This blog post is inspired by the forum thread Pet Peeves in Published Books on the nanowrimo.org website.
I have made a list of six trends that annoy me in books. They can be things like style, plot devices or character development. The list is ranked from very annoying to mildly irritating.
Too many irrelevant points of view (POVs)
I am not a fan of a lot of different POVs in a book. I realise that sometimes it is important to the plot to see some of the actions from another person’s point of view. Where a writer loses me as a reader is when there are too many POVs early on in the book. Especially where most of the persons whose point of view it is do not get enough “screen time” so it is hard for me as a reader to determine whether this person is even worth investing any emotion in. I recently read a book where in the first four pages of the book, six different POVs were used and I stopped reading. I am not saying that any book with more than two POVs will be put down by me prematurely, as some authors can do it very effectively – see Elizabeth George. But when it feels that most of the POVs are irrelevant, I quit.
Randomly switching POVs
A lot of different POVs are in and of itself bad enough, but what gets me annoyed as well is when the point of view switches in the middle of a paragraph. I like to know my narrator and I find it very jarring and annoying when the narrator changes in the middle of the narration. Just wait until the scene is over and then switch to another point of view. It’s much clearer that way.
Subplot taking over main plot
This is more relevant for series of books. I like reading series where the same main character features, and this works especially well in mysteries and thrillers. But when the main character’s personal life becomes more important than the mystery they are trying to solve, I stop reading the series. One example of this is Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series. I quite enjoyed them in the beginning and then I just got annoyed by Scarpetta and Lucy and all the other secondary characters I didn’t care about.
Characters have to be likable for me. I have to be able to identify with them at least on some level. Mary Sues are characters (mostly female) who are absolutely 100% perfect. They are beautiful, smart, strong and never do anything wrong. They are basically the author’s dream version of her-/himself. I like characters to have at least some real flaws. I don’t like to read about superwoman, I like to read more realistic fiction.
Confusion of speaker in dialogue
I understand that as a writer, you don’t always want to litter your dialogue with “he said” “she said”. But at the same time, the reader needs to know who is speaking and unless you can make it very clear in the dialogue who is saying what, a little speaker tag would be nice. It saves me from having to go back down the dialogue muttering “he said” “she said” to myself.
Of course there are moments in a book when the author has to explain some things to the reader. Some authors choose to have an interaction between two characters where one character explains what needs to be explained to the other character. Other authors choose to have the character think about the explanation. Sometimes it just cannot be avoided. But what gets me are authors who have spent a lot of time researching something and who do not want to let all that research go to waste. So they dump all that information into the story, even though it has no relevance to the plot. If that happens in a book, I generally skip those parts. But an author who does this in all his or her books can be guaranteed I will pass on their next book.
So these were a few of my “pet peeves”. I try very hard to edit these out of my book, wherever I see that I made the mistake of including them. This list is very personal and what I find annoying may be a delight for other people. Join in in the comments and let me know what you find annoying in a book.