Archive for September 9th, 2010

Sep 09 2010

Please Don’t Use “Is That a Threat?”

Published by under Dialogue,Fixing Cliches

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

I roll my eyes whenever a character asks another “Is that a threat?“*  The question is almost always a setup for a third-rate one-liner. Here are some responses that are usually poor.

  • “No. It’s a promise!” This is ludicrously cliche. If you’re hooked on that line, I’d recommend coming up with a different contrast. Maybe “It’s an opportunity” or “It’s a lesson” or whatever fits the situation.
  • “Yes,” “Absolutely” or any other generic yes answer. Generally, when a character has made a threat, the threat is so patently obvious that the question is completely unnecessary.  Unless the threat is unclear, “Is that a threat?”/”Yes” will only waste two sentences and make the first character come off as mentally slow.
  • “Take it any way you like.” This is pretty bland and cliche. I think this is usually a missed opportunity to come up with a dodge more uniquely tailored to the character and circumstances.  For example, if a distant father implies that his son will get cut off from the trust fund unless his grades improve, the father might respond to “Is that a threat?” with an action or line that suggests how unconcerned he is about what his son thinks.  Maybe he lights up a cigarette or dismissively changes the subject with something like “Chardonnay?”
  • No, it’s a fact.” Also cliche.

*”Is that blackmail?” raises similar problems.

Writing exercise: Write a scene that effectively uses “Is that a threat?”

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