer 2 years ago from United States

      I won't deny that cliches run rampant in a lot of popular fiction, but I wouldn't personally classify these three things as dump-worthy. I've never read Divergent or Maze Runner, but I consider the Hunger Games to be a modern literary masterpiece. Not because Katniss is a badass warrior, but because she's not. Over the course of the trilogy, it's obvious that she wants no part in the rebellion and only got sucked into it because she was trying to protect her sister. I frequently disagreed with how Katniss was handling the situation, and how the supposed 'good guys' were using her, which showed me that she wasn't a cookie-cutter hero.

      The same can be said of the big government cliche. Books like 1984, The Giver, and The Hunger Games aren't leaning on the reveal that the enemy is the government. Rather, their strength comes from how their characters react to it. Some want to rebel, some get caught up in the rebellion, and some are just trying to save a loved one.

      There is a notion in writing that every story has already been told, we just need to find new ways to tell them. And it's because the characters are what make or break the plot. One could use every cliche in the book, and still produce an amazing piece of fiction.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      I suppose it is a bit easy to slip into these literary cliches, but they only become cliches because loads of folks have used them. Be good to see a strong female, sleazy Govenment agent who didn't fit the genre! Voted up.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      This is great Bernadette, I agree totally. I think it's time we revisited the type of stories and characters and story lines from 40 or 50 years ago+ They will now seem to be a breath of fresh air compared to those of today which are becoming ho hum with the repetitiveness. Voted up.