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Writing Pitfall Index

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This is an index of tropes that are often pitfalls in writing.

When done unintentionally, these tropes are usually bad signs. When done intentionally, they're often signs of parody, comedy, or just the writer being ironic, eccentric, or stylized. Hopefully.

Just because a trope invokes a "bad" feeling such as dislike (Jerkass), disappointment (Anticlimax, Downer Ending), or dissatisfaction (No Ending) doesn't make it a writing pitfall, as they are intended to produce those feelings. Tropes on this list produce bad feelings as unintentional byproducts thus detracting from the intended emotional outcome, hence being considered writing pitfalls.

You may be thinking that you have discovered the legendary page of Bad Tropes, as if opening the Ark of the Covenant and taking notes about the literal crap you find inside as a guide to What Not To Do Ever, but please note that Tropes Are Tools, and many highly acclaimed works have used these tropes successfully.

See also:


Not to be mistaken for Writers Suck, which has more to do with Butt Monkeys than pitfalls in writing.

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    Crazy Characterization 

  • Aesop Amnesia: The more times a character is taught a lesson without them actually learning it, the lower the viewer's opinion of them and of your story.
  • Character Shilling: Having characters suddenly talk up another character for no real reason doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
  • Chickification: Be careful when you decide to make an Action Girl less action-oriented; if not done properly, it will annoy your audience.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Don't make a character disappear with no explanation, hoping the viewers don't notice.
  • Compressed Vice: Don't have a character develop a bad habit or flaw out of nowhere solely for the sake of setting up An Aesop (doubly so if it contradicts previous facts about the character), and especially don't show its consequences in a hamfisted, unrealistic manner.
  • Conflict Ball: Don't have a character cause conflict just because the plot says so.
  • Demonization: Some of your potential audience may actually see where this position is coming from, if not actually agree. You'll turn them off by your exaggerated portrayal. It also makes it seem like the position you hold isn't nearly as solid as you think, since it can only stand up to strawmen.
  • Demoted to Satellite Love Interest: Don’t let a well-developed character devolve into someone who only exists to be a good romantic partner.
  • Derailing Love Interests: Breaking up a promising relationship just to get the official couple together is not going to sit well with the viewers who care more about the characters than the concept.
  • Distress Ball: Don't have a character get kidnapped for no good reason.
  • Fad Super: Don’t base characters off of current trends, or they will quickly become out of date.
  • Faux Action Girl: If you say that a girl is strong, then make her strong. If said Action Girl comes off as too weak, the audience will begin to hate her.
  • Flawless Token: Don't make the female or minority characters better than the others simply because they are minorities, and don't make the male characters incompetent simply because they are males.
  • Forgot About His Powers: There needs to be a better explanation than "they forgot" for characters not using their powers that could easily solve a problem.
  • Hero Ball: Heroes are expected to make bad decisions every now and then, but when they do this against all common sense it becomes annoying.
  • Idiot Ball: Don't have characters make uncharacteristically stupid decisions just because the plot would grind to a halt otherwise.
  • Informed Ability: A character is said to have a skill, but doesn't use when there is an opportunity.
  • Informed Flaw: If a character is said to have a flaw, show the flaw affecting the story or character in some way instead of just telling the audience.
  • Kiddie Kid: Often happens when writers try too hard to avoid having their child characters behave like miniature adults, but unless the child is supposed to be immature for their age, this option isn't much, if at all, better.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Don't give a character a new ability out of thin air depending on the situation.
  • Out of Character: Moments when the character does something that he wouldn't normally do without any justification.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: A character's moral standing should be based on their actions as a whole, not solely on their actions toward the main character. A sure sign of a Mary Sue or a Designated Hero.
  • Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: Bashing a female character for liking/doing traditionally-feminine things can piss off the audience.
  • Romanticized Abuse: Make sure that your romance is actually a reasonably healthy relationship. If abuse, either physical or emotional, is presented as sexy or sweet, the characters could become Unintentionally Unsympathetic, and viewers may get the wrong idea of what an acceptable real-life relationship requires.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Define your characters by something other than being the lover or crush for The Protagonist, or the archetypal "perfect" boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • Strong as They Need to Be: Don't have characters suddenly gain or lose power without any explanation.
  • Stupid Sacrifice: Unless they're a Martyr Without a Cause, characters sacrificing their lives loses the intended significance if they overlook better options.
  • Villain Decay: Don't have your antagonist lose their power and competence without a good reason.
  • Ukefication: Making a strong character weaker and more submissive in Slash Fic is a great way to annoy fans.

See also Contrived Stupidity Tropes.

    Mishandled Morals 
All of the below only count if they aren't being Played for Laughs or spoofed:

  • Aesop Amnesia: If characters take a long time learning a lesson, don't have them immediately forget it again.
  • Broken Aesop: The lesson you teach should match what the story shows.
  • Clueless Aesop: Don't try to put a moral in a story where it doesn't fit.
  • Lost Aesop: If you're going to present some "truth", make sure you do it.

    Poor Plotting 
Bad Plotting can make for a bad story:

  • Aborted Arc: Plot points should go somewhere eventually.
  • Absent Animal Companion: Pets tend to show up in one episode of an episodic series, and disappear forever by the next.
  • Cliffhanger Copout: This is what happens when a Cliffhanger's resolution comes in the form of tweaking the continuity between back-to-back installments (usually creating Plot Holes), a refusal/failure to follow through with delivering a big Reveal after setting an audience up for one, or outright aborting a story arc.
  • Clueless Mystery: Make sure you provide the reader with enough valid information to figure out the mystery on their own, or the solution to the mystery the story shows will become less logical and more contrived.
  • Continuity Snarl: Plotlines can snag if you aren't careful.
  • Deus Angst Machina: Too much misfortune makes too little Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
  • Deus ex Machina: Do not save your characters with an Ass Pull.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: A victory for the bad guys pulled out of thin air might be amusing for shock value, but it doesn't make for great storytelling.
  • Forgotten Phlebotinum: Previous installments included something that would resolve the problem of the week. The something is not brought up.
  • Gratuitous Rape: Rape is an incredibly grave subject matter. Don't shoehorn in a rape scene just for shock value, or have so much it loses impact.
  • I Just Knew: Characters need an in-universe reason for knowing (or not knowing) something in advance.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: If there's an obvious solution to the problem(s) that drives the story, don't have characters ignore or arbitrarily dismiss it.
  • Kudzu Plot: It's fine to have a dozen different story threads at once, but you have to be able to tie them together. If they go off into infinity without ever being tied, who's going to care about any of them? The pieces of your Jigsaw Puzzle Plot have to fit.
  • Pacing Problems: When writing a story, make sure that the story does not go too fast or too slow, or else the reader may either have a hard time recollecting the events or get impatient with the length.
  • Plot Hole: Don't think the audience won't see when you forget to cover something.
  • Railroading: The plot of a game feels forced if it isn't interactive enough.
  • Retroactive Idiot Ball: Don't undercut major plot points in older works by introducing a Third Option that the characters should have known about.
  • Series Continuity Error: When you set something in stone, you can't chisel it out without leaving marks.
  • Sex Starts, Story Stops: Don't write a sex scene if the depiction of the intercourse doesn't add anything to the story.
  • The Stations of the Canon: When important events in a Divergence Fic are treated more as checkmarks than plot points.
  • Voodoo Shark: When patching over a Plot Hole creates a different, possibly more troublesome, problem.
  • What Cliffhanger: A cliffhanger which merely promises that some shocking plot twist will be revealed later, instead of just revealing it right now, is usually not that exciting.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: If simple arithmetic in a story doesn't add up, fans will notice and be left scratching their heads.
  • Yo Yo Plot Point: It's okay if a few plot points repeat themselves throughout the series, but if it's the same story every other episode, your audience is bound to get bored.

    Senseless Styles 
In amateur writing (or stuff that just simply didn't get the proper proofreading), pitfalls in writing are sometimes inherent in the form and presentation of the work itself:

  • And That's Terrible: Telling the reader how evil the villain is, instead of showing it (or even doing both). That's a bad thing.
  • Author Filibuster: The audience is (theoretically) interested in the plot. Stopping it so that you can talk about something that's important to you will only make them less interested in what you're writing.
  • Beige Prose: Short, terse passages. Too much is unemotional and flat.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: When you translate the works transformed appropriately.Translation 
  • Bold Inflation: Bolding random words will only irritate your readers.
  • "Burly Detective" Syndrome: A form of Purple Prose. Using fancy substitutes for character names and pronouns in the fear that the dialogue doesn't speak for itself will cause people to focus less on your work and more on the words used.
  • Character Filibuster: Putting an Author Filibuster in someone else's mouth doesn't help.
  • Concepts Are Cheap: Using concepts and buzzwords to pad out a thin script just shows off how thin said script really is.
  • Emphasize EVERYTHING: If everything is emphasized, then nothing is, and you've done nothing of value except annoy your audience.
  • Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: Conversation doesn't happen in a vacuum, so label what is said by who said it.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Don't put foreign words if you don't understand the meaning or grammar. It can make you seem illiterate to actual speakers of the language.
    • Gratuitous English: Randomly popping in meaningless English words that you don't know the meaning of is a bad idea. If you want to write in English, know the meaning of your English and make sure it's grammatically correct.
    • Gratuitous Japanese: It's generally not a good idea to use random bits of Japanese unless you're a fluent speaker, lest you come across as pandering to Occidental Otaku. Either write in idiomatic Japanese and learn how to properly pronounce it if you need to, or just write in your native language.
  • IKEA Erotica: Sex should only be as boring as it is to the participants.
  • Informed Attribute: Saying something is so is not the same as making it so.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: Don't add eloquent-sounding words unless you know whether they actually go there or not, and don't think they will make you sound profound if they actually make you seem confusing.
  • No Punctuation Period: Run-on sentences make a story much harder to read especially when there should be pauses yet there is no possible way of defining when they would appear and can usually be avoided.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: Jest beak oars hits spilled car wrecked lay docent main hits than write ward. Translation 
  • Said Bookism: A form of Purple Prose. Using fancy substitutes for the word "said" in the fear that the dialogue doesn't speak for itself will cause people to focus less on your work and more on the words used.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: Telling the reader what a character is feeling, instead of showing it, is lazy. Doubly so if you make an incongruous description, and moreso if you do this in the speech tag.
  • Totally Radical: Don't put slang without understanding the meaning just to look "cool". Overuse of slang can make your work an Unintentional Period Piece.
  • Translation Train Wreck: Bed telephones not particle via misunderstand through reverses all reeling meats inside dolphin non fluffy. Translation: 
  • Tyop on the Cover: If you can't even profread yuor titel, don't expect the audience to stick around to find the rest of the work any better.
  • Wall of Text: The formatting (or lack thereof) combined with a lot of redundant words makes the text seem impenetrable, and will make the reader lose the track after a few lines.
  • The War on Straw: Misrepresenting a side you stand against, whether due to a lack of knowledge or simply out of an attempt to make it easier to argue against them, is a quick way to piss off people you just misrepresented, and possibly others should the efforts be too hamfisted. Not a direct cause of writing pitfalls, but a frequent component of it nevertheless.
  • Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: Other bad grammar and usage.
  • Writer on Board: This is a story, not a treatise.

See also Stylistic Suck.

    Miserable Music/Lousy Lyrics 
  • Last Note Hilarity: Unless you are a comedy/parody act, you don't want the audience to laugh at your music.
  • Misogyny Song and Misandry Song: The Unfortunate Implications of playing either straight are a very big and controversial issue, and unless you wish to be involved in a controversy, avoiding creating these songs is probably a very good idea.
  • Rhyming with Itself: Repeating a word and trying to pass it off as a rhyme just sounds lazy.
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: Depending on your genre, this might actually be workable. But in anything requiring clear vocals, this is automatically bad, and even in more permissive genres overly relying on it is often a bad idea.
  • Vocal Range Exceeded: Don't write things your singer can't sing, and if you're the singer as well as the writer, be realistic about your range and capabilities.note 

  • Armed with Canon: If you have a beef with another creator, remember that a story’s characters are not your pawns and its universe is not a battlefield.
  • Falsely Advertised Accuracy: If you haven't done the research, don't claim you have.
  • Oscar Bait: Your work should be more than just a checklist of tropes that are in currently vogue at the Academy Awards or any other prestigious organization that awards prizes.

Alternative Title(s): Bad Writing Index