So if you're on the publishing trail, be warned and avoid these five plotlines!
The break-upYes, break-up stories are the NUMBER ONE story we get in the slush pile. They are everywhere, and every last one of them hashes over the same details, the same gradual growing apart, the same pattern of fights and touching reunions. Avoid this most common of storylines.
Diary of the madmanThis is another one that I've seen many many times in workshops as student work, but never successfully in print. It's because it was done almost two hundred years ago (Gogol's Diary of a Madman) and few works since have added much to the genre. A story with gleefully over-the-top prose, cliche phrasings, and quivering narcissism is so not new.
Dead childThis may sound callous, but I went to a panel discussion of several editors of literary magazines lately, and they all agreed this was the most common plot choice of all. Need a crisis for your characters to slowly and poignantly recover from? No problem -- just kill off a kid! Seriously, there's no describing how tragic this event is in real life, but in story world, this plotline has been done and done.
After the jump: two more plotlines to avoid.
Exchange of lettersThis is another convention of stories that I see often in my workshops, but I never see successfully getting to print. That's not to say they can't be beautifully done, but there's something a little boring about them -- their need to repeat information, the tedious back-and-forth, and the ability to only talk about action instead of doing it. It might get in if it's good, but it's a risk.
My workplace is a drag!This was another storyline I saw to no end while reading manuscripts at one magazine. I might read twenty stories in a day that just write down the typical dull aspects of a boring, cubicled workplace. These writers had confused dullness with artistic malaise: that which is boring is not inherently artistic and deep. In fact, you'd have to work extra hard to make it interesting. Notice that stories that do rely on the sadness of suburban working people don't actually have a lot of their stories set in the dull office, such as Raymond Carver's "The Country Husband."
So that's it, writers! Try avoiding these storylines for a while, and you may find yourself getting that good rejection -- or even an acceptance -- instead of the anonymous rejection slip. Good luck!