As long as I’m talking about fiction, I thought I’d discuss a mistake that I occasionally see in fiction: the introduction of superfluous elements that needlessly confuse and prolong the story, weakening it overall.
There’s probably a real name for this, but I like to call it the “Prince of Monte Carlo syndrome”, after the character in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Grand Duke whose presence in the story is–in my opinion–unnecessary. Now, the reason Gilbert introduced the Prince was probably because he was funny; in fact, many people (not me) think his “roulette song” is the best thing in the show. But, though he’s a good character, he just doesn’t fit in well in the story, and actually messes up the flow of it by his presence.
Of course, this sort of thing is easier to get away with in comedies. In more serious works, it’s worse. I love Mass Effect 2, but, as Shamus Young and many others have pointed out, the Collectors feel like a totally unnecessary addition that serves only to muddle up everything and, worst of all, weakens the main enemy, the Reapers. Maybe they’ll make it work in Mass Effect 3, but as it is now, it’s kind of a messy plot.
This brings me to my most serious, and probably most controversial example: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Or, to be specific, just the Deathly Hallows. That book has many problems, in my opinion, but if I had to point to just one, I’d say it’s the fact that, when the Deathly Hallows are introduced, it just confuses everything. There was already a perfectly good “MacGuffin” in the horcruxes, it seemed to me that the Deathly Hallows were simply too much to deal with. This flaw isn’t fatal to the book by itself, but it combines with some other issues to make it my least favorite Harry Potter book. It put me off the franchise to such an extent I didn’t even think of it when writing this post.
The thing is, all these ideas are good by themselves; the Prince is funny, the Collectors are scary and the Deathly Hallows are an adequate plot-driving device–but they just don’t fit in well with the rest of the story. It’s not a fatal flaw–as I’ve said, Grand Duke is one of my favorite G&S works, and Mass Effect 2 is still a great game–but it can be quite jarring.