Last blog I promised that we’d tackle some of the things I don’t like to see in stories. To be honest, I’m a little worried this post will become negative, and I don’t want to be the downer in the group! So to counter that, let’s all say out loud from the start: We love to read romance books! Say it again, for good measure. Go on, do it (and ignore the funny looks your kids and coworkers are tossing your way). I think it’s important to remember we love these stories before we start itemizing what we can’t stand.
So, love of the genre firmly in place, let’s talk about what drives us crazy.
One of the things that can make me put down a manuscript or a book in no seconds flat is silly characters who act in unbelievable ways. You know the ones who have no justification or rationale for acting the way they do. The ones who seem to defy all logic when they take action or make a decision or assess a situation. What is that acronym? TSTL—too stupid to live. Who can relate to those characters? And if I can’t relate, it’s impossible to get into the story.
Closely related to that pet peeve are those secondary characters who are merely plot devices. They have only one purpose—whether it’s to reveal a single piece of information, complicate the conflict (or, worse, be the conflict) or make the situation worse. They seem to be conveniently dropped on the page, do their bit and disappear without ever giving the sense that they are fully developed characters or that they even belong in the story. Usually when I encounter these characters, I strongly encourage the author to integrate the character in the story (which usually means fleshing out him/her) or cutting him/her entirely and finding a different way to unfold the plot.
Repetition is a huge issue for me. I don’t mean the kind of strategic, deliberate repetition that creates effect or escalates tension. I’m talking about the other kind: overused words, phrases, gestures, actions, scene set-ups, etc. that litter a story. Repetition sends the message the author has nothing more to say. No more words to use, no more actions to describe (and, by extension, the character has no other reactions), no more events to relate. And if there’s nothing more to say, why keep writing and why should the reader keep reading? I confess I nag about this…a lot (authors who have worked with me are nodding their heads and rolling their eyes!). I believe it’s important to be articulate, to relate the story in an engaging, unique way and to give the reader a varied experience. There is one author whose stories I love (and no, I’m not revealing names). Despite how much I love her books, I can’t read them too close together because she has a couple of phrases her characters—all her characters—repeat. Guaranteed in every book these phrases will occur at least four times. And it so happens that the phrases drive me nuts!
I’m not a fan of putting narrative focus on characters’ movements through a scene and on inanimate objects. Yes, there needs to be a certain amount of description of the characters moving and relevant objects in the scene to set the stage in the reader’s mind and prevent the characters from being talking heads. However, when a character who is already frowning frowns again…and again…and again in the same scene, well, that’s annoying. And if I know more about the movement of a coffee cup (cup filled with coffee, sugar and cream stirred in, cup lifted to mouth, cup put on table, cup fiddled with, up to the mouth again, etc.) than the point of view character’s inner reactions to the unfolding events, then I want to scream. Gestures (the throwaway kind such as nodding, frowning, smiling/grinning, etc.) and shifting inanimate objects don’t make a scene active. They don’t add tension to a scene. They don’t advance the plot. And they rarely reveal character. Their role is to provide backdrop, to fill in scene detail, and as such, they should receive only that much attention and no more.
There are other qualities that I don’t like to see, but I think it’s time to turn it over to you.
Tell me about what make you throw a book against the wall in disgust and what makes you decide to take a writer off your auto-buy list. And because we love this genre (say it one more time!), let’s keep it general and anonymous—no outing of specific books or authors. You know that old saying about one person’s garbage... ;-)
Let the discussion begin!