Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fiona Harper on Writing: Stalkers and Cliches

This month, Fiona Harper has a little rant about one of her TV pet hates, and issues a challenge!

Picture this: on a TV show, the police burst into the home of a mild, unassuming man who your heroine is convinced has an unhealthy interest in her, but the officers find nothing untoward – that is, until they innocently open a cupboard door or decide to investigate the attic. And there it is…the stalker shrine that once and for all labels him as a deranged crackpot who needs to be behind bars forever.

You know the kind of thing I mean: there’s a wall of photos of the heroine, probably taken from behind bushes or through her bedroom window late at night. There’s probably some torn out newspaper articles, or items that have been stolen from her or scavenged from her rubbish bin. If he’s really out of his gourd, there might be some scrawled phrases in scary handwriting or lines and arrows joining the different pictures. To really freak our heroine out, he might have scratched out her eyes in some of the photos. We’ve all seen it a hundred times.
However, I’m sure that if you talked to a psychiatrist, you’d discover that having a creepy stalker wall is not a must-have aspect of that type of personality. So why do we see it all the time? In the ‘show, don’t tell’ land of television, it’s obvious why writers and directors use this device. It very quickly establishes, in a very visual and immediate way, that this guy is a crazy stalker and needs to be arrested. In fact, it’s been used so many times that it’s become a sort of TV shorthand.

Therein lies the problem – I’ve got to the point where if I see another Crazy Stalker Wall on TV I may well scream. I’m just desperate to see someone approach this in an original way. There has to be another way to show who a character is. What was a really strong idea has become a cliché, and instead of being fresh and original, I tend to think that relying on it has become a little bit lazy.

This got me thinking about writing in general. Sometimes it’s tempting to take the easy route and go for the cliché, but noticing the proliferation of Creepy Stalker Walls on TV shows and films has challenged me not to do the same thing in my own writing. I want to dig a little deeper, try to make sure I find something original, and not take the quick fix.

So… what clichés in TV, films or novels bug you? And have you got any ideas for a fresh way of navigating well-trodden ground?

Fiona's latest release is The Guy To Be Seen With, part of Harlequin's brand new KISS line!

London's most eligible guy-finally snared?  
Who can forget gorgeous adventurer Daniel Bradford? Especially after this commitment-phobe's on-air rejection of his girlfriend's marriage proposal sparked a scandal! But some people love a challenge. With Daniel suddenly back on the market, all of London's single ladies are on the lookout. Yet he's shown no inclination to get caught by anyone...until now.

So just who is special enough to catch his attention? Our sources reveal she's strong-willed blonde bombshell Chloe Michaels, orchid specialist and Daniel's new colleague. And rumor has it that with this tough cookie, London's very own Indiana Jones is in for the-romantic-adventure of a lifetime!


  1. Looks like a fun read. Agree about the stalker wall. MIght be one of the reasons I gave up watching TV and don't miss it.

  2. This sounds like a great story. Mention orchids or flowers and I'm in.

    I don't watch much TV anymore. I do have an aversion to hero rescues pregnant lady stories. Finally read a pregnant heroine in a Harlequin Medical, Bride by Accident by Marion Lennox (Nov 2005), that did some pretty heroic things. Just loved it.

  3. I'm really picky about what TV I watch these days, Princess Fiona (still loving the name). Thank goodness for my cable box that lets me record what I want and watch it later.

    And I'm a total Marion Lennox fan, Kaelee. She always manages to take a familiar plot and make it fresh. Sometimes taking a cliche and flipping it can give you a really great story - but that's next month's post! (I think)

  4. Clean knives.

    In horror films & thrillers whenever a killer needs a kitchen knife it's clean and in a knife rack.

    If I need a knife it's invariably marinating in greasy dishwater in the sink.

    1. That is one I definitely hadn't though of, Mikey! Shall now be irritated about that too. (And the fact that everyone uses luminol in bright daylight.)

  5. The hero cop/vigilante has a beautiful wife (and optional cute kid or kids) who he adores, but he still decides to go after the deranged psycho and surprise, surprise said deranged psycho decides to target the beautiful wife (and optional cute kids)! What I'd like to see is the beautiful wife (and optional kids) pulling a couple of sub-machine guns out of their knickers and shooting the deranged psycho dead... Then divorcing her stupid husband for putting her in the firing line! but maybe that's just me!

    1. No, I like that one too. I have a whole rant about the film Firewall with Harrison Ford. He's painted as such a strong family man who never takes risks, and then when his family is kidnapped by baddies because they want him to hack a bank's computer security system, instead of doing as they say he goes all maverick and starts doing things to p*ss them off. Didn't believe it - not until (much later) it became clear they bad guys were probably going to kill his family anyway. THEN it made sense he'd do anything and everything to foil the men with the guns.

  6. sadly - the creepy stalker wall thing with all the pics, arrows pointing from one to another and scribbled out bits sounds eerily like some writer's way of keeping track of plot points and inspirational photos of what ideal hero/heroine would look like. Just hope I don't have any police break into my home for a spot check...