1) The perfect female protagonist
She’s 100% benevolent towards everybody. She has no self-preservation instinct. She always feels guilty about things she didn’t do in a perfect way, even if she was defending herself at that moment. She thinks of others all the time and never on herself. She’ll never say mean words, feel jealous or moody, be lazy, have human flaws or make wrong choices in her life or love interests. She’s always the well behaving girl who never does anything wrong. She’s an unreachable model of a perfect heroine.
2) The heroine or hero who dies at the end for no understandable reason.
They die after three or more books. Usually they sacrifice themselves for a minor character or it only happens for no reason that makes sense to you as a reader, after all they were so resourceful to the very (frustrating) end.
You just invested a long time reading and caring about them so that they would die for something that could have been easily avoided. And what for? Sometimes the end of the story just feels like a devastating funeral after that, worse yet if this happens in the middle of the story and the book goes on, now devoid of the character who gave it life. It feels to me like a cheap story device, that old story of “kill your darlings”, like if the writer is tired of the character and wants to be sure he/she won’t write more about him/her in any future books because they so conveniently died.
What’s the problem with letting the main character live in the end? Has that turned into a cliche lately? Or is it the other way around?
3) The protagonist’s bad family where only the father is a good guy.
Poisonous bad mothers, not so nice siblings and a loving, flawless father completely unrelated to all those problems in an unrealistic way have become so frequent in books that I feel like yawning every time I find them in yet another book. Why not try to change it a bit?
4) The perfect romance that goes on for 350 pages or longer.
All right, perhaps I’m being a grumpy person here. But when I start reading a so called urban fantasy or paranormal fantasy book I expect romance to be interlaced with fantasy or a bit of story at least. Nothing against a bit of romance here and there, but if I wanted only to read about the perfect romance among two – completely devoid of human flaws and drawbacks – characters, I would perhaps look for a book in the romance genre.
5) Good people, bad people and nothing in between.
Good characters who never make a mistake and are never weak, calculating or mean. Bad characters who are incapable of doing anything good. The world isn’t like that.
6) Description that slows the pace down to a point you have to jump fifty pages to see if anything will happen.
After ten pages of description, ten of setting and other ten of uninteresting backstory you feel really sad you bought the book and started reading it. You jump fifty pages to see if anything will happen only to see that you lost track of the little bits of plot scattered in the pages you skipped.
7) Secondary characters who say only nice things to the main character.
“You know nothing John Snow.” How refreshing is that? Ygritte wasn’t only a secondary character and love interest, she also had a mind and voice of her own. And this is a well written secondary character.
8) The romantic heroine who feels attracted to a guy who tried to kill her one page ago.
Usually the given reason is that the dangerous guy is so good looking that the heroine can’t help herself but have romantic thoughts and butterflies in her belly when she looks at him.
Really? This doesn’t seem to me like something a sane woman would do, and it does looks contrived even in a romantic story. Apart from that, as a parent, I don’t think we should be teaching young girls that the violent guy is the hero for them. Often you will find enough apologies in the story, that the guy was trying to kill, or was hurting them, because he knew no better, or he was in a twisted way trying to protect them. I think this all leads to an inversion of values that can at least be misleading to young girls and boys too.
9) Secondary characters who change magically from hating into liking the protagonist
I was reading a story where the protagonist had a brother who hated her. I didn’t find any clue on the first one hundred pages as to why he felt like that or as to why he would treat her badly all the time. Eventually his irritating rude behavior changed to a new direction without any given reason.
I was thinking: “Does the author expects me to sympathize with this character now? But I was annoyed with him one page ago.” If the author had any reasons for the character changes I didn’t get it from reading the story. So that remains a mystery…
10) Characters who lack sense of humor and can’t laugh about themselves or the situations they are in.
A story without humor is like food without seasoning. The irony of life shouldn’t go unnoticed, that’s what makes readers laugh and relate to a character.
So make us laugh, we’ll love your characters and your story for that.