Once again I take the writer’s hat off and don my reader’s cap. In a similar vein to last week’s post this week I’d like to discuss my pet peeves as a reader. Throughout my life these things have bugged me and I’ve just now been able to capture into words. I’ve noticed over the last few years I can somehow separate out my reader pet peeves from my writer pet peeves. Perhaps in the future I’ll do a list of those.
Too Much Italicizing: When this italicizing words in used in dialogue as a way to show a character’s speech pattern or to accentuate meaning it becomes grating. If you can’t craft a character through actions and how and what they say to the point a reader could understand what is important, then you are either not confident as a writer or you think the reader is stupid.
I also cringe when it’s overused with a character’s inner dialogue. What purpose does this serve? Sometimes I get the impression an author employs this to somehow tell the reader “Looky here, subtext is going on. Get it? You get it, right?” Yeah, I get it without the italics. Please do stop with them.
Questions in Internal Thoughts: I know it’s natural when we are privy to character’s honest thoughts they will have questions about a situation or what somebody said. I’m the reader, I was there for the scene and if you’ve constructed it well enough I’ll be asking myself the same questions. So it’s really grating when I’m told what the questions are. Good to know we’re on the same page. Or good of the author to sit there and spoon feed me and tell me what I’m supposed to be thinking. I’m not suggesting a character never come up with questions. He or she should because it is part of character development and we need to see them work things out. But I do find it makes me want to slap the character around when they do it too much as he or she comes across as almost stupid.
Stereotypes/Genre Tropes: I’m pretty sure most readers resent stereotypes. To me a stereotype in this context is beyond racial but gender, cultural, sexual orientation, etc. Not all stereotypes are bad and I don’t necessarily mind if a character starts off as possibly fitting into a stereotype, but the author quickly establishes this isn’t the case. What I do have an issue with is when a character is defined by a stereotype. Give the reader something fresh. Break down those walls. Granted, there are people in real life who fall into stereotypes and fiction shouldn’t shy away from that, but one way fiction can change the world is by challenging a reader’s view of the world. Have empathy for someone different from them and defying stereotypes shakes a reader’s expectations. Don’t always have dark associated with evil. Don’t always associate light with good. Don’t have your hero be heterosexual and the strong, silent type incapable of getting in touch with his emotions. Don’t have the smartest person in a group be Asian.
Genre tropes are a little bit trickier because one of the main reasons a reader is attracted to certain genres is because they know what kinds of characters they will get. And they like those types of characters. Not necessarily a bad thing and to a certain degree there are some genre tropes which I do like and expect. However, much like stereotypes, genre tropes are something I’d like to see a new take. It could be something as simple as flipping genders or races or sexual orientation. Or it could be something more significant such as adding some kind of disability which doesn’t hinder the character as one would expect. Or perhaps does pose some additional challenges. Again, shake it up. Sometimes it’ll work and sometimes it won’t but give the reader something new. But don’t make it a big deal to the point too much emphasis is placed on how “unusual” it is.
Characters That Are Too Much Alike: People don’t sound, think, or act the same. Even people within the same family and raised the same way. That’s one thing which is fascinating to me to observe in life. So when I pick up a book I demand variety. It’s disappointing when I read a novel in which everyone sounds the same. Makes me shake my head. It shows me little thought was put into viewing the characters as people. On the other hand, not everybody in a scene must act differently. That gets messy and complicated, but when everyone acts and speaks the same in every scene the reader is left with cardboard, boring characters.
Female Love Interest Younger Than Male Love Interest: I get it. Historically speaking most women were and are younger than their beaus for a variety of social, religious, and quasi-biological reasons. Got it. But flip the script with the woman older than the man without it being shocking or without some ulterior motive like a rich widow. The few times I’ve read this scenario the older woman in question is still quite attractive and young enough looking. Yet when a young female marries an older male the man is usually unattractive and looks decidedly old. The reader is meant to sympathize with the woman for having to be with this old man when the younger, albeit still older than the female, man is a far better option. That also grates on me. There are some silver foxes out there who aren’t all pervy and predatory on young women.
Overly Badass Women: Believe me I’m all for girl power. I grew up in the ’90s watching Dana Scully being intelligent and badass on The X-File. With Daria Morgendorffer offering up sarcastic honesty on her fellow humans. With Xena: Warrior Princess being well, a warrior princess and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer which had your almost stereotypical female badass, Buffy, as well as your almost stereotypical nerd, Willow.
But I think we’ve gone overboard on the badassery. It’s gotten to the point where it seems to be the only way a woman can be awesome is to be able to kick butt and take names. Apparently if I’m not this way they I have no strength as a woman. It’s as if we’ve matched the “ideal” man as being strong because he’s physically strong. Is this the only way women can be on par with men? The badass woman is the only way to show empowerment for an entire gender forgetting we, like men, come in everything in between.
Women Getting Pregnant: This grates on me because too often it’s done as a way to add more drama to the plot. Every time I’ve seen this the pregnancy is unintended and seems to happen the woman’s first time having sex or the first time she’s has sex with a particular man. Apparently having a woman become pregnant is the only way to raise the stakes for a woman. Or to get the reluctant male to finally realize how much he loves her and wants to be there for both her and his child. Come on, authors, you can do better. Don’t make your female character pregnant so quickly within a relationship or as a way of forcing two people into a relationship even though realistically those people shouldn’t be together. Show me you understand how the real world works.
Now there is an exception to this and it’s when a pregnancy is important to say the line of succession.
Constantly Repeating Another Character’s Name: Authors, please stop doing this in dialogue. When I’m drafting I do this more as a way of reminding myself of who the hell is talking. When I edit and try to look at the story from a reader’s viewpoint, I cut a lot of those references out. It’s easy enough for the reader to track who is speaking and to whom. But when I read published novels and characters are constantly doing this, in particular when only two or three people are in a scene, it makes me question the author’s abilities a little bit. Does the author think I’m too stupid to keep up because maybe they couldn’t? In real life we rarely use each other’s names when speaking so why subject readers to this?
With all of these pet peeves, it’s rare I don’t finish a book. Lately, though, I’ve become tougher on books and won’t finish if it has a few of these. I simply don’t have the patience and time to get to the end of a book that clearly gets on my nerves. When I see these things pop up I wonder how in the world did this get past an editor let alone published? But again, these are just my pet peeves. I’m sure a lot of these things don’t bother most readers and that’s great.