Now this is a topic to have some fun with. We start over at Paul Guyot's place, as he talks about how a character is assumed to have depth by having a quirk or gimmick that no one else has, like loving junk food (or listening to "alternative" music.)
Then David Montgomery offers his take on how novels can collapse under the weight of gimmicks and tropes:
Even otherwise talented writers sometimes resort to using them and it hurts. Gimmicks, like cliches, reveal a lack of craft or imagination, or sometimes downright laziness.
Gimmicks lead to a "sameness" in writing, making a particular book sound like every other book you've read. As a result, gimmicks diminish the author's individual voice and style. They also have a tendency to take the reader out of the story, disrupting the flow and rhythm of the book.
So here's my piece of advice for the day: if you find yourself using a gimmick in your writing, stop it! Be creative instead. Be original. Think about the problem and figure out how else you can solve it. Find a way to make the plot work, or to get the reader the necessary information without resorting to a trick or cliche.
And while it's all well and good -- and there are plenty of cliches I wish would be buried in a Potter's Field somewhere and stay there -- my contrarian instincts are kicking in for a few reasons.
Cliches develop because once they seemed original and have been overused to the point where they are no longer so. But there are only so many ways to tell a story, advance the plot or develop character. And what may seem original to one person may seem ridiculously derivative to another.
Take the "fallacy of the talking killer" cliche which David mentions. Yes, it's annoying as hell to get an info dump like that because the killer wouldn't possibly go to such lengths to explain himself to the protagonist in peril. But in a way, it's even more problematic when the author obviously struggles to deliver the necessary information in a so-called original and clever way -- and so they are trying too hard to circumvent an obvious cliche, and still take the reader out of the story.
The great thing about crime fiction is the variety, but at the same time, there are necessary tropes that have to be there -- on some level -- to ground the reader in the structure and story. Knowing that's the case, the trick is to make the cliches seem less so -- or at least have a strong enough voice to overcome them.
That said, I'm tired of climactic scenes where the protagonist's loved one -- usually a woman -- is in the hands of the crazed killer and is saved at the last minute. Mostly because it seems like an unrealistic cheat and a cop-out not to let that person die. Even if in the right writer's hands, that particular cliche could prove golden....