I like most of what I read, and even books with flaws are often enjoyable…but there are some things that just bug me. A recent conversation with a friend involving a small amount of ranting on both sides about bookish disappointments (I have conversations like that a lot…) inspired me to write up a list of bookish pet peeves, in no particular order.
1) Instaromance: I get very annoyed by love stories where a couple meets and are madly in love all at once despite knowing nothing whatsoever about each other, or having any meaningful interaction. Bonus negative points if this new life-altering love causes them to prioritize their new love interest over family, friends or comrades in arms. Because that’s just not cool.
2) Slow-Burn Romances with No Transition: I love the opposite of Instaromances–Slow-Burn Romances (think When Harry Met Sally) but there are potential pitfalls here too. A good Slow-Burn Romance has me eagerly awaiting the payoff–the moment when each half of the couple realizes their romantic feelings, and the moment when they communicate it to each other. This could all be simultaneous or it could be three separate moments, but I get very disappointed if there’s no Moment at all. (As Harry told Sally, “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” And I want to read the realization, and the moment the rest of their lives starts.)
3) Nonreacting Characters: This one comes right from my writing experience, trying to make sure my characters are reacting. When the problem exists in a book, I spend a lot of time demanding, “But how do you feel about that?” as momentous things happen and the point of view character says/does/feels nothing at all (I’m looking at you, Woodcutter Sisters!)
4) Lost POV Characters During Stories: This is an extremely specific example of the above problem, but one I’ve been noticing lately. The point of view character is listening to other character(s) tell a story or have an extended conversation and…completely disappears for pages at a time. It’s different if we actually get a section break and a clear story-within-a-story, but when we’re still physically present listening to the story, the POV character should respond, if only mentally or emotionally.
5) Abusive Boyfriends as Romantic Heroes: Holding a girl captive to protect her is not romantic. It is not okay to sneak into a girl’s bedroom without permission while she’s sleeping. Self-harming behavior to manipulate a romantic partner, or due to distress about a romantic partner, is not healthy. Throwing a fit and then blaming it on your romantic partner for making you angry while she was just setting healthy boundaries–also not okay. All of that is, sadly, human and could be valid story elements…unless it’s all presented as fine and romantic and look how dedicated he is!! No. Just no. (And yes, I am definitely looking at you, Underworld!) This applies just as much if it’s an abusive girlfriend, but that’s much more uncommon.
6) Far Too Beloved Heroines: I don’t like it when relationships are made too easy. This could happen to either gender but it seems like it’s mostly heroines–everyone they meet wants to be friendly or to help them, every eligible young man crushes on them, everyone around them clearly understands that they are the main character and very, very special. It’s just not how the world ever is–and I have a special soft spot for characters who aren’t being valued by the people around them.
7) Amazing Premises, Terrible Follow-Through: This is pretty self-explanatory. But bad books are even worse when they had a wonderful concept, when the author promised to tell me the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West, or turn a princess into a frog, or explore the experience of rejection.
8) Passive POV Characters: You might call this the Sleeping Princess Problem–when the main character of the story does nothing to actually impact the story but wait around for someone else to solve the problems. Usually it’s a female lead, and that just makes it worse.
9) Uninvolved POV Characters: Similar but not quite the same as above, this is when we’re in the wrong head. We’re in the point of view of someone who is not the major character, and ends up being nothing but an observer, keeping us distant from the real action. It absolutely can work for a non-main character to tell the story (The Great Gatsby comes to mind), but it also can completely fail. This was one of the flaws of The Phantom of Manhattan (although the mere title probably suggests some of the many other flaws…)
10) Arrogant Retellers: I am very much a reteller of tales, but I like to think I regard those who came before with affection, and an open mind to all others who wish to traverse the same paths. And so I get annoyed by stories purporting to be the ONE TRUE TALE of whatever story of origin. This can be done to comic effect, but too often it’s done in a way that seems to dismiss every other version. And if you’re retelling something with a clear, specific, beloved source material (this seems to happen to Sherlock Holmes a lot) and start out by explaining how Dr. Watson got it all wrong…not cool. Just not cool.
And now you have some insights into what I try to avoid in my own writing, and what I don’t want to see in someone else’s! Is there anything you especially don’t want to encounter when you’re reading a book?