Friday, June 12, 2009

Readers' Rants

Yesterday on Twitter I posed the question: What annoys you most when reading a novel? Did I get answers. In the space of two hours, around 80 came in, and after that they kept coming. Readers, here are your rants. I chose not to categorize or consolidate, instead listing them as they came in on Twitter and Facebook. That way writers will see your actual words. Writers--beware. These readers are highly annoyed! And as you'll see, many couldn't refrain from listing more than one answer.


I can only pick one thing that annoys me? Probably the single greatest thing is cardboard characters. Or stupid characters.

When the main character has a strange/long name, like "Hummingbird", or using their FULL name every time they're referenced.

When there's TOO much bkgrnd info on characters, where it digresses altogether frm the story line.

When it's choppy and disjointed. Like going from one idea to another without a good foundation or setup.

When characters do things that make NO SENSE.

When the writer thinks I'm too stupid to know what's going on. Sentences like "Brad was mad."

An ending that leaves loose ends. I like closure. But I also don't want resolution to feel forced or rushed.

2nd most annoying: "Stilted dialogue," he gasped, "characters speaking as if they were writing their lines before speaking them."

No actual plot. Hard to read when the story is taking you every which way but where it should.

Lack of subtlety/assumption that reader is too think to figure it out.

Bad copyediting aside, the over use of proper names, as if author never heard of pronouns. Or is that the same thing?

Contrived plot, not enough character development, bad dialogue, a book that doesn't suck you in emotionally.

Mushy romance and slim, pretty characters, dainty women who's waist is smaller than a soup can (diameter) love at first sight.

Too many facts and figures! That's what annoys me. I want to get to the good stuff.

Predictability, poor sentence structure.

Carelessness on the part of the writer (& editor). Contrived story lines and emotions and experiences that don't ring true.

When charcters act way out of character and it doesn't make sense. BTW- I am a HUGE fan of your writing!

I'm only annoyed when writers pontificate like William Wordsworth. I like writers like Robert Frost, who let you see it urself.

Non linear storytelling.

Having to go back and re-read something because "who's Frank again? I thought He was Bob's roommate! Or was that the janitor?"

Too much detail.

Exposition in the dialogue/explaining to the reader.

When a novel is good but could be great with just a little better editing/rewriting. Disappointed when an author "settles".

Facebook Answers

Slow starts and predictability.

Slow start.... not enough action. I had a book to review and after 17 chapters I was still trying to figure out what was going on....

A main character I could care less about.

I HATE having to study a glossary, memorize a map and learn an ancient language just so I can keep up with a story line!!!!!

When the last 60 pages read like something the editor made the writer tack on to meet a word count when the story really has already ended. Or a mystery that resolves poorly.

A few...*head-hopping (aka: POV whiplash)*oft-repeated pet phrases or words *rushed or forced endings *detail-for-detail's sake (needs to have a purpose)... *characters with perfect lives *poorly-developed characters

Spelling mistakes. That's a huge pet peeve of mine. There are many novels that don't have proper spelling. In this day and age of computer spell checks, there is no excuse.

Getting interrupted when I'm trying to read! And too many characters with similar names. It gets confusing.

Over explaining everything. If you've ever read the novel "Howard's End" by E.M. Forrester, you'll understand!

When someone totally acts out of character!!

When the descriptions take away from the progression of the story.

Misspelled words. Really long chapters. People interrupting me while reading. :-)

Unbelievable plots.

Poor editing.

Ridiculous amounts of buildup with hardly any action to show for it. That's what really ticked me off about 3 out of the 4 Twilight books.

When I am forced to suspend reality. Fiction has to be believable. If it's not, there has to be an explanation as to why it's out of the ordinary.

When the author forgets details about their characters.

One element of Christian fiction that bugs me: when the character is down to their last crumb and a basket of food "miraculously" shows up on their doorstep!!

Tragic endings. It's not that I can't handle a well-done tragedy, but when I've invested and gotten so involved with a group of characters, I want it to work out in the end. Not necessarily the ending I was expecting -- I love a twist -- but a good ending, nonetheless.

Too much predictability. I love twists that I can't see coming!!

Another one - Christian books, where the non-Christian characters look at the Christian ones and say, "Why, they have something I don't have. They are so happy. I'm going to give my life to Christ right now. La ti da!" And happily ever after the way it never happens in real life.

Pages and pages of the characters feelings without any action at all and knowing exactly how the book will end after I read the first chapter.

When the flow stops and I have to sit there and try to figure out "where are they going with this?"

Needs to be a good balance between dialogue and no dialogue. Pages and pages without dialogue are hard to follow.

When I read something that seems inconsistent with something mentioned earlier in a novel.

When a woman is married to a guy she doesn't love, finds another guy that she does love but won't divorce the first. (Which I believe is the right thing to do.) But then, because she's "done what's right" God 'rewards' her by killing off her husband so she can marry the guy she loves. I think I've read 3 Christian romance novels like that lately.

When characters lack motivation for an action.

Definitely lack of motivation for an action, and a disappointing ending.

Being an author, my pet peeves are too much unnecessary filler (for length's sake), anti-climatic endings, and revealing the bad guy too early. I like grabber beginnings and endings. Love James Patterson's style -- page-turners, to-the-point, and short chapters, however, even his last two books lacked a WHAM ending. I like my beginnings and endings!

When I have to read a page of description...back to the story already! *too much pop culture *stagnant storyline.

A character I could care less about makes the book a yawner for me!

Predictable plots, wrapped-up-with-a-bow endings, lazy writing that lacks craft, artistry and emotion. I want literature.

Too much detail.

I can forgive almost anything if ending is juicy and satisfying. Rotten ending=book hitting wall, no matter how lovely before.

When a character acts out of character without a good reason *i don't mind sections of 'telling' once in a while, but when they're followed immediately by the 'showing' of that very thing just explained i show me, then, k? *when the author doesn't respect the intelligence of the reader. i really dislike the "Plot Summary for Dummies" sections in novels. for me, the joy of reading is all about discovery...and if the author has done a good job of telling the story, i'll have all i need to figure it out for myself.

Author intrusion. I hate to pop out of the character's POV.

When a character in a sequal does or says something that goes aganist something they did or said in a previous book, without a reason.

I agree with everyone who said slow starts!!

One of my biggest pet peeves is character names. There is no way I'm going to identify with a female character set in modern times with the name, say, Winifred...especially if there's no good reason given for her to have such a name! (My apologies to all the Winifreds out there.) Nor do I like the super-trendy names that some people bat around today. If I can't stomach the names, I will not read the book, let alone buy it. The other biggie is a story that doesn't know how it's supposed to be told. I could not believe it when I heard that Harlequin/Silhuoette books (I confess, I read serial romances) was launching Red Dress Ink, which would feature a line of romance novels where the guy doesn't always get the girl, and the girl is always an empowered female. I don't have anything against female empowerment, but frankly, I read to escape. I like happy endings. I don't mind certain things being left hanging to stoke the tension in a series, but not resolving appropriately? Yuck.

Endings where the resolution is no resolution. I just can't handle that.

Obvious typos that should have been caught during the editing process... when story lines do not have enough conflict.

I agree on the typos, they drive me to distraction! Where are the proofreaders??

Ohhhhh -- not checking simple information. I read one book, from a very popular author that was set in Atlanta on Labor Day. Everyone was wearing coats. Coats do not come out until November, at least. Really bugged me.

When people use too much dialogue with a southern twang and it takes so much effort to try to read.

So many twists and turns that the story is lost.

When you get to the end, and the author has lied to the reader. It's one thing to pull the wool over my eyes (ala Murder of Roger Ackroyd), it's another thing to make me feel betrayed by the writer.

How about too many characters? If there is a list of characters at the beginning of the book, I know I'm going to be doing a lot of page flipping to remember who's who.

Slow-moving, lack of resolution, cardboard characters, major editing flubs that weren't fixed before printing or more than a few typos/mechanical problems not edited out.

When a author has the characters doing nothing but whining and being depressive through the whole book. YUCK!

TYPOS, TYPOS, TYPOS. Why don't you wonderful writers send the manuscript through to about 10 friends before it gets printed. We'd all catch the typos. I even wrote to a magazine once to offer my editing help FREE of charge because there were so many errors just in two articles! Never heard back from them. :>)

When the author obviously doesn't really KNOW the characters, so their "voices" aren't consistent; I can't grasp who they are.

Sllloooow pacing. Scenes or subplots that seem unconnected to the main plot or characters.

Such complex storylines-have to flip back a few chapters to figure names/places out. UGH!

Obvious character development flaws & typos missed.

Stilted or uncharacteristic dialogue. Or worse- "As you know." But my all time most annoying feature in too many books? "Then." As in, "he picked up the pitcher, then poured a glass of water" and "He walked through the door. Then he said 'blah bla'." 99% of the time, the word "then" can simply be deleted and only improve the reading.

When the author inserts themselves in the story -no lie. Clive Cussler inserted himself in a "Dirk Pitt" adventure. Dirk and his girl were stuck in a no-win situation with the bad guys bearing down on them, stuck in the middle of the ocean. And suddenly, out of nowhere, the "famous author Clive Cussler" (his words, not mine) comes sailing in out of the blue, in his fancy shmancy ship to rescue them and he is also carrying a big gun/missile launcher to blow the bad guys' ship out of the water. I laughed hysterically and figured that if he could get published, so could I.

Those written in past tense. I like to be in the moment, in the present.

I read a lot of romance, so I have a romance-specific peeve. To me the wall-banger moment is when the heroine decides to sleep with the hero based on physical attraction alone, without even liking or respecting him. Eew.

(1) Lack of originality. Some stories you read, and you know the outcome by the third chapter because it seems you've read a hundred times before. (2) Lack of boldness. Especially in Christian fiction. Sure, it should be a safe place for readers, but characters should still be characters. Are the players in our novels as complex as the real-life, folks? Fictional characters, I think, should be even more daring or problematic. (3) Boring. Super slow starts are a turn-off for me. Some of Perreti's works have slow-paced out of the gate but managed to soar into a finale. Not everyone can overcome monotone openings.

When the narrator tells us character X isn't stupid, but character X keeps on doing/saying stupid things.

Invented words because the author is too lazy to write out the correct verbiage.

Inappropriate cussing as character building. Some cussing, but make it meaningful.

Having different POV sections w/in chapters. I recently started a novel not knowing it was switching between two main female characters. Confusing!

When the plot is completely unrealistic. I recently read a book by a very popular author where the whole plot hinged on a letter that fixed the whole "problem" that made up the plot--and yet the character who read the letter decided to "save it for later, just in case". Um, NO. Sorry. You don't fight for 200 pages to get people to believe you, then find a piece of solid evidence that backs up your claim, and then NOT show it to EVERYONE, IMMEDIATELY. It made me really angry, to be honest.

A S....L....O....W.... moving story. You know, like when we all had dial up.

When the first few pages don't immediately get you interested in what is to come.

The use of the first person for the whole book. An author has to be really good to make a good first person novel. Third person is so much better, in my humble opinion.

In a series, when the author rewrites parts of each previous book over and over. If the reader wants to know what your referring to, instead of explaining, let them go buy the earlier book! Most people who read books in series buy them from the first book to the last. By the last book, you can rereading all of the prior books and that's annoying!


Grady Houger said...

Excellent data!

Vanessa said...

YES - I agree to all of the above and have one to add. When writing a series, do not change the name of a character, even a minor one. I recently read a series where a child was called by his first name in two books, and in the third was suddenly being called by his middle name, with no explanation.

Sheila Deeth said...

Oh wow. Thank you for collecting all those. Lots of food for thought in editing my WIP.

Pam Halter said...

Very interesting ...

Sarah said...

I am sorry I missed the question :( I agree with all of the above except the cussing part (your books prove it - writers don't need to include cussing or even s** to have a great book) and the divorce part. Divorce is never an option and a woman or man who falls in love with someone else regardless of the circumstances of their marriage is emotional adultery and is looked at by God just as if they were physically comitting adultery. The one pet peeve is the women always have to be tiny, petite, drop dead gorgeous (men the same hunks, skinny but fit, etc) and having the perfect attitude, etc. Why can't the heroine be an overweight woman who is pretty with a realistic attitude sometimes happy, sometimes sad but loves life?

God bless,

Stephanie Reed said...

Interesting! I wish we knew the genres each commenter favors, for a little perspective. Also whether they review books or if they read for solely for pleasure.

But all in all, I'm gonna have to bookmark this page. :-)

Nicole said...

Some of the comments indicate a particular style of genre and writing. But there were some excellent points made. Stilted dialogue without contractions for contemporary conversation drives me up a wall. Shallow, unlikable, one dimensional characters as protag/heroine tops my list.

I know someone said "too much detail" which implicates what kind of books they prefer. I say insufficient detail because I prefer (and write) sagas.

K.M. Weiland said...

Ah-ha! My response got listed first. I'm feeling very special... ;)

This is such a great list. Advice right from the horse's mouth!

Daniel Smith said...

Agreed - a great list and resource. Does anyone have the time to summarize/count-up similar rants? I would but I don't and I'm curious where each would fall.

Brandilyn, thanks for posting!

Genre Reviews said...

I didn't know about this question when it was originally asked, but I thought I'd add a comment in case authors think "Those written in past tense. I like to be in the moment, in the present" reflects the tastes of all readers. I much prefer the past tense.

I can never get into a story written in present tense, no matter how well-told, because people don't tell stories in present tense in real life (unless you're a 'valley girl').

Also, in the few novels I've read that used present tense, I felt the author was trying to add tension and immersion that was otherwise lacking. As in, they were using the present tense as an attempt to cover up a problem in the writing. Maybe I'm wrong, but that was my impression.