Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Question of the Week: What is your LEAST favorite storytelling trope?

We’ve been very positive here at Question of the Week so far, but being negative can be fun, too, if we don’t let it consume our souls!!!! With that in mind, my Question this week has to do with storytelling, and how stories get told. There’s a lot of content out there, and only so many ways to tell a story, so some ways are going to be overused and become annoying. Unless you have the memory of a walnut, you’re going to recognize these ways of telling a story and possibly get vexed that the writers go to that particular well so very often. Which leads me to my Question: What storytelling device is your least favorite? What makes you grate your teeth in frustration when you recognize that the writers are indulging in it? I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours!

For me, it’s sex. Not people having sex, exactly – I’m not quite that much of a prude – but the context in which they have sex. Writers seem to think sex is all-consuming in characters’ brains, and unless I know the wrong group of people, it’s just not that paramount in the minds of most regular folk. Characters in fiction make ridiculously dumb choices just so they can have sex, and while I get it – it makes things more dramatic – it also seems like these people are complete idiots most of the time. I’m currently catching up on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, because my wife watched it and thought I’d like it, and I do. But here’s Joel Maisel, who has a gorgeous wife who apparently does not mind getting a bit freaky in the bedroom (even though it’s 1958 and ladies didn’t do that sort of thing!), who supports his tepid stand-up career whole-heartedly, and who is utterly devoted to him … and he cheats on her with his secretary, who is quite the dim bulb. As the show has progressed, Joel has been shown to not really be that bad a guy, so why on earth did the writers have him cheat in such a stupid fashion? It’s just to break them up so Midge can become a stand-up (her first set is impromptu ranting about his cheating), but it’s just lazy. Joel seems to have a relatively busy life, so where does he even find time to cheat? It’s frustrating.

There’s also the idea that men and women can’t possibly be friends because they want to have sex with each other (the Billy Crystal Paradox?). Even if they don’t, they still want to. I’m friends with many women, and I don’t feel that sex is a factor in any of the relationships (I can’t speak for the ladies – I mean, I am quite the catch!). There are any number of factors that go into people wanting to have sex with each other, and if all of those aren’t present, it’s just not a consideration for most people, I think. Yet in fiction, it’s clear the only factor is if a man and a woman exist in close proximity and they’re both heterosexual. That’s all that matters! They don’t even have to like each other that much!

These things bother me because they’re lazy. Whenever I begin a show with a happily married couple or a man and a woman working together who aren’t a couple, I think, “Well, when is the man going to cheat?” or “When are they going to get together?” It’s the path of absolute least resistance, and it’s annoying because it feels like the writers think they’re being bold and daring when they’re just being lazy. I get that writers for television need to crank out content and writers for movies have a limited time to get to things, but it’s still annoying.

What do you say, good readers? What’s your least favorite storytelling trope? Don’t be shy about venting!!!


  1. fit2print

    For me, it’s either “law enforcement officer who is grudgingly lured out of retirement to tackle one last case” or its twin sibling, “career criminal on the cusp of going straight who can’t resist the temptation to chase one last big score.” Neither one seems likely to, well, ride off into the sunset anytime soon…

    As a non-reader of mainstream Marvel and DC comics for many years, I’m curious to know if the “superheroes must inevitably duke it out before joining forces” trope (a la “Marvel Team-up” and “Marvel Two-in-One” — yep, I really am that old) is still going strong? Please tell me that one is ancient history by now…

    1. Greg Burgas

      Oh, yeah, the second one bothers me. The first one is annoying, sure, but the second one – the criminal pursuing one last score – is really vexing.

      I don’t read as much Marvel and DC stuff as I used to, but it seems like that’s not quite as big a deal as it used to be. It still does happen a bit too often for my tastes, from what I can tell, but it’s not automatic anymore.

      1. JHL

        Sadly I think ‘the hero’s fight each other and then team up to take on the villain’ has largely just been replaced with ‘the hero’s fight each other’ and that’s it, that is the whole story.

  2. Darthratzinger

    The pro-active super-hero team a la X-Force, Extreme Justice, the Cry For Justice-Justice League, etc. Even though it would kinda make sense, it always devolves into really stupid slugfests AND even worse soap-opera cliches. It´s always just the more stupid spin-off version of a currently popular series.

    1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

      …I do really love Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, because it’s about how being on one of those teams forces you to slowly sand off your humanity.

        1. Darthratzinger

          Ok, Justice League Elite was a pretty good book which is probably why I didn´t think of it concerning that trope. Remenders X-Force though was just ok. I had heard so much praise of that series that I was very underwhelmed when I finally read it.

    2. Le Messor

      I roll my eyes every time I see a team saying they want to be proactive, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. (But I don’t know many comics readers.)

      Though I’ve seen a team actually just do it (West Coast Avengers, I think), and it made sense at the time.

      1. Darthratzinger

        One more example where it made sense but I´m sure most of You probably don´t like the story: New Avengers: Illuminati by Bendis. They´re going after several very high level threats that were bound to make life troublesome at some point in the future. I liked that they didn´t solve everything by the usual mindless violence or in Bendis-style mindless talking but also by recruiting Marvel Boy (for example).

        1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

          I liked Hickman’s New Avengers as well (also featuring the Olluminati)…because they were the bad guys, by the end of the story.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    For me, it’s the military as mindless drones who blindly follow orders. It’s a personal thing, as a veteran, and it is something you see more from the Vietnam era and after. There is a certain reality to it, with the atrocities committed during wartime and the soldiers who participated under orders. They made choices and followed orders. However, the Hollywood version is that soldiers steeped in a democratic tradition will blindly accept dangerous and unconstitutional orders just because a superior gives them. A certain set will; but, not everyone and not the good officers and NCOs. Some will openly defy those orders; but, some will be more creative and find a way to ignore or confuse the orders, so they cannot be carried out.

    My other is the supposedly intelligent and insightful hero, who must act like a moron and ignore telegraphed signs so that he can be caught unaware. Look at Knightfall; Jim Gordon is shown to accept Azrael as the same Batman he has known for years. Gordon was a good detective; how would he not recognize a different voice? Body language, mannerisms, general attitude? Denny O’Neil at least addressed that in the novelization and has Gordon make some comment to Tim Drake as to whether “this is the real one”, when Bruce is back in the game. Same thing for family and loved ones not recognizing the hero just because he is under a mask. No one disguises their voice that well. I could always tell a Rich Little John Wayne impersonation from a Frank Gorshin, because one sounded like Little and the other sounded like Gorshin and neither sounded like the real Duke, exactly. Also, a mask, unless it cover the entire head, doesn’t obscure all of the features that people use for recognition. I once had to pet sit for someone, which brought their black cat into my house, with my black cat. They had very similar bodies; but, I could always tell which was which, either by their tails or the angle of their ears, in relation to their head. Human beings are even more distinctive. A stranger might not get it, but a parent or spouse or lover will.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Oh, I hate when any characters act stupid simply in service of the plot, but it’s even worse when the hero is supposed to be intelligent!

      1. Le Messor

        The number of times a character has been possessed, or replaced with a twin, or something; all their friends know they’re acting out of character, but when the real person comes in they still assume the first person they met was the real one!

    2. Darthratzinger

      If I remember correctly either in the story Prodigal or Morrisons Batman run Gordon does recognize that Nightwing is wearing the Batman suit.

  4. Eric van Schaik

    It’s death in comics for me and the inevitable way they explain the resurrection.
    One of the reasons I don’t buy stuff of the big 2 nowadays.
    I believe only uncle Ben is still dead, or did I miss someting?

    1. Greg Burgas

      My personal opinion is that no writer should kill off a character unless that writer created that character. Marvel and DC would never enforce that, but for me, that’s a good rule.

      1. Darthratzinger

        If no writer should kill off a character unless that writer created the character, too many characters would be safe if their creators have already passed away. Just look at all the characters of Lee/Kirby/Ditko/Buscema/Gerber/…

    2. Le Messor

      At a convention once, one of the big editors of Marvel was saying ‘there are only two characters who we’ll never bring back: Uncle Ben and Bucky’.

      1. Also the real Mar-Vell and Jirmaine Szardos, Nightcrawler’s BFF that he had to kill. I’m really surprised at that second one because he seems like a natural recurring foe but as far as I can tell the dude has stayed dead for forty years.

    1. John King

      Just wondering what you meant by 1)
      Are you talking about the “all a dream” trope
      the delusional protagonist who has an imaginary person carrying out murderous actions which the protagonist is actually doing themself (I’ve seen 3 films using that twist)
      something else
      (Or a combination…)

      1. This was a movie called “Come True” in which a woman enters a sleep-research program to deal with her nightmares about sinister watching figures in a shadowy landscape (quite creepy looking, so I was hooked). It turns out that she’s in a coma and everything, including the dream research study, is her subconscious trying to deal with the new effort to jolt her back to consciousness.

  5. Edo Bosnar

    Actually, this topic was already hashed out a few years ago by none other than the great Greg Hatcher, i.e., his column about “Stuff I’m Sick of Seeing”.
    Here I’ll just reiterate the one he mentioned that I totally agreed with, i.e., the ‘talking to a person who ends up being a hallucination’ trope. Man, that one still bugs me so much. Having a hero or main character who has long, intense conversations with a dead friend or relative or even an imaginary friend is not cool and edgy, it means that poor person needs help.

    Otherwise, I totally agree about the apparent implication in so much of popular culture that (heterosexual) men and women can’t just be friends. It’s such a tired trope, and it sometimes even spawns apparently serious think-pieces by apparently serious people on that very topic. Do these people live in the same world that the rest of us do?

    1. Greg Burgas

      Yeah, I forgot that Greg did this, even though I read that column. Oh well. It’s still good to vent every once in a while! 🙂

      The imaginary friend thing doesn’t bother me as much, but it’s still very much overused. I think it’s mitigated, for me, by the fact that a lot of times when I do see it, the person really does need psychiatric help, and it’s not just supposed to be “cool and edgy,” as you put it. But yeah, it’s still kind of obnoxious.

      1. Edo Bosnar

        Sure, but even when emphasis is placed on the fact that the person in question needs psychiatric help, it’s often played for laughs – which is probably even worse that making it seem kind of cool. A really egregious example is the show “Rescue Me” (starring Denis Leary) in which it’s obvious that the guy needs help, doesn’t really get it, and his hallucinations are alternatively played off as both edgy and humorous.

    2. Le Messor

      Have you seen the (latest?) live-action The Tick? SPOILER: They make it very obvious they’re doing that trope, right up until Arthur’s sister sees The Tick, too. Arthur is actually surprised.

  6. Chris Schillig

    How about when characters recognize that an element of the plot is a cliche? So the cop lured out of retirement (to use an example from above) recognizes mid-story that he or she is acting out a trope. Or two heroes meet and reference how they are “supposed to fight.”

    Peter David once identified moments like this as “preemptive snark” — the writer poking fun at the trope before the readers can, thereby defusing the audience’s negative reaction.

    1. A fantasy novel I read some years back has the protagonist — a self-proclaimed liar, coward and womanizer — constantly snarking about his conduct, rather than rationalizing or flaunting it. The writer did not have the courage of his antihero convictions.
      In general I don’t mind Oh, Look It’s a Trope, depending on how well it’s done. It often isn’t well-executed.

  7. “There’s also the idea that men and women can’t possibly be friends because they want to have sex with each other (the Billy Crystal Paradox?). Even if they don’t, they still want to.”
    I hate rom-coms or romantic subplots built around two tight heterosexual friends, one of whom has been in love with the other from the start and never brought it up, OMG if they don’t do it soon they’ll lose him/her/it forever! It worked well on Buffy but that’s the exception.

    1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

      I will say that WHMS works (and it really, really works!) because Harry makes a pass at Sally the first time they met.

      It’s about Harry and Sally getting to know the other (beyond “womanizing scumbag” and “beautiful blonde”) and eventually realizing they’d work really well together.

      1. Greg Burgas

        It definitely does work in the movie, for the reasons you cite. It’s just that Crystal states it so baldly, we must name it after him! 🙂

        1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

          Hah, fair!

          A lot of the people who cite that as a truism seem not to have caught that Harry’s supposed to be an asshole (at least at that point in the story).

  8. Le Messor

    I was going to say what the Nostalgia Critic calls ‘The Liar Revealed’ plot (partly), where you can predict the entire story of the movie in some detail (Hero bumbles around, destroying his home, goes somewhere else, meets a funny animal sidekick on the way, pretends to be part of the Cool Group – usually by accident – in New Town, everyone believes him, faves off against the villain, it’s revealed he isn’t part of Cool Group, everyone turns against him, especially Dr. Loveintrest, then he comes back to rally the town together).

    But I kind of like yours, Greg. Especially since I know quite a few people – myself included – who don’t even believe in sex outside of marriage; Hollywood doesn’t know we exist.

    Also, ‘edgy / dark writing = good writing’. I hate that.

    1. Le Messor

      Oh, and also: The other side of the ‘everything is a romance’ trope is that people no longer believe in friendship. I’d noticed it long before this, but I was once in a story critiquing circle where one of the stories was about a woman mourning her mentally-handicapped friend after his death.
      One of the critiquers actually said ‘you should make this a romance to explain why she cares that her friend died’.

      1. Greg Burgas

        I don’t agree with you about the waiting for sex until marriage (but, of course, I’m not going to denigrate your opinion!), but I do agree with you about popular fiction absolutely ignoring that aspect of the culture. One thing I get annoyed about is people who have sex and then suddenly decide they love each other, which is ridiculous. Sex is a part of romance, and just because you’re sexually compatible with someone doesn’t mean you love them. The deliberate conjoining of “love” and “lust” very much annoys me.

        Man, that’s dumb critique. But yes, I agree with you – the idea of friendship between men and women has gone by the boards quite a bit.

        1. Le Messor

          I wouldn’t expect agreement there, but it is a pet peeve of mine. 🙂

          Also, I wasn’t just talking about friendship between men and women – I meant friendship at all. (Maybe if the characters are 12 and under?)

        2. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

          One of my favorite shows is Lovesick on Netflix, which juxtaposes a pair of best friends, one of whom treats every girl he sleeps with as “The One” and tried to start a committed relationships while the other has stuck to a steady succession of one-night-stands and casual flings since his college GF broke his heart.

      2. While I enjoy 80 percent of Chasing Amy the ending hinges on Ben Affleck believing his best friend would only resent Affleck spending time 24/7 with his new love if he was secretly in love with Affleck himself. That’s asinine.
        For comparison my best friend is a woman and while I’ve never wanted to be the guy she was dating, I’ve certainly resented that her dates were taking up time she could be spending hanging out with me (I knew perfectly well this was an unreasonable reaction and did not let it get in the way of being friends).

  9. Peter

    My least favorite tropes in general fiction (or even in the framing of nonfiction, for that matter):

    * Precocious child is the only hope of saving the world or some such nonsense: look, I get it, children symbolize hope in the future of mankind, and oftentimes we do need to emphasize that “cynic” is dangerously close to being a synonym for “adult” – but there’s just far too many of these stories by now. It’s one thing when the stories are aimed purely at younger readers/viewers, but some of these stories are squarely for adults now! Maybe I’m being too much of a cynic myself now, but kids are usually way dumber than they’re portrayed in popular fiction. When I was a child, sure – I thought I knew better than most of the adults around me. But man, I did some dumb stuff.

    * Using an unlikeable/repulsive protagonist as a substitute for a story. I think that classic noirs did this the right way – the “hero” of “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” for example, is so base that it gets your attention, but there’s still a decent if unspectacular plot to the book. Compare this with two pretty boring works I just encountered (“The Lost Daughter” and “Eileen”)… you need to have more than just a shockingly cold-hearted character to get me interested.

    * The use of “the hacker” as a god-like being. Computers are pretty integral to our society now and I think people in general have a better understanding of how programming works… but even today, writers will frequently just skip over the grunt work and ignore the limitations of computation, perhaps throwing in some technical mumbo-jumbo that has little relevance to try and establish verisimilitude (e.g. “I know this! It’s a Unix system!” in Jurassic Park)

    I do think there are some good uses of each trope, but they’re just overused and tired most of the time when I encounter them.

    For comics specifically, I think my least favorite trope is “the good guys fight each other.” In the early days of the Marvel Universe, there was some amount of fun in this – and it sort of made sense because I think it was partly inspired by Jack Kirby’s street gang childhood where you might have to fight someone before befriending them – but it wore out its welcome eventually. The original Batman/Superman fight in “The Dark Knight Falls” was also great fan service and succeeded because it was framed as the culmination of an elaborate plan that still came close to failure. The sight of two heroes clashing hammered home the dystopian version of Miller’s alternate future. Now, however, it seems that villains are becoming an afterthought and the good guys are the only ones who can challenge each other – and they can never resolve their differences without their fists. Sigh.

  10. Corrin Radd

    I hate it when action movies/thrillers feel the need to force in a love story to the absurd point of having the male and female leads pawing at each other in the midst of/immediately after what surely have been the most traumatic moments of their lives.

    There are many many of examples of this, but Keanu and Sandra making out at the end of Speed after they had been nearly murdered repeatedly as well as having witnessed people dying just a few feet away from them is ridiculous. I’ll gladly accept that a bus can make that jump, but I’ll never believe that people would be in the mood for love after.

    Another egregious example is when Bruce and Madeleine make out in 12 Monkeys not long after Bruce had to pull his own teeth out with a knife.

    1. Greg Burgas

      At least Bullock makes the point that those kinds of relationships never last, and thanks to Keanu rejecting the sequel, she’s not wrong! 🙂

    2. Didn’t have a problem with it in Speed, probably because it was a great movie. Had major problems with 12 Monkeys assuming that Stowe would fall in love with the guy who just kidnapped her because OMG, he has so much manpain!

  11. humanbelly

    In the Silver Age in particular (but certainly stretching into the Bronze) in comics was an absurd reliance on Coincidence; “As Luck Would Have It, At That Very Moment” moments; deus ex machina resolutions; unexpected doppelganger resemblances (does ANYBODY recall that Alicia was originally supposed to be a DEAD-RINGER for Sue Storm— fooling even Reed?); “Women’s Intuition” as a completely plausible, understandable explanation for take a specific course of action; absurd skills suddenly acquired when a plot necessity calls for it (crafting convincing, true-to-life mask resemblances out of. . . riverbed clay. . . ); and a zillion other tough-to-swallow plot-convenience short-cuts. Stan was probably the biggest dipper from that particular well— but he certainly wasn’t ever lonely. . . heh. . .

    In a more meta sense- the fact that the whole comics genre spent decades spinning its wheels as a story-telling form where true character growth and/or change couldn’t really happen— only the “illusion” of change— drove me crazy from even an early age. A side corollary to this is the unfortunate embracing over time of truly evil (but popular) nemeses for all the major heroes– to the point where they become sympathetic and even grudgingly admired figures. Dr Doom, Magneto, Loki— heck, Dr Smith in LOST IN SPACE, for that matter– these folks have all killed people. Many, many people, in some cases. I’ve always had a major problem with never-ending desire to cloak them with an air of something like misunderstood nobility. It seems like an irresistible lure for so many writers– always has been. Hell, I was appalled when the Punisher became this big-time beloved anti-hero (and unfortunately a role-model, as it turns out—).


    1. Edo Bosnar

      Oh, man. I’m so with you on the Punisher in particular. When I first encountered him in the mid-/late 1970s as a little kid, I had no problem discerning that he was a bad guy despite occasionally shooting at other bad guys. I understood why, during the 1980s in Reagan’s America, he was retooled into an anti-hero, but I never liked it.

      1. Thirding. Although he doesn’t bother me as much as when people in government (Checkmate or the prosecutor who became Manhunter) do similar things and talk about how they’re finally making the system work.

  12. Lee

    There are several that I find annoying, but the one that really grates on my nerves is when a TV show, or movie, or comic book, opens with some climatic scene… then the story jumps back to the real beginning a day, a week, or a month earlier, then proceeds to show just how we got to that climactic scene.

    As Greg complains about above, the reason I dislike this trope so much is that it is just lazy writing. The writer in question can’t get me to care about the characters, or can’t create a beginning to the story that is interesting, so they have to cheat and give you a peek at the *real* interesting stuff, which comes later in the story. Blah.

    Another one that always makes me roll my eyes is when a character peels off a rubber mask, revealing that they are actually someone else entirely. This is especially galling when they are both someone we, the readers/viewers know. A) rubber masks just aren’t that convincing, B) what about the voice? and C) why wouldn’t the body language give it away? Again, just lazy writing.

    1. The start of a story I was never able to complete writing (someday maybe) has a moronic writer telling his date about Sherlock Holmes ripping a latex mask of the lovely Carol Lewis and revealing she’s actually — Lewis Carroll! She is … unimpressed.

      1. Lee

        I watched — and enjoyed — The Good Guys. The medias res thing didn’t bother me in that case, because it was obvious that that was part of the actual storytelling of the show, since it happened every episode.

        It was not really a case of lazy writing — if anything, it probably led to more creative writing. What is the most extreme, bizarre, funny situation can we show them in? Then how can we make the show get there?

        As with most of the tropes listed here, they can be examples of good storytelling if they are done well (which most of them aren’t) and done more sparingly (which, alas, is not likely with so much content needed these days).

        1. Le Messor

          Now I’ve got an urge to write a story; write it straight and chronological, but in the middle of the climactic fight the hero suddenly starts going ‘how did I get here? Let me tell you…’

  13. Face Your Worst Fear stories usually suck and never capture how irrational phobias are. The exception being L.J Smith’s “Forbidden Game” trilogy which handles it well.
    Crazy obsessive stalking or similar bad behavior as a sign of love, though What’s Up Doc? makes me like it.
    One I don’t see much any more is where the captured villain explains that everything he’s done was legal so if the hero takes him to the cops he’ll sue for false arrest. As lawyer/comics nerd Robert Ingersoll pointed out, the hero NEVER checks with the law to see if the villain’s blowing smoke, they just let him off with a snarl.
    Diplomatic immunity as a get out of jail card (Lethal Weapon II, I’m looking at you).

    1. Le Messor

      the captured villain explains that everything he’s done was legal so if the hero takes him to the cops he’ll sue for false arrest

      Or the trope where both we and the hero have seen the villain commit robberies, murders, jaywalking, and atrocity after atrocity – but because there’s no evidence for this week’s crime, they get off scot free.

  14. Hollywood declaring that “well the film is completely different from the comics/novels.” Yes, it is, but in the run-up to the release it’s always “The epic of fantasy brought to life!” so clearly they want you to think it won’t be that different. Saying it in response to flak is disingenuous.

    1. Le Messor

      Tell me about it! This is one of the worst! (I usually hate in-name-only adaptations.)

      I always think ‘You went to all the trouble to buy the rights to Sword Spell Magic, you’ve spent years telling us you’re making the movie of Sword Spell Magic, you demand the fans of Sword Spell Magic give your movie the same love as they give the original book; and you’re going through all that to give us some generic fantasy?!?

  15. Der

    Is the “the serial killer that does disturbing things is actually a good guy or someone to be admired” a trope?

    Because I hate that. I hate that some people believe that the joker is, somehow, a cool person or something to be admired. He kills just because, he should not be admired.

    The same thing happens a lot in anime/manga: people think that the main character in death note is “cool” when he is a psycho. Or the people think that the phantom troupe in Hunter X Hunter are “good people” because they protect each other, when they decided to commit genocide to steal the eyes of a tribe just because money. Damn it even writting this makes me angry, stop idolizing monstrously evil characters!

    1. Le Messor

      Yeah, that’s why I never even watched Derek.

      On the flip side – the hero is facing a terrible villain, and is about to kill him to save a lot of lives, but spares him because “If you kill him, you’ll be just like him!”
      Bonus points if the same individual hero has just reaped his way through hundreds of nameless mooks.

      1. There’s a good bit in an otherwise forgettable syndicated cop show I caught years ago: Cop has cornered the guy who killed his fiancee, draws his gun and — obviously having second thoughts — asks his partner “Aren’t you going to tell me I shouldn’t sink to his level? That I’m wrecking my career? That she wouldn’t want this?”
        “Nah, i say waste the sucker.”

      2. John King

        that made me think of the end of Omega Men 6 (1983)
        The Citadel Computer says something like “If you destroy me then that proves that all the people who claim to be fighting for good (presumably including the ones who refused to participate in the battle) are just as bad as the bad guys”
        and, after Tigorr destroys the citadel computer there is a caption questioning if it is truly a victory
        …I just didn’t get it
        Sure, destroying the citadel computer did not completely end the war as there were still Citadel forces fighting with a different leadership so it was not entirely a victory in that sense, but that did not seem to be what they were trying to get at

        of course, that reminds me of one annoying tendency of Keith Giffen is that if he feels a series is too confusing for new readers he does a time jump so it is equally (or more) confusing for long-established readers

        1. I’ve always thought the response should be on the lines of “I’m crossing a line, and I know it. but I’m doing it to save lives, you’re a serial killer who murders people for kicks [or whatever] so no, we’re not the same.”

        2. Le Messor

          A computer? Really? I’m hoping it was at least a living computer, but I’m with Fraser’s reply.

          … that said, I hate all the calls for superheroes who kill – I just think that’s not a good justification for why not.

    2. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

      Man, it’s so annoying when people (and so often they’re anime/manga fans!) lose the plot between “evil person with redeeming qualities” and “good actually.”

  16. All flashbacks are bad, unless it’s revealing how the heist/con was pulled off.

    I also hate when characters order a drink or what-have-you, then leave the scene two minutes later without finishing it.

    1. John King

      To me the big problem with flashbacks is that the TV series Lost really overdid their usage and other shows (Arrow, Quantico, Defying Gravity…) decided to do it too

  17. John King

    it bothers me when a supposedly intelligent character can’t see something that seems obvious to me.
    Like one episode of a detective series when a supposedly good detective completely rules out as a suspect the one person who actually knew the victim and quite likely had a guilty secret (a past murder, perhaps) which only she and the victim knew about. (of course, he figured it out after the second murder)

    Also, the whole “It’s really important but I can’t tell you over the phone, I’ll tell you when we meet later” – Why do so many people say things like that just before they die?

  18. John King

    One I just thought of
    The idea that someone nobly and selflessly helping other people must be doing it because of a guilt complex or other psychological issue

  19. JHL

    When the story is built around a ‘mystery box’ and the creators did not bother to decide what the answer is before hand. It doesn’t even really matter if the story never reveals what the answer is because inevitably it becomes obvious that the creators were just winging it. You are left with a story where all the bits and pieces do not really fit together properly and it all falls apart in the end.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Are you still feeling burned by Lost? 🙂

      I do agree with you, though. I wrote something once where I didn’t know the answers and just kept adding weird crap, and it ended very poorly. If I did that again, I would definitely have the entire thing plotted out tightly beforehand!

      1. JHL

        Nah, my partner at the time and I started seeing the cracks that were forming somewhere around the middle of season three and just bounced.

        And yeah, that’s the thing, it’s fine to tell a story without ever revealing the mystery to the audience (though you really better feel it is necessary as that, in and of itself, is an over used trope) but the author still needs to have had an answer in mind to actually construct a quality, cohesive story.

        1. GK Chesterton has a lie in one of his stories that a mystic reveals everything they know and leaves you mystified; a charlatan hides everything and when you see it it’s a platitude. Lost definitely fell in the latter category.

  20. Here’s one I was just reminded of: stories where one of the characters crosses some unacceptable line — betrays the team, his friends, violates military orders — but it’s a series character so after it’s all over, the offended party settles for “Well, you’d better never do that again, that’s all I’ve got to say!”
    One thing I loved about Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books is that when her protagonists violate orders in a good cause, they really pay for it.

  21. The trope I hate is the one that shows up in every damn superhero movies: the hero and villain are mirror-opposites, their origins are linked, and they are locked in a codependent death-struggle.

    I hope and pray that when the MCU gets to Fantastic Four, they don’t make that same mistake with Dr. Doom. Every film version so far has tried to tie him into the FF’s origin. Stupid, boring, trite, cliche.

    1. Le Messor

      The sad thing about that is, it used to actually be good. But then it became the only way to do superhero movies, and so – like the “heroes” vs “heroes” thing, you don’t feel like you’re watching superheroes saving the world so much as these guys cleaning up their own mess. At a high cost to the world around them.

    2. I agree, the college encounter between Reed and Victor is more than enough of a link.
      For a less successful example, the last volume of Immortal Hulk reveals that Sam (the Leader) Sterns and Bruce Banner are distant relatives due to an affair at the start of the last century. It adds nothing to the story other than to pad it.
      Mike Barr’s Player on the Other Side is probably the best mirror-image villain story.

  22. There’s a moment in the Damage Control miniseries where they’re watching DAMAGE CONTROL — THE MOVIE and the office intern can predict every plot twist including the protagonist telling the Kingpin (played by Marlon Brando) “You made me fat man — you made me!”

  23. Le Messor

    OOh! Just remembered one:
    In a visual medium, when what we’re seeing doesn’t match what the characters are seeing.
    I’m not talking special effects (or art) fails; or trying to picture the unpicturable (it was so hideous it’d drive you mad just to look at it! She was the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen! These characters all look ageless!), those things can’t be helped.
    I’m talking about scenes like Uncanny X-Men #193 (I think), where the caption talks about the X-Jet’s panels being trashed, but the artwork shows it immaculate. Or in the early appearances of Mikhael Rasputin, where the captions say ‘it’s like nothing they’ve ever seen before!’ (true, unless they’ve seen Predator.
    I’m talking about the last few episodes of Buffy, where she finds a battle axe, and everybody who looks at it calls it a scythe (and they find a picture of a scythe in a book, and call it an axe. At this point, the creators look stupid).
    I’m talking Gotham, where all the characters say Oswald C. looks like a penguin. But he doesn’t. Like, at all.
    Similarly, in Jurassic Park: The Lost World, a little girl gets surrounded by lizards and says ‘what are you, birds?’. (And, if you step outside the movies for a moment, they’re very proud of the way they’ve made all their dinosaurs so very colourful.
    Grey. All the animals in the park are grey.)

  24. Le Messor

    Streaming shows that take until the final episode of season 1 to get to the title (the superhero doesn’t put on the costume until then; the runaways don’t, y’know, run away until then).

    1. I didn’t have a problem with Runaways doing that (though I did notice it), probably because they made the parents interesting enough I enjoyed watching them (“After twenty years of marriage, your cheese jokes are still delightful.”). It did run out of steam as it went along though.

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