Overused Plotlines


Vision 68


Overused Plotlines

and What to do About Them


Heather Webb

Between the Sheets Blog

Copyright © 2012, Heather Webb, All Rights Reserved




You're a creative genius and you just know your A-M-A-Z-I-N-G storyline is really going to knock an agent's socks off. But are you sure you're unique? How do you know? I asked an agent, who will remain nameless, the most overused, overwrought plotlines and openings. Take a deep breath and check out the list below.



 1. Bad Weather creates problems for the protagonist

2. Protag wakes up from a baaaddd dream, or even a good one

3. Protag is standing on a battlefield or hill overlooking the wreckage

4. Protag wakes up drunk/hung-over and doesn't remember what happened the night before

5. Protag is standing over an unidentified dead body





 1. Girl loves her boyfriend/husband. Gets pregnant. Is thrilled and happy to tell him, but he complains about money or acts like a bachelor-cad and girl decides not to tell him. Drama ensues.


2. Girl feels like an outcast. She's clumsy. She's kind'a average pretty. Other girls are mean to her because they're either A.) Jealous of her since the hot boy likes her for some God-forsaken reason or B.) She's new in school and threatens their turf,


3. An orphaned witch/vampire/werewolf discovers they are a witch/vampire/werewolf and then commences to uncover their parents' deaths and how they're linked with the all-mysterious dark half.


4. There is at least one character in your novel where there is a god/angel/demon in disguise to deliver information, in other words, to carry weak plot points


5. Boy meets girl. Boy is super hot and arrogant, withdrawn, mysterious. Girl is tough as nails outwardly, but is all warm goosh inside and a sex goddess in bed who just wants to be loved.


6. Protag is a farmhand with mysterious parentage.


7. Boy/Girl is being chased the entire novel as they try to uncover a sacred lost relic, encrypted with the secret to immortality.


8. Girl/boy is a have-not in a dystopian society, which seeks to control their every thought, their every move. Boy/girl challenges authority and by their disobedience ultimately takes down the ruling class.


9. A kid who assumes he/she is ordinary is sent to an orphanage or boarding school only to discover he/she possess hidden powers and talents


10. A woman is fated to marry the king, but the sad truth is that she can't bear a son. And OFF WITH HER HEAD!


Do any of these openings or storylines look vaguely familiar? Uh, oh. Does this mean your story won't sell? Not necessarily, but it's a good idea to know what is common in the marketplace and strive for originality. Ahh, but how does one create originality? Let's start at the beginning.



 Everyone will tell you opening scenes are important. They're almost more important than any other part of a book…except maybe the climax. If your opening doesn't ROCK, your book will sink like a stone, out of sight and into the murky depths of the slush pile. So first and foremost, write an original, grabby opening using a few guiding points to lead you down the right path.


1. Open with a great first line. A first line does a lot of things–it sets the tone, evokes a sense of time and place, gives a strong sense of the protagonist's problem or voice. Yes, all of these things are possible in one little line. Try a few on for size. For some writers, it's the last thing they do before they type THE END. If this works for you, go for it. Just make it good. Oh, and by the way, this line should be short-ish, or your risk losing the reader's attention.


2. Begin your novel with the moment the character's life changes. The reader doesn't care about their humdrum existence before "IT" happened.


3. Avoid clichés–dreams, temporary amnesia, dead bodies lying on the ground with inspectors standing over them, or *gasp*, left devoid of blood.


4. Deliver the reader into the middle of an action sequence. This does not have to be an explosion, a chase scene, etc. Action merely means the character is DOING something. This something should encompass a characteristic trait that distinguishes your protagonist from the others out there.


5. Avoid explaining the protagonist's backstory. It's a bunch of blah blah the reader can surmise through the course of the novel. Besides, withholding information creates tension. Hemingway championed the iceberg theory (or the theory of omission), less is more. Take his advice. Don't bog down the story with info-barf.


6. Create a character worth rooting for. If a reader can't sympathize with the protagonist in the first ten pages, they're likely to put the book down. This does not mean you can't develop an awesome "bad guy" as the protag. Just give us something to hold onto, something that makes us want to cheer your villain on as they attempt to secure his/her ultimate goal. To get the ball rolling, ask yourself a couple of good questions: How do I want the reader to feel about my main character? How is my protagonist wounded?



 Still need help developing this grand opening?


1. Find a critique partner or group. If they're worth their weight in beans, they'll let you know what stinks. And make sure more than one person reads it. It doesn't matter how great that one single critique was, remember, this is a subjective business. It's better to have a few opinions before you change anything or keeping something that's rank.


2. Go to the library. Read the first paragraph of five of your favorite books. Now, select ten others at random. Read the first paragraph. Write down the most memorable lines/openings on a sheet of paper. What did you like? What didn't you like? How can you improve your own?


3. Read in your genre. A LOT. It will become very obvious which openings are trite.


So you have a terrific opening. What next? It's time to tackle that overused plotline. Let's take a look at what. . . .






1. Subplots

 You've probably read somewhere there are only thirty some-odd character archetypes and even fewer journeys for the human psyche. So how do you make them fresh over and over again? The answer is in the subplots.

EX. Boy meets girl. Girl falls in love. They're from different sides of the tracks, making their love forbidden. Angst and rebellion follow. It's a tale as old as time. But what is the emotional core that drives the protagonist and antagonist to their ultimate goals? Boy is an Afghani warlord with a penchant for executing people. His secret goal is to avenge the death of his family. Girl is an American soldier sent to Afghanistan for duty. She despises men because her father beat her. All she wants to do is annihilate every male she sees, especially the bastard warlords responsible for killing her mother in 911. A very different subplot will unfold in such a setting and create a unique story.


2. Outcomes

Another major factor in creating unique plots is the outcome of the protagonist's journey. Girl falls in love with warlord, but kills him anyway for revenge, OR Girl and Boy flee Afghanistan and stay with Tibetan monks to work through their demons. The outcome must distinguish your protagonist(s)/antagonist(s) from all of the other Boy meets Girl stories.


3. Every Action Creates a Reaction

 How a protagonist and antagonist (or any other character for that matter), react to one another pumps creative elements into a stale story.

EX. Judy discovered her husband is cheating. She could A.) boil his bunny B.) withdraw every dime from his bank account and leave without a trace C.) silently seethe and then bed all of his coworkers and friends D.) pretend nothing happened then die of cancer…the list goes on and on.


Here's an exercise to get started:

 Make a list of your protagonist's actions. Now list three different ways they could react within the same setting. How will the antagonist's action change as the protag's does? Create surprises!


And finally. . . .


4. Avoid the Common and Finding Inspiration

Read, read, and read some more. A LOT. Ravenously. Offer to beta read. The more varied the genres you read, the better. Keep a running list of subplots. It enriches your knowledge base, ultimately improving your craft.


Watch the Market

 This happens naturally if you're reading constantly. Study the trends and then DO NOT follow one. By the time your novel gets picked up, the trend will be passé and you'll be nothing but a harpy trying to ride someone else's coattails.


Get a Hobby

 Try something new. Join an ethnic dinner club. Take scuba lessons. Enroll in an astronomy class. New experiences will help you develop varied subplots as well as enrich your characters' traits…not to mention your own life!


Example: Jane meets Mr. Wonderful on Cocoa Island. She hadn't planned on taking scuba lessons with such a hunk. What luck! Until her swim top tangled in her tube as they practiced shared breathing. With only seconds between breaths, Mr. Wonderful attempts to help her, only to run out of oxygen. Your girl meets boy just got a lot more interesting because of your newly acquired skill.


Put on Your 3-D Goggles

 Put on your writer goggles, grab a plume and notebook and go to a place you would never dare set foot in– a dance club, a group home for runaways, a geisha house, a tour of the sewers, a Sear's appliance store. You're bound to run across very different kinds of people and have vastly different experiences in each location. Look, listen, take notes. You'd be surprised how many radical plot points spring into that twisted writer head of yours.


Good luck, be original, and happy writing!