Monday, August 17

What Are Your Reading Pet Peeves?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Recently I talked about one of my reading pet peeves, and why it hurt my reading pleasure. While not every reader has the same pet peeves, we all have different elements that irk us in a novel. We might even have tropes that bother us when we write our own novels, but we write them anyway, because we’re not sure how to avoid it and feel it has to be part of the story to get published (such as love triangles in YA fiction).

I invite you to share what makes you stop reading, what yanks you out of a book, or what you wish you didn’t have to write. Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss and analyze ways to avoid some of those peeves in our writing. Let's find some ways to get rid of those peeves!


  1. For me, the major turns offs are-

    1. Boys who're callous, snarky to a fault, or a psycho perv.
    Yeah, they exist, but too often their made the "average joe" type. To me as a man and former boy, it's just as offensive a stereotype as portraying girls as sexually objectified airheads.

    2. Books that give the impression that characters with certain mental challenges are either "vegetables" or "Joker" level insane! There aren't enough books for non-YA readers that show kids (or adults for that matter) who have some form of mental illness, but are no less smart, capable and dare I say DRIVEN as those who don't have similar issues.

    3. All the atypical boys and men with non-sports interests are (or mischaracterized) as Gay.

    First, understand I'm for LGBTQ rights, but when every non-macho or nontraditional boy or man in books is LGTBQ, it sends the wrong message to Heterosexual boys and men that they "Must be gay" if they like those things. Not true at all.

    You can be a hetersexual man and love ballet and opera as an art form, and again I dare say, actually grow up to pursue either, and be no less heterosexual.

    Besides, there are open LGTBQ athletes who are no less competitive than their heterosexual counterparts, We know girls and women are no less capable of running a global, multi-million business than boys and men. Yet we still objectify men when it comes to domestic matters, their "Deadbeats without a clue", callously chauvinistic, or absent. Dads are cursed for not being around AT ALL, and cursed when they are around for being the "Bumbling idiot."

    While that might be true in some cases, if that's all fatherless boys and young men see at home, school and in the media, no wonder we have a "Good Enough Dad" shortage.

    4. YA novels where guys only see girls and women as "objects"
    I don't just mean sexually, either, but also , and cultures/religious doctrine that give "poetic license" to treat girls and women like soulless baby-making machines doesn't help. Not just in the middle east, Asia or Afraica, but in the U.S./Canada, too.

    But at least we don't condone putting girls and women to death just because they want to learn to read and write, or make a make a major (or not so major) sexual mistake, and it just breaks my heart that girls and women can be raped, but the (UNWILLING) victim is made to feel shame, not the jerky prick who committed the offense, and that in Africa the mother is made to feel guilty, never mind the fact she wasn't there and wouldn't condone this if she was.

    5. In contrast to #4, books where girls or women view all boys and men under a lens because one or a few did them wrong.

    This is becoming a REALLY big issue that happens more in more in real life, and it's starting to take hold in film and literature (YA/NA and Adult fiction especially)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Excellent points. I would elaborate on #3 with female relationships. One of my own peeves is the assumption that two female characters who are close friends are clearly going to be having sex at some point; particularly those living in societies where they're oppressed.

  2. I think mine are when the writer really didn't do his/her homework. I was reading a book once (male author) where at the end of the day, the female protagonist changed into a pair of wool slacks and a silk blouse to relax. What? I don't know a single woman who changes into work clothes to relax on the couch at the end of the day. Now, if it had been made apparent that this was a quirk of this character, that would be one thing, but it just came off as the author not having a clue as to what women wear to lounge around in. And it made everything that character did afterward suspect to me. I guess, then, it's lousy characters- relying on stereotypes instead of creating fully-fleshed individuals.

  3. Oh, I have a lot, but I'll see about listing the worst offenders:

    1. Prophecy Stories. It's such an overdone trope, especially in fantasy, and it bores me to tears. It feels like the author is copping out, since a prophecy takes the place of actually explaining the motivation for a character doing what they need to do. Why is Character A going to Town B? Because the prophecy told them to/said they would. Prophecy stifles what could have been interesting backstory, setup, motivation, and character development.

    2. Love at First Sight. Happens a lot in YA fiction. I'm getting tired of characters finding their soulmates in the first strong female/male character they meet. Often these are relationships formed under duress, if it's not a RomCom. Must characters fall immediately in love with the first strong character they meet, and have it universally a match made in heaven? Whatever happened to slowly forming relationships, especially ones that don't always work out? I prefer seeing characters work for what they want.

    3. Related to #2, the immediate love interest is often a brick wall or a jerk who only softens up for the protagonist. Especially prevalent if the protagonist is female. Feeds some sort of bad boy/bad girl trope that I'm also very tired of seeing.

    4. Pushing the "Female Power" Card. This one seems to be cropping up more often, especially in YA fiction. Let me explain: While I like seeing more female characters in fiction that aren't useless bystanders or wives left at home, I see a lot of fiction that pushes their gender political correctness too hard. Instead of worrying too much about the gender of the book's characters (unless the book is specifically about gender issues), I prefer to just see strong characters, male OR female. Spend less time trying to be correct, and more time telling me a good story.

    5. Sad Endings for the Sake of Sadness. Right, some stories just aren't going to have a completely happy ending (although I really do like happy endings once in a while, thank you). This seems to be a Nicolas Sparks-spawned issue, where endings are made sad for the sole purpose of tugging reader heartstrings. I prefer a story to reach its inevitable conclusion, happy or sad. I don't like being manipulated for a certain effect, especially when a story has to introduce a deus ex machina or a random catastrophe to achieve that effect.

  4. What comes to my mind is a basic: telling instead of showing. It's too easy for any amateur to reduce a line to "she was angry" or other shortcuts that only tell us what we can already guess and lock us out of seeing any more. (I'm not counting the pacing moments when a thing deserves to be summarized. Telling has its place, but it has to be in the right places.) When someone I'l choosing to give my money and time to cops out that way, I start asking whether this author knows their basics-- or worse, has stopped caring about doing the story justice.

  5. I absolutely agree with everyone on everything so far. I'd much rather read about a fully fleshed out female character that can stand out in the novel she's in than one with big muscles and a grudge against dudes.

    My biggest pet peeve is a little bit different & more specific, though, due to the industry I work in. I grew up riding and showing horses competitively, then went to college for equine business management, and my biggest issue, both in fiction and in real life, is when people sexualize horseback riding. I actually read a book a couple weeks ago where the female MC orgasmed from riding a horse. If it hadn't been an ebook, I'd have chucked it across the room. 1) That's not possible for beginners (the character had never sat on a horse a day in her life). 2) For those of us in the industry, the thought is revolting.

    I get that the general motion is easily misconstrued, but the act itself is nothing even close. When beginners first start riding, they instinctively grip with their calves and feet first, which leads to erratic, often painful bouncing around in the saddle. To properly sit anything other than a slow walk, to get enough stimulation from the saddle, a woman would need several years' experience riding because it takes an unbelievable amount of inner thigh and core muscle strength (among all the peripheral muscles) to achieve that. To be honest, a beginner riding and bouncing in the saddle is more akin to getting kicked repeatedly by someone wearing steel toe boots than it is to sex.

    Not only that, but women don't ride horses just for the act of mimicking sex. We are a tight-knit community and, the occasional rude egotist aside, we're all very supportive of one another. We're highly competitive and we take our craft seriously, just as serious as anyone else. We do it because we love it, not because we're sex-crazed nuts.

    1. I'm glad someone else mentioned that! I've always been repulsed by the concept of horseback riding as somehow sexual, which it's not at all. I recently started learning how to ride, because I like the communication between horse and rider, and the speed of running. It's also excellent exercise, and if I'm going to be writing about a character who rides, I ought to know what it's like. There's absolutely nothing sexual about it, and if anything, it reminds me how little strength I have in my thighs and how much my butt hurts when I don't post correctly. Yet, for some reason, erotica and romance fiction seems to have a field day with this. It's demeaning of the hobby.

    2. Oh, it absolutely is great exercise. A hard hour-long lesson can burn 400 calories or more, and depending on how many horses a person rides in a day, that number could double, triple, quadruple, or more. That's a hardcore workout. I wish more authors would go take a few lessons before writing about horses, but that doesn't always happen, nor are lessons always an option, either geographically or financially.

      You mentioned your butt hurting when you don't post correctly. (Truth! I know that pain so well lol.) What discipline are you taking lessons in?

    3. Talking to a complete newbie, here! I think they are teaching me the English style? The saddle doesn't have a horn, so they started me with my hands on the horse's neck or with my fingers gripping under the saddle at the front. Getting the hang of it, but riding is quite a bit more demanding than I thought it would be. Exactly why I wanted to learn, to know what I'm talking about in my novel.

    4. Definitely English then, though I'll save you the confusion of discussing all the little nuances lol. I've been riding since I was 4 myself, so almost 20 years, and I compete pretty heavily as well, so if you ever have questions, I'd be happy to help. :)

    5. Awesome, thank you! I probably will, as I get more into it.

  6. Here's another "author didn't do the research" peeve regarding technical issues. I get pulled right out of the story when the author gets technical details wrong. For example, don't assume you know what it's like to take off in a small plane or that all small planes are alike and perform in the same way, or put 4 people in a Cessna 150...take a sightseeing flight or talk to a pilot or ask a pilot to proof read your scene. Just because you (author) don't know about how something works doesn't mean your reader doesn't. This is a general comment, not limited to airplanes.

  7. What immediately pulls me from the storyline are:
    1. In a historical fiction piece, dialog that uses contemporary slang/epitaphs
    2. Overdrawn character descriptions or settings ... too much of a good thing
    3. Weak storyline in any genre
    4. Typos
    5. Cliches

  8. 1. Characters who are vague for no reason other than to "create mystery." If your story relies on the dying character saying, "The one who killed me will kill again. Looks to the stars for guidance for they burn with the light of a thousand souls. You must save the girl with the golden hair," when they could have said, "It was Bob who shot me. Mary is next," there's a problem.

    2. Self-deprecating characters. I mostly see this in YA, but it never ceases to aggravate me.This is not the way to make a character likable, relatable, or humble.

    3. It does annoy me when a technical detail here or there is off, but I tend to be forgiving of it because every author can't be an expert on everything. You are never going to get every single detail and nuance correct, no matter how much research you do, unless it's something you do or are
    an expert on yourself. If writers only stuck to those topics, we'd have a very limited amount of things we could write about. It only bothers me if they continue to go on and on about it throughout the story more than necessary and are continually getting things wrong.

    (By the way, your blog is incredible! I tend to be comment-shy, but you seriously give the best writing advice.)

  9. The main thing that bothers me is wooden/stiff dialogue. Also, lots of typos can make me stop reading. That's especially true when I'm editing something of my own and I see all the errors in their book.

    Love triangles can be annoying sometimes, but I've read a few books where it worked. I tend to think that a master writer can make anything work, even unlikable characters, so nothing bothers me as long as the story keeps my attention.

  10. I'm an easy audience. I suspend my disbelief readily and it's rare for anything to throw me out of a book for more than a second or two. But I don't like poorly written books, books with factual errors (fiction and non-fiction), and dull books (dull characters, dull storytelling).

  11. One of my big ones is names. Please, Google a character's name before you choose it. Names have baggage. I particularly dislike a lot of stereotypical, Greek/Latin based names. Also, don't name a male character Kai just because he lives in an Asian-like place. Alex shows up way too often.
    I also dislike flash forward, but I don't see it too often. Additionally, one that gets me is "I hate you! You annoy me so much!" Last page? Passionate kiss against a scarlet sunset. I'm honestly not a huge fan of romance-as-the entire-point of a novel, but that trope annoys me a lot.
    A huge pet peeve of mine? Characters that have a talent for art or music that comes--wait for it--effortlessly. Their fingers glide across the keys and they don't know what they're doing, but it's beautiful. Or, a regular person who finds music or art effortless. Art is hard. I guess a lot of people think that artists are simply talented at what they do. They're wrong. It takes a lot of soul-rending practice. There's a lot of thought that goes into things. I think most people don't realize that even for the talented, creation takes work. That pencil doesn't (often) lead your hand. Images (especially at the beginner phase) don't spring to your head. The same kind of rule goes for magic. I don't mind a character that has an awesome power, or even one that they can use effortlessly. However, for them to improve, for them to find mastery, there is a certain amount of work that must go in.
    I dislike twins--they're used far too often. I don't mind them as much when they're regular people adding color (Fred and George come to mind), but when they have a super magical twinny power, I can get annoyed, especially if they're fraternal. Fraternal twins are not genetically identical!

    1. Yes yes yes about art! I'm so glad you mentioned this one.

      I'm a visual artist, have been praised for it since I was a little kid, but I have always had to work very hard at it. I have an MFA, and know many extremely talented artists, and every one of them works at it like no tomorrow.

      Also related to characters who are visual artists: please, authors, don't make analogies to the process of drawing, painting, what have you, unless you have done a lot of it.
      And don't describe the process at all without talking to several artists about it.
      And don't make the artist ever go into a dreamy, trancelike state while drawing or painting or origami, unless you are Robin McKinley writing Shadows, in which case your are given special dispensation...

  12. One of my favorite quotes is from Tom Clancy: "The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense." When it doesn't is my biggest pet peeve as a writer. No matter what career or hobby a character has - a veterinarian, a clinical psychologist, a rock star, whatever - the author should do his/her homework and learn all they can about that particular subject before writing. And it's not just experts in those (or any) field who can tell if the author skimped on research. It's very easy to tell if an author just made stuff up to fit into the story. That'll make me stop reading immediately. Get the facts straight or don't write about it.

    I'll also stop reading if there are a lot of typos, useless dialogue tags or head-hopping. But I won't even pick up a book if the hero is described as "alpha." There's nothing appealing to me about rude, arrogant, sexist jerks.

    1. And that should have been "my biggest pet peeve as a READER." :)

  13. I can overlook a lot of things as long as the story is a page turner, but the one thing that really makes me want to throw a book through a plate glass window is an ending that isn't an ending, but a jumping off to set up the next book. Every book must have a complete story - beginning, middle and an ENDING. Trilogies are fine, but finish the story then lead me into the next book because I refuse to buy the next book if the first one does not END.
    Thanks for asking!

  14. Speculative Fiction that uses an invented language/ names that are too challenging to read.
    In any genre: A narrator that "cleverly" keeps the reader from enjoying the story -- misdirection, etc.

  15. I can understand Juli and Yolanda's points on the matter being careless with spreading misinformation.

    But sometimes we have to pick and choose what research we can include or make sense for our story. That's not necessarily the same as saying "Beavers have wings" when they don't.

    I know a historical fiction writer once told me "Research is the writing" and to me (though I don't write historical fiction) it both is and isn't.

    Sometimes it's just an unfortunate (and HUMAN) mistake, and I think we as readers can forget that in an era of hyper-vigilant accountability for even the most minor infractions.

    Again, I'm not saying to make light of it, but sometimes we have to put the act of just "writing it down" above being a wannabe "Phd- level" expert on the subject. I also think we can confuse accuracy with perfectionism.

    Personally, I think the goal first and foremost is to simply write the dang book in tangible form (whether longhand, vocal dictation, or type on the computer), and then deal with fact-checking.

    I know lots of writers who research for YEARS before they ever write a single draft, and while that sometimes is necessary and works for lots of writers, I would never have written the first novel I sold had I got hung up on research.

    I'm not excusing blatant inaccuracies here, but just to be mindful that we can't know everything (even if we are [or once were] working in the industry we're writing about), and no one would ever publish anything other than the phone book if we stay in "research mode" indefinitely.

    To Be Continued...

    1. As far as some readers who get annoyed about things coming too easily...

      First, I agree with you, working in the visual arts are not effortless, and I make no secret of the fact of how painstaking the process is. I've always had a an appreciation for visual artists such as painters, sculptors and illustrators.

      My appreciation and respect for illustrators has only grown the more I learned about the industry, and as I struggle to land the illustrator I have in mind for my debut children's book, I've had only garnered further appreciation and respect for they can do what many can't at such a high level.

      But also filmmakers and producers of television do a lot more than lay viewers realize.

      All that said, research alone, however necessary, is not a story, but you need research to legitimize certain aspects of your characters and the story's world, whether or not the world in question is historical, contemporary or imaginary. Or even some combo thereof.

      So, I'm in no way disagreeing with what Anonymous and Julia said, but only reminding us all the sometimes human error happens, and it's NOT ALWAYS due to willful neglect on the part of the author or the (traditional) publisher.

      While this is often aimed at indie published titles, you have to remember that in most cases one author is orchestrating every aspect of the publishing process on their own, and (unless stating otherwise) financing it all on their own.

      I'm not saying to excuse being sloppy or to lower our standards as readers, just to remind us all that not all mistakes or due to lack of caring about overall quality or willful ignorance. Sometimes it's a mix of professional compromise or simply a human mistake, however disconcerting.

      Plus, with all the fuss about "building a backlist" some indie writers put quantity over quality, and I'm not saying that's okay, just that it can play a part in this specific issue.

      To Be Continued...

    2. Finally, while there's merit to the Tom Clancy quote mentioned by Juli above, I don't fully agree with it.

      The reason is because real life doesn't always make sense, and despite points to the contrary (which are legit at times) I don't think fiction should be held to such a high standard the way we point to The Bible or U.S. Constitution.

      Fiction is supposed to be a reflection of real life, but NOT an EXACT duplicate. In real life, people stutter, dance around issues, etc. But for a clear and fluid reading experience, we leave out all the "ums and ers" to , though we might leave in a few used judiciously for effect.

      This is why dialect is rarely used anymore because it's not flud to read as it is to hear audibly in real life, and we're FOREVER hearing about kids in particular who struggle to read dialect-heavy books, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are both common examples.

      But I don't go as far to say it's a major pet peeve because in small doses an in certain instances it makes sense is doesn't hinder the reading experience. HP handles it well regarding Hagrid, IMHO, and it never felt annoying to read but it was his dialect and mannerisms that set him apart from other characters in the series extensive supporting cast.

      As far as the "twin" thing Julia brought up, I don't think it has to be a eye-rolling annoyance, again it's how the author handles it. There ARE twins and multiples in real life and they deserve to be repped in fiction, the problem is how it's done, not that's it's done period. I think it's important to note the difference.

      For a story I shelved (but will someday finish) will feature boy-girl twins, but I made a conscious effort to not fall into the cliches used with twins: acting alike, being unnaturally "At War" more so than than the average siblings, dressing alike, and ESPECIALLY annoying for me, rhyming names.

      On that note, while I can respect where "Anonymous" is coming from about names having baggage, I think naming characters is first and foremost a personal choice and while I get those who get annoyed with certain ethnicities having certain names (whatever the baggage) we do have to balance overall pronounceability with not falling into stereotypes and that's not always easy.

      Another shelved story of mine is about a kid and his family who're half Italian and half Japanese, but I chose to use Italian names for the characters both for family reasons in the story, but also to avoid the common asian names that while are common, don't have the pronunciation baggage versus Italian names having more prominence in the U.S. in particular. That speaks to what Leanne's said about names that are really rough on the reader's verbal vernacular.

      It's easier for more people to say "Nick" than "Nozomi"

      But if I'm going to use Japanese first names for the older members of the MC's family, I'll avoid common names like "Lee" or "Kenji" for example.

      Plus, now the world of anime and manga have become more mainstream, there's less stigma to using asian names in general, but there are still issues with international vernacular that I think we need to address in publishing on the U.S. and Canadian markets especially.

      There are still people who pronounce Naruto (Na-Roo-Toe) versus (Narr-roo-toe) and Luffy from One Piece (Luff-EE [like tuffy]) versus (Lou-fee)
      As a fan of both series I'm biased, but it's still a fair point, and there are avid American/Canadian fans who get the pronunciation wrong at times.

  16. - Love triangles
    - Characters that have no personality traits other than to enforce a stereotype
    - Characters becoming too self-conscious and going on philosophical rambles (this tends to happen a lot in YA contemporary novels). I suppose that goes under telling rather than showing.
    - Excessive, awkward, trying-too-hard metaphors

  17. The thing that will make me put down the book for good is gratuitous sex and/or violence.
    I'm totally for drama and traumatic experiences for characters in fiction, but if the rape/aggression/other scene is not followed by a realistic human response, and is just here for the shock value, I feel like the author is taking me for an idiot.
    Even worse if the rape scene tries to pass for romantic and the survivor eventually falls in love with her aggressor (Games of Thrones, anyone?)

    Also another thing I'd rather avoid reading is awkward romance scenes. When the characters get deep and declare their love for each other. Bonus points if they state they cannot live without each other.
    Maybe it's just me, but I usually speed through this scenes, hoping that the story goes back to normal as soon as possible.
    Also when the author matches secondary characters together out of the blue, just so the story goes full happy ending.

  18. Wow, you guys have given me a ton to write about, thanks!

  19. One of my pet peeves is sex in completely inappropriate moments. If you have the "bad guy" pinned down and are about to take him out for the count, that's not the appropriate time to stop and maul your hunny bunny or have a long heart to heart with your besties. I nearly threw a book across the room over that. It was an ebook, though, and I love my Kindle.

    Another one of my pet peeves is MCs that are TSTL. I can't get behind a protagonist that's completely illogical. That includes insta love. I can handle silly, but not brainless.

    And finally, no naming a character's genitals.

  20. Typos, bad formatting, books in first person (I've discovered this one within the past year. I especially don't like it with romance books because I want to know what both characters are thinking), excessive use of parentheses (I stopped reading an author because it got SO ANNOYING because she did it with each damn book in her series), using italics when characters are talking on the if to show the difference between face to face dialogue? This is going on with my current read. And it's pretty annoying as it includes my other pet peeve of bad formatting.

  21. 1. The amount of romance in YA. I like the YA genre, the action, the moral questions, and the political intrigue. I especially want to find a good story with aliens where the main character DOESN'T fall in love with an alien who looks just like a human but hotter.

    2. If there must be romance, focus less on the appearance. When the character keeps describing how hot the guy is, it turns me off from the guy. Show who he is as a character and let me decide if I like him.

    3. The Chosen One. At least now it might be going out of style.

    4. Warnings of global warming. If you write dystopian, find some other way to destroy the world, please.

    5. Knocking people out. It's fine if it's an accident, but attempting to knock out the guards will most likely not work the way it's intended.

    6. Randomly having a gay person pop up. It annoys me the most when it happens to a character I assumed was straight for four three. I'm guessing they're the new token minority, complete with the tendency to die off quickly.

    7. Basing villains off Hitler. It's getting old. I'd rather see villains based off someone else. Hitler wasn't the only dictator.

  22. 1) Poor grammar will get me to stop reading- poorly edited books that are riddled with it.
    2) "Slut Shaming". Still alive and well unfortunately.

    1. Yes, and calling girl leaders "bossy"... Also still alive and well. Even in Gail Carriger books!

    2. I wouldn't blame the author every time. The bossy thing could be due to how the character thinks.

    3. First, understand I'm for girls and women being assertive in a positive way, but I personally don't "Bossy" is a female-centric term.

      There are guys I'd call "Bossy" and female characters whose behavior (not them as people, in general) I'd call "Jerky." I think we have to think about HOW the word is used, not just that's it's used.

      It also doesn't help that in American English, the same word, spelled and pronounced the same way. can have several or more meanings.

      Something I had to deal with in a video I made last year...
      (Not sharing the anecdote here directly due to suggestive language)

  23. Hope I'm not too late to the party. :) Here are some of my pet peeves:

    Having a love triangle then killing off one of the rivals so the hero/ine doesn't have to make a choice- she just goes with whoever is left. Leaving said `winner' to spend the rest of his or her life wondering if he/she is really loved- or just conveniently there. (Sigh.)

    Battles where the odds are enormous but it doesn't matter because the villains can't fight worth anything, so even though our heroes are hopelessly outnumbered, there's still no suspense about who will win.