Things to Make You Scream: My Top 9 Writing Peeves


         Admit it. There are things that authors–even your favorites–do that make you want to hunt them down and give them a scathing lecture on proper form. You wonder how these people got the manuscript past the editor with such glaring mistakes. Or at least things that seem like mistakes to you. Since I started the editing process on my work, I’ve started noticing more and more things wrong with the books I read for pleasure (it’s beginning to drive me over the edge), and these are some of the more prominent things that irk me.

1. Potty Mouths

This one doesn’t really seem to be something I can escape. It’s everywhere! TV, books, the grocery store–it’s depressing. Are people really so unimaginative? Using swearing in place of dialogue isn’t just annoying, it’s lazy. If you can’t write a book without resorting to cussing to fill in places where you’re stuck with witty retorts and pithy speeches, then maybe you shouldn’t be writing one. And, please don’t bring up the “gritty realism” defense. What do you think when someone you’ve just met peppers conversation with bleep-bleeps? I tend to think uneducated delinquent with no concept of how a person should speak in public. And since your readers are typically still getting to know your characters throughout the book, then it doesn’t really speak well for them, does it? Also, as far as using speech patterns and mannerisms to make your characters real, you might as well make them say “y’all” and “young’n” and expect that to deepen them.

2. Over-Description

I know what a tree looks like in October. No, really, I do.

3. Children! Or not.

Writers who have not spent time with children should not be allowed to write about them. There are times all you can do is shake your head at the pure ignorance of some people when it comes to kids and teens. I’ve read books where two year-olds speak in full verbose sentences and ask deep, searching questions. I babysit one three days a week, and while she does speak in sentences, half the time I can’t make heads or tails of what said sentence meant. And teens…that’s a sore spot. As a teen myself, it’s slightly personal when an author lumps us all into the lazy, oblivious jerk group, and somewhat insulting when we’re portrayed as clueless children rather than young adults. Kids and teens are just as unique and varied as your adult characters–or at least, they should be. No stereotypes here, either, folks.

4. Relationships

Now, I love a good love story. Emphasis on “good” love story. They can be difficult to find, particularly when the romance was an afterthought, thrown in to spice things up. Honestly, if you have a single female character and a single male character, they don’t necessarily have to fall for each other. If they don’t, you can even play with the suspense of it and make the book better. Creating a relationship with no reason for it to occur just doesn’t help it any. I hate it when two characters magically fall in love and wind up married by the end of the story for no other reason than that the author thought there needed to be a romance.

5. Significant Others

Connecting to the above post, another thing with romance is the whole issue of creating a whole new character just because the main character needs a significant other. A whole new flat character. If he/she isn’t going to play a major role in the story, if he/she has no life or backstory or purpose outside of loving your main character…then your readers aren’t going to see any reason for connecting with him/her. This one is something I have trouble with because I hate thinking of one of my darlings being alone forever, but I know I absolutely have to develop their better halves or risk having a terrible story. Which I currently do, hence the editing.

6. Under-Description

Yes, I’m aware I was complaining about over description a minute ago, but it’s one of those things that has to have a perfect balance. If you don’t say anything at all about where your story takes place, then your readers are going to be highly suspicious when they’re miraculously close enough to rob Fort Knox when they run out of money. And if you write sci-fi…whoo. Then you really have to be good at this kind of stuff.

7. Flat Prose

I know the favorite writing tip right now is to cut everything in the way of adjectives and adverbs, but I tend to disagree. If you don’t have anything to describe what’s going on in both the storyworld and the character’s head, then what does your reader have to connect to? I know it drives me up the wall when I run across an author who sticks to sharp five-word sentences with simple sentence structure and apparently no emotion whatsoever. It sucks all the life out of the manuscript and essentially reduces it to a court transcript rather a key to the imagination! It’s criminal, that is.

8. Names

This one is a bit of a love-hate thing for me. I love unique names (considering that I have one, it’s sort of required), but some authors tend to go too far. if you can’t even pronounce it with your mental voice, you might want to think about finding something slightly more common. However, dull names are just as bad. Just grabbing the first name from the year’s top ten list doesn’t do much for helping your readers imagine the character. Ryan and Madison do little more than conjuring up images of your boss’s newborn, whereas T’plogahjawe and Fibblewdejot sound like a couple of typos strung together. Yet another instance of walking the writer’s line.

9. Lost Time

If there’s one thing I despise, it’s that feeling that I’ve missed something somewhere and been left behind. If I’m reading one moment with John Protagonist in his house in Connecticut, then hit the next paragraph and find him next to Big Ben, we have a problem. It’s confusing, and, even if you can figure out what happened eventually, it pulls you out of the story long enough to scratch your head and go “huh?” And that’s not good.

So, anyone from the other side of the screen have peeves to share and feel like complaining as much as I did today? Feel free to share your true feelings…

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