If you're looking for a cool topic to talk about, you may want to avoid the vengeance cliché.


I love good storytelling and I love when an idea catches me completely off guard and creates a deep, emotional response. But because of this passion, I find most of the stories, especially in video games, repetitive and boring, not just “inspired” by great art, but rather lazily pushed forward by deadlines, limited to overused clichés in assumption that “if it worked before, it’s going to work for the 500th time, right”?

In this series I’m going to share some of my thoughts on story clichés that I don’t want to experience anymore. I know they won’t disappear from AAA industry, but maybe some of the indie storytellers are going to use different, more creative (and less dumbed down) approach?

Previous articles in this series:
Spread Diary Entries

And now...

Clichés To Hate:
Revenge Explains Everything

Common for: Cheap villains, secondary NPCs, TV series.

Description: A character desires to destroy/humiliate another person so much that he or she is able to kill/kidnap and torture innocent people, initiate a brutal war or burn down a priceless piece of environment/kill kittens. Vengeance & Vendetta are pretty easy to present idea which helps the player to understand the enemy’s motivation – after all, he/she should have a reason to be an asshole!

Rarely used for protagonists since this cliché very often turns into “blind hatred” category, so the classic trick would be to somehow entwine this motivation with Saving The World cliché, something like “he killed my father figure and now he wants to become the Doomlord, so I have to stop him AND to avenge this father figure I mentioned ten times in the last hour trying to prove that I have a personality!”.

Why it is useful: Holy smokes the Revenge thread is useful. If you google for some writing tips you’ll find advices such as “don’t underestimate the power of grudge”, and it’s a truly smart suggestions. Revenge appears in every piece of epic ancient literature, every mythology relevant for popular culture and is one of the most classic motivation sources for a fictional character. It’s an extreme force leading to almost inevitable fall from grace and self-destruction. Classic, classy and violent, ranging from the treacherous daggers in one’s back to dramatic duels and homicides.

Grudge doesn’t have to turn into revenge, but when it does, it allows you to create tons of scenes which are easy to explain, easy to understand and easy to write. “Get him, but don’t kill him, I want to cut his throat myself!” or some other “I know I have no reason to do it but I just hate her and want to kill her so much!” may (and do) seem stupid, but as long as you play the Revenge Card apparently the players can go on with it. It’s a simple, clear and consuming passion, and revenge powered by hatred or some sort of duty (such as “I made an oath to destroy the goblin king”) is so, so easy to create!

The problem: I’m not saying it’s impossible that one of the current game writers is going to be the Tarantino of video games, but since majority of us don’t really put much effort into making a good plot, we also are not used to look for a fresh revenge-related perspective. It looks like if we don’t have a good reason to give a character an interesting motivation or character, we can just leave it the revenge pill and walk away. The same story was repeated so many times it got almost unbearably boring.

Since this article series is addressed toward people interested in making interesting and not-so-predictable stories, let me be absolutely clear – if you are not going to add something extremely interesting and creative to a revenge-based plot, your story is destined to be generic and mediocre in 99 cases out of 100.

If you aim higher, you should probably avoid this topic until you’ll find a creative twist. Basically, the revenge threads are very easy to put into a larger story as, for example, a lazy character motivation. I’m pretty sure they are going to be absolutely loved by computers procedurally generating plots in the nearby future.

Alternatives: The important thing to remember is that grudge doesn’t have to lead to blind hatred and vengeance-driven self-destruction fiesta. Fun fact: you can actually find the examples of other grudge-related topics everywhere around you.

A person’s grudge may lead, for example, toward various prejudices. A group of bandits from another village hurt the character’s family? Sure, she’s going to be upset at first, but it’s possible that even after many years she’s going to expect that people from this area are aggressive evil-doers who you should never trust. You don’t have to insert there a bloodbath to make it “more mature”, quite the opposite – we are shaped by our experiences and showing, how the received harm may change one’s self is quite an interesting topic.

Grudge may also make you biased toward someone (or even toward a group of people). A classic thread – a person A wants to convince a person B to do something, but a person B is assuming the person A is not trustworthy, what leads the person B to make a wrong and painful decision. This decision may be of a crucial importance for a player and much more influential than just another minor NPC jumping on you while screaming “I’m gonna kill you for what you’ve done ten years ago!”.

Wrong judgment, clouded by emotions and personal beliefs, is not as spectacular as rivers of blood and yelling at each other, but allows you to touch much more interesting stories, which are closer to the real problems of the real people. And I think we can create some new stories out of this, more interesting than another epic vengeance story number 1659420.

Thank you for your attention. If you think I’m completely wrong or you would like to discuss this topic, let me know below!

See you next week!


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Now, my real comment: Good advice again! In real life it's all about hating silently instead of killing :3
Am I doing this right?
I highly recommend Tales of Berseria - kick-ass female main who wants revenge. It's her driving force, so much so that she does do the whole "I'll sacrifice x or y to get back at HIM." However, she is shown to forgo certain actions (there's some temperance to her revenge) despite being passionate, even at the end of the game, about her revenge. It's actually really well done and despite finding new friendships and caring for some people, she doesn't change her mind about the revenge - it's her main focus. She's not one of those "I wanted revenge but I'll drop it because it's not worth losing x or y." types. If there's something that blocks the way that she doesn't want to give up, she will find another way around the obstacle instead.

She's much more of an anti-hero, but well, it's just so well done. Definitely worth checking the game out just for her character alone.
“The reason that clichés become clichés is that they are the hammers and screwdrivers in the toolbox of communication.”
― Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!

Real people ARE predictable and mediocre. That's why people don't focus on petty prejudices and other such things in media. It's banal. The entire reason most people like playing games and watching movies is because the characters aren't like real people. Real people are boring. Most real people just sit on their bottoms, moan, complain and do nothing about anything.
The best stories are about extraordinary people, and/or extraordinary circumstances.
That's why most war movies don't have main characters that die, as much as some may complain about it. Simple truth is that most people don't want to see a movie about John Johnson from Johnsonville that's just a dude that got killed during a random battle because he stupidly stuck his head up at the wrong time.

This is typical of appeal to novelty arguments. IE, "add something extremely interesting and creative" is just as likely to come across as forced, contrived, over thought, silly, or just downright nonsensical. Different isn't inherently better.

Now, if it seems I'm against realism, I'm not. Quite to contrary, I am a stickler for it. In the right places. Most people don't have super complicated reasons for doing things.
So applying the KISS principle IS being realistic. "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." IS a realistic motivation. No matter how cliche it may feel to you, or how much you might think it's boring.

The issue isn't with revenge plots. In some cases it's an issue of execution, but mostly it just comes down to you personally being tired of them. As such, your post could have consisted of one sentence.
"I'm tired of revenge plots, and sometimes they are executed poorly."
That's cool, but if your great example and advice-giver is Terry Pratchett, I'm afraid we have nothing to talk about. I absolutely hate his books. I loved them when I was very young, but then I started to read a lot of high-class literature. It was impossible to return to Pratchett's level.
If you think he was the best person to take advice about storytelling from, I'm pretty sure you and I are looking for completely different things in stories.
- Aureus
"I started to read a lot of high-class literature. It was impossible to return to Pratchett's level."

And that says everything anyone needs to know about you. Pretentious. Not to mention ignorant.

I also note that you totally ignored everything else I said. Likely because that was the only thing you could respond to. As I said, your "article" is nothing more than your own dislike dressed up to sound like advice.
You quote Terry Pratchett and call Other people pretentious? : ) Good talk.
I answered your entire post, not minor parts of it - I'm not going to quote every single phrase you used and rephrase how much I don't agree with it in creative ways. You literally said "normal" people are boring. For me people are the most fascinating creatures there are to be found. How can we even start to talk about it? xD
If your grand teacher is a person I find unable to teach anything about Good storytelling, we obviously won't find a middle ground.
The difference is you're going to insult random people on the internet because of that. ; )
- Aureus
Am I doing this right?
Calm down both of you. For the record, Terry Pratchett is a great writer and it's not a bad thing at all to be influenced by and enjoy his writings. He's one of the better fantasy writers out there and it is rather pretentious to act otherwise.

On the other hand, this article was accepted by staff because it has merit beyond just one person saying they don't like x or y. There's good reasoning put into the article and quite frankly, there's some good points in there, even if I don't personally agree with all of it and the general idea.

The both of you have good points but also bad points. There's no need to get so huffy over something as simple as a personal bias.

MAS, don't attack people over who they like to read. It's not becoming of anyone to basically say "you're not good enough to give your opinion because you read x or y".
acid, don't insult people because you don't like the general idea that they've put forth and dismiss their whole argument as wrong. If you're going to have an issue with a point or two, explain it and point out what your issue is with x or y, not just a blanket statement.

Both of you keep in mind that the reason we have a comment section on articles is that people can discuss the ideas put forth in them. They're not for insulting each other, but for pointing out bits and pieces that you do or do not agree with and interact with each other over those pieces in a civilised manner. The both of you are acting like children. Quit it.
I think you should try to use Pratchett WAS, not IS in your sentences. He died in 2015.
- Aurerus
You say...
"this article was accepted by staff because it has merit beyond just one person saying they don't like x or y."
Second sentence of the article...
"I find most of the stories, especially in video games, repetitive and boring, not just “inspired” by great art"

The entire article is literally the poster coming up with justifications for their own personal dislike of revenge plots. Topped off with a healthy dose of snobbery.

The first two sections just detail why people use revenge plots. The third, which is where they're supposedly making a point... Boils down to, I think straight forward revenge plots are boring, and if you use one you are "destined to be generic and mediocre" therefore you should "aim higher".

The final section, supposed alternatives...
I simply have to ask myself how precisely that's supposedly "aiming higher". Because the whole "your people killed my people, and I have prejudice towards all of you because of it", is just as much a cliche. Or trope if you prefer.

I didn't insult them, I called them on their BS. How they feel about that is irrelevant. It's called an appeal to outrage fallacy.
It's also extremely hypocritical to say I'm right about them being pretentious, then say I'm acting childish. I presented my view, they responded by using an ad hominem and being pretentious.

First off, your OPINION of Pratchett is irrelevant.
You didn't address anything I said. Your reply consisted entirely of how much you don't like the author I quoted.
If normal people are so interesting, then why doesn't anyone do stories about them? Stories are always about either extraordinary people, or people in extraordinary circumstances.

Pratchett is only one of my influences. HP Lovecraft and Hunter S Thompson are two other major ones. Not that it matters in the slightest, since it's irrelevant to what I've said.

I just happen to like that quote because it's true. Things become cliches because they are universal, easy to understand, and cut to the heart of human emotion. Hammers and screwdrivers.

Most murders happen when someone gets pissed off at someone they know, or for gain. They rarely have anything "deeper" to them than that. That is the mundanity of human "evil".
Your post is the clamoring of a child pleading for everything to have some sort of "greater" meaning, when more oft than not, there's none at all. The vast majority of people don't do things because of convoluted reasons. They are petty, driven by their emotions, and simple. And quite often... they're just stupid and apathetic.
Every year here in the States people leave their children in the car during the summer, and they die. Why? Because they didn't think about it. There isn't any greater meaning to it. They were just being stupid.
And quite frankly, some people really are just born bad. Not every criminal has a dark past, because most of them either felt forced to do whatever it was they did, or simply don't care about the effect it had on others.
Most people with prejudices don't have any reason for having them at all. Usually they have them because their parents did, and they did because their parents did.

It may not be nice. It may not feel good. But reality doesn't care if you like it or not. It just is.

Hate and love are probably the two most powerful emotions humans experience. And revenge is usually sitting firmly at their crossroads. Revenge is something that can compel a person to act. It may not have any "greater" meaning, but it's honest and realistic.

And lastly, to restate a point I made earlier. I didn't insult you. I told you what I thought about what you said. If you felt insulted, that's your problem. I found your article highly condescending, and to be nothing but your own dislike dressed up as advice. So I said so. And you have done nothing to offer rebuttal, nor to dispel my impression of you. In fact, all you've done is reinforce it.
Am I doing this right?
Calling someone pretentious and ignorant is insulting them. That's pretty clear-cut.

I also highly recommend you don't argue with a mod when they tell you to stop doing something that you did. You know, unless you want to get in trouble?
No, it's being honest. If they don't want to be called those things, then they should stop being them.
In order for it to be an insult, I would have to have said it with the aim of being abusive. I didn't. I said it, because they were being it. How they feel about it is irrelevant. Rather than an insult, view it as a call to "aim higher".

My first comment DID address the article properly. I was considerate. I considered everything they said, then told them why they were wrong. How they take that it is up to them. I'm not the mind police. Nor am I under any onus to protect their feelings. If they can't take criticism, then they shouldn't have written the "article".

How they chose to reply, was make an association based ad hominem attack (talking trash on Pratchett as a way to dismiss my argument without addressing any of it). That is not only insulting because it's bad logic... it's dismissive, arrogant... and as I said, what they said about Pratchett was ignorant, while their overall demeanor was pretentious.
Respect must be earned. No one is entitled to it. I did show consideration, which was not shown to me in kind. Therefore I have no reason to be charitable.

As for arguing with you. NO ONE is above criticism. You were wrong, so I corrected you. Unless you think you're incapable of error...
You WERE being hypocritical to agree with what I said, then turn around and say I was being childish. Which was an insult, which means you're being hypocritical again.
And, I have to say... the fact that you felt a need to threaten me doesn't speak well to your character.
If you wanted me to leave it be for whatever reason, then just say so. Politely. But don't insult me, and my intelligence, by calling me childish and acting like I'm doing something wrong just because the snowflake can't handle a proper argument.

“The problem with today’s world is that everyone believes they have the right to express their opinion AND have others listen to it.

The correct statement of individual rights is that everyone has the right to an opinion, but crucially, that opinion can be roundly ignored and even made fun of, particularly if it is demonstrably nonsense!”
― Brian Cox
User was warned for this post
acidhedz, you are doing the near exact opposite of calming down.

Stick to talking about the article and not the author.
*grabs popcorn*

*nom nom nom nom*

*runs out of popcorn*


Hmmmmmmmmmmm, good article, funny pictures... I have little to add except keep up the good work. :D

I just made a game about revenge, and you making it sound as if it was easy to write just for having revenge there is exaggerated.

Everything is a cliche nowdays, and if you don't have something very interesting to add to the motivation of your plot, as you said, you're doomed, however you're doomed regardless of what this motivation is.

I love stories about revenge, and showing the emotions of your characters, the roots and consequences of the grudge, the corruption of said character and the cold dish can be a beautiful and very complex work of art.
I agree, all the plots have been done for years now. The real determinate of quality is execution.
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