Isn’t it funny how you can read another writer’s story and say, “Wow, how unoriginal. That’s been done a hundred times before,” but somehow totally overlook it when it’s your own work?
I went looking through some of my unpublished or unfinished horror stories the other day and realized that one of them was basically a retelling of The Exorcist. Since I was oblivious to that fact while writing it, I figured it would be a good idea to check over some of my works in progress and see if any other overused themes pop up.
Once I actually sat down to look for it, I wasn’t too surprised to find a few more stories that did fall into some of the overused horror clichés that we’ve become accustomed to.
So with that in mind, here are 3 Horror clichés I found in my own writing (and 2 more you should avoid).
Horror cliché # 1: The dead kid comes back from the grave to extract revenge on the people who wronged him.
What’s disappointing is that I really like the story I have that uses this theme. It’s dark, moody, and even has some blood, which isn’t usually my style. The only problem is I can’t sell it unless I do some major reworking because the basic plot has been done to death. And I don’t see it coming back from the grave to avenge this story.
Horror cliché # 2: A group of people unlock some ancient demonic device that unleashes a force of evil onto the world.
From Lovecraft to Evil Dead, this story has been told way too many times. For me, this is always the type of story that sounds good in the idea phase, but once implementation begins, you’re left with another incarnation of Cthulhu. And there’s just no avoiding it. Unless you’re name is Clive Barker, it’s difficult to come up with an original story with this theme. I haven’t put a lot of work into my version of it, but it was fun while it lasted.
Horror cliché # 3: The alcoholic Catholic priest who struggles with his faith until he finds himself wound up in some kind of supernatural horror story that he prevails only by embracing his faith.
This is the story that started this whole exercise for me. Like I said earlier: The Exorcist. The story I’m working on here isn’t finished yet, but it’s long. Like novella long unfortunately. I say “unfortunately” because I’ve spent so much time working on it and can’t really do anything with it now that I realized it’s just another cliché. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure out a way to keep the good parts and rewrite this into another story some day, but for now I’m just going to put it away a little while.
Now for bonus points, here are two horror clichés I didn’t find in my own WIPs, but ones you should be aware of.
Horror cliché # 4: She’s really a ghost!
Yes, we all loved The Sixth Sense. Some of us even liked The Others. But when it comes down to it, we’ve seen this too many times, to the point that when it happens, it’s almost predictable. Unless you can find a way to put a really innovative spin on it, try to avoid writing this kind of ending.
Horror cliché # 5: Teenage slashers.
Yuck. But I say that with love. I love the slasher genre in film. But in writing? Not so much. People have no problem throwing down a bag of microwave popcorn and watching the stereotype characters get stalked and killed in between sex scenes. But in written form? No way. Our brains just aren’t wired that way. Keep this genre where it belongs: on the screen.
And that is it.
I actually learned a lot going through my WIP folder and looking for some of the tired or recycled ideas. It’s never a bad thing to spot a problem a story has before it’s finished; it just makes revising it that much easier.
In closing, I’d like to mention that if the writing is good, you should never abandon the whole project. Take what you can out of it, and put a new twist on the story so that it can became a brand new tale, or even an original idea for someone else to “borrow” from in the years to come.
What horror clichés have you found in your own writing, and what have you done to fix it?