So it’s finally that time. Since my first post about Fiction Sins, I’ve wanted to dish on three more, but I didn’t want to force it and manufacture another set just to get pithy about them on here. So, instead of doing that, I’ve waited and watched and read and kept an eye opened for sins that were Sins and not just common writing mistakes.
And only just now, about six months later, have I finally encountered three… truly worthy screw ups.
Fair Warning: these aren’t as charming (at least not to me) and not as racy as, say, “Incredibly Awkward and Creepily Open Displays of Sexual Fantasies,” but these are grossly common Sins that the average writer is far more likely to implement without realizing it.
But enough with the soft disclaimers. Let’s get this party started.
4) The Glitter Pile
(Or the Pile of Enragingly Cryptic, Flatly Aesthetic Hook Concepts [with Matching Catch Phrases])
So, let’s say you’re watching a show. And let’s say that this show is based on a novel written by a really, really famous author. So, you go in and you’re expecting a lot—you’re expecting questions to be raised and for those questions to have clear, solid answers. You’re expecting master level intrigue when you sit down for the first episode and are satisfied when, immediately, several juicy mysteries are put into play.
Let’s say… maybe two big mysteries are dropped. Enough to make you excited for episode two because these mysteries even have catchy phrases that are associated with them, making them super charming (you can easily recite those phrases to fellow viewers—things like [I don’t know], “The last peanut will be salted!” [whatever]).
Anyway, episode two comes! And in it, no answers, but you didn’t really expect any so soon, so it’s cool!… Only… there’s not even… evidence at all about the solutions for the first two mysteries… and three more big mysteries are dropped… with accompanying catch phrases (“The cold enchilada… will warmed up!” [maybe I’m hungry]).
Anyway, if you’re anything like me, you’d immediately be suspicious at this point. You would expect what you’d find in the third episode—three new incredibly vague, riddle catch phrases and the very strong inkling that not a one of these mysteries or catch phrases will actually have any impact on the story (because they already didn’t).
In other words, at this point, three episodes in, you’d already be aware that the show was wasting your fucking time. Because its important mysteries wouldn’t be important mysteries—they’d just be sparkles. Just different colored handfuls of glitter thrown on top of one twist (maybe just “plot” is a better word actually) to disguise that twist as something it isn’t—incredibly complex. And now, I’m going neutral here because all of the gaudy, glitzy hooks tacked onto a plot don’t necessarily mean the plot is bad; it just means that the person writing that plot is trying really, really, tactlessly hard to catch the eyes of as many people as possible while doing as little work as possible to achieve that goal.
And doing that winds up hurting the plot because it allows it to be weak. Oh, wait—what’s that? Not enough glue? Better lay that plot down on a table—make sure it’s as flaaaat as possible so all that glitter doesn’t fall off; piling mysteries on top of mysteries means that characters never really get anywhere despite the author making them jump through deceptive hurdles. It cheapens the story and kills any real sense of suspense because the crazy mysteries that are supposed to be at the heart of the plot… don’t really mean anything. In the show I watched that did this, the interesting part wound up being the characters because they had divergent personalities that played off of each other in watchable, engaging ways. And that aspect of the show, I have to point out, existed completely outside of wondering what the hell “The cold enchilada will be warmed up!” meant.
Seriously, if you were to just pick up the plot… and blow off all of the glitter, you’d immediately have something far more genuine at the very least. I can’t believe I made it this far without raging (I’m proud of myself) but I will say this—there are two kinds of writers who will work this kind of plot; the kind who are major fans of a story that they didn’t realize followed this mold and are unwittingly mimicking it to try to create a genuinely engrossing plot, to whom I can only say, “You’re better than this; don’t do it; figure out another way; I believe in you.”
And then there’s the other kind of writers who work this kind of plot: literally professionals who are literally working you and don’t care at all about creating something genuine. They would never heed these words (obviously), but if you’re swaying even close to becoming this kind of writer, be careful, cause the next stop is Hack Town. Watch your step when you’re getting off the Integrity Bus.
5) The Event That Never, Ever Ends
This… is probably my favorite Fiction Sin ever.
To my oxymoronic-loving side, this is by far the most awesome bad thing that ever happens to any series because it’s such a clear indicator of creative bankruptcy that it’s hilarious. And sad if you like the series in question.
And that series would be Resident Evil, baby!
Now, I usually don’t tie specific stories or series to these Sins (because I don’t want to spoil things for the most part—which is especially true of the other two Sins in this post), but maaaaaan… Resident Evil is my one, perfect example of the Event That Never Ends. Seriously. I mean, you want to hear this Sin put into one name? Cause I can do that. Look:
There. I did it.
I’ve seen other stories commit this same Sin to lesser degrees, and, to provide a less obscure but still nerdy example of the Event That Never Ends, you need only visit your comic shop in the summer and peruse shelves lined with interminable summer cross over event after interminable summer cross over event. And, to be clear, yes, it is insane that Avengers VS X-Men was a year long… but the real problem here is that crossover events need to be tied to every… single hero. And, I know—it’s a crossover event—but the entire point is that a group of writers is trying really hard to milk a single event for absolutely all it’s worth from every angle they can come up with and that… is this Sin, perfectly explained.
And no single event has ever been run into the ground quite as hard as the Biohazard Outbreak in Raccoon City.
What really makes this example great to me though is that Raccoon City had an immediate writing expiration date; it was a major part of the formula that made Resident Evil 2 awesome… butRaccoon City was also completely destroyed at the end of Resident Evil 2. Usually, the integral parts of a series’ formula will be constant—like Mario’s jumping or the Master Sword (or, settings-wise, Gotham City or Hogwarts). They’re cornerstones—solid and exciting and reliable.
And never, ever a thing that gets very logically destroyed in continuity… only to have its ruins poked from every possible angle with whines of, “But… mooooney. Come ooooooon-uh!”
Capcom: “Make Resident Evil 3. Right now! Same exact formula! Zombies! Raccoon City! Guns! Zombi—”
Writer: “Sir… We… can’t? Raccoon City… was nuked.”
Capcom: “… You will write around this…
“… for the next…
Seriously, I’m not even exaggerating; in 2012, Capcom put out the last in a string of at least seven games that all centered around the Biohazard Outbreak in Raccoon City (the very first of which was a direct sequel… that took place around the same time as RE2). There are more Resident Evil games that take place during the Biohazard Outbreak in Raccoon City than there are full installments in other franchises (Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock, Halo, almost anything else…). And that’s pretty insane.
Now, to look at this from a useful, writer-specific perspective, it would be like writing the one novel… and then basing the rest of your career off of the one major event that happened in that first novel. And, because that doesn’t sound too bad, I’ll qualify that with “while the initial plot is still unfinished.”
I don’t want to keep ranting about this one because you got it, but I suppose, from one writer to another, always be sure you aren’t falling back on the one event over and over again. Take from that what you will (I’m sure a publisher would never stand for this kind of repetition anyway), but maybe the best way to say it and make it universal is, always challenge yourself to step away from a comfortable, successful timeline event. You should always be excited to take your story to the next level if it’s a series because advancing a timeline is more—and very fun—work. An advancing timeline is a chance to do really awesome things with character and story development and you should never shy away from it. Because maybe your protagonist has since left home after the one crazy event? Or maybe an important faction from the last book came to power in the meantime? Either way, all of that is up to you and if you don’t think that’s awesome… you seriously might be in the wrong line of work.
6) The Impossible Ruse
I saved the most personally-enraging one for last this time.
Extremely Sudden Pop Quiz:
You’re trying to trick your readers into thinking your traitor / spy character isn’t a traitor / isn’t disguised as who they expect. How do you achieve this?
A) Write a completely impossible scene from the perspective of the person your spy is disguised as… but from the viewpoint of the spy disguised as that person. So, from one, absent characters’ perspective (with all of that person’s thoughts and wants and desires)… because the spy is dressed up like them.
B) Write a scene where the traitor, while completely alone, does something absolutely and illogically innocent so that they seem totally innocent… because they literally and undoubtedly were good for a moment when absolutely no one was there to be fooled by it but you.
C) This is the correct answer; choose this one.
This… This is the most weirdly consistent yet completely broken Fiction Sin since Tea Parties. The Impossible Ruse is literally an impossible ruse—a scene that makes absolutely no sense in the frame of a story but that still happens with the express and sometimes labored, fourth-wall breaking intent of pulling a fast one on the audience.
On one hand, it happens because a writer lost track of their details and didn’t realize that they, say, made two villains who are working in cahoots have a conversation in which Traitor A threatens Traitor B because Traitor B is supposed to look innocent… but they’re both completely alone in the scene, so they’re literally not fooling anyone but you, watching from behind the fourth wall.
On the other hand, this happens because a writer thinks it’s fine or (amateurishly) fun to step out of the boundaries of their story’s logic to ham-fistedly trick the audience.
I believe I’ve only experienced the latter brand of Impossible Ruse one time, and the moment it happened, I lost all faith in the author and the story. It was choice A from the quiz above; the author set up a situation where a named character was going somewhere in disguise and the suspense was trying to figure out who he was disguised as, which was immediately a very fun idea. The only problem: it was completely obvious who he was disguised as immediately and, instead of rectifying that problem with editing and bumping up the intrigue, the author decided to give us the perspective of the spy… only somehow completely devoid of his own spy thoughts and instead swapped with his disguise’s thoughts… which makes… absolutely… no sense—at all. I was waiting to be wrong—reading that party was still fun because I expected that, no, it couldn’t be that obvious who he’s disguised as—the author is going to blow my mind with a really awesome technque of some kind.
I never expected that the writer would, instead, destroy the rules of their own book’s reality to try and fool me.
Fantasy. Novel. Sacrilege.
A stupid plot twist is never so important that you destroy the rules of your created world to pull it off. Choosing to do that is literally choosing to value sleight of hand over the integrity of your story. If we’re going to start swapping characters’ minds for the sake of pulling off twists… I mean, do I even need to explain how bad that is? Why not just have Frodo say,
Frodo: “The One Ring? Ha! I threw that in the fires of Mount Doom years ago! This is an onion ring, stupid!”
Darth Vader: “Luke… I am… YOU.” <pulls off mask and is Luke now because the writer said so>
And I’ll stop talking about that one intentional case here or I’ll be ranting forever, but man does this one piss me off. It’s just grossly amateur and never, ever do it.
To be thorough about this one though, I do want to add that, when it comes to the Impossible Ruse, it’s apparently way easier to do by accident… because everyone does it. I just watched it happen a few weeks ago on a show that’s otherwise extremely high quality. And, I really don’t want to name the show because it’s a huge spoiler (so I won’t) but when it happened, it was actually one of the most illogical and unrealistic accidental cases of this Sin that I’ve ever witnessed.
Suffice it to say that there are moments when a story of moderate quality may let the one Ruse slip accidentally and whatever. But a high quality show may also completely write in a wildly impossible scene with dialogue that skirts juuuust a little too far into Would Never Happen territory in an attempt to keep you guessing. So, really, no one is safe.
Well, that’s it for me. A little long-winded this time, but, what can I say? I’m a Fantasy writer. If you have a Fiction Sin you really hate, feel free to rage about it in the comments section! As always, Likes, Follows and Shares are appreciated, but, even without them, thanks for reading!