Our Writing to Publish critique group focuses on the printed word, but several
of our members have experience writing screenplays. For their sake we include this
informative list of Hollywood cliches.
(We've added quite a few items, with help from our friends on line.)
If there is a large cake present at a festive family gathering,
there is an excellent chance it'll end up all over someone. Even without the cake,
most families will shortly begin a loud fight, or get overrun by a band of evildoers.
At Least 200 Things You Would Never Know if
Not for Television and the Big Screen
- Any person who coughs is doomed, especially if a companion pauses with sincere concern. This person might have survived all manner of other symptoms, but the Cough of Death is inescapable.
- Any person who says, "I didn't sign up for this" or, "I'm going straight to the police" will die, and fast.
- Good people can suffer from a terrible disease or wounds, but upon the simple ministrations of a country doctor, their fever will break. They'll be up and around in a jiffy, and never have a relapse. (Unless it's the hero's unfortunate sibling, whose tragic wasting away inspires them to greatness.)
- Alien attackers, giant monsters and robots, supervillians, terrorists, and many others really really have a grudge against the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Fat, dumpy guys are usually married to attractive, if overly critical, women.
- After a night of lovemaking, when a man's new girlfriend finds herself in his
unfamiliar home, a flannel shirt will always be available. No matter the boyfriend's
stature, this flannel shirt will be large enough to fit a hefty lumberjack. She'll
wear it as she rummages through his kitchen the next morning, but there won't be
anything to cover her legs.
- If a convertible is being driven anywhere in the western United States, it will soon end up in Las Vegas. (Strange adventures then ensue.)
- Whenever it rains, it always rains so hard you'd think everyone would need a boat. It never just rains on the ocean -- maritime weather is either gorgeous or there's a life-threatening storm. (Marine fog always has a creepy supernatural aspect.)
- Dramatic supernatural events are almost always perpetrated by, or visited upon, sexy young women. Later on, the hero never has to explain the dead human body that's left after killing a werewolf or other shapeshifter.
- All railroad trestles have a sensor located in the middle. Whenever anyone tries
to cross on foot, this sensor will immediately summon an onrushing train. (If it's a wooden suspension bridge, the middle slats will always break.)
- Many industrial plants and high-tech facilities are continually bathed in showers of brilliant sparks. These sparks often have no apparent source, and no person or equipment is ever affected by them. (Unfortunately, the opposite is true of bubbling chemical formulas.)
- Any vehicle chase in southern California must include a stretch along the concrete-lined Los Angeles River. Detours through subway tunnels, water pipes, and through building lobbies are optional. (Entire arsenals can be unleashed along the way, but with little effect.)
- When a helicopter is following some event on the ground, whether a runaway locomotive or a motorcycle-riding criminal, all overhead wires will vanish. The aircraft can chase them for miles, at treetop level, without ever hitting a tall building or a power line. (Despite these careening objects, bullets may eventually be aimed with deadly effectiveness.)
- Many house and building fires are nerve-wracking but trivial, quickly put out, and everyone soon ignores any damage. Either that or they're utterly devastating, with nothing but charred ruins left. Smoke alarms are rarely heard, but if the fire sprinklers go off, they all go off at once. (All over that floor, or even the entire building.)
- Although in the 21st century it is possible to fire weapons at an object out of visual range, people of the 23rd century will have lost this technology. And if you're going to shoot something close up, take the advice of Robert Ruark, the African game hunter: "Use enough gun!"
- When shooting at a monster, and the first ten gun blasts didn't do any good, there's a good chance the next ten won't work either. (Time to leave!)
- A soldier is likely to survive any battle in any war, unless he makes the mistake of showing someone a picture of his sweetheart back home. If his enemies are international terrorists, sarcasm and wisecracks are the best weapons.
- Should you wish to pass yourself off as a German officer, it will not be necessary
to speak the language. A German accent will do. But if you're caught, hide in water. (German bullets cannot penetrate water.)
- When a war hero throws a grenade it will explode with tremendous force, but enemy grenades only go off like a wet firecracker, if at all. (Heroes can also fire a rocket from a moving helicopter, accurately, and without incinerating his crewmates with its flame.)
- Heroes are impervious to heat. Massive flames, and collapsing infernos, will barely singe an eyebrow. Innocent victims can survive a direct hit by a flamethrower if an android protects them with its body.
- A person can outrun the shock wave and fireball from a massive (even tactical
nuclear) explosion, yet no matter their relative speeds, the conflagration will overtake
him just as he leaps off a pier. A doorway will also serve as an effective barrier,
but in a pinch, just throw yourself to the ground. (A furious yell can slow time
and aid in such escapes.)
- Ancient treasure maps can always be deciphered, if not by the hero then by some eccentric genius whose theories are usually discounted. They are always genuine, and will lead to something of great or even supernatural value. (The place on the map has not been looted or destroyed, much less paved over, in the centuries since.)
- Fabulous treasures are often found in isolated temples, or within strange old buildings, made only of stone. Such treasure is defended by clever and deadly traps, and the place will open via automatic weighted mechanisms. These always function perfectly, if with a grinding noise, despite centuries of utter neglect.
- When men drink hard liquor, it is always from a shot glass, and in one gulp. Wimps will gasp for air, then have a coughing fit. Macho guys only wince, then flash clenched teeth.
- There are always stools available near the bartender, who is just standing there waiting for someone to order. He'll have plenty of time to chat, and dispense sage advice on love and life. (And he, a total stranger, gets more serious attention than a sensible relative does.)
- Most times a hero walks into a bar, he'll get into a fight. Usually under a Budweiser sign, where everyone else will pile on. A fight is even more likely if country music is playing, and he'll wield an ordinary pool cue to devastating effect. (The pinball machines are doomed for sure.)
- A splash of cold water is sufficient to revive any drunk person. Most older men can make a vile concoction that will sober 'em up completely.
- Any alcoholic can quit drinking when faced with an important challenge. When he (90% of the time it's "he") does, all his faculties will return, and without nasty long-drawn withdrawal symptoms.
- When driving down a perfectly straight road, it is necessary to turn the steering
wheel from left to right every few moments. Don't focus on the road, but rather the person sitting beside you, or in the back seat. (Never sing in the car. That guarantees trouble.)
- When any car or motorcycle comes to an ordinary stop, no matter how new or well-maintained the vehicle, its brakes will always make an audible sound. When any muscle car accellerates, even on a dirt or gravel surface, its tires will squeal.
- Cars and trucks that crash will normally burst into flames. A single bullet will
have the same effect. This will be followed by a lone hubcap rolling away. (When careening off a cliff, said car may explode before it hits the bottom.)
- Indoors or out, a tiny fire can hold off extreme subzero cold. Campfires will
always blaze steadily, and never produce smoke. (But signal fires will rival a volcanic eruption.)
- Remaining for more than one day in the wilderness guarantees the arrival of a hungry bear, and no matter which region you're in, probably some wolves and cougars as well. Do not worry, because a loyal dog (of modest size) can hold them off.
- When trapped inside a dismal cave or mine, or deep within ancient ruins, it's possible to make a torch from the materials at hand. This torch will blaze brightly for a long time, and will never damage your clothes or hair.
- People marooned on a desert island quickly learn to make almost anything out of bamboo. Building a thatched hut is easy, especially if you were a pampered city dweller.
- Any disc or thumb drive will function perfectly in any type of computer, and they are always distinctly labeled. Chances are, your computer about to become self-aware.
- Any photograph can have minute details pulled out of it. You can zoom into any picture as far as you want. Data searches will display every file on the screen until a match is found, whether it's text, graphics, or faces.
- When two spaceships meet in deep space, even by random chance, they will usually have their vertical axis perfectly aligned. They will also have instantly compatible communication systems, spoken languages, and repair tools.
- No matter how badly a spaceship is damaged, its internal gravity system never fails. However, the controls have ultra-high voltages inside, and will fail with a deadly burst of sparks.
- Outer space is very crowded. Asteroid belts, spacecraft junkyards, and planetary orbits are so jammed full, a transiting spaceship needs to turn and dodge repeatedly. (They'll probably hit something anyway, but that will only make a clanking sound.)
- Nebulas are thicker than pea soup, so the hero's spaceship can easily hide inside the nearest one. Many nebulas display the cosmic equivalent of a lightning storm, but this won't hurt a spaceship.
- Any person waking from a nightmare will sit bolt upright and pant. Murky or clear, these dreams always have great personal significance.
- A person who thinks they've woken up from a nightmare is frequently wrong. Instead, they've entered an even more nasty phase of a very complicated dream.
- Creepy music (or satanic chanting) coming from a graveyard should always be investigated, preferably alone. On the way in, you will usually encounter a screeching cat. (If chased by what you find, don't bother to run. They'll always get ahead of you.)
- If staying in a haunted house, women should investigate any strange noises while
wearing their most revealing underwear. Entering a dark basement (or nearby dank
forest) is common, and they should proceed even after finding the body of a beloved pet.
- Most people keep a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings, especially if any of their family or friends have died in a strange boating accident. When a serial killer keeps one, it will chroncicle all the slights that drove them around the bend. (The hero will eventually find it, in a dimly-lit basement.)
- If a series of deadly events involve a summer camp, the camp counselors are doomed for sure. Any girl who shows her breasts is also a goner. (And those people will hardly be missed.)
- Wearing a singlet or stripping to the waist can make a man invulnerable to bullets.
He is more likely to get conked on the head when his female companion swings at the villain and misses.
- One man shooting at 20 men has a better chance of killing them all than 20 men
firing at one, even if the enemies have machine guns. Tumbling dives always cause
the bullets to miss, allowing the hero to reach solid cover.
- It does not matter if you are heavily outnumbered in a fight involving martial
arts. Your enemies will wait patiently to attack you one by one, dancing around in
a threatening manner until you have knocked out their predecessor.
- A small woman can easily take out a huge brute, with a fast kick to his crotch. A man will seldom try this move, but if he does, half the time it's to no avail.
- If for any reason you assist the villain, do not expect gratitude. Expect death instead, which will come later on, usually because of a girl the villain wants as this own.
- A master martial artist will defeat dozens of foes, and with hardly a scratch. However, if this same guy ever sasses his elderly grandmother, she is quick enough to land a resounding slap on his face.
- After the rugged hero defeats legions of bad guys, in or near the archvillain's secret headquarters, that worthy can be expected to appear, and facetiously clap for him. Then he'll call in twice as many bad guys.
- No one in the area, even if they've lived there all their lives, will notice (much less, report) a massive Evil HQ construction project, or the influx of hordes of minions. Half of those loyal minions will be mute.
- When a hero finally defeats all the evil minions, leaving him alone with the archvillain, the bad guy will likely quote Nietzsche with a speech about, "There is no good and evil, only power!" Either that or he'll say, "We're really alike, you and I," and then make the fatal error of inviting the hero to join him.
- With enough testosterone, or sheer determination, a person can survive multiple head blows, any one of which would normally cause a concussion or death. Instead, little if any bruising will result. Ditto for desperate leaps from tall buildings. (A dumpster or truck bed, full of soft material, will always be right underneath.)
- A man will show no pain while taking the most ferocious beating. Instead he'll ask, "Is that the best you've got?" Then he'll wince when a woman tries to clean his wounds. Her efforts, using only a moist cloth, will help him fully recover within minutes.
- Bank tellers are often robbed during their first day on the job. (Don't worry, they'll shrug it off easily.)
- Having a job of any kind will make all fathers forget their son's eighth birthday. (At least they'll always have one memorable photo, which they took while on a fishing trip.)
When a superhero is battling bad guys at night, in a big city or most other places, no one notices. No urban dweller goes out at night, or pays much attention to gunfire, explosions, vehicles crashing, and even buildings being knocked down.
Action heroes never face criminal or civil litigation, despite laying entire cities to waste. Superheroes rarely have to testify in court about their conduct. Though wearing awkward masks and spandex, they are better able to deal with crime than trained police officers.
Whenever a phone rings in the background, that call is always relevant to the immediate situation. When a phone rings in the other room, it's usually a fatal mistake to go answer it. (Whenever you make a call, the other party will always answer right away, unless they are in immediate danger.)
If there is a deranged killer on the loose, this will coincide with a thunderstorm
which brings down all the power and phone lines in the vicinity. (Cell phones become irrelevant.) If the killer is anywhere near your house, it's easy to attract him. Just relax and run a bath -- at any time of day.
If a phone line is broken, communication can be restored by frantically beating the cradle and saying, "Hello, HELLO?" If you do finish a conversation, don't bother to say goodbye. (Not only that, you'll exchange voluminous information during a few seconds of conversation.)
When the hero is contacted by a person with rare and vital information, that person will refuse to divulge the information. Instead they'll ask for another meeting -- and then die before it's held. (Even the wildest conspiracy theories will turn out to be correct.)
Rather than wasting bullets, megalomaniacs prefer to kill their archenemies
using complicated machinery that allows them at least 20 minutes to escape. Conversely, when the hero attacks with a machine gun, it is routine to warm up on flower pots, liquor bottles, and mirrors before aiming at the villain. This allows the villain to get away.
Police departments give their officers personality tests to make sure they are assigned a partner who is their total opposite. Fortunately, a weak sidekick will show remarkable proficiency with weapons, and save his partner's life.
After an intense firefight, when a car gets so shot up its windshield looks like Swiss cheese, the rear window always looks pristine. The bullets will either vanish or reload themselves. (All those explosions and gunshots will have no effect on the hero's unprotected hearing.)
When a police car doesn't make it, and gets crushed flat, its siren will give one last plaintive hoot.
All bombs are fitted with electronic timing devices with large
red readouts so you know exactly when they are going to go off. (Fortunately for the hero, it takes several minutes to count down those final few seconds.)
Large parking garages exist to host secret contacts, sneaky criminals, and a whole assortment of monsters. High speed car chases are common, and it's possible to leap a vehicle out the sides, into any nearby structure.
Guns are like disposable razors -- if you run out of bullets, just throw the
gun and cartridges away. (You can always buy new ones.) Archenemies will expend their guns, then all nearby hand weapons, ultimately being reduced to primitive fisticuffs.
No matter how large your sword, you can hack away without tiring. Be a flippant showoff, and use as many reckless moves as possible, without fear of breaking it. (You can always buy a new one.)
Traditional craftsmen can make, and mysterious ninjas often wield, invulnerble swords. These swords can cut through any object, including heavy-gauge steel, without breaking or even losing their razor-sharp edge.
During all police investigations, it will be necessary to visit a strip club
at least once. Even so, the detective can only solve the case after he's been suspended
from duty. (The denoumnent will probably occur in an abandoned warehouse, near some docks.)
No matter the crime, a fugitive will always be perfectly safe the moment he reaches a tropical location outside the USA. (Unless a tough-guy hero with a personal grudge goes rogue to track him down.)
The Chief of Police is always Black. (But if he's not, then he is sure to be wrong about something important.)
Any police officer about to retire from the force will more often than not die on their last day -- especially if their family has planned a party. They never will buy that sports fishing boat, after all.
Getaway cars never start on the first try, but all police cars do. They will also screech to a dramatic stop in the midst of a crime scene.
Nobody ever misplaces their car keys, but if they did, extras can always be found above the visor. (If somebody steals that car, its seat and mirrors will already be perfectly adjusted.)
On a police stake-out, the action will only take place when food is being consumed and scalding hot coffees are perched precariously on the dashboard. (Be careful, because female FBI agents always wear $2000 overcoats.)
Wherever an undercover cop goes, and no matter how well he's disguised, some guy will always recognize him. However, cops on stakeout remain invisible, no matter how near or long they're parked.
Some penny-ante snitch or minor hoodlum will know the name, location, and plans of the most successful criminal in town, thereby allowing the hero to find out everything within minutes. (If half-hearted threats don't elicit the truth, a little cash or wild promises always will.)
Plain or ugly girls can become strikingly beautiful, simply by removing their glasses (and perhaps, braces), then unpinning their hair.
A performer on stage can instantly spot a loved one, especially in a crowd of 20,000 people.
Prostitutes always look like Hollywood starlets. They have expensive clothes and nice apartments but no pimps.
High school students are either good looking or very ugly, with nothing in between. Their teachers are always interrupted in mid-sentence by the 'end of class' bell. Happily, amidst the scholarly gloom, there is always one brilliant, creative, and inspiring teacher.
All teen house parties have one person from every stereotypical
subculture present, including people who aren't liked and would never get invited. If one of them spots a monster at the window, it's always gone before anybody else sees it. (And no one ever believes them.)
When a homeless man sees something really strange, they'll do a double take, then look at the bottle in their hand and say they'd better give up the booze.
Skeptics are always proved wrong in some horrible, nasty, painful way. If someone screams, "None of you knows what's really going on here," better listen to them. Believe the worst!
Criminal masterminds are always someone the good guy used to know, and his ulterior motive is revenge for something the good guy did "against" him. (Often it's the hero's evil identical twin.)
Where a villain's identity is hidden, it is never the person who first acts antagonistic to the hero. This person usually becomes the hero's ally. Instead, the villain is a friend of the hero; a person who, up to a point, tried to help him.
There will always be a conversation between the good guys just before one enters his car and gets blown up. At least 90% of such dastardly crimes are masterminded by greedy rich white men -- but it takes the hero a while to suspect this.
If a crime involves large amounts of cash, it will be kept neatly stacked inside a briefcase. No matter how careful or paranoid the recipient, he-or-she won't bother to count the money. (Said briefcase will often end up in a high place, where it will burst open and shower a waiting crowd with crisp new bills.)
The hero or heroine will learn some skill practically overnight, then use it to beat the villain, who has been at it for years. Beautiful women can become world-class experts in anything, and by 22 years of age.
The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window of any building in Paris. Ditto with the dome of the Capitol building in Washington, DC. In London it's Saint Peter's cathedral, or the Big Ben clock and Thames river bridges.
Forested mountains are visible on the horizon from any location in North America. Cities are always a pastiche of familiar if mismatched buildings.
If you lose a hand, it will cause the stump of your arm to grow by six inches.
If you happen to lose a few body parts, do not despair. Replace them with built-in weapons such as chainsaws, harpoons, etc. (If you're a funny type person, then animal parts will fit -- and function -- perfectly.)
Secret agents never drown, because they've got special lungs and can hold their breath forever. (Even that can be doubled, simply by breathing from submerged car tires.)
A pregnant woman will give birth soon. She'll always use the Lamaze method, panting vigorously. Usually this happens in a car, with an unprepared male helper.
Any person can be hypnotized, including people who know it's coming and don't want to be. This process is fast and simple, and the victims can be commanded to do outrageous things they'd never consider otherwise. (Playing cards and coded phone calls can instantly summon up that iron grip, even years down the road.)
Humanity will progress via the birth of vastly superior children, mutants or genetically engineered, if not both. Whether good or evil, these prodigies can easily recall their own birth, and most have immense psychic powers.
The CIA has vending cart owners planted throughout the world, so when their spy is being chased, the cart can be placed in front of the bad guys. Better, every city has a ready supply of sympathetic cab drivers. (The opposing leader will scramble entire teams of ready-and-waiting professionals -- with one authoritative command.)
All spy agencies possess ultra-advanced technological gadgetry, and genetically enhanced super-humans, which they keep completely hidden from the public. (Everyone suspects that both exist, but no one ever bothers to produce any actual evidence.)
When approaching a vulnerable person from behind, especially in a dark and scary place, place a hand on their shoulder, rather than announcing yourself first. In perilous situations, clamp a hand over their mouth -- you will never get bitten.
When searching for a bad guy, or any sort of monster, always split up so you're easier to pick off. Don't ever look in the direction the threat will obviously come from. But if it's already too late, you'll be able to hide behind even the flimsiest piece of furniture. (It'll stop bullets, too.)
When uncertain about something, a person starts ending sentences with the word "I." (For example: "I don't know, I . . . ")
During an emotional confrontation, instead of facing the person
you are speaking to, it is customary to stand behind them and talk to their back. But if a misunderstanding could be cleared up with a simple explanation, then keep your mouth shut. (People will always fight with a companion of the opposite sex, and never for trivial reasons.)
If you have something vital to reveal, especially to someone close to you, chances are they'll interrupt with some blatant non sequitur -- which just happens to skewer your intended revelation. (They'll find out anyway, but not until near the ending.)
When someone learns an awful truth, they'll slump against the wall, then slide down to the floor, while sobbing incessently.
Dogs know who's evil and will naturally bark at them. Most dogs have far more lives than any cat.
Most aliens can speak perfect English, if with an accent, but
their own languages are unpronounceable by humans. (Ditto with mermaids.) You can safely share their food. Beyond this, interbreeding is possible with any creature from elsewhere in the universe.
Every member of an alien species wears the same outfit, including clothing, hairstyles, and jewelery. This makes them easy for a hero to identify. Any alien who do not dress like the others is hiding something.
All beds have special L-shaped top sheets that reach up to armpit level on a woman, but only to waist level on the man lying beside her. After a night of passionate sex (during which they never break a sweat), when she first wakes up and heads for the bathroom, the woman will modestly wrap herself with this sheet.
A man should never go outside to get the morning paper while wearing nothing but a bath towel. The front door will often slam behind him, and he'll be locked out.
Virtually everyone's clothing fits perfectly, and on the rare occasions it gets dirty, it only stays that way for minutes. Clothes are always smooth and even, because no one ever carries anything in their pockets. (Except for computer nerds, who wear pocket protectors laden with small items they never actually use.)
During the big game, at the end of the ninth inning with bases loaded and the opposing team ahead, the team's best hitter is never around. Instead, a 90 pound, near-blind klutz will pull off a respectable Babe Ruth imitation, for the first (and perhaps only)
time in his life. He will not be injured in the process, even when the stadium lights
Wrongfully imprisoned people always get justice in the end. Truly innocent people never die in prison. (But outside of prisons, the sincerely innocent will invariably have to compromise their morals.)
All prisons have sadistic guards and scheming wardens. The prisoners themselves have a clever (and officially unsuspected) leader, who is an eccentric Black guy.
When prisoners gather to plot their escape, the jailers, no matter how advanced their technology, never listen in. Whispering is sufficient.
Escaping prisoners, when they've knocked a guard unconscious,
never think to take his gun with them -- even though they're going to need it desperately
five minutes later. But if the hero takes his uniform, it always fits perfectly. (Unless they're both women, in which case the heroine's "borrowed" clothing will be tight and revealing.)
After some apocalypse kills almost everyone in the world, the streets of every city will be empty and easy to travel on, as are the highways -- unless a car has been set up on the side of the road, to lure the hero to his doom. (He's certain to encounter a clever and persistent barbarian leader, whether of biker or zombie stock.)
Any disaster that wipes out most of the human race will turn the majority of survivors into zombies. Whether it was a plague, radiation, or nanotechnology, it'll always have the same result. (Those zombies will always go on a rampage. They never just sit around and reminiscence.)
After civilization collapses, large gangs of human survivors will immediately become vicious cannibals. It doesn't matter who or where they are, or if there's plenty of cattle around.
All white street gangs include at least one minority kid, but black street gangs don't have any white members. Either way, their leaders are focused and clever.
If there is a large plate glass window nearby, chances are good that someone is about to get tossed right through it. Happily, they will not be injured. (But if an agitated person backs up toward an upper-floor window, they will always fall to their death.)
If there is an aquarium in the room, it will soon get smashed open. The larger, the sooner. (Any fish it contains will vanish, so that only water gushes out.)
All grocery shopping bags contain a stick of French bread.
However, when said bags break, only fruit spills out.
The ventilation system of any building (or even submarine)
is a perfect hiding place. No one will think of looking for you in there, and you
can travel silently to any other part of the structure. Those ducts are made of strong metal, clean and unobstructed inside, and attached without sharp metal screws. (Also, their grills can always be removed from the inside.)
Any lock can be picked by a credit card or a paper clip within seconds -- unless it's the door to a burning building with a child trapped inside.
Anyone can throw a knife (of any type) with perfect and deadly accuracy. It will never bounce off something, or get stuck in a victim's rib cage. (And the victim will die instantly, without making a sound.)
When overcoming a bad guy, always yell at, slap around, and
otherwise humiliate him. Never hold him quietly until the police arrive. (And when that baddie gets booked, some garish hooker or transvestite will always be there first.)
Whether lying or telling the truth, courtroom witnesses are always clear, lucid, and on point. Tearful confessions are common.
If you decide to start dancing in the street, everyone you bump into will know all the steps. They may also sing along, and in perfect harmony.
When a loved one pulls out from a train station, they will always sit on the side facing the platform. A desperate, unexpected seeker can always run after them for a long distance, and communicate an important message through the train window. (If it's a departing jet, and the seeker is riding a mobile ramp or similar equipment, they will always pick the correct 'side' of the plane, and 'section' as relates to the wings.)
Ordinary Macintosh laptops are very powerful. They can successfully hack the control network of any nation's nuclear arsenal. Also, any nearby alien starships. (It'll make all kinds of cute "beepy" sounds, too.)
Indoor chess sets are fantastically ornate, but outdoor 'in the park' sets are always plain. In both places, wealthy players are common and checkmates mandatory. (No one ever concedes a game.)
Brilliant people of all ages play chess, and they're often mentally unstable, while retarded people usually have special insights and talent.
When cornered, evil villains and monsters can never be killed at once. After getting struck down, they will arise to menace the heroes several more times. Never attack with anything more complicated than a pointed stick, because guns, electric wires, etc. are sure to fail at a crucial moment. Official help will not arrive until immediately after the monster dies.
Exposure to severe radiation can make human flesh glow. Immersion in toxic waste will not kill you. Either of these events will give you superpowers.
If your town is threatened by an imminent natural disaster or killer beast, the mayor's first concern will be the tourist trade or his upcoming art exhibition.
If you are ever knocked 'out of phase' with our dimensional reality (or die and become a ghost), you'll be invisible and effectively silent, and able to walk through walls -- but you won't fall through the floor, and your buttocks will stay in a chair.
Airplanes are as simple and ready to operate as a car. Just leap aboard and fly it. Also, it's easy for any non-pilot to land, provided there is someone in the control tower to talk them down.
Villains often lift victims clear off their feet, simply by grasping their throat with one hand. The victim is never killed in this fashion. When set back down, they'll be okay after a quick bout of groans and wheezing.
Supervillains with incredible strength never tear apart the hero when they have him (or her) in their grasp. Instead they'll yell "Arggh!" and throw the hero into a far wall. Thus allowing said hero to get up and resume the battle.
When paying for a taxi, never look at your wallet as you take out a note -- just
grab one at random and shove it at the driver. It will always be the exact fare. (Ditto for restaurant bills.)
When searching for a listing in the phone book, simply open it to the middle, flip one page and point, and the listing will be right under your finger.
Medieval peasants had perfect teeth. Good razors were available, and put to frequent use by numerous men and women.
Nobody ever suffers from bad breath, and nearly everyone just got a haircut.
People are often exact duplicates of their remote ancestors, or of their own parent at the same age. In the distant past, all Romans and other noble peoples spoke with a British accent.
In centuries past, all horses were in magnificent health, and could reliably carry people across vast distances. (No one can even imagine an earlier time, with no horses around.)
In the early 20th century, every car downtown gleamed with clean undented perfection. (However, in any rural area, cars were usually covered in thick splattered mud.)
Elevators are always waiting when someone hits the call button. Unless that person is being chased, in which case she will bang on the call button while shouting, "Come on!" (Once inside, it will always reach your destination floor at the exact moment a conversation ends.)
If being chased through town on foot, you can usually take cover in a passing St. Patrick's Day parade -- at any time of year. If your pursuers are driving, it is advisable to run straight down the middle of the road, since this will allow you to stay ahead of the car for a long distance.
Never knock the spike heels off of your shoes in order to run away. (It makes your legs look bad.) Be sure to waste time throwing ineffective obstacles into the path of your pursuers. Whatever their footwear, most women require a man to pull them along.
If you're being chased while at the wheel, your car will keep going no matter how smashed up it gets. It's okay to use the sidewalk, and cut through outdoor cafes and markets. Everyone will leap out of your path with more agility than an Olympic athlete.
Any fruit stand has a life expectancy of about five minutes. Be cautious when nearby, because something is about to smash into it. (Their owners are always prepared to respond, with a string of loud, ethnic-sounding curses.)
All cars and trucks can go as fast in reverse as they can forward.
The more professionally successful a woman, the more disastrous her first attempt at cooking. (A single kiss will ignite tremendous passion, even if she's just met the guy.)
Mothers routinely cook eggs, bacon, and waffles for their family's breakfast, even though the husband and children never have time to eat them. (Except for cute kids and milk.) They will dash out at the same time, but one always turns back, shouting about some lost personal item.
Kitchens don't have light switches. When entering a kitchen at night, you should open the refrigerator door and use that light instead. Elsewhere, a single match will be sufficient to light up a room the size of a football stadium.
Either your neighbors are wacky, and never knock before entering your house; or they're homicidal sociopaths, who never go outside during daylight hours. (A precious few are wise and helpful, no matter the problem.)
All the problems endured by a decent and long-suffering family can be solved by their selling a special downhome recipe (or clever invention) to a huge corporation for an outrageous amount of money. This will save that family, their farm, the factory, and even the entire town.
When an intruder enters your home, always run upstairs, so that there is no possible route for escape. After hiding successfully in a closet, you can burst out moments after the killer leaves the room. He will never turn around.
It is always possible to park directly outside the building you are visiting. If you're in love, you can always get a great table in a restaurant, even in New York City at lunch time. Your car will never be towed, unless a desperate situation erupts.
Restaurant food is always served within a minute or two. It can be eaten, including finger-snacks, with no mess at all. If there's any bad news, it will arrive a minute or two after the food.
While on the road, never pick up a hitchhiker, or stop to aid a suspicious person, especially if they resemble Santa Claus or Satan. Back at work, don't fool with recombinant DNA technology unless you really know what you're doing.
If you happen upon a town which looks deserted, it is probably deserted for a damn good reason. Leave, and quickly! If your spaceship gets an automated distress signal from what appears to be a dead planet, don't stop to check it out.
Don't play with Ouija boards. If you do, and the planchette starts moving by itself, stop playing. If appliances start operating by themselves, you are in danger. If inanimate objects such as dolls, toys, or furniture attack you, it's best to leave the area.
In rural America, all gas station attendants have red handkerchiefs hanging out of their back pockets. All of those small towns have a bitter and twisted individual whose sporting career was cut short by an unfortunate accident.
American Indians are wise, and often have magical powers. They're seldom ordinary people who watch ball games and worry about paying the mortgage. (If there is a wizened old chief, he will invariably bite the dust in some tragic or ironic way.)
People in the South Bronx, Compton, or East St. Louis are usually happier and more sensible than anyone in any suburb in the USA. Ditto with the homeless of any major city's downtown. (However, the local up-and-coming kid will die first.)
It's easy to fool the security guards at top secret government facilities. It's also easy to bypass hospital security. (Just grab a surgeon's uniform and roll a cart down the hall.) Once inside, you can get right into the records/data files, where vital information will always be available.
Specialized 'major heist' equipment that would take months to design and build will be available a few minutes after the plan is made.
Always be the first or second person in line, when part of a group inching its way along a narrow ledge on a perilous cliff. The ledge always collapses under the feet of the third person.
When a hero's friend dies, they will shout, "Noooo!" in an anguished fashion. If a loved one expires during the action, probably while pregnant with the hero's baby, don't bother attempting CPR. (Instead, run straight off to seek vengeance.)
No matter the illness or injury, a dying person's last words will be coherent and significant. A good person is certain to die in the presence of friends. A bad person's dead body will be ignored, if not spectacularly ruined.
Cops who shoot somebody are never bogged down by the requisite paperwork. (They will be right back on the case.)
At the scene of a violent death, just about everybody gets to enter the taped-off area. Later, someone returning to the scene will find a crucial item that dozens of forensics workers and detectives missed.
Coroner's offices always keep bodies in coffin-sized, refrigerated boxes with sliding tables for easy access. The results of any autopsy (and toxicology or DNA tests) will be ready within hours.
Every police department, no matter its size, has a friendly and helpful medical examiner on staff. They've got a friend who can analyze a mystery disease, and produce a cure, in less than a week. (Loyal young 'polymath' genuises are common, and always quirky.)
Most musical instruments, especially wind instruments and accordions, can be played without moving the fingers. Pianos may be played the same way. (Practicing kids will produce a horrendous racket, but they're so cute that no one minds.)
Children always have the uncanny ability to get the better of adults, whether pulling a prank, fooling a strict teacher, or avoiding some dire threat. Monkeys can also pull many successful pranks.
All churches are Catholic, and every one of them has ornate statuary and stained glass windows on display. (But if it's a Protestant church, 90% of the time its pastor is corrupt or a pervert, if not both.)
Candles are a dime a dozen, and snap to handle. Churches and occult locales often light and display hundreds at a time. (There is no danger of burning the place down, but summoning demons is always a risk.)
Powerful ancient demons with serious plans never possess the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the President of the United States, or the Secretary General of the UN. Instead they prefer plain, obscure children, often in rural areas. (However, those VIPs probably belong to a weird secret society that people have heard all about, but are certain is insignificant.)
Only a Catholic priest can repel the forces of evil. (If you're Baptist or Hindu or a curandera, nice try, but forget it.) That priest may die horribly upon succeeding, but if his faith had lapsed, this increases his odds of survival. Some eager but naive Pagan probably summoned the evil force by mistake, unless a vengeful Gypsy did so to invoke a curse.
Secular people can battle evil successfully, but only if they are hunky young men with encyclopedic arcane knowledge, plus unending resources and good fortune. Also, the ability to be clobbered almost to death, and fully recover each time. These heroes will argue incessently, compromise their ideals -- and be best buddies again in a week or so.
If the people in your area are having their minds taken over by some strange force, alien or otherwise, do not call the police. Either the officers have already been taken over, or they will just laugh at you. You must handle the problem yourself.
Most archaeologists and relic hunters are beautiful women, and even the most nerdish men in those fields are actually very tough. They and all of their students are fluent in Pharaonic Egyptian (plus other ancient languages) -- and speaking it around tombs is likely to awaken a dormant monster.
When rampaging monsters invade your city, be sure to run toward them, preferably with an awkward video camera in hand. If you're not sure where they're headed, just stand near any famous monument. (You and your friends will be fine. Really.)
All single women have a cat. All single men have a carton of spoiled milk in the refrigerator -- and will attempt to drink it. Each can afford a huge loft apartment in Manhattan. They both keep a well-stocked liquor cabinet, in which the ice never melts.
Food deliveries are always made by industrious if plain-looking young people. By Asian guys only, if it's Chinese food; or a white guy if it's pizza. (Delivery women are actually strippers.)
Every stripper is either proudly working her way through college, or a conscientious single mother. (But if not, she's probably doomed, whether from a serial killer or implacable aliens.)
Eat and drink as much as you want. You'll never ever have to go to the bathroom. Unless you're a friend of the hero, in which case you'll find a bomb in there, or the place gets destroyed around you. (If you're an elderly man, you can reminisce aloud while urinating, about how quickly you used to be able to accomplish this feat.)
Out of a group of strangers, one or two will always survive
any disaster or peril, no matter how extreme or outrageous. If among friends,
being honest (if emotionally burdened) will greatly increase your chances.
When they are alone, all foreigners prefer to speak English to each other. Often very proper King's English. (However, Spanish speakers never learn to say "yes," only "si.")
When a microphone is turned on, it will immediately screech with feedback. Whatever the speaker has to say, it'll be over fast.
Television news bulletins usually contain a story that affects you personally. It will air at the precise moment you turn on the TV set, on the channel it's already tuned to. You'll turn the TV off right afterward. (When dire news arrives at night, your phone always rings at precisely 3 AM.)
When leaping from an aircraft, parachutists often cry out, "Geronimo!" (Though many have no idea why.) When felling a huge tree, lumberjacks always yell, "Timberrrrr!"
You can always find a chain saw whenever you need one. Ditto with a tire iron.
Using only common tools and a soldering iron, any concerned tinkerer can repair a damaged robot or UFO, including tiny ones. In the future, genius tinkerers will repair and modify high-tech devices with their bare hands.
When an advanced medical technique, or some mysterious or magical influence, reverses the tragic premature aging of the hero, his-or-her body will be fully restored to youth. Their scraggly grey hair will instantly revert to its original color and fullness, and they will arise with zero ill effects.
Cell phone batteries never die, until the precise moment someone needs one to call for help. (But just in case, there's always somebody around who knows Morse Code -- and has the means to transmit it.)
Whenever a tough-guy hero stops by a convenience store to get something, thugs will inevitably show up to rob the place. (And they will regret it, too!)
Any tough guy can hang on to a speeding truck, even as it careens through busy streets and collides with all sorts of things. All he will have to show for this is a little dust. (And the truck's fiberglass hood and fenders will not be cracked or torn, nor its paint scratched, despite smashing up numerous cars.)
The distinctive cry of Australia's kookaburra bird can be heard in every jungle, anywhere on this planet. (Listen to a wav file.) While in that jungle you will probably encounter a powerful and mysterious tribal shaman -- and your only hope is to placate this person.
Once applied, lipstick will never rub off, even while scuba
diving. Any make-up can safely be worn to bed without smudging. (Unless you're overweight, in which case, any emotions or exertion will result in a mess.)
Any time a handsome and ambitious man pays a visit to a vulnerable young widow, somehow his shirt will get stained, and just has to come off. (Not that it will do him any good.)
If a heroine has a choice between a rich-and-powerful or poor-but-cute guy, the girl will fall in love with poor but cute one every time. The more disparaging remarks are made about two people getting together, the more likely it is they will.
All engaged women will break off their relationship, and soon. Fortunately they each have a gay male confidant to help them along. That man will have nothing else going on in his life.
When a close relationship ends, usurped by a wonderful new man, the first guy will graciously step aside and wish his rival the best. Either that, or the jilted guy becomes an obsessed homicidal genius. (But the police will not believe, much less help, the endangered new couple.)
People told to stay somewhere never do. Whenever someone swears they aren't going to do something, then soon enough, they will.
When you bid farewell to home or office, everyone there will stand close together, and wave goodbye in unison.
If someone says, "I'll be right back," they won't be.
Handsome men and gorgeous women can share wild adventures, become passionate friends, and pledge eternal love -- then be utterly forgotten in the sequel.
And last but not least:
* At any point in your life, and anywhere in the universe, if the
situation is unclear -- just listen to the theme music.
Bonus: See if you can figure out which TV shows and movies each
of these Realities refer to.
Know of any more? Let us know at, ewriters /at/ aol /dot/ com, and please make your subject line distinct.
A big tip-'o-the-hat to Harry Allen's New York City-based Media Assassin blog, for mentioning this list. His observations are spot-on:
She's a Very Freaky Girl
Quoth Mr. Allen, "It's all the stuff you've seen on-screen that never happens to you. Wouldn't it be great if real life were this neat?"
Charles Stross has begun a new (as of early 2016) list, focused on cliches from science fiction, and especially space operas. As befits genuine scientists such as himself, it's rather technical.
Towards a taxonomy of cliches in Space Opera
Giancarlo Cairella has an entire web domain dedicated to this kind of list! We're making no attempt to repeat its voluminous content. Many of their entries discuss plot-sequence gaps, technical and 'blueprint' inconsistencies, and scientific errors, which need a lot of words/pages to explain. (It also refers to specific films.)
The Evil Overlord advice list has been popular for years. Here is Peter Anspach's original site:
Not to mention Jack Butler's parallel, and slightly older, list:
(Both of these lists originated on Usenet, right around the same time. There is also a Martin H. Greenberg science fiction anthology based explicitly upon this premise.)
The Vampire List is quite similar. (Apparently it was put together by rec.arts.sf.written, a Usenet group.) Grab your Kevlar vest and read it carefully:
Things I Will Do If I Am Ever the Vampire
Parallel to that list is some vital Horror Movie advice:
Rules for Surviving a Horror Movie
Jeff Picard has a similar list. It's very long and has many contributors, hence some repeats. (It addresses the horror movie characters directly.)
A Horror Movie Character's Survival Guide
Feeling serious and scholarly? The TV Tropes site has many fascinating insights, ranging well beyond the TV screen:
(It can be edited directly by participants.)
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