Monday, October 12, 2009

Pet Peeves

What are your pet peeves in writing? Not slips or error you yourself make in your writing, but, rather, what brings you up short when you’re reading a book?

Saturday a week ago, I fell. I wrenched my knee, sprained my ankle and broke a toe. Yep, that was me you saw sprawled out on the concrete in the rain. Someday I’ll write a post about the whole incident and the follow-up at the medical clinic. No, wait, I’ll save that for my comedy routine.

Since then, I’ve gone from my ankle getting better to hurting more. Which got me to thinking about pet peeves when reading.

Even before my own adventures into clumsiness, it would drive me a tad nuts when a character would get beaten up or shot or pushed down a flight of stairs, then the next morning be fine with nary a mention of pain or stiffness or changing bandages.

Kablam. He’s down. Voila. He’s up. Unless he’s James Bond, he can’t do that. He’s gonna limp or favor an arm or scream when his girlfriend rips off the old bandage and puts on a new one, then pass out when he glimpses the gangrene setting into the uncleaned knife wound. Or, at the least, like me, he’ll have to go down the stairs one at a time - step by step by step by step.
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  1. Oh yeah, that step, by step, by step sounds really painful. I'm sorry you hurt yourself. I hope you're feeling well now.

  2. I have lots of pet peeves with books - too many to mention here. But one is when an author writes up a character as if he/she can drink and party all night long, and he/she is like middle aged, and then get up the next morning and not have a hangover or dry mouth or even so much as a headache and leap right back into action. Puh-lease ... keep it HUMAN, willya?

    OK one more. "Data dumps." I hate it when a character is introduced with an entire lengthy paragraph of the author stopping the story dead to unload every imaginable detail about the new character from appearance to dress to emotional makeup to favorite color and ice cream flavor. Keep the story moving, please, and fill me in within the story line as we move along.

    The Old Silly

  3. Sorry to hear about your fall. Hope the ankle feels better soon. I dislike endings that don't end the story - just leave you hanging wondering what happened. It's like the author got tired of writing and quit.

  4. Oh you poor thing!
    hope you heal quickly.

    My pet peeves with books is 'wordiness' Tell the story with just the right amount of words. Not 20000 extra! I skip by long paragraphs and flowery descriptions UNLESS they are brilliant. But they had better be brilliant. Cause it drives me nuts!

  5. Y'all are coming up with some really good pet peeves. Jane, I've read a book that really didn't end. It left everything hanging - a set up for the next book!

    Tabitha & Marvin, I'm reading a series now that will have long paragraphs of weapon descriptions (for example). I scan through those paragraphs to make sure I'm not missing something, then keep going. There's enough action in the series to keep me hooked.

  6. Oof! Hope you're better soon, Helen.

    Yes, that used to bug me when I watched cartoons with the kids. HOW many times can Wile E. Coyote fall off a cliff and survive?!

    I don't like books where a character I liked and trusted does something stupid to further the plot.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  7. Marvin said "But one is when an author writes up a character as if he/she can drink and party all night long, and he/she is like middle aged, and then get up the next morning and not have a hangover or dry mouth or even so much as a headache and leap right back into action."

    Ahem. It just takes a lot of practice but that's totally doable. The ULTRA-realistic version is the character who parties every night and reaches for a drink the second they're awake the next afternoon.

    Oh and related to data dumps - is the impromptu speech setting out the character's plan for the next half dozen chapters. You know the one that nobody interrupts or questions.

    And faux spirituality, or anything that might be the hand of god at work.

    Or bogus science that is invented to patch over plot holes.

    Or.. hold on I need to take a breath here.... or sketchy business plans that have no possibility of ever working, financial wizardry that hasn't been legal anywhere for fifty years, engineering company takeovers through stock manipulation that would see you locked up for insider trading.

  8. I actually did that in a book once. Didn't catch it on the first re-write, but on the second I realized that my character should be pretty much non-mobile for the end of the book. Hmmm.

    As far as reading goes, I don't mind when characters do dumb things, but when they do it over and over and over and only learn change in the last two pages, I want to shoot something.

    I hope you feel better soon!!!

  9. Sorry about your fall, hope you're on the mend! It seems that an injured character showing longterm evidence of the injury is a great way to add depth, too, showing them dealing with it.

    My peeve is when little inconsistencies pass by everyone in the writing process, from author to publisher. I recently read a book by a top selling author, and one of her characters woke in the middle of the night, past midnight. The rain was pouring down in a deluge, hitting the windows, etc. Without turning on a light, she got up and walked to the kitchen, guided ONLY BY THE MOONLIGHT!! Huh? I thought it was pouring rain. Many people were not paying attention to that passage.

  10. Hi Helen,
    Ooh, hope you're healing quickly. Falls are so discombobulating. One minute you're up, the next minute you're down, not sure how you got there. I have fallen a lot,so I know.
    As for pet peeves in reading, I hate when there's a typographical error or a wrong name or some detail that's incorrect.

  11. I sort of like it when they do dumb things, too, as long as they're realitstic dumb things. It makes them more real. But if what they do is a mere contrivance to further the plot, I agree -- that's a pet peeve.

    I hate it when I see "talking heads." That is, dialogue between two people where the reader has no idea where they are, what they're doing (other than talking), what's going on around them, what they're feeling, etc. Some of this should be evident from the dialogue, but this reader still wants some more scene-setting. And it needs to be relevant to the tension being created by the dialogue.

    Hope that ankle feels better!

  12. Another pet peeve: typos. ;-)

    I meant "realistic"

  13. I'm sorry to hear about your fall, Helen. I hope you recover soon.

    I agree with Marvin about information dumping and too much description. A little goes a long way.

  14. I'm so sorry that you're hurt! Take the time to recover.

    Honestly, I've never thought about it in a book or movie, but now that you say it ~ so true and now... geezz, I'll recognize it more in books. For me though, when I read a book, in my mind it's just "a story" so those "not real" bits of reality are acceptable.

  15. Pet peeves: people who can get their butts kicked and should clearly be dead, but somehow manage to say a wisecrack then beat up ten bad guys.

    Stephen Tremp

  16. That is a good point! I tried to avoid that unrealistic scenario in my own works, too.
    Pet peeve? Excessive description! I have an imagination - allow me to use it. Pages of description drive me nuts.
    Oh, and one other - anti-heroes. I am not into them. The hero doesn't have to be perfect, but he can't be despicable either.

  17. If you put all of us together, we'd probably have enough vent-up frustration and pet peeves, we could kick some buttock. Except I might not be able to join in. Considering all the pet peeves, I might be too busy rewriting.

  18. Good point!

    It makes me wonder if I make my characters lives believable. Point well taken.

    Too much description can be overwhelming, I like when it is weaved in and felt through the character.

    Praying for your recovery!

  19. The more I read, the more pet peeves I get! The book I'm currently reading bugs me because it shifts POV characters within the same scene. It jolts me right out of my imaginative stream.

  20. W, head-hopping pulls me right out of the story. I find it happening in a lot of the books I edit.

  21. Oh, my, hope you're soon better, Helen. Falls are scary and sometimes going for care is scarier.
    So many of my peeves have already been listed, but here's one: too much obvious foreshadowing. "I didn't think my day could get worse, but I was wrong," or "I didn't realize I'd soon regret not taking my gun." Be subtle or leave it out.

  22. Goodness what a tumble!! Sorry to hear about your accident. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery!


  23. I hope you're feeling better!
    Books that don't have an ending. I mean, even if you're going to do a sequel, it can still have an ending!

  24. I'm with Elizabeth; supposedly clever characters doing something unbelievably stupid drives me nuts. Also characters that are just SO charming, good-looking and charismatic that every man, woman and sheep look at them with desire. Oh, just stop!

    Hope everything heals quickly, Helen.


  25. Great points being made here about what works and what doesn't work. One of my pet peeves is writers who tell you what the character is going to do, then shows it. Just skip the telling part, okay?

    Get well, Helen.

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  28. Oh Helen, I hope you're better soon. I know my 45 year old body takes a heck of a lot longer to sort itself out nowadays after a fall. I'm no longer very rubbery.

    I recently read a novel about a female Egyptian pharaoh and she kept using the word puny. I know she'd likley not even be speaking English, but puny seems very modern to me. It didn't work.

    Like Marvin I hate long descriptions of characters, let the details that are important come out somehow else. We don't need a modified bullet list.

  29. Sorry about your big owies, Helen. And yes, I hate when I read something in a novel and think, "That would never happen" or "People would never ever do that."

    My favorite example is a romance I read years ago where the heroine, after having five kids, crossing the plains on the Oregon Trail, almost dying of various maladies, and turning 45, finally marries the man of her dreams. And she looks like an 18-year-old virgin bride, beautiful and pristine.


  30. I'm with you - keep the character somewhat grounded by the laws of reality, at least! Sorry to hear about your fall. Hope you are mending well.

    Nancy, from Realms of Thought

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  32. Conda, your added "unh-uh" had me laughing.

    Thank you all for your good wishes. I'm doing okay. Little pain, little trouble, but mending. You know how it is: stairs still have to be climbed, dog has to be walked, dishes have to be washed, etc. etc. etc.

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  34. Hope you're getting all the TLC you need to get better!

    I'm reading Beneath the Marble Sky, a historical yet fictional romance set during the days of the Mughal Empire in India. The author, a white male, writes in the first person as the Emperor's daughter. Pet peeves? So many but I will mention one: early in the book, he mentions that wine flows in the harem. My first thought was huh? Really? But then I have not studied Indian history or the Muslim culture in India and I presume he did his research, so I must be the one who doesn't know. Two chapters later he goes on to say how alcohol is taboo for Muslims yet wine flowed at the Princess' wedding. But wait, don't they drink it every day anyway in the harem? And smoke opium?

    I also find it immensely irritating that he injects arguments of the 20th & 21st century into a much older time period. His audience is obviously not Indian or South Asian so it seems like he has a deliberate need to say some things that would have been taken for granted or viewed from another perspective in those days. I could go on... especially about this book!

  35. Manish, it does seem as though this author didn't do his research. Or he has an agenda he's trying to get across.

  36. I feel your pain! Hope you get all well real soon.

    Pet peeves - too many characters to remember. Another one is names that are similar, because I'm bad at names to begin with. I don't need an author to get me more mixed up. Best not to use even names that begin with the same letter.

    Morgan Mandel

  37. For nonfiction, nothing stops me in my tracks faster than the use of "he/she" or "s/he" or the alternating use of "he" and "she."

    For fiction, excessive passive voice grates on my internal ear. As does one adjective or adverb after another -- if you have to add all those extras, you probably should have found a better, more vivid verb to replace the adverbs or found a way to show the action rather than rely on those adjectives.

    Walt Shiel

  38. Ginger,

    I hope you feel better soon. That sounds like a nasty tumble.

    One of my peeves is when the writer tries to convince me he's as hardboiled as Chandler by having his main character quote Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade or a similar character. A variation on it is something I sometimes see with women writers whose characters are always asking WWNDD? What Would Nancy Drew Do? I'd rather see characters stand on their own instead of being propped up by other characters.

    Another peeve I have is pets. I have no objection to a pet hanging around a main character's home, or even licking the hero's face to cheer him up after a bad day, but I hate it when a little fur ball chooses just the right moment to nip the bad guy and save the day.

  39. Love all these pet peeves. Mark, I'd never heard of WWNDD. And I agree, I'm not much into pets saving the day.

    Morgan, I agree with too many characters, esp. with similar names. If I have to create a Legend to keep up with the characters, you've lost me.

    Uh-oh, Walt, I'm guilty of using the s/he pronoun. I'll try to remember to choose one sex or the other and stick with it.

  40. Ach, Helen, I'm sorry about your fall! My pet peeve is when dialog or mode of speech does not change much between characters. Cadence is the same, exclamations are the same. Makes me nuts.

  41. Definitely, Lisa.

    I should compile this list and post it so we can all keep it when we edit!

  42. I agree with a lot of these, but perhaps most with publishingtrenches regarding the use of passive voice and adverbs. A good action verb doesn't need an adverb.

  43. Poor Helen, hope you're better now. I mainly read romance and really helpless heroines will drive me nuts. Come on, get a job, get an education, surely you can fare better than crying for the help of the hero.

    Bargain with the Devil

  44. Two things bug me greatly in my preferred genre, speculative fiction. First, when the characters act like they haven't a neuron between them and are obvious puppets of the writer and slaves to the writer's plot. Too Stupid to Live is what I've seen this called, but it's really authorial intrusion to the nth

    Second, I dislike illogical world building. If there is a specific technology that is key in an sf novel, then it is pretty much a given that the tech is considered by teh characters. And that includes permutations, extrapolations, military, medical or other uses for the tech. Some will be good, some bad. But if there is a key tech, it's got to be treated almost as a character in the world, as it's that important.

    Maybe that second peeve of mine is not that high on other people's lists, but to me it makes the world resonate and seem more real when relevant details are fleshed out.

  45. I hate it when I'm reading a mystery and there is no way on earth to figure it out until the author reveals a here-to-now unknown clue in the last ten pages. Or worse, while making the actual arrest. No fair!

    Hope you are feeling better by now.


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