P.W. Creighton

It's The Unanswered Questions That Haunt Us...

Cliched Contrivances

Gimmicks, Machinations, Contrivances...

While every narrative, every work requires a series of contrived events to propagate a story and develop the plot into a designated direction, there are certain contrivances that have not only fallen into cliche but can also serve to sever the connection between the audience and the work.

These contrivances are prominently a single element on which the entire subject of a piece can hinge. While these elements have been overused to the point of absurdity by popular media, they still find their way into narratives and while these elements can have their place in a piece their implementation is often the largest failing. This comes from a lack of research and more reliance on what has be exemplified by the media when using these elements.

The most gimmicky of these elements are the almighty whatsit, the walking encyclopedia and the psychological excuse.

The Almighty Whatsit takes two forms; the first is the whatsit that causes the story, while the second form is the whatsit that resolves the story. In the first form this can be a device that could save, destroy or alter the world, a miracle cure or artifact of some form. In Urban Fantasy this is often the lynch-pin of the story, someone is in pursuit of a magical relic that can give them unbelievable power to do very bad things. The second form usually is added to resolve the story when things are at their bleakest for the characters. This form can be anything that the first form can be. In both instances the almighty whatsit is something wholly unique and world shattering, while at the same time it's the implementation of this that breaks the audience-work connection.

The Walking Encyclopedia is often the solution resource for the main characters. When they are striving to accomplish something and need knowledge that will ultimately lead to the resolution of the piece the characters happen across the Walking Encyclopedia. This element often comes as the explanation or info-dump piece of the plot. The Walking Encyclopedia knows exactly what to do and is ancillary to the main characters either uninterested in the outcome or is secretly supporting the antagonist. The implementation of the Walking Encyclopedia is usually the by-product of foreshortening a piece. This can easily be rectified into something believable by reducing the information provided by any one character.

The Psychological Excuse is one of the most overused elements in any medium. This can be utilized to explain the behavior of characters, the motivation for the antagonist and even the core element of a piece.  This element is often a trauma of some form either physiological or psychological. Why does the antagonist hate the protagonist? They were abused as a child. The character needs to be captured to explore some exposition. The character is hit on the head and knocked-out, drugged or otherwise incapacitated. The character needs to explore their life, uncover a mystery etc. They have amnesia, multiple-personality disorder and so forth. The Psychological Excuse requires quite a bit more research than relying on traditional tropes. If someone is traumatized there are strong psychological and physiological effects that are often repressed or subconscious. If someone is knocked-out or drugged into incapacitation there are very dramatic side-effects ranging from brain lesions to sever vomiting and more.

Every Narrative relies on certain tropes to progress and develop the story but quite frequently these contrivances fall into cliched and gimmicky territory that breaks the spell for the audience. Popular media has explored these tropes extensively to the point of exhaustion. Sometimes it's best to recognize the cliche if only to avoid it.

Do you have any contrivances in your work? How do you avoid these cliches?

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