Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Least favorite cliche

Have you got a particular cliche that sets your teeth on edge more than any other?

I do. Here it is:

“If you kill me, you’re no better than I am!”

Or anything remotely similar to the above, such as:

“We can’t kill him! We’d be no better than he is!”

Or even:

“Yes, of course he’s our deadly enemy and has sworn to destroy everyone we love, but we can’t strike the first blow!”

You know what? You can totally strike the first blow. That will not make you as bad as he is. HE is the guy who bites the heads of kittens for fun (or whatever). YOU are the one who protects the kittens. There is not the remotest comparison and never could be, and your insanely stupid decision right at this moment is going to let the bad guy tear the entire world apart or plunge the entire country into a civil war. But hey! At least you will hopefully find it comforting that you didn’t strike the first blow!

As you might possibly guess, I hit a plot point like this a little while ago in a book I’m reading, and OH MY GOD but I detest it.

And that is why the first twelve seconds of this clip constitute possibly my very favorite moment in all of SFF:

I swear to God, if any villain EVER says anything remotely like “You can’t shoot me, you’re the good guy!” to my protagonist, that villain will get shot in the next half-minute of action. And no protagonist of mine will EVER say, “Oh, we can’t kill him, that would make us no better than he is!”

MY protagonist will nuke the bad guy from orbit, if it’s the only way to be sure.

Okay, that’s my rant. If you’ve got a particularly hated cliche in mind, drop it in the comments!

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9 Comments Least favorite cliche

  1. Megan

    Completely agree on this. I’ve walled books/series because the good guy has the bad guy at his mercy, then refuses to strike the final blow “because that would make me a killer.” It’s like, okay then, I guess the thousands of people said villain has ALREADY KILLED don’t matter to you, and I directly attribute any and all future deaths to you as well as him/her. I’m starting to appreciate pragmatic protagonists more and more.

  2. Elaine T

    Agree on that one, and add:

    Stupid misunderstandings that could be cleared up if people just talked with each other. and, of course, there’s never any good reason they aren’t.

    Bonus grump if said misunderstanding due to something overheard.

  3. Evelyn M. Hill

    Love triangles! By this point, I’m so sick of them I’ll stop reading the dang book if one shows up.
    Big misunderstanding is pretty bad too. It makes the characters look foolish. I.e. not people I want to spend time with.

  4. Mary Catelli

    I hate characters acting stupidly. Not just out of character — I hate it even when it’s perfectly well developed and EXACTLY what that character would do.

  5. kootch

    @Mary Catelli totally agree! I have bounced off some books in disgust because of this. Also agree with Rachel and thank you, thank you for reminding me why I love “Firefly” so much.

  6. Hanneke

    I agree with this in fiction, because the bad guys tend to be very clearly defined before any moment like this appears. Any adhering to a rigid idea of morality like this (and like the Safe-keepers keeping child abuse secret, as I mentioned in another comment), to the serious detriment of innocent people, is something that irritates me a lot.

    In real life it doesn’t tend to happen this way, unless you count that moment of uncertainty from someone who’s never committed violence or shot someone before taking action, in which a hardened criminal who doesn’t hesitate will grab the advantage. Myself, I don’t think that moment of hesitation is equivalent to the stupidly ‘moral’ stance you get mad about.

    In real life, a perceived possible danger gets blown up out of proportion to justify striking first, launching the first attack, or whatever is expedient to the powers that be. That makes me quite leery of using such a supposedly pragmatic option in real life, as the supposedly dangerous situation is often more nuanced.
    For one example, the good (ex-army) guy who took down a robber and was immediately shot by police arriving on scene because he was holding the robber down on the pavement…
    For another, wildly exaggerating the chance of the presence of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ because some people wanted an excuse to go to war.
    For another, to show that morality really is not the principle behind this in real life, when it’s inconvenient to the powers that be, the documented war crimes and terror attacks on civilians committed by ones allies (like the Saudies) get overlooked and won’t be acknowledged, nor have consequences.
    This makes for a very dangerous principle in real life!

  7. Rachel

    Sure, fiction, obviously! Though as far as that goes, I do know of a case in real life where a bad guy essentially said just this kind of “you can’t shoot me” thing to a woman he was attacking. She didn’t shoot him. He raped her. I swear to God, if a guy ever attacks me, I will in fact shoot him.

    Yes, yes, absolutely right there with you with characters who act stupidly, and this is if anything WORSE when stupidity is actually in character.

  8. Rachel Neumeier

    Also, pragmatic protagonists are the BEST. Tremaine Villiarde forever! (Nicholas Villiarde too).

  9. Mary Catelli

    I also hate it when the author undermines the happy ending in order to write a sequel.

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