Thursday, September 20, 2012

Say it with me, annoying your readers is bad!

Today I want to look at things that bug readers. Now, no writer wants to be the person who annoys their readers so much they fling your book across the room, flush it down the toilet, or turn it into compost for their garden. So then, why does it happen? We’ve all seen it, whether it be in an unpublished work, or a book on the best seller shelf- those moments that make us cringe and think, “why didn’t they see that?!” (And in the published book, “Why didn’t the agent, and slew of editors see that?!”)

I can’t address why the professionals miss things (if someone can, please share!) but for the writers, I have to say we were blinded by the work. Writers work at a far different pace than readers, we see things at a slower speed and sometimes forget that reading is a much faster event. (Try reading your work as a regular book- NOT as an editing writer- it’ll look a bit different me thinks!)
Awareness of our blind spots is the best way to make sure we nip them in the bud. We can’t count on agents and editors to catch these things, but readers sure will! Looking around a few sites I found some basic complaints readers have, and maybe some ideas to keep them out of your work.

Wasteful sub plots- I call these wasteful because they engage the reader’s attention- but don’t actually impact the story, the character, or anything. (You could call them Tom Bombadil’s.)  Sometimes they are the result of a pantser who changed her mind and ended up with a non-used sub-plot, other times it’s just something really cool the author wanted to slip in. The worst reason though is when an author wants to throw the reader off track. Don’t do it. All it does is annoy folks. Make every scene and sub-plot do something!

Repeat-itis- Even though you may feel that it’s been too long since you mentioned that the lead character has piercing blue eyes and a chiseled jaw, most likely the reader still remembers. Trust that if you tell a reader about how the character feels about the betrayal from their best friend since grade school on page four, they still recall it on page forty. This is a big speed related point- we may take days (or weeks) to write a few chapters; but the reader might chew them up in a single setting. Solution: Don’t repeat basic information. Fight the urge to remind the reader of basic details concerning your characters looks or feelings. If you did it well enough the first time, it will stick with your reader. If ya didn’t, ya got a whole ‘nother set of problems.

Cliché-invisibility- Clichés exist for a reason, at one point eons ago (when monks were hand copying books perhaps) they worked. Now they are a lazy-writer’s way of getting out of work. Some folks feel they can just toss them in for the rough draft, then fix them in edits. Problem is, they have the ability to turn invisible! Right before your eyes, the evil cliché vanishes! Only to pop out with horrific clarity at the poor reader! Solution: Don’t use them even as place holders. Take the time if the rough draft and find a better way to say it. Watch for them in their favorite lurking spots- character descriptions and emotions.

Out of sight but not out of mind- Having something important happen off stage. Now one would really wonder why an author would do this- but alas it has happened. And I saw a complaint specifically aimed at a VERY well published author for this very thing. My only thinking in terms of reasons would be laziness, wanting to maintain some sort of mystery about the event, or just didn’t feel like writing the scene that day. If it is to keep a mystery, make sure that it is covered later! And be aware you may be risking pissing off readers. If it’s a scene that’s important to the story- it really should be shared with the reader on stage.

Ok, that’s four- there are tons more I'm sure  What ones can you come up with? And better- what ideas do you have to stop them from happening?
Thanks for stopping by!


  1. A particular peeve of mine is poorly edited work: grammatical errors, errors of usage and the like.

  2. One of my big pet peeves is heroines who are too nice. I mean, yes, I want to like the main character. But having her try over and over again to help other characters who are nothing but mean to her doesn't endear her to me, it just makes her look stupid.

    Of course, as a writer, I find myself falling into the too-nice trap all the time.

  3. My pet peeve is boring beginnings - where not much of anything happens. I like action, the promise of change, conflict, suspense, anything, really - just not pages of description or interior monologue about how much the heroine hates her life. Thank goodness for free Kindle previews!

  4. In action scenes where everything goes perfectly. In my critique group a guy is writing an action adventure novel. Lot's of weapons and manly men. At the last group he brought in 10 pages of military action, blowing up bridges and destroying train tunnels, etc. After a few comments by others I told him, these guys are too perfect. They never make mistakes and things never go wrong throughout the whole 10 pages. I told him he needed to put flaws in, raise the tension and conflict by having things go wrong, have somebody put in danger and they only have minutes to get him out or the enemy will overrun them and kill them. He said, oh, that comes later, and we went back and forth on that until I kind of snapped and said that doesn't matter, your reader only has these pages and not what's in the author's head. I don't know if I got through to him, I'm just glad I didn't tell him about David Maass who says tension and conflict in every page, heck, every paragraph. LOL

    Another beef is when the protagonist is weak or stupid or, worse, a victim. Not just the classic too stupid to live heroine, it's also the ones who know there's something bad going on but refuses to call for help so they end in serious trouble and have to be rescued when all they had to do was call a cop.

  5. When a book is two points of view and then out of nowhere a totally unrelated point of view is put in for only one scene. Takes me right out of the story.

  6. My pet peeve is when a character appears out of nowhere to rescue the hero from an impossible situation. This character may have been in the beginning of the book, or in a book series in a previous book, but hasn't been mentioned in forever. Then when things are at their darkest, this character steps onto the pages to save the day. Our hero has nothing to do with changing his circumstances, he's just lucky at meeting the kind of people who show up only when needed. (Think of Dobby in the last Harry Potter movie - it is the only one that comes to mind at the moment.) I believe that the author uses this to surprise the reader because there appears to be no way out of this trouble for the hero. To me it the lazy way of solving the hero's problem.


  7. You know my "reader" pet peeve is when I'm invested in a character and then all of a sudden they choose to do something that is COMPLETELY put of character just to further the plot.

    It makes me crazy!!! Walk a mile in your character's boots and then you can change the surroundings, but not their boots! :) That ruins the story for me when that happens...

    Great blog Marie!


  8. Great blog!

    My own pet peeve is when a character is a walking stereotype... Drives. Me. Nuts. Pet peeve #2 is killing off a character I liked. Either one of those will result in book-throwing.

  9. Wow you all came up with some great peeves! Now if we can all make sure to keep the little buggers out of our work.

    Thanks again for coming by and for so many great peeves!

    Marie (stuck at work can't log on) Andreas