Books I Loathed discussion

Clichéd Plots

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message 1: by Jessica (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:36PM) (new)

Jessica | 7 comments There are some stories that just seem to reuse bad plots. Here are some I can recall:

[1] Male and female sleep together. Female becomes pregnant. Male and female later wed and live happily ever after.

[2] Two enemies or strangers find love - with each other - after lots of sex.

[3] Character is raped and falls in love with the rescuer.

[4] A battle occurs and the unprepared protagonist defeats the far superior antagonist with no valid explanation as to why or how.

[5] Single woman whose whole life - and plot - revolves around her inability to find a man.

[6] Character spends entire novel attempting to woo another character who expresses no interest.

I noticed the great frequency of stories such as these when I was going through chemotherapy. Now, when I see a book that even hints at any of these issues, I ditch it. I feel my time is wasted on such stories.

Am I the only one who is frustrated by poorly thought-out and overused plots such as these? Am I just exaggerating the prevalence of these stories?

message 2: by Maria (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:37PM) (new)

Maria | 19 comments It kind of sounds like the books you encountered were crappy romance novels. I can't say that I can name anything that fits your descriptions offhand, except maybe Bridget Jones' Diary.

In general I'm an adherent to the school of thought that says if you're a good enough writer, you can make anything work. Literature uses a limited number of plots and archetypes. It's sort of like music, you know - there are twelve half-interval notes that you can use to compose a limitless number of melodies, most of which are going to be crap (because 95% of everything is crap), and some are going to be genius.

Of course, going by the 95% of everything is crap rule, you're probably right in not picking up those books.

message 3: by Sarah (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:37PM) (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) There are no original works.

Look at Shakespeare. All of his comedies were the same! Shipwrecks, identical twins, mistaken identities, men playing women pretending to be men...

Look at how many farces use the same devices orginially written by the Greek Plautus. Moliere's Scapin and the Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum both borrow from Plautus.

I agree with the person above me. I've read a lot of "chick lit" and some is better than others. A good writer can use a common plot device with rich characters and good comedy and make the book pretty darned entertaining.

message 4: by Summer Rae (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:37PM) (new)

Summer Rae Garcia | 45 comments Those plots are great. We have been eating them up for years, we are suckers. I hate Chick Lit, but tweek it just a little and you have historical fiction, tweek it more and it is fantasy, put a secret society in there and it is a best seller. It is all the same. That is what makes the author their story stand out, that they can actually make you like something that has been done a zillion times.

message 5: by Lori (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:37PM) (new)

Lori (tnbbc) Maria, thats a good analogy...

I have to say here that alot of what I read tends to go against the norm.

If you check out my bookshelves, you are bound to find similar themes... When I went through my chicklit phase, most books seemed to only change characters names, the struggles and carrer choices and problems with men all seemed identical. That got boring quite quickly for me.
Then I jumped into religious/conspiracy themed novels, then end of world type stuff... and on and on.

I found some really unique books out there, authors who dont write according to the "been there, done that because its worked" philiosophy.

I'll list a few authors who have written novels about topics I would never get bored of... and havent seen overdone yet... Jose Saramago (Blindness, Seeing), Glen Duncan (I Lucifer, Death of an Ordinary Man), Cormac McCarthy (The Road), Philip Dick (A Scanner Darkly) --- these are a few of the many that I have read and enjoyed.

Perhaps you just need to branch out and read different genres, mix it up a bit. What authors do you usually read?

message 6: by Jessica (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:37PM) (new)

Jessica | 7 comments Here's the thing, though: these weren't chick lit or romance books. Many were written by men and involved another genre (horror, mystery, history, or sci-fi) to add dimension to the story. I loved a book by one author, and when I read his other works, I discovered that number [6] is prevalent in every story he writes. In the first book of his I read, the unrequited love didn't bother me so much, since I was focused on the mystery, but his books quickly became monotonous because of plot number [6].

Lori: what I read now isn't like what I described. As I said, I avoid such books. And I can only recall the titles of a few of the books I described.

I wish I had Goodreads years ago. It would have been nice to see what I read during chemo. Just going through my Amazon Wish List, I can see how my tastes have changed in just the past year.

message 7: by Erica (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:37PM) (new)

Erica Poole | 65 comments The interesting thing is, what makes a romance novel like Camille or Rebecca become a classic, while anything by Jude Deveraux is considered trashy romance. They can both be about love, and sex, and two people fighting to find a way to be together, whether they are fighting themselves or outside forces. So causes one to be regarded as quality while the other is just trash? I have always found that interesting.

message 8: by Jessica (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:38PM) (new)

Jessica | 7 comments LOL @ Sarah! Great story! I'm with you on the thinking "that adulthood was going to be VERY dramatic." I always found it frustrating when my life didn't turn out like it did in books, TV shows, or some other avenues of entertainment. It was only very recently that I accepted that I'm not going to turn into one of those supremely outgoing and gossipy girls I thought I should be.

message 9: by Aimee (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:38PM) (new)

Aimee | 8 comments You just outlined every success story in the publishing industry. :\

I dont think it's entirely the plot's that are to blame. Many times it's the way the author tells them. You could take any one of those plots and give it a good twist or throw something incredibly unique into it to make it like no other, and it's all shiny and new and fun to read.

It's those writers that treat it like formulaic bread and butter that ruin it for the rest of us. :\

message 10: by David (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:38PM) (new)

David (david_giltinan) | 58 comments As Maria and Sarah wrote, the number of plots is definitely finite. Some authors meet that challenge better than others. For instance, the great majority of Stephen King's books have a plot that can be summarized as "creepy phenomenon terrorizes isolated community", but he finds ways to flesh out the details interestingly enough to keep our interest. Shakespeare recycled like crazy, but his command of language and knack for telling detail keeps us reading.

message 11: by Norman (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new)

Norman (normanince) | 48 comments I disagree that there are no original plots. There are so many original works out there, but you may have to work a bit to find them. Steer clear of the bestsellers lists, perhaps, and look for more 'classics' or works in translation. Some titles with original plots:

The Brothers Karamazov - Dostoyevsky
Zorba the Greek - Kazantzakis
This Earth of Mankind - Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Child of All Nations - Pramoedya A. T.
Tiger! - Mochtar Lubis
A Road With No End - Mochtar Lubis
Twilight in Djakarta - Mochtar Lubis
Life of Pi - Martel
Don Quixote - Cervantes
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Marquez
The Winter of Our Discontent - Steinbeck
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Dick
Slaughterhouse-Five - Vonnegut, Jr.
Things Fall Apart - Achebe
The Solitaire Mystery - Gaarder
The Things They Carried - O'Brien
My Name is Asher Lev - Potok
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea - Mishima
The Outsider - Camus

message 12: by Rachel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new)

Rachel Burton (bookish_yogi) | 1 comments There's no such thing as an original plot. It's the way the story is told where the skill comes in

message 13: by Gail (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new)

Gail Norman, I think two of your choices have plots that are derivative. I loved both books; again, I think, proving that it's the plot treatment that gets us hooked.
The two I have in mind are "My Name is Asher Lev" and "Things Fall Apart". I found "Things" very reminiscent of Hemingway stories: the main character was struggling to discover what it means to be a man in his culture and how that struggle formed his life. The little side plot with the colonials coming in is very common in literature. "Asher Lev", another great book, is all about the young man in opposition to the normative culture of his youth; he still loves it and wants to be part of it, but it's too restrictive to let him be who he is. That's not really an uncommon idea; in fact, Potok himself uses that in several other novels, including The Promise and The Chosen. By the way, may I recommend "The Gift of Asher Lev", a sequel to the first book? It's just as wonderful.

message 14: by Norman (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new)

Norman (normanince) | 48 comments It seems that 'plot' is being equated to 'story idea' or 'concept' - and perhaps even 'theme.' These are oft repeated and could arguably be categorized or grouped, but what I suggest is that many works have concepts, story ideas...and certainly plots that are any but "cliche."

I have cut and pasted the following on-line literary definition of 'plot':


Plot refers to the series of events that give a story its meaning and effect. In most stories, these events arise out of conflict experienced by the main character. The conflict may come from something external, like a dragon or an overbearing mother, or it may stem from an internal issue, such as jealousy, loss of identity, or overconfidence. As the character makes choices and tries to resolve the problem, the story's action is shaped and plot is generated.

All stories are unique, and in one sense there are as many plots as there are stories.

message 15: by Norman (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new)

Norman (normanince) | 48 comments Gail,
Thanks for the recommendation of the sequel to Asher Lev.

I am not sure that a novel that is "reminiscent" of another writer's works necessarily supports the idea that said novel does not have an original plot. The story of Okonkwo involves unique events, conflicts, and decisions - there may be thematic connections to Hemingway, but plot-wise Things Fall Apart is notably different from anything Hemingway wrote.

message 16: by Gail (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new)

Gail Well, I guess it all depends on how widely or narrowly you define the elements of plot. I think of plot as being the plan of a book. I see the plot of "Asher" as being one young man's struggle to be himself in a culture that's not receptive to what he (i.e., Asher) is. This is exactly the same thing that happens in both of Potok's other works that I cited, "The Promise" and its sequel, "The Chosen". However, you may construe this as the theme of the book and construe plot as being the actual events in the book. If that's how you define plot, then of course there are thousands of different ones. I do think, however, that no matter how you construe plot, there are many, many, many stories with identical and cliched plots. Two books that spring to mind immediately are "Pamela" by Richardson and "Dangerous Liaisons" by de Laclos; again, these are both books that I loved. These books have almost identical basic plots, although de Laclos developed his more fully, with more events and subplots. And how about all those romance novels? Pretty much the same plot lines there, I believe.
But you make some good points, Norman, that are well worth thinking about.

message 17: by Foxthyme (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new)

Foxthyme | 17 comments Oh, man, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea - Mishima. Another book I absolutely hated while I gained immeasurably from it. This book will not ever leave my mind, that's for sure.

Okay, people complaining about plots. How about the whole publishing industry only wanting to print 'sure sellers' so they don't lose money? Perhaps that's squashing some originals in the making?

I'm one of those who think there are original writers and plotters out there. I was staggered by Life of Pi.

message 18: by Norman (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new)

Norman (normanince) | 48 comments I feel reluctant to criticize all the 'sure sellers' out there because I so assiduously avoid them that I would be hard pressed to give any concrete examples of unoriginal or 'canned' plots. But if I can extrapolate from what I see in so many Hollywood movies - plots so predictable and cliche that you might as well finish your popcorn quickly and go home to take a nap - then I will assume there are millions of books out there with the same problem.

Do these 'sell' because people LIKE the predictability? Is a certain story 'formula' reassuring in that their temporary escape from reality (through reading a novel or watching a film) never strays from what they expect...or includes a twist or aberration that may actually make them think?

Or - and Gail, you allude to this point - does it not really matter if the plot is unoriginal as long as the storytelling technique engages our interest? I first read The Great Gatsby when I was much younger and thought, "THAT is considered a classic? Poor guy meets rich girl romantic tripe. What a contrived plot!" But on re-reading the novel ten years later, I loved it and now can turn to any page and just enjoy Fitzgerald's language and style.

message 19: by Gail (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:41PM) (new)

Gail Yes, Norman, I think you've hit on it completely! Interestingly enough, so conditioned was I to regard the "classics" as such, that I never even questioned the basic plot line of "Gatsby"; but you are so right--how hokey and commonplace is that? And then Fitzgerald did something so wonderful with it that the reader is stunned. Another book with a similar underlying plot (poor boy, rich girl) is "An American Tragedy". Dreiser, of course, takes the book in an absolutley different direction and, again, we have something great to read.
Norman, on original plots, how about "Lolita", "Moby Dick", and "Crime and Punishment"? Those seem pretty original to me.

message 20: by Norman (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:41PM) (new)

Norman (normanince) | 48 comments I agree wholeheartedly that those three works have original plots. And original characters to boot!

message 21: by Alexandra (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:42PM) (new)

Alexandra | 16 comments As a fantasy reader I'm tired of the books cranked out about a boy who must go on a quest and save the world/defeat evil - most likely has a old, wise advisor/mentor. IF it adds unique elements or a new twist I'll give it a try. But it's been so done. Although I'll admit some of my favorite stories I've already read have this format.

I've heard a lot of good things about The Sea of Trolls, but when I got far enough to find this was going to be another one of these types of stories I stopped. Just was not in the mood right then to read that kind of story - yet again. I'll probably pick it up again and give it a chance, but right now I'm on burnout.

message 22: by Mark (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:42PM) (new)

Mark I quit reading Ann Tyler's books because they all seemed to have the same plot. The nobel prize winner Kenzaburo Oe also got stuck using the same plot over and over again. I don't like redundancy, and I don't like people doing the same thing over and over again either.

message 23: by Rachael (new)

Rachael (rprensner) | 7 comments I believe in thr crap rule as well. I acutally heard it 90% of everything is crap, butyours are even better. Yes, you're right that nothing is really original , but for a b ok to be truly quality, no matter how good the writer, they must add more to the plot than the simply bare-bones, no-thought-required ones.

message 24: by Rachel (new)

Rachel of course lots of plots are similar, because you have to write about the human experience. if your plot is too bizarre the reader won't be able to identify with it and will just stop reading. the storyline of the book isn't nearly as important as what the writer does with it. interesting characters, engaging dialogue, a new twist, a new point of view. if every author tried to write an absolutely original plot, there would be very few books in the world.

message 25: by Andi (last edited Jan 05, 2008 12:18PM) (new)

Andi I agree with Jessica's plots, but I don't agree there are hundreds of different plots out there. The books that don't follow one of Jessica's try to follow the classic Epic Hero plotline. Sometimes when I'm reading a book, I can just picture the author with the Epic Hero outline to their left, to keep themselves on track while they write. Heck, that's what I'D do, were I writing the Great American Novel [GAN]. Seems like the way to a blockbuster - look at LOTR, Star Wars, all the HS required reading books like Song of Roland and Beowulf...

message 26: by Mary Ann (new)

Mary Ann | 19 comments I totally agree with your take on Danielle Steele--and I've noticed that she uses the same term of endearment, "little one," in several of her novels. It's usually made by the hot new man...

message 27: by Anne (new)

Anne I just wish some authors could write more than their "cliched plots." Dan Brown and Nicholas Sparks are perfect examples.

message 28: by Ginnye (new)

Ginnye | 1 comments I understand that a lot of stories will have similar plots (what with intertextuality and whatnot) but I'm really annoyed with the chicklit novels about the youngish woman who has suffered a bad break-up, several dating mishaps, or some other minor tragedy and immediately flees to Europe. There (mostly in France, England, or Spain) she falls in love with a local (despite being unable to speak a word of French or Italian) who teaches her to live freely and passionately.
This plot is entertaining maybe the first or second time, but when every single chicklit writer picks up on it it's ridiculous!!!

I use to love Nicholas Sparks, but then I kind of lost interest in him. I think it's because I realized I was too young to really identify with the characters. I still really like The Notebook though!

message 29: by Phoebe (new)

Phoebe K. | 19 comments Jessica wrote: "There are some stories that just seem to reuse bad plots. Here are some I can recall:

[1] Male and female sleep together. Female becomes pregnant. Male and female later wed and live happily eve..."

Maybe you should read a different genre

message 30: by Alisha (new)

Alisha (alishafarkas) | 6 comments Jessica wrote: "There are some stories that just seem to reuse bad plots. Here are some I can recall:

[1] Male and female sleep together. Female becomes pregnant. Male and female later wed and live happily eve..."

You are definitely not exaggerating. These plots need to stop. I agree.

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