Thursday, December 22, 2005

Detective Cliches to Avoid

Thrilling Detective website has an excellent list of "Thundering Cliches" for mystery writers to avoid.

Some samples:

Any story that begins with the P.I. sitting at his desk, drinking from the office bottle.

Any story that begins with a sultry woman walking into a PI's office while he's sitting at his desk, drinking from the office bottle.

Any woman with "legs up to here."

The Mafia. C'mon, guys, get with it. Give the Sicilians a break. There are tons of hard-working Russians, Iranians, Irish, Jamaicians, Hiatians, Greeks, Jews and WASPS who'd like proper respect paid for their great contributions to organized crime.

Arab terrorists (see above).

Any P.I. who flashes a photostat of their license. I mean, photostats? Who uses that term anymore? Hello! It's not 1929, anymore. And by the way, gunsels aren't actually guys with guns...

Excessive references to jazz. Nothing wrong with jazz, really, but jazz snobs are a dime a dozen these days. Anyone fifty or under who listens exclusively to jazz is probably a geek or a snob. It's more likely they grew uplistening to the Stones or the Sex Pistols or Garth Brooks or Elton John or Nirvana or Motown or soul or Public Enemy or the Beatles. And chances are they're still listening to 'em. There's no shame in admitting pop culture exists. Name-dropping Mingus or Charlie Parker doesn't make you an intellectual.

The detective should be a man or woman of their times. At least Amos Walker KNOWS he's an anachronism.

Private eyes who drive classic automobiles or brightly-coloured sports cars. C'mon, forget Magnum, P.I. What sort of idiot tails someone in a car that draws attention to itself? Can't you just see it? "Hey, Mugsy, isn't that the same 1955 cherry-apple red T-Bird convertible in immaculate condition, with the mag wheels and the white pinstriping that was behind us yesterday?" "No, Bugsy, it must be another one."

What's interesting is that I have ready a few contemporary short stories in the larger paying mystery magazine and they contain many of these cliches. Please add any cliches that may have been missed.


10-8-ious said...

cliches in life should be avoided too, not just in writing. Some things are just worn out!

Alex Greene said...

Monologuing. "There was a hard rain comin' down in the City by the Bay tonight, not quite hard enough to wash all the slime off the streets."
Leave Raymond Chandler in the grave.

Also hookers with a heart of gold and coroners who drop everything to concentrate on the one case the good guy is working on. "Hey come on, pal, like hell I'm going to run a tox panel on your dead hooker to look for traces of tetrodotoxin. I just got swamped with thirty stiffs from the bus crash downtown and I've got the Mayor and Chief of D's breathing down my neck for answers so excuse me while I focus on getting them the bus driver's BAC index first."

Stuff like that.

Anonymous said...

Cynical, cynical, cynical! Everyone's cynical, jaded, gritty, and hard boiled ad nauseum. Even the women And the overused stilted snarky dialogue.

"Hey, pal, you gonna pay for that?"
"You oughta be payin' me for comin in here".

Cop: "You keep your nose clean, got that?"
Our Hero: "Yeah. That'll make one of us!"

For a change, can we see some characters who have a positive outlook on life and are well balanced? It seems like the trend was to subvert the genteel detectives of the Victorian/Edwardian era (Poirot, for example). Well, is it not possible to have a modern private eye who is cautious, but also affable and optomistic, instead of just another burn out case who tries to affect a speech pattern like H. Bogart?