Have you ever found yourself getting really into a work of fiction – binge watching entire seasons at a time, buying all the merchandise, or gushing about it on social media – but later on you find yourself hating the work you used to love? Sometimes it is simply a case of our tastes changing naturally over time, or sometimes it’s a change in the writing staff or management. But often it is due to the writer making a bad decision which turns even the most loyal fans away. These are some of the biggest writing mistakes which ruin a good story which you should avoid in your own writing:
Abandoning the premise
While some bad stories fail to live up to their premise, others abandon theirs altogether and alienate their existing fanbase. For example, say you have a gritty, relatable drama about regular working-class characters but then halfway through the characters suddenly win the lottery and it turns into a comedic farce about living amongst the wealthy elite. Those are two excellent premises on their own but switching from one to another in the same continuity is just a slap in the face to any fans who enjoyed the original premise.
Forced romantic conflict
I love romance plots with a burning passion, but I completely despise those which are inserted into a story for the sake of it, or which rely upon outdated or unpopular plots such as a love triangle, affair, or misunderstanding. If you do want to include a romance plot or test the couple, at least make it meaningful and fitting with the story and characters.
A delve into darkness
It is beneficial for a story to become increasingly dark as it goes on, since it gradually ups the stakes and provides deeper conflict. Yet more writers seem to be under the impression that they need to make the story as dark and disturbing as possible early on, which only makes the characters unlikeable and the story too depressing to follow or finish. Game of Thrones is probably the main cause of this trend, yet what most people don’t realise is that despite the increasingly dark tone, there still remains an element of hope that our favourite characters may still survive and fix everything. That is what keeps us enthralled with the series, not the endless stream of blood, death, and rape.
Dragging out the drama
In a failed attempt to keep fans interested, some writers drag out their conflicts almost indefinitely, or at least way past the point when they should have been concluded. This can actually have the opposite effect in turning fans away from the plot, since they have little incentive to follow it if they don’t believe it will ever be solved. Similarly, if you introduce a mystery or burning question into the narrative, don’t drag it along further than it needs to, otherwise the fans will stop caring.
Hitting the reset button
Have you ever reached a satisfying conclusion for a season of a tv show or a book in a series, only for the author to suddenly undo it all at the very end, or set up yet another long string of incredibly similar challenges for the characters to face? It fails because it makes the entire journey you have just followed feel completely pointless, and hints that the next instalment will just be a rehash of the first. If you are writing a series, build upon each new instalment with something new and the fans will stay interested for as long as you write it.
Too many plot twists
Plot twists are like rollercoasters; exiting when ridden one at a time, but if you ride several one after another then you’re just going to feel sick. If you have too many plot twists or plot twists which are too close together, the fans will barely be able to catch their breath before the next one comes along. Generally, I would say limit yourself to only one or two plot twists per book or season and give the fans plenty of breathing room each time to process them.
An unsatisfactory ending
Whether the story ends with joy or tragedy, it at least needs to be satisfactory and fitting to what the rest of the story has been building up to. No matter how good the rest of the story is, a bad ending will taint the entire thing and leave fans raging.
Which writing mistakes do you think ruin a good story? What has made you hate a story that you used to love? Tell me in the comments below!
Gratuitous violence, especially against women.
‘It was all a dream’ (a variation on the point you made above).
An introspective character who, suddenly becomes an all-action gregarious hero for no discernible reason. And any variation on the character-transplant meme.
Anachronisms. We all come across these, and for me they absolutely explode any suspension of disbelief that I may have acceded to.
Jessica Wood said:
I’m also turned off by violence against women, or the ‘woman in the fridge’ trope, which is sadly still all too common.