More Pet Peeves

Check out the original list. Evidently I’m not done yet. Here are some more tips for writers who want to avoid irritating me their readers:

  • Avoid repetitive statements. He shrugged his shoulders. What else, pray tell, can one shrug?
  • Give your characters distinct names. I don’t mean unusual, necessarily, just noticeably different from each other. Once I had to quit a book after only a few chapters because I couldn’t keep Johnny, Jack, Jackie, Jerry, and Jimmy straight in my head. (No, I’m not making that up.)
  • Be consistent with your names. It’s fine to refer to Jack Smith as either “Jack” or as “Smith”. You can even call him “Smith” in the narration and “Jack” in the dialog from time to time. Just don’t switch back and forth constantly. Pick one and stick with it.
  • Have someone read your book aloud to you, preferably someone who’s never seen it before. Make notes while you listen, but don’t read along. Realize that this monotone is how every reader will “hear” your book in their head.
  • Careful with description. If the clouds around the mountain have nothing to do with moving the story forward, don’t spend three paragraphs on them. Readers don’t want to be stuck in a white room, but we also don’t care about the cuckoo clock’s personal history unless it becomes important later.
  • If you want to write a movie, write a movie. Don’t write a book. I cannot stress this enough.

Any more I’m forgetting?

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10 Comments.

  1. I just read a series of books where cell phones did nothing but “jangle.” And their cell phones were called quite often. Every time. Her cell phone jangled. She was interrupted by the jangle of her cell phone, etc.

    I can’t stand that word now. It was cute the first time. By the end of the 5th book in the series, I was desperate for the author to use the word “rang.” Anything other than “jangled!”

    • Oh man, I hate it when authors pick a word and attach themselves to it. Stephenie Meyer is the same way with “chagrin”.

      For the record, my cell phone doesn’t jangle. Usually it just vibrates, but even when it’s not on silent it still doesn’t jangle.

  2. I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned avoidance of the word “said” and other invisible words. It seems to me you could add to the list by cribbing from your Twilight reviews. :-)

    • Man, if I cribbed from my Twilight reviews to make a pet peeve list, it’d either be incredibly long (tons of specific examples) or terribly short (“1. Bad writing.”).

      I don’t usually have strong opinions on “said” or adverbs, but when it’s glaring enough that I even notice it, that’s pretty terrible.

  3. I am particularly annoyed by the “look in the mirror so I can describe the main character” trick.
    (e.g. “She looked into the mirror and saw green eyes and a pale, round face staring back at her.”)

    There are certain authors of thrillers whose female characters always look like supermodels and have overcharged sex drives.

    Any fantasy or science fiction novel that relies heavily on a prophecy about the chosen one, especially when said chosen one can’t figure out for almost an entire book that they are, in fact, the chosen one.

    Characters who hate each other at the beginning of the novel, even though we know they’re going to fall fantastically in love by the end. Seriously, I have never heard of this happening in real life. If I detest someone, it’s generally for a good reason.

    • Oh man, you’re so right about the mirror. I can’t believe I forgot that one. I’m not sure why so many writers are obsessed with eye color, either. I don’t really care if the narrator has green-gold eyes. How is that important?

      As for female characters who are unbelievably attractive and sexual with little more personality, that is unfortunately not limited to thrillers. I’d go as far as to say that most (male) science fiction and fantasy authors can’t write a believable female character.

      Ooh, the hate that turns into love! Yeah, it’s so ridiculous. I’ve never started out hating someone and ended up liking them. (Sometimes the opposite.) I’ve also noticed that whichever member of the opposite sex the protagonist meets first is the eventual love interest. I am loathe to even imagine how my life would have turned out if that happened to me.

      • “I’ve also noticed that whichever member of the opposite sex the protagonist meets first is the eventual love interest. I am loathe to even imagine how my life would have turned out if that happened to me.”

        Although, to be fair, the story generally doesn’t begin with the protagonist’s birth.

        • That’s true. And I haven’t had many traumatizing adventures during which I got to know someone well enough to fall in love.

  4. Rebecca beat me to it. The word “said” works unbelievably well when something has been spoken. Words don’t need to be “spewed, eloquated,” and certainly not “ejaculated.” Keep it simple, folks.

    I also read a short story once where every single character had an amazingly unique and odd name. It was amazingly distracting. Distinct, fine, but to make them so odd to the point that the reader starts going, “Why do all of these people have names that make it sound like their parents were trying to make them key characters fighting for center stage in someone’s short story?” is probably not what you should be going for.

    • Non-said words are especially annoying when they simply repeat what was obvious in the dialog:

      “Yes,” I agreed.
      “Sorry,” he apologized.

      I hear you with the weird names. That’s my problem with reading Crime and Punishment right now – the names are all so long and foreign that I have trouble remembering any of them, much less keeping them all straight. That’s more of a cultural barrier than any fault on the writer’s part (though I do want to throttle Fyodor from time to time and demand to know why this book is SO DANGED LONG), but overcomplicated names are a common problem in one of my favorite genres: fantasy.

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