Lessons From Horror Movies: Cliches That Work (At Least for Me)

It’s dark.  A girl in booty shorts and a too small tank top is running through a forest.  Tree branches reach toward her like menacing finger.  One snags her shoulder and tears through her strap resulting in a major cleavage shot.  You’re not sure who she’s running from or why she’s running, but you can tell be the way she’s panting that she’s scared and something is following her.  She peeks over her shoulder, finally thinking she’s safe, only to turn back around and see a masked man wielding a chainsaw/butcher knife/screwdriver.  She takes a deep breath to scream (again with the cleavage shot), but the sound is lodged in her throat.  The man moves toward her at a ridiculously slow pace.  She takes one step back, trips over the tree roots she has to this point avoided and falls to the ground. He attacks and she finally manages to scream.

Isn’t there a scene like this in every horror movie?  Girl, scantily clad, running, scary woods.  Been there, done that.  And yet, we see the same thing again and again and again and again.


I hate to say it, but that scene (albeit overdone) manages to scare us.  She’s scared, we respond.  We’re always startled when the scary dude seems to appear out of nowhere, even though we know it’s coming.

Guess what, folks. Horror movies aren’t cornering the market in overdone scenes.  You may not notice it as much in YA literature, but it’s there…good writers just manage to use better adjectives. 

Take for instance, the “first kiss”  in every YA novel.  How many times have you read the words tingle, electric, warm, gentle, fire, goosebumps in that type of scene?  Like a gazillion? 

Or take the big make-out scene.  How many times have you read something about the characters’ hearts beating so hard they can feel it through their love interest’s shirt?

Have you ever actually felt someone’s heartbeat while you were kissing them?  (I can only think of one time and it followed a marriage proposal).  I’m guessing your teen (and probably adult) readers like that kind of stuff even if they’ve never experienced something like that. 

The kisses, like the run-in-the-woods-half-naked scene, are becoming cliche.  Sadly, every time I read that first kiss or make-out scene (if it’s well written)  I totally get caught up in the moment. 

Sometimes cliches aren’t bad things.  Sometimes they just work. 

Now I’m off to write a first kiss that doesn’t include any of the words I’ve listed above. (Sadly, I don’t think slobbery, sloppy, smelly, soggy, are going to suspend reality for my readers.  Bummer.)

Are there any other scenes that are repeated in literature that work for you?  Maybe the bad guy reveals all giving the good guy enough to stop him or something equally overdone? Or maybe you love the wicked stepmother hindering the good girl’s plans? 


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