Let’s Play the Cliché Game!

My exercise class suggested I write a book about them. One woman even volunteered to be the victim, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to kill her. She is lovely, charming, and utterly delightful. I wasn’t going to write the story since it seemed a good way to lose a lot of friends, but at the lunch the other day, I almost whacked one of my classmates with my exercise bag, and she deadpanned, “I’m not the one who volunteered to be the murder victim.” So I decided to write the book. I mean, how could I not use such a perfect line?

I’d like to do the book campy with exaggerated uses and sly mentions of mystery clichés. For instance, I could get a call from one of the women who says she has information, but won’t give it to me over the phone. I immediately rush over there, of course, since such a call is a precursor to being murdered in cheap mysteries, but when I get there I find . . . I don’t know. Something innocuous. That the cell phone battery went dead. (Or better yet, I call the cops, and they think I’m hysterical.) Then there’s the “Don’t Go There” ploy, advice that a character ignores. When she does Go There, she almost gets herself killed. (Someone suggested this should be a buxom blonde, and of course, I know the perfect person for the role — a lady in red who is a buxom blonde or rather a buxom sometimes-blonde, and she definitely would Go There.) Of course I would also mention the old fictional women from small towns who stumble on so many murders, there couldn’t possibly be anyone left alive in the vicinity. Perhaps even use the alcoholic, donut-eating cop, misogynous cop.

I’m going to start out writing the book the way the idea unfolded in real life, beginning with the suggestion of my writing the book, our planning the murder, etc. leading up to the day we go to class and find her dead for real. The victim is such a good sport, she let me take a photo of her being dead to use for the book cover. (She sank to the ground gracefully, and fell into the perfect pose. Hmm. Maybe she is an eminently suitable victim after all. In the mystery world, she would be too good to be true.)

For now, I’m collecting clichés to use in the book. What do you think are the top clichés in mystery/suspense/thriller fiction? Who are the stock characters? What clichés and other mystery genre conventions do you absolutely hate?

But be careful! You might just end up in the book.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.