For Mystery writers: The top ten pitfalls and overused cliches…
I’m a suspense author; I write legal thrillers, courtroom dramas. In addition to writing thrillers, I read them. A lot of them. Because suspense, mysteries, thrillers—that’s my idea of a good time.
But as I’ve read these stories over the years, there are some themes I’ve encountered that make me wince. Here’s a list of:
The Top Ten Things I’m Sick of Seeing in the Suspense Genre
The morose male protagonist.
We all know this guy. Bad relationships, workaholic, too many bumps in the road of life. He’s either a functioning or a recovering alcoholic. And he drinks brown liquor: bourbon or scotch. It occurs to me that he’d be a happier drunk if he switched to gin—it certainly makes me happy. Anyway, I want to send him to the pharmacy for an SSRI.
The angst-ridden female protagonist.
She’s the female equivalent of the morose male. Invariably, she was deserted by a bad father and is still nursing the wounds; she’s suspicious of men in general. And always, whatever her particular career path, she is overwhelmed by the enormity of the task she must accomplish. Her angst leads her to #3.
The protagonist who goes for a run to clear her head.
The run, btw, is never less than ten miles, and is described in excruciating detail. We are subjected to the lacing of the shoes, the warmup, the runner’s high, the beauty of nature as she barrels down the path. While the marathon may be enjoyable for the runner (I wouldn’t know), it’s a snooze for the reader.
The Master Criminal who breaks the villain’s neck with his bare hands.
The first time I read it, I thought—wow, that’s quite the feat. But one MC in particular pops a neck in every book in the series. It bores me now. I want to tell him: Find a new trick.
The FBI agent who flashes back to her experience at Quantico.
You know people who still want to tell you their ACT score? Or how tough law school was? The Quantico FB’s (it was sooooo hard!) are no different. Her classmates underestimated her! The instructors didn’t believe in her! She had to be twice as good as everyone else! Get over yourself, sister.
The profiler who can’t figure out who the bad guy is.
Isn’t the profiler supposed to be smart? Trained in the art of uncovering the wrongdoer? Then why can’t he see what’s under his nose? I wanna say: Hey, stupid! He’s over there!
Any main character who’s a medical doctor.
Because: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Hey, maybe this is a case of the pot and the kettle; I’m a lawyer, and it’s true that some folks find the intricacies of the legal system to be dry. But we’re a funhouse compared to the coroner. When the medical examiner picks up that scalpel in chapter 3 and makes the first cut, I skip ahead and hunt for a sex scene.
Extensive descriptions of food preparation/expensive shoes.
If I want a recipe, I’ll read Better Homes & Gardens; if I had an interest in high-dollar footwear (which I don’t, actually) I can check out Vogue. Protagonists who devote abundant time to wardrobe or gourmet fare are adding dead weight to the story.
The female MC who has great sex, but claims “she’s never done anything like this before.”
Isn’t it the 21st Century? Why do our female heroes still need to play the blushing maiden? Give me a girl with an Amy Schumer attitude toward carnal relations.
The middle-aged male protagonist who is irresistible to young women.
Yes, I’m saving the worst for last. I’ve read at least three books in the last year in which a 50-ish cop/private eye was chased around the desk by a nubile teen. Oh, please. Spare me the author’s pipe dreams!