Nine Clichéd Plots in Every Fiction Writing Class

Fiction writing classes are terrifying. You are at your classmates’ mercy as they line-by-line edit your carefully crafted sentences in order to expose you for the terrible writer that you are. By the rules of workshopping, you can’t even defend yourself until after your peers have politely torn your work into shreds.  

You’d think public scrutiny would bring out the best in writers; however, most stories make you want to suggest to the writer that they spend a few minutes brushing up on grammar or perhaps pick up a book to remember what a worthwhile plot is. While many fiction stories are more “miss” than “hit” in terms of quality, you can always rely on your classmates’ stories to consistently fall into one of the following categories:

1. The one about spring break: Written by a girl who is totally not telling the story of her own spring break in Puerto Vallarta. It features approximately eight female characters with names off of a “Top 10 Popular Baby Names of 1990” list, such as “Sarah” and “Jessie.” These girls meet eight male characters who are conveniently all sporting blue button downs to save the author from having to describe eight separate outfits. Sarah probably loses track of Jessie’s whereabouts after a night at the bar, only to find that Jessie has gone home with blue button down #7. Sarah also spends three paragraphs telling blue button down #4 what a good friend she is for realizing that Jessie was missing. At least one third of this story includes updates from the girls’ group text. This is the kind of story that makes your Creative Writing professor lose sleep wondering whether anyone was listening when she said that good short stories only have a few main characters.

 

2. The one written about the future: Written by somebody who wanted to jump on the dystopian bandwagon. In a story that makes your professor wonder whether anyone has ever heard of intellectual property rights, the writer takes key characteristics of both The Hunger Games and Divergent and combines them into one plot.  It features a family whose 16-year-old child is torn between following a corrupt government or joining a rebel force. Usually a parent has a secret identity as a government spy. This story is probably written by a person who thinks that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was a movie before it was a book.

 

3. The one about a frat party: Written by a guy whose fake ID is too awful to get him into Rick’s or who is reminiscing about when he peaked at a mixer. This story usually contains a protagonist who hates frat parties (ironic), relieves himself in places that are not the bathroom (valid), and punches holes through windows but doesn’t get hurt (yeah, right). The protagonist inevitably finds true love at this party. Everybody wonders if the author is in a frat.

 

4. The one where an animal dies: Typically, this author aims to tug on the readers’ emotions by describing the death of a pet, hoping that classmates will relate and then be less harsh in their critiques. This is actually effective if the author is miserable at writing, because nobody wants to say, “Your story about the dying dog sucks” in case it is actually true. However, sentences like, “The death of Melanie’s dog meant more to her than the death of her cousin” make it a little less credible.  The professor wonders if anyone was listening when she said no stories about dying animals.

 

5. The one that will win a Hopwood Award: Written by a previous Hopwood winner, this story is usually well written, has less than five main characters, and describes both clothing and actions.  The characters typically suffer from some type of psychological trauma, and sex is inevitably involved. It contains an ending that is pretty much a downer. However, Benjamin Percy once said that “People who read short stories love endings that make them want to gargle with Drano or nosedive off a skyscraper,” so this story definitely gives the professor hope.

 

6. The one where the answer to every crisis is drugs: In every class, there are at least two stories about a young adult who is encountering some kind of early-20s crisis. Either he hates his job or one of his parents is dying. This protagonist inevitably finds himself abusing drugs and has a miraculous revelation occur to him while dropping acid. He must quit his job! He must fix his estranged relationship with his parent! This revelation definitely could not have occurred without drugs, and the writer was definitely not too lazy to find more complex but actually legitimate plot points to make this story better. The professor wonders if it is normal for drug abusers to live their lives repercussion-free. She also wonders if the writer is a drug abuser who lives his or her life repercussion-free.  

 

7. The one with the warrior men: Usually a few of these. These are all about men with really long names and really long beards who live in castles and don’t have consistent voices. Both the writer and the reader can’t seem to keep straight if this is Medieval times or 2000. The chief warrior’s sentences usually sound like “Thoracynthian, thou shalt go attack that dude with the long beard over yonder.” Neat. Any plot points that are difficult to explain are chalked up to magic.  

 

8. The one where teenagers drink underage: Usually involving some type of cheap beer in the back of a car with an older brother driving and also supplying the beer, because this needs to be legitimate, guys. The friends in the backseat make their way from one driveway to another driveway without a whole lot of anything being said but with a lot of looking out of the window. The story ends and you realize you haven’t really learned anything about either character, but it kind of makes you reflect on the choices that you made when you were sixteen.

 

9. The one with the happy ending. This story usually opens with some conflict between family members or two people in a relationship. In the end, the lessons are all learned, no one important dies, and everything turns out a little sad but relatively okay. Usually written by me. The professor might scrawl, “This wraps up a little too neatly” in blue ink at the end of the story, but sometimes you just need a happy ending, and, God, everyone needs to stop being so critical all the time, okay?

 

 

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