Tell me if this rings a bell?
A gothic lair?
The tempestuous son of an evil billionaire that can’t get past his daddy issues?
A martial arts wielding hero?
A sassy, romantic tension fight scene between the hero and his lady?
A secret evil crime syndicate?
Mysterious mountaintop monks who train the hero?
If you said yes to these, then you just won the Action Adventure Superhero Bingo! And more than that, these were all the cliche’s I noticed in just the first few episodes of Netflix’s Iron Fist. We can all learn a lesson from overused cliches in superhero movies and how to avoid them in our writing.
The new teaser trailer of The Defenders has all our favorite Marvel Netflix hero’s coming together. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil and the latest addition to the lineup, The Iron Fist.
But Iron Fist fizzled.
The problems with Iron Fist lie in its use of clichés. While Daredevil and Jones in particular homage their source material and genres. Iron Fist was laughably unoriginal. And regardless of the source material, when it comes making a TV show that will stand out in the sludge of all things superheroes, the old tricks just won’t cut it.
What’s most upsetting is that Iron Fist wasn’t awful and could have really been a great addition to the Netflix Marvel Community. Its main character was probably the weakest link in the cast and crew. The plot besides being “been there, done that” was well paced and the fight scenes interesting enough.
Ok, so enough superhero talk….for now. Let’s talk Cliches. We all know that cliches are the overused phrases, plot devices and characters we’ve seen before. The lazy man’s writing tools.
It can be hard to delve into new territory and avoid cliches, especially with certain genres. And when the cliches we see are so infused with the genre than without them, how do you structure your plot?
When writing action and adventure you can still homage the source material, which in the genre of superheroes is part of the appeal, but also create something new and fresh.
The lost hero doesn’t always have to return to amass his fortune.
The superhero doesn’t always have to have two lives.
The love interest can double as a lead.
There can be better villains than the drug-addled, unhinged maniac or the evil syndicate.
We no longer need the female rake character, or at least we can find a way to give her more substance.
To avoid the use of cliches, especially in the action-adventure genres, play your own Bingo. Watch your favorite superhero movie or action show. Read your favorite urban fantasy series or YA dystopian series and write down all the plot devices, character tropes, scenes and settings that you would expect to see. Then keep that running list handy, and when you go to your own writing, lose the cliches or subvert them to freshen them up.
If Iron Fist had tried to look outside of the box just a bit it might have turned the show from blah to blam, kapow, kick!
And if you must use a cliche, use it to make a point. Like the damsel in distress who realizes she doesn’t need saving. It’s cliche, but it makes a point, and when used well can enhance the plot and main character. Writing is after all a fluid art, and even the occasional cliché has its place.
That place is not, however, at the top of a snowy mountain with a group of martial art monks.