Even the biggest book enthusiasts have some bats in their belfries about things in books that drive them insane. Today tell your readers about five things that drive you crazy in books.
This one is a little harder than yesterday’s…I could go for some obvious peeves, like bad grammar, but if we’re talking about books that went through the conventional publishing method, (hopefully) that isn’t an issue (but by mentioning it here I get to have SIX things! Cheated the system! I also don’t like the sassy best friend when it’s obvious the main character wouldn’t be able to put up with a sassy best friend! Seven! Woot!)
It occurs to me (as I sit here cogitating) that things I don’t like in some books are essential to the success of others. Maybe a book makes you feel claustrophobic or the action is non-stop or you really don’t like a character you know you are supposed to like. Or maybe the style of the book works with one story but not with another. Having said all that, here are the five I came up with:
- Killing Off a Sympathetic Character if the Reason They are Killed is Contrived or Only Done for Shock Value. J.K. Rowling said in an interview that she had originally planned on killing off Ron Weasley at the end. Look, lady – wasn’t it bad enough that you killed off Sirius (oh sorry – what’s the statute of limitations for spoilers in books?) before he and Harry could spend time together? Axing Ron would have been INFINITELY worse and I think the general public would have demanded – and received – a rewrite. However, killing off Fred Weasley was a bold stroke that added a very realistic (albeit sad) dimension to the novel. We have to believe that it was life or death with Voldemort, right?
- Insta-Insta Love. An author only has a certain number of pages to convince the reader that the two romantic leads have a thing for each other and it’s real. Even if the story is being told in third person, we know how at least one of the leads honestly feels. So we, the readers, are privy to their innermost thoughts and feelings and know (most likely) in what direction they will move. That’s why some things aren’t a total surprise to us (like those two falling for each other). However, sometimes it seems like either one or both characters are easily surmounting mighty obstacles with a single bound (I hate you! I love you!). There needs to be some drama if there’s a reason they haven’t been together in the first place.
- Letting Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story. What I mean here is making the plot, dialogue and characters equal to facts about the time period, the history and methods of the otherworldly beings that you are encountering or other details that just aren’t important and bog a story down. Yes, absolutely the reader needs to know the tone or the novel, the environment, the history, etc., but not all in the first chapter of the book. If this information can be spread out (or removed to eliminate unnecessary book bloat), all the better. I read a book last month about kids traveling back to the time of the dinosaurs. It was an adventure story, for criminy’s sake. I felt like I was getting a lecture on the order, family, genus and species of every dino in the book and would be tested on it later. On the other hand, though, don’t put the need-to-know information too close to when the reader needs to know it, either. “Oh yeah, didn’t I tell you that?”
- Naming Characters That Will Never be Encountered Again. I read a book recently where the main character was walking down the school hallway and EVERYONE they passed was given a name. A full name, first and last. Even though the MC didn’t speak to any of them. Then, one character that the MC actually ran into and had a conversation with, they didn’t name. What? Regardless, none of those characters were ever mentioned again in the whole book. When a person in a book gets a name, especially a last name, that tells my reader brain that this person will most likely reappear in the story. Now, I’m not saying to never give one-timers names, especially if it makes reading it more awkward (using he/she him/her and there’s 4 unnamed characters, for example); just don’t feel obligated.
- “Middle” Sequels with No Plots or Story Arcs. My biggest peeve (next to bad grammar, of course) is the ol’ follow-up let-down. You’ve just finished this amazing book. Freshly told, great characters, blah blah blah. You can’t WAIT to get your hands on the sequel. One rainy day, when you are alone all day in the house, you crawl into that window seat (you know, the one with all the pillows, just the right amount of light and the fridge/snack dispenser?) and you begin to read. BUT NOTHING HAPPENS. The author spends their time in the volume rehashing what happened in the first book (which is no longer new and exciting because you know all of the secrets) then fills the rest of the book with set-ups for the next book. (I actually read a book where this happened in the FIRST volume, but I digress.) One word: BORING! It makes me not want to read anything else. The series needs an over-arching arc but each book needs its own as well. It’s OK to rehash (let’s say remind instead) since it may have been a year since you read the previous book, but seriously, how many people are going to jump into a series in the second book? I am not a believer that these kinds of books need to function as a single. Need I say it? The best example of arcs is Harry Potter. Hands down, end of story.
Cheyenne, I am going to get you to finish Harry Potter yet.
Tomorrow’s entry: Skeletons on My Bookshelf.