Tracking the trainer

Trainers are everywhere. On the Internet, suggested by friends, with specific expertise, in gyms, even at parties. They say impressive things, have certificates with complex acronyms and promise you a body like actor John Abraham’s in a few months. But finding the one that’s right for you is not an easy task. The key: Begin the search by figuring out your personal goals. And then ask all the right questions. Here are some to get you started.

Does s/he come recommended?

The best way to look for a trainer is through recommendations from people you know. “You get to know their experience, commitment, results, how encouraging they are, etc.,” says Bengaluru-based fitness expert Wanitha Ashok. However, you need to be a bit cautious. “Everyone is different in their unique ways and while word of mouth is really good, do not follow anything blindly,” says Vesna Pericevic Jacob, a physiotherapist and a Pilates teacher who owns Vesna’s Wellness in New Delhi. What works for someone might not work for you in terms of technique, approach or attitude. Post a recommendation, ask your own questions, cross-check, follow your instincts and make a decision based on your own expectations and experiences, says Jacob.

Does s/he understand your goal?

Mumbai-based fitness trainer Vinod Channa, who has clients like John Abraham, says you shouldn’t follow recommendations blindly. “Some trainer who has a great clientele base might end up pushing you too much with high-intensity or high-repetition workouts,” he says. The trainer should be interested not in what he wants to do but in what you want to achieve. “A good trainer will not only be in sync with your requirement according to your lifestyle, fitness level and genetics, but also extract your potential,” says Channa. For this, you need someone who is a positive motivator, who genuinely wants to help you achieve your goal.

What’s his qualification?

Twenty years ago, people would go to bodybuilders if they wanted trainers. Now, there are a lot of fitness certifications available internationally that you can check for. A bachelor’s in physical education is the formal degree, but a certification from Indian associations like the K11 Fitness Academy and Gym, Intellectual Fitness and Sports Academy , and Talwalkars Training Academy, also works. Other than this, certification from international associations like the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association, US, and American Council on Exercise is good. ”These certification courses usually have an expiry date of two years from the date of completion of the course,” says Ali Irani, head of department, physiotherapy and sports medicine, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai. “Always check the year they took the course,” says Dr Irani. Re-certification is required as research progresses and ways of training evolve.

Qualification is a good judge, but it’s not always necessary. “I have met some incredibly talented personal trainers who had no formal education,” says Jacob, adding that perhaps the best option is to opt for a trial session.

Can he apply his knowledge?

The trainer should not only have the latest scientific knowledge but should be able to apply it. “You need to be wary of certificate collectors who never implement the knowledge on themselves or the clients,” says Channa. The best instructors keep learning and mix up two or three techniques into their workouts. You can check this by asking for the variety of people the trainer has trained, the age groups, the lifestyle, etc. “Go with a senior trainer with at least five years of experience who is certified in different types of fitness techniques and has experience of handling different kinds of people,” says Channa.

What’s her specialization?

It’s a consumer’s market and there are a lot of specialized trainers for specific sports like running, soccer, basketball, tennis, or routines like Pilates or mixed martial arts. “Ask for their specialization,” says Samir Purohit, a fitness trainer who runs the Pilates and Altitude Training Studio in Mumbai. “Is she into yoga, functional training, Pilates, strength or cardio? Once you know, ask for the courses the trainer has attended in that workout and then decide.” A good trainer would be someone who keeps learning new techniques and adds them to the routines.

Is s/he aware of your limitations?

An experienced trainer will always ask you detailed personal questions before giving you a fitness regime. These include your age, height, weight, medical history, workout history, if any, etc. In addition, the trainer will also ask for your daily diet, sleep patterns, basic lifestyle, type of profession before s/he sets a fitness goal and a diet for you. You should be completely honest about everything, especially your medical history. “The trainer needs to know of the various pathologies and ailments that you’re suffering from,” says Ali Irani of Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, “and have enough knowledge regarding the do’s and dont’s in terms of exercise and nutrition in those conditions.” In fact, a good test for a trainer is his willingness to work with your consulting doctor, physiotherapist and nutritionist for maximum results, says Madhuri Ruia, a nutritionist who runs InteGym in Mumbai and is a ‘Mint’ columnist.

Is the programme customized?

Sometimes trainers recommend the same fitness regime for all their clients. This is not advisable. If your trainer spends the whole of the first session assessing your fitness, asking you at least 15-20 questions about your past fitness history and your current fitness level, and makes copious notes, that might mean s/he is taking time out to create a customized fitness programme, says Dr Irani. It’s easy to give you high-repetition or high-intensity workouts but a good trainer will adjust the workout to your need.

How much does it cost?

Every gym charges according to the facilities available and the experience of the trainer.


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Five ways to make your character real

The most hyperreal character I created till now is Anantya Tantrist, the tantrik detective and the heroine of my latest, Cult of Chaos. She has made me schizophrenic. I know her voice so well, that I can hear her talk in my head, can tweet as her and myself at the same time, having conversations over Twitter or tell you what she would be saying right now for this blog (“Why’re you wasting your time? Do something creative.”). When I was still pitching her book, I met A, the editor, the HarperCollins editor of the series in India and told her that she had to say yes to the book, because Anantya liked her. And I wasn’t lying. It was the truth. She’s that real to me. Like a friend. So here, I share what I’ve learnt while creating her. Here’s my bits on how to create characters that are crazy real.

1 Take her out on a date

You want to know what the biggest antihero of your book thinks like. What does he want? Why does he want to destroy the world? Does he like coffee or prefer tea? Is he an alcoholic? Meeting a character is like meeting a stranger on a date. Ask them inane questions. Do they like chocolate or strawberry icecream? You have to ask them what they are like, what they want from their lives, what they desire, what they feel about traffic jams, what their objective in life is. Spend a day, talking to your character, even the minor one. Romance her, fall in love, or hate her like you would the guy who persistently honks behind you in a stuck traffic jam.

2 Find out how she speaks

Readers love dialogues. Many of us while reading a book skip all the details, the paragraphs that talk about atmosphere and stuff and go to the dialogues. Dialogues are by far the most important way that readers will know your characters from. So it’s very important to know how your character speaks. Hear. Listen to what people say, how they say it. Everyone of us has a style of speech. Try and bring that out for your character. What are the words she uses the maximum? The repetitive things she says after each sentence? You want to make it real, yes, but not so real that it has repeated sentences. So keep it short.

3 Know the emotional ticks

After the date, this is the second level of knowing your character. What are the social issues they connect to the most? What makes them raving mad, or crazy? What brings tears to their eyes? For even the vilest of villains would have that soft spot somewhere. Find out what makes them sad, what’s their emotional curve. Know it when you’re writing and your readers will feel it too.

4 Put in her past experiences

I call this the soul of the character. As we grow, we absorb experiences each day and you need to know what your character’s past was to understand how they will behave now. What has happened to them in their past? Who were the people they grew up with? Like 90s soap operas, physical abuse, the desire to own a car or bullying a classmate or a pet. These experiences make the person we become and if you know the character’s past, you will know how they will react to situations, when and how they will act and take the story forward. To know your characters is to know your story too.

5 Listen to her body, beyond the face.

Body language is a very important aspect in detailing a character. Whether you write first-person narrative or third, you have to know how the character blink their eyes when they talk, how they smile, what changes in their body language when certain people are around. Find words for them, keep them listed somewhere. How our eyes look when we speak, how do our legs and hands move. Is her hair disheveled or clean, how does she smell? What are her most prominent features? How does she move her hands and arms and legs when she speaks? Build your vocabulary about the character and you’ll be able to bring her out in flesh and blood through words.

Ready to ride the start-up wave?

If you want to start a company, this may be a good time to do it. For venture capital (VC) funding for Indian start-ups has increased by a whopping 261% in one year, according to a November analysis by PrivCo, a financial data platform that analyses business trends. Several factors are pushing this growth: India is now the world’s second largest mobile market, with over 900 million smartphones, and half of its 1.25 billion population is under 25.

“For everyone, from anywhere, with whatever background, it is the right time to start a company. The goodwill has never been this high, even from parents, who are no longer worried about who will marry their child,” says Harsh Shah, co-founder of Shopsense, a Mumbai-based company which works with retailers to help them enhance the shopping experience with technology.

“More and more start-ups are getting created by younger and younger people,” says New Delhi-based Varun Chawla, co-founder of 91springboard, an incubator and an early-level funder for start-ups. “The market is hot, there’s early-stage financing and increased capital.”

But there are some rules, some must-dos before you get set to ride the start-up wave.

Find a big problem

All sound businesses are based on someone trying to solve a problem. Zomato solved the perennial issue of “Where do I find a place eat around here?” Uber found that people had trouble finding taxis on the street and made it spectacularly easy to call one to wherever they were. “You need to ask yourself what is the problem you’re solving,” says New Delhi-based Suchi Mukherjee, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of, a social e-commerce platform for women. “Whose life will get better by the product you’ll create, are there enough people with this problem, and are you truly passionate about solving their problem?” The last point, the one about passion will help you get through the lows (and there will be many), she adds.

Other than passion, you need to be sure that the problem you’re solving is big enough to attract funders. “Nobody wants to place small bets,” says Sachin Gupta, CEO of HackerEarth, a platform where companies and programmers can connect. “Entrepreneurs who want to raise VC money must understand that they have to go after big markets.”

A lot of people are reading publications, articles, books, trying to understand what’s cool in the market and copying ideas from international markets. That may not be the best way to go about it. “You need to build value for your business rather than build a business for valuation,” says Chawla.

Be thorough with research

The idea might be spectacularly creative, but if someone has already worked on it, there is no point in going after it unless you can add to what is already being offered, or the market is large enough to absorb two players. Research and fine-tune your idea. If some aspects of your business are already covered by the market, outsource these and focus on other aspects. “It’s your magic sauce that will make a difference,” says Chawla.

“Before we fund a start-up, we always see how much clarity and focus they have on a real problem,” says Sasha Mirchandani, founder and managing director, Kae Capital, a funding company based in Mumbai which has invested in start-ups such as GreenDust and Myntra. “What unfair advantages do you possess? How determined are you? Is the problem you’re trying to solve real, does it have a potential for a large market opportunity? Why is ‘now’ the best time to for this particular business?”

Mirchandani, who has been in the start-up industry since 2000, tends to stay away from funding start-ups that are “US-clones”. He believes such start-ups are attracted by the ecosystem rather than driven by an idea, and may not be aimed at providing the answers to a compelling business problem which they are passionate about.

Devise a new plan

Business strategy, plan, road map, call it what you will, it’s the essential difference between success and failure. Devise a plan, deal with teething issues and continue to validate it till your product fits the market. “Until you get to a product-market fit, don’t waste your time trying to hire too many people or raise too much money, for once you do, going back and making changes becomes that much harder,” says Krishna Mehra, co-founder, Capillary Technologies, a Silicon Valley, US, based start-up that builds customized customer-driven marketing platforms.

Test your product

Ironically, one essential element that most start-ups forget about is talking to customers. “Once you have a problem worth solving, go and talk to a hundred people to validate and refine it,” says Amit Somani, managing partner, Prime Venture Partners, a VC firm in Bengaluru. It is this feedback, this refining of the problem, that will shape your idea, giving a unique touch to your business and making it harder for anyone else to copy.  The product needs to be validated by early users. “Launch a minimalist version of your idea in the market, experiment with a small group of users at a very low cost,” says Rutvik Doshi, director, Inventus Capital, which invests in early-stage start-ups.

Build a team

Most start-ups that fail are those which have one person trying to do everything. Dedicate yourself full time and build a team of full-time people who are committed for the right reasons. “Great talent is scarce and not having a great, growing team is one of the single biggest reasons for a start-up not achieving its potential,” says Shah.

Your team should have the right combination of skill and can-do attitude. “If you surround yourself with great people, you can go through the insane amount of belief, commitment, hard work and luck you need to succeed,” says Somani.

Take advice but follow your gut

Founders looking for advice and expertise can now find an active ecosystem in cities like Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai. “One of the reasons for the success of Silicon Valley is the ecosystem of people who have been around the block a few times and are now available as advisers, mentors, investors and senior employees,” says Mehra. Mehra sees this pool developing in India, and suggests that founders should make use of it.

Find advisers whose opinions you trust but, at the end of it all, listen to your instincts. “Sometimes you might get swayed too much by what investors or influencers have to say, but it’s you who runs the company and it’s you who should run it,” says Gupta.

Get the business in place

Most start-ups spend all their time and energy in building the product, finding customers and raising money, but forget to comply with government rules or set up the infrastructure. Take the time to sort things as basic as office space, reliable Internet, getting all the permissions and hiring an accountant, says Mukherjee.

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Why are we so afraid of dying?

When I wrote this blog, sometime last year, I was sitting in a cancer treatment hospital. It was clean, official and bustling. It even had a coffee shop where doctors and families of patients and patients themselves came to get a caffeine shot before they head back to the patient they were overseeing. Like any normal office or mall, except it wasn’t.

There was a silent sea of fear that moved in waves, it moved from faces and bodies that walked and talked and saw reports and desperately waited for the doctors to arrive. The trepidation remained behind floundering smiles, a squeeze of a hand or an awkward attempt to fill a silence with an anecdote. Behind every silent glance, itching fingers that opened a touchscreen phone again and again, to look at it blankly, or a bored face waiting for yet another day to get over, there was fear. For all of them had someone from their family, someone who they loved, strapped in one of those rooms above, fighting with death.

There was guilt in those faces that waited, guilt for the fact that they were healthy while their child, spouse or parent was battling with that dreaded disease. The anecdotes that floated in the coffee shop were about doctors,  other deaths, other cancers and newly learnt medical jargon. And everywhere hung the unknown questions. What will happen today? God, please don’t let her go away.

Death. I’ve written about it many times before (here in relation to immortality which I explored in the second part of Anantya’s series and here where I spoke about rituals around death, maybe a little unfairly), to the point of being morbid myself. But for most part, it’s in a scholarly way. Not like people through of it in this hospital (or any other place where they see death up close). Why is life so short and death so sudden and mysterious? Why can’t you connect with someone who you spend your life with in death? Why do they suddenly disappear? What happens when we die? Where do we go? Do the unbelievers who don’t have any multistoried apartments booked in any of the offered heavens go to hell? Is hell a desert or darkness with nothingness? What’s that fear? Is it the fear of unknown or the fear of things we cannot control, or a fear that someone might not be there for you, leaving an emotional or financial vacuum behind that will never be filled? A hole in your heart? What is the fear??

Everyone is waiting, either to take their loved ones back home, party and survive for a few more decades, or to get that final shock. But it’s the fear that gets to us all. The fear of death of our loved ones. The fear that we’ll lose them. For that’s something we’ve not understood or fully realized. That’s something that we cannot prepare ourselves for, that’s something we cannot provide for them. That’s a journey which everyone takes alone.

Death. Cannot be controlled, hand held, or won over. Everyone loses to her in the end. Everyone fails to find answers about her. She’s mysterious, alluring, fearful and scary. And her stroke is powerful. Nothing will save you from her. Nothing. Nada.

Image source

What’s your social media type?

Just about everyone is hooked to social media. Every morning, we check notifications, read suggestions from friends, chat with some and comment on people’s travels. If you can’t help but log into your Facebook timeline while in the loo, or can’t wait to click group selfies and post them when out with friends, here’s a profile test for you—identify your personality type.


The GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, pedometer, barometer and various other sensors in smartphones were created just for you. You have a Fitbit or a smartwatch and a gazillion apps which auto-post on your timeline. They tell others what speed you’re running at, which restaurant you’re exiting, what you are listening to now, even how many times your toilet was flushed today. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but someone must surely be thinking on those lines.

Food for thought: In a paper published in the Optics Expressjournal in June, German researchers displayed a sensor system for smartphones with potential for use in biomolecular tests—monitoring diabetes, for example. What’s more, your smartphone might soon be able to analyse your sweat and blood to provide more statistics. Can’t wait to get your hands on that one, can you?


You love to rant, on the weather, on how someone has got it completely wrong, on how you would love to see people think before they speak, on the politics of someone else, or even on things that the government is doing. You love writing in CAPITAL letters, sometimes getting the spelling wrong (who cares about editing when one’s so angry), and usually follow all the celebrities on Facebook and Twitter, spending a copious amount of time correcting them.

Food for thought: If you’re mirthfully grinning at this type, here’s something to worry about: According to a study published in the Personality And Individual Differencesjournal in September, you have the classic symptoms of a Dark Tetrad (no, not Darth Vader). You are an explosive cocktail of Machiavellianism, psychopathy and a classic Internet manifestation of everyday sadism.


You travel everywhere with your smartphone, clicking the lunch you’re having, clicking friends at a pub even before you say hello. In fact, even if you were at a beautiful beach, you’d be mentally thinking of ways to capture and post it perfectly first. You also like to take pictures of your cat, sofa, the street, the car…and take time to add filters, crop, add mood before posting the photograph. You’re mostly found on Instagram and sometimes on Facebook.

Food for thought: Enhance your gadget with nifty accessories. Try Olloclip (, $70-80; Rs.4,400-5,200) for zoom, or a Joby Gorillapod (Rs.1,450 onwards; to add stability to those pictures. If you’d like to outsource to a bot, get Moment Case (, a smartphone cover ($69.99 onwards) with a lens, which automatically takes pictures through the Moment app. Happy clicking.


You don’t post. You don’t “like”, comment or retweet. You’re the quiet one, scrolling through the timelines, people’s pictures and posts, your social presence barely visible. On Twitter, you’re listening to the people you follow, observing rather than posting anything.

According to a survey published in April 2013 by First Direct, a telephone- and Internet-based bank in the UK, there’s a whopping 45% of you on Facebook, watching what others are saying and rarely participating. Oh, and you call yourself “observers”.

Food for thought: It’s hard, but try to participate and interact online. You might find a sudden inexplicable increase in the number of offline friends.


You thrive on anonymity. You like to have various personalities on social networks, constantly use fake names and give out little or no information about yourself. It might be paranoia about your privacy that makes you do this or simply the fact that you like hiding behind a mask and peering into others’ lives. Your online personality might be completely different from who you are in real life. You’re found mostly in forums and on Twitter.

Food for thought: Shift to Whispero (, an app that lets you stay in touch without exchanging any personal information.


You are the ultimate knowledge-seeker, going through the timelines and Webs looking for good, edible, sensible information to share with your fellow social hogs. You have various RSS feeds that come to your phone, news and social apps and give you the latest in your field, and on people that you follow online. You see, like, share, retweet anything that comes your way. You are also a slacktivist, sharing posts of missing children, funds needed for the sick, petitions, etc. Many a time, you download something from Reddit and share it across your Facebook and Twitter timelines.

Food for thought: Tried Glean ( yet? Built especially for Android devices, Glean offers interest-based news from over 15,000 sites. Use it and it’ll learn what you like to read and give you your favourites and trends in a single feed.


Most of your posts feature your child doing something. You can’t help but post pictures of your child making a putty face, smiling, frowning, doing the Dubsmash, with cake all over the face, giggling, looking all so cute. You love to post constantly on Facebook and in your family WhatsApp groups, with a singular comment on what the child did today and what your response was. You’re not alone.


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That shit is someone else’s problem

Early morning as the auto drags along, crisscrossing and honking irritably at the traffic, I notice the pavements that travel along with me. Two cleaners from BBMP, on either side of a pavement near Ulsoor (I see one after the other), are halfheartedly sweeping with a broom on the debris, leaving the shit behind. It’s all colours of shit – black, brown, muddy, dried and still squishy and wet. The cleaners sweep all around it, contentiously pick up the debris and the leaves and the dust that had fallen the day before, leaving the droppings of stray dogs and cows that have passed the night before, behind. Conveniently making it someone else’s problem.

In front of a closed shop, next to a small darshini in Bangalore

The middle class in me screams. Do a good job, I want to say in the righteous voice. These are public roads. It’s your job to clean them. Why are you leaving all the shit behind? Clean properly! Except, says another voice in me, the one that usually makes me squirm. Don’t you do the same thing? It’s your shit finally, isn’t it?

For doesn’t our garbage, the one we create, the one we discard, become someone else’s problem at some point? The moment we dump a coffee cup, righteously, into a trash can. The moment our maid takes out the black plastic bag from our home, dumping it near a tree or an empty plot. The moment we place a beer bottle on the stage floor where an indie band is performing. The moment we finish the dosa in front of someone else’s shutter and leave the plate behind. The exact moment when a child finishes off a bag of chips and casually drops it in front of the waterfall his parents have taken him to. Coffee cups, tea mugs, underwears, plastic bottles, chewing gum packets, juice cans, smashed beer bottles, all half hidden, glittering under dried leaves. Usually, we can even find out what all is available at a picnic spot or at a kiosk around the corner of the road, just by looking at the garbage scattered in the area.

We leave a trail of debris wherever we travel.

On roads, on pavements, thrown from the windows of cars, from autos, delicately dropped onto the grass in the park, left behind post a picnic or a party at friends. Continue reading That shit is someone else’s problem

Celebrity diets: fad or fab?

Celebrities can do just about anything to stay in shape. Earlier this year, American TV series Mad Men actor January Jones revealed that she ate her own dehydrated placenta in the form of capsules, to fight depression and fatigue. Ashton Kutcher only ate fruits while making the 2013 film,Jobs.

We look at some weird diets that artistes reportedly follow to stay in shape or prepare for a role, and ask experts whether they are actually beneficial.

Activated charcoal detox

The followers: Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle site called the charcoal lemonade one of the “best juice cleanses” around.

What it involves: As a little black pill or ground into a vegetable juice, activated charcoal detox is the “it” thing in celebrity circles. It’s food-grade carbon made with regular charcoal; it is heated with gas to form pores which supposedly trap chemicals. The charcoal acts like a sponge in the digestive tract. It is supposed to cure everything from a hangover to skin dullness, low energy levels and flatulence.

Does it work? “Activated charcoal is a very powerful agent used to absorb all poisons and chemicals from the body,” says Shikha Sharma, founder of health management centre Nutri-Health Systems Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi. It’s used in the hospital emergency room, or for people with health problems like arthritis or toxin-related disorders. “To drink it once a month is okay for weight loss or skin improvement, but don’t go too frequent on it, since it can result in vitamin and mineral deficiency,” she says. Frequent use also decreases the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and medications.

Gluten-free diet

The followers: Paltrow and Miley Cyrus.

What it involves: All gluten sources like wheat, rye, barley and oats are removed from the diet. Recommended by doctors for those allergic or intolerant to wheat, the diet is now part of lifestyle dieting too.

Does it work? A study published in the Journal Of The Academy Of Nutrition And Dietetics in 2012, which analysed the diet, did not recommend it as a means to eat healthier or to lose weight. “Though we consume much more wheat and products with gluten, like cakes and biscuits, we still need gluten in our daily diet,” says Madhuri Ruia, a Mintcolumnist and fitness professional who heads Integym in Mumbai. She recommends that if you are not allergic to gluten, aim to lower gluten intake rather than cutting it out completely.

The Breatharian diet

The followers: Madonna and Michelle Pfeiffer.

What it involves: This diet is all about living without food. Some dieters smell food instead of eating it, while some say they can live on sunlight and air. Continue reading Celebrity diets: fad or fab?

Horrible plots to avoid in science fiction

Strange Horizons is a fabulous online speculative fiction magazine. I’ve been going there for ages, hogging on the freebies, including fiction, poetry, reviews of new books and articles on fantasy, horror, science fiction and its various sub-genres. While exploring the site, I found this useful list of things that the folks at Strange Horizons have seen too many times in their submissions. Typical plots, story tropes, characters, storylines that they DON’T want to see. I read the whole list and was surprised to find how close I’d come to a few of these typical, boring, done-to-death things, myself. (Red below are my comments.) Listing down a few here which I found particularly hilarious. For more, please head to this page, where they keep adding more tropes.

The following list is an attempt at classifying the kinds of non-horror plots and themes that we’ve received too frequently. Here’s the list:

  1. Creative person is having trouble creating.
    1. Writer has writer’s block.
    2. Painter can’t seem to paint anything good.
    3. Sculptor can’t seem to sculpt anything good.
    4. Creative person’s work is reviled by critics who don’t understand how brilliant it is.
    5. Creative person meets a muse (either one of the nine classical Muses or a more individual muse) and interacts with them, usually by keeping them captive.
  2. Visitor to alien planet ignores information about local rules, inadvertantly violates them, is punished.
    1. New diplomat arrives on alien planet, ignores anthropologist’s attempts to explain local rules, is punished.
  3. Weird things happen, but it turns out they’re not real.
    1. In the end, it turns out it was all a dream.
    2. In the end, it turns out it was all in virtual reality.
    3. In the end, it turns out the protagonist is insane.
    4. In the end, it turns out the protagonist is writing a novel and the events we’ve seen are part of the novel.
  4. Technology and/or modern life turn out to be soulless. (Haven’t we all done this one?)
    1. Office life turns out to be soul-deadening, literally or metaphorically.
    2. All technology is shown to be soulless; in contrast, anything “natural” is by definition good. For example, living in a weather-controlled environment is bad, because it’s artificial, while dying of pneumonia is good, because it’s natural.
    3. The future is utopian and is considered by some or many to be perfect, but perfection turns out to be boring and stagnant and soul-deadening; it turns out that only through imperfection, pain, misery, and nature can life actually be good.
    4. In the future, all learning is soulless and electronic, until kid is exposed to ancient wisdom in the form of a book.
    5. In the future, everything is soulless and electronic, until protagonist (usually a kid) is exposed to ancient wisdom in the form of a wise old person who’s lived a non-electronic life.
  5. Protagonist is a bad person. [We don’t object to this in a story; we merely object to it being the main point of the plot.]
    1. Bad person is told they’ll get the reward that they “deserve,” which ends up being something bad.
    2. Terrorists (especially Osama bin Laden) discover that horrible things happen to them in the afterlife (or otherwise get their comeuppance).
    3. Protagonist is portrayed as really awful, but that portrayal is merely a setup for the ending, in which they see the error of their ways and are redeemed. (But reading about the awfulness is so awful that we never get to the end to see the redemption.)
  6. A “surprise” twist ending occurs. [Note that we do like endings that we didn’t expect, as long as they derive naturally from character action. But note, too, that we’ve seen a lot of twist endings, and we find most of them to be pretty predictable, even the ones not on this list.]
    1. The characters’ actions are described in a way meant to fool the reader into thinking they’re humans, but in the end it turns out they’re not humans, as would have been obvious to anyone looking at them.
    2. Creatures are described as “vermin” or “pests” or “monsters,” but in the end it turns out they’re humans.
    3. The author conceals some essential piece of information from the reader that would be obvious if the reader were present at the scene, and then suddenly reveals that information at the end of the story. [This can be done well, but rarely is.]
    4. Person is floating in a formless void; in the end, they’re born.
    5. Person uses time travel to achieve some particular result, but in the end something unexpected happens that thwarts their plan.
    6. The main point of the story is for the author to metaphorically tell the reader, “Ha, ha, I tricked you! You thought one thing was going on, but it was really something else! You sure are dumb!”
    7. A mysteriously-named Event is about to happen (“Today was the day Jimmy would have to report for The Procedure”), but the nature of the Event isn’t revealed until the end of the story, when it turns out to involve death or other unpleasantness. [Several classic sf stories use this approach, which is one reason we’re tired of seeing it. Another reason is that we can usually guess the twist well ahead of time, which makes the mysteriousness annoying.]
    8. In the future, an official government permit is required in order to do some particular ordinary thing, but the specific thing a permit is required for isn’t (usually) revealed until the end of the story.
    9. Characters speculate (usually jokingly): “What if X were true of the universe?” (For example: “What if the universe is a simulation?”) At the end, something happens that implies that X is true.
    10. Characters in the story (usually in the far future and/or on an alien planet) use phrases that are phonetic respellings or variations of modern English words or phrases, such as “Hyoo Manz” or “Pleja Legions,” which the reader isn’t intended to notice; in the end, a surprise twist reveals that there’s a connection to 20th/21st-century English speakers.
  7. Scientist uses himself or herself as test subject.
  8. White protagonist is given wise and mystical advice by Holy Simple Native Folk. (This one made me laugh my head off. Avatar anyone?)
  9. An alien or an AI/robot/android observes and comments on the peculiar habits of humans, for allegedly comic effect. (Hitchhikers did have a few of these, to wonderful entertainment.)
    1. The alien or AI is fluent in English and completely familiar with various English idioms, but is completely unfamiliar with human biology and/or with such concepts as sex or violence and/or with certain specific extremely common English words (such as “cat”).
    2. The alien or AI takes everything literally.
    3. Instead of an alien or AI, it’s people in the future commenting on the ridiculous things (usually including internal combustion engines) that people used to use in the unenlightened past.
  10. Person A tells a story to person B (or to a room full of people) about person C. (This is so Hercule Poirot in SF!)
    1. In the end, it turns out that person B is really person C (or from the same organization).
    2. In the end, it turns out that person A is really person C (or has the same goals).
    3. In the end, there’s some other ironic but predictable twist that would cast the whole story in a different light if the reader hadn’t guessed the ending early on.
  11. It’s immediately obvious to the reader that a mysterious character is from the future, but the other characters (usually including the protagonist) can’t figure it out.
  12. Someone takes revenge for the wrongs done to them. (Ahem. This was the original Anantya plot, before it became Cult of Chaos. Glad I got rid of it.)
    1. Protagonist is put through heavy-handed humiliation after humiliation, and takes it meekly, until the end when he or she murders someone.
  13. Author showcases their premise of what the afterlife is like; there’s little or no story, other than demonstrating that premise. (This actually is an interesting trope for me. I would love to see Yamraj running it as a business. But again, done quite a lot of times.)
    1. Hell and Heaven are run like businesses.
    2. The afterlife is really monotonous and dull.
    3. The afterlife is a bureaucracy.
    4. The afterlife is nothingness.
    5. The afterlife reunites you with your loved ones.
  14. Protagonist agrees to go along with a plan or action despite not having enough information about it, and despite their worries that the thing will be bad. Then the thing turns out to be bad after all. (Most movies/books of single, white, urban hero. Always wondered why doesn’t he ask the questions?)
  15. In a comedic/satirical story, vampires and/or other supernatural creatures come out publicly and demand (and/or get) the vote and other rights, but people are prejudiced against them. (Sigh. Vampires, in the whole lot, should be banned for a few decades.)
  16. There’s a machine that cryptically predicts the manner of a person’s death by printing it on a slip of paper; the machine is never wrong, but often it’s right in surprising or ironic ways. [There’s nothing wrong with theMachine of Death anthologies, but we’ve seen a large number of MoD rejects, and we’re extremely unlikely to buy one.] hahahaha!
  17. Story is set in a world in which some common modern Western power structure is inverted, and we’re meant to sympathize with the people who are oppressed in the world of the story. [Such stories usually end up reinforcing the real-world dominant paradigm; and regardless, they rarely do anything we haven’t seen many times before.] This one is an interesting tool, and I wouldn’t say not to use it. Especially 1. I want to try it in a story someday.
    1. Women have more power than men, and it’s very sad how oppressed the men are.
    2. Everyone in the society is gay or lesbian, and straight people are considered perverts.
    3. White people are oppressed by oppressive people with other skin colors.
  18. Kids with special abilities are kidnapped by the government and imprisoned and tested in a lab.
  19. The author attempts to lead the reader to think a character is going to die, but instead the character is uploaded into VR or undergoes some other transformative but non-dying process. (Learn from GRR Martin people!)
  20. Someone dies and then wanders around as a ghost.
    1. They meet other ghosts who’ve been around longer and who show them the ropes, and/or help them come to terms with being dead, and/or explain that nobody knows what happens after ghosts move on to the next stage of the afterlife.
    2. They’re initially stuck in the place where they died or the place where their body is. In some cases, they eventually figure out how to roam the world.

Continue reading Horrible plots to avoid in science fiction

Fantasy writer. Author. Daydreamer