View Full Version : Sci-Fi Cliche List

09-29-2005, 07:50 PM
It seems that everyone and their brother has a link to the following list of SF cliches. The problem is that the site is down now. I've heard a lot about it, and would like to know what's on it.

The Grand List of Overused Sci-Fi Cliches

Does anyone have a copy of it somewhere?

09-29-2005, 08:57 PM
The Wayback Machine is your friend, sir:


09-30-2005, 01:46 AM
Awesome. Thanks.

09-30-2005, 02:52 AM
Funny and all, but I think just about every story written falls into one of these categories or dives into one element listed here.

Usually this type of thing is written by cynics who think they're above it all. I'd challenge them to list what they think are the twenty most original ideas or ideas that don't fall into one of these categories.

09-30-2005, 03:46 AM
Funny and all, but I think just about every story written falls into one of these categories or dives into one element listed here.

Usually this type of thing is written by cynics who think they're above it all. I'd challenge them to list what they think are the twenty most original ideas or ideas that don't fall into one of these categories.

I think that's the point. It's why they're cliches. They've been done to absolute death. Though I've certainly read a bunch of stories that used none of these trappings, and more than only touched lightly on them.

Ideas aren't the point. There probably is no such thing as an original idea. Stories and plot are the points.

If all the SF you're reading falls into one of these categories, I hope it's very old SF. Otherwise, you really need to broaden your reading.

09-30-2005, 04:36 AM
Well, that's a depressing list, having found myself in there with several variations. But I would challenge any AW sci-fi writer in this group to NOT find themselves in there with some form or variation of the listings. I think it is important to put a new twist on an old idea, make it fresh, or make your characters so lovable that the reader excuses such "overused" plots and themes.

What we need to do is share an "idea bin" that we can take and build on. No stealing, of course. Toss out some brand new concepts--see if they are a wash, or have been done to death.


09-30-2005, 04:48 AM
What we need to do is share an "idea bin" that we can take and build on.

That's culture, really ;-)

09-30-2005, 06:03 AM
Actually James, the point is that what's on this list is often so vague and all-encompassing that just about everything could fall into this list. If this list ended after twelve lines or so then, yeah, but it goes on and on and on. If this list were simplified to focus on plot twist that are overdone or settings that are overdone, sure. But as the list goes on it becomes very vague and wide reaching.

Please...direct me to a SciFi story that you think doesn't fall somewhere on this list in some way.

For example: "Alien contact perceived or regarded as a spiritual/quasi-religious experience."

That's not an overused cliche, it is probably a rather realistic reaction. How many people on Earth today have linked extraterrestrials with religion? If you wrote a story about aliens coming to Earth it would be realistic to expect cults to pop up that view the aliens as religious in nature.

or "The episode ends with the two arch-enemies playing a game of chess."
I'm not sure where this one is from, so it can't be 'overused' as is the claim of this list. Not that I would use it again, but cliches are supposed to be overused.

09-30-2005, 06:25 AM
I think that's my point too. This seems to be a list of every science fiction story that's EVER been done, not just done to death. All of these concepts cross over into one or more of each other. I'll attempt to list something new, or I think that might be innovative. What we need is preyer here, but:

eighty years in the future, the rich, after accumulating a quota of financial wealth and property, are required to move to prisons and state pens in order to protect them from ravishes of the lower class, who are jealous and bent on kidnapping or robbing them. Instead of making the prisons breakout proof, they are designed to be breakin proof, protecting the rich occupants and politicians who reside there. These complexes are so massive and self-contained that there is no need to venture outside the massive walls, since they contain their own factories, shops, gardens, watersources, and solar powered vehicles. Kind of an Escape From New York in reverse.

But I'll bet you that I'll find it in that list somewhere.


09-30-2005, 06:28 AM
That list can be your savior, if you look at it from a different viewpoint (pun intended). For instance, how about a story where aliens come to Earth to worship mankind or dolphins or whatever? Think of the implications. Show how people would seek to take advantage of the visiting alien tourists and worshippers.

Just about every cliche in that list can be turned around or inside out to come up with something new that just might grab reader attention.

09-30-2005, 06:41 AM
Tri..yeah, I think we're on the same wavelength.

There are plenty of things on the list that I nod my head enthusiastically to. Particularly the ones revolving around Star Trek (but plenty of other SciFi use it) where planets are pigeonholed as "ice planets" or "volcano planets" etc., etc. As if the exact same climate covers the entire planet.

That and the whole gender role-reversal thing. I believe every Star Trek series has dived into that one. Geez. Give it a break!

But one of their gripes: "eccentric scientists."

I mean, c'mon, who defines 'eccentric' and there are eccentric people in real life and, guess what, anyone who's a genius and is a scientists is probably going to be a little eccentric. Right? Albert Einstein, I hear, was a hoot.

Or "Characters who are always ready for intimate relations." What the hell does that mean? Yes, there are real people out there who are always horny (if that is, indeed, what this refers to).

Or "A conspiracy develops, involving lots of people, and remains secret for an extended period of time." See how general that is? It's like those fortune tellers being so abstract that they always appear correct.

I guess I'd say that anyone who feels so cynical that they will go to the trouble of making a list like this should be forced to give a list of the opposite: stories and ideas in recent times that really stand out. It's easy to roll eyes and be cynical.

Lyra Jean
09-30-2005, 09:46 AM
or "The episode ends with the two arch-enemies playing a game of chess."
I'm not sure where this one is from, so it can't be 'overused' as is the claim of this list.

Captain Campion the first thing that comes to my mind is the X-Men movie at the end of the first one Magneto and Professor X are playing chess together in Magneto's cell. Yeah I don't see how that is overused either.

09-30-2005, 01:47 PM
i'd seen that list a long time ago, and afair agreed with some, disagreed with others. it should be noted, too, that there's a rating system there to designate ideas which could be expanded up to 'don't even try, you hack.' i don't see quite as much cynicism here considering the list is accompanied by at least a slight justification system.

the one i'd add to the list (maybe it's there and i just don't remember) is how the special forklift, or some piece of equipment, in chapter two shows up again at the end to battle the bad guy. i like to reference the awful movie 'the core' here: there's one point where an engineer is talking about what happens to the ship if trouble occurs, what to do, and gives a warning, if i remember correctly. lo and behold, it happens. it's just obvious foreshadowing.

what can be done that's not been done a million times as far as i know? well, parody springs to mind, but even that you've got to be careful because it's got it's own cliches, too. we see some cross-genre stuff, like sci-fi romance and sci-fi horror/mystery/suspense. i myself don't know how many times i've started the same fantasy detective story. for fun, i used to do short SW fanfic as in those time-life books formats that was supposed to be a review of urban legends in the SW universe. basically, a lot of it was a lot of retooled stories based on the legend of 'the black aggie' and stuff.

i think you find a lot of great stories being retold in various genres, too. well, maybe not so great all the time, lol, but there sure seems to be a ton of king arthur in space-type stuff i've read. don't bother retelling 'the magnificent seven' in space, it's been done already, and in movie form.

the last sci-fi i was working on had a colony on a remote planet who, over the years, developed its own lifestyle and culture. they just really wanted to keep things the way they were, and since they were assumed to have been lost in action as far as earth was concerned, keeping their colony as low-key as possible was of paramount importance. though a series of events, a young man's work bot that he refitted to be a sex bot goes a little haywire and sends a message to earth for help. it's the boy's fault, of course, so he has to retrieve the electronic message. it's a weird universe full of weird sh!t, though, so as the young man gets close to catching the message, it's been filtered through so much alien technology that it develops a sentience of its own. and quite a nasty little attitude, too. well, so would you if someone was trying to essentially kill you.

the boy goes through a ton of wild adventures, which i tried to make as comical as possible with, indeed, an eye out for cliche and plenty of nods towards them. during his adventures, he's destroyed, rebuilt as a woman, loses everything he holds dear, grows up, etc.. inspired by an episode of 'red dwarf' and the sea of the dead in 'titanic', my hero finally cons the amazon-like warrior women (oh, big-time cliche) into taking him to the 'dead zone' where billions of bodies float in space. he has to find his cloned male body (the one he starts the adventure with, not the one he had tweaked and worked on) and take it back to the crazy scientist living alone with his daughter on a space station (another cliche).

at one point, the guy pissses a race off who then vow to launch an assault on the earth capitol in texas (another one-world gov't cliche). he's unable to stop them, but it doesn't matter as the invasion force, we find out, is practically microscopic (how many cliches am i up to?) and is literally swatted into defeat, culminating in the reporter's newscast where she's saying, 'an invasion force attacked the capitol today, causing hundreds of dollars of damage and irritating dozens of people with tiny laser beams....' (as an aside, this is one of those rare stories where i do happen to delve consciously into themes before writing away.)

my point is there's no way i could tell this story without cliches. it's sometimes in how you tell it. sometimes it's a crutch, and you usually wind-up with a pretty blasse read when that happens.

10-04-2005, 10:54 PM
The cliche list doesn't seem to be a "avoid all of these at all costs" list. Some cliches are cliches simply because they work and seem believable. On the other hand, believing that something sets your story apart when it has been done before is not a good idea.

Some of the things on that list are actually ones I haven't seen myself, but they seem so obviously bad that even using them once means they deserve being placed on a list of things never to use again. Clones automatically having the same haircut as the original person, for example.

I think I've seen a few scenes that may have somehow been inspired by giving items on that list an absurd twist. For example, "A problem involving an alien is resolved in a manner dependent on the unusual and heretofore-unknown location of the alien's reproductive organs." I'm not sure this was meant to mean, "How do I give this alien a swift kick in the balls," but that's how it was used in Men in Black II. (It might have been funnier if I'd seen examples of other problems related to odd reproductive organ locations, but I hadn't.)

And I don't think my reaction to an alien visit would be likely to have anything more religious to it than, "Holy cow, it's an alien!" Of course, later finding out more about what the alien's religion is like might have more interesting implications...

10-08-2005, 12:12 AM
While I agree that some ideas are over used, when does an idea become a cliche?

Did the "farmboy turns out to be the destined savior of the world" become cliche when Star Wars came out in 1977? Or when Robert Jordan started his massive Wheel in 1991? Before either? During the 80's? Turn of the century?

Or, was it "cliche" long before Plato.

In my mind, saying "x is cliche" is cliche these days. ;)

"There is nothing new under the sun." - King Solomon 500 BC

Yes, avoid writing stories that feel like a tired retread. BUT every idea you come up with, has been considered/written before. It's how you approach it that turns it into something extraordinary.

Mike Coombes
10-08-2005, 04:26 PM
This is funnier - http://www.clown-ministry.com/Articles/funny-jokes/46-things-star-trek.html

10-14-2005, 09:26 PM
King Solomon didn't say that, Myrrdhin. That was a character named Qoheleth. This, of course, is a word that means "teacher".

A custom of the time and place was to attribute anything written to the King.

King Solomon's wisdom was lost somewhere between wife 50 and wife 100.

Also, one of his wives was likely the authoress of the Genesis stories, but Biblical scholars can't recall her name.

Gotta love the Catholic School Education! Woo-hoo! Go Nuns!

On a totally unrelated note, Biblical quotation is cliche. For the love of JC don't give your martyr hero the initials J. C., and spread his arms out when he is killed. That "spreading of the arms" just ruined Daniel Day-Lewis' otherwise fantastic performance in "The Crucible"... Not to mention half of every book I read featuring even a little injustice.

Didn't Buddha suffer, too? Who wants to talk about the injustices of the Hindu pantheon? Can't Native American Religions feature martyrs, too?