Bookish Pet Peeves
by Lori Strongin
I’m a writer. By definition, that means I read. A LOT. I love sinking into a really good plot that doesn’t slow down long enough to even let me take a breath. I eagerly await the moment an author whisks me away from the world I know and sink me into theirs, whether it’s in a magic wood, floating high above the earth in a zeppelin, or to a country far away. I want to fall in love with the characters—care if they live or die, fight with them as they reach for their dreams, mourn with them when everything seems lost.
That said, there are a couple of things that will make me want to throw a book across a room.
(In all fairness, I only did that once. It was Moby Dick. If you’re one of the unlucky few who were forced to read this thing, then I think you understand where I was coming from.)
We’ve all heard the adage, Show Don’t Tell. Well, that goes double for character backstory, scene descriptions, and world building that’s just been dumped into the text rather than woven into the story. I’ve read way too many books where there’s more “Here’s my life story in a nutshell” than actual current events, plotwise.
Believe me, I have whole spreadsheets on my characters’ backgrounds, likes, dislikes, shoe sizes, etc. But that doesn’t mean anyone cares about that kind of stuff, or makes it relevant to the story. I as the author need to know those little details because they shape the life of the character. But there are few readers who care about when my heroine lost her first tooth or my hero ate a banana and got hives.
Also, books aren’t like Twitter. I don’t care what a character had for breakfast. Unless there’s poison in their Cheerios. Then we’ll talk.
Lust at First Sight (also known as Insta-Love)
Unless we’re talking erotica here (which we’re not), I really don’t want to read about “burning loins” the first time the main characters meet. Not to say your leading man or lady can’t find their future love interest good looking, or even downright hurt-me-sexy, but wanting to jump into bed ten seconds after saying Hello cheats the reader out of falling in love with the characters as they fall for each other. It’s all about the journey, not the destination for me, or the teasing rather than the pleasing, as some say.
Assuming the Reader is Stupid
Anyone notice that in only the first and second Harry Potter books did Rowling give a brief reminder of where Harry was, why he was there, and what he looked like? That’s smart writing. Just enough info to remind the reader about pertinent details in the protagonist’s life, including their current predicament, but no more than a few sentences before launching back into the plot. The latter five books didn’t do that because the character and overarching plot had been so well established in those first two books, that rehashing it in Books 3-7 would have been a waste of page space and slowed the pacing down. Plus, it shows that Rowling trusted her readers to keep up, rather than pandering and talking down to them like many other writers do.
Likewise, I don’t need an author to remind me every few pages that the heroine has blonde hair and a bosom men have died for. I got it the first time. Unless the characters suddenly go Goth and dye their hair black and purple, it’s really not necessary to keep hammering those details into my skull every few paragraphs.
So readers, please don’t judge all books by the ones that commit the literary crimes I’ve mentioned. And authors, I task you to give us readers strong, realistic characters who leap off the page with unique voices and compelling stories.
Connect With Lori Strongin On Her Website: http://loristrongin.com/
Author Lori T. Strongin has been lucky enough to study under many wonderful writing mentors and is passionate about giving some of that knowledge back to other writers.
A writer of high fantasy, urban fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romance, and commercial fiction, Lori is knowledgeable about the ins and outs of publishing industry and has helped many writers on their paths to publication.