What Do Other Authors do that Drives You Insane?

20

April 6, 2013 by Kira Lyn Blue

You know, I used to be able to simply enjoy entertainment. Now nothing is safe from the dreaded “Kira’s Over-Analyzation of DOOOOOOOM!” I feel so bad for The Husband. I make him sit for 20-30 minutes after every episode of our favorite TV shows discussing character interactions, plot developments, or ranting about a scene I hated and why I think the writers should be fed to a pack of rabid squirrels.

The point is that this really is an important tool for helping develop our own writing skills. This is a juicy topic which could cover many blog posts, but today I want to focus on one thing: What Do Other Authors do that Drives You Insane?  I know this sounds like an excuse to rant (It is, I love my soapbox), but thinking about your pet peeves can help you avoid making similar mistakes. The point is not just to say, “God, I hate that!” but to really think about why it rubs you the wrong way. Then turn it around, think about what you would prefer instead, and determine how you can incorporate it into your own work.

This is a group exercise, fellow blogizens, so prepare to get involved! This is my blog, though, so I get to go first. Sorry, I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.

My Pet Peeves as a Reader:

  • Love at first sight– It’s that moment very early on in the story where the male lead and the female lead first make eye contact and they just know that the two of them are meant to be together. Cue the eyeroll.

Why the hate? Because the tension is already ruined for me. You’ve told me beyond a shadow of a doubt that these two people are destined to be together so any conflict that follows feels contrived and unimportant. Attraction at first glance is fine but not love. We’re talking about a book here not an eHarmony commercial! I want to see uncertainty, doubt, mixed messages, misunderstandings, you know all that juicy stuff that builds tension and makes the eventual hookup that much more satisfying.

  • Damsels in Distress I call this Bella Syndrome. I hate seeing female characters who only need rescuing, protection, and acceptance by a man. <Insert feminist rant here> Yes, yes. I get the appeal of the Knight in Shining Armor and I’m not immune to the concept.  I, too, can appreciate seeing the protective qualities of the alpha male in action, but don’t make the girl weak and powerless! Even if she can’t wield a sword or has no super powers, she still needs to have inner strength and a spine of her own, something that makes her admirable and gives her position to affect the story.
  • Supernatural Detectives in Urban Fantasy– Seriously, can we not think of any other profession for our main characters?

Apologies to all the great series out there with supernatural detectives (I ❤ Rachel Morgan 4ever), but the yellow pages is getting overcrowded with all of the options. I want to see something new and unique.

  • Ignoring or Changing an Accepted Mythos– There’s nothing worse than buying a new book in your favorite genre, getting a few pages in and discovering that the author has hacked the accepted mythos to shreds and instituted his or her own in an attempt to be different. Your vampires don’t have fangs? Boring. Your vampires don’t need human blood to survive? Gah, you’re missing the whole point. They’re supposed to be parasites! Your vampires aren’t instinctively predatory, just people with fangs? Yawn. These concepts are the bread and butter of the PNR genre for a reason! 

Another gem from a cheezburger.com site.

In fairness, re-imagining a mythology can make a phenomenal story, but it can go epically wrong if you’re doing it for the sake of being different. Every change you institute should make sense within the context of the larger message you’re trying to communicate. Don’t throw genre convention out the window on a whim, only if you have a really good reason for doing so.

Ok, it’s your turn now. What are your story-telling pet peeves? What drives you insane in books that you strive to avoid in your own writing?

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20 thoughts on “What Do Other Authors do that Drives You Insane?

  1. MishaBurnett says:

    “Evil corporations”. It’s like there’s an “evil corporation handbook” and that absolves the writer from actually having to have believable motivations for their antagonists. They’re driven by profit motive! Oh, and how exactly does releasing a zombie-creating virus make them money? Wouldn’t it be better in the long run to, say, invest in developing a better product and selling it to people who are still alive and have money to spend?

    I’m not saying that companies haven’t done things against the public interest, I’m just saying, please, make the scenario logical. These people still have to clear things at the stockholder meetings, you know.

    “Mr. Jones, don’t you feel that turning our entire customer base into ravenous undead might cut significantly into our third quarter earnings?”

    • Ok, I admit I’m a sucker for Evil Corporations. That said, I know I’ve had the thought before that the motive of an Evil Corporation just didn’t add up even though I can’t remember a specific example. You make a good overall point that the motives of the antagonist have to be logical, even if it’s only logical from their twisted and warped perception.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        It certainly can be done well–in “Jurassic Park”, for example, the motives of both InGen and the rival company that suborned Dennis Nedry are logical.

        On the other hand, it often turns into a quick shorthand–the author needs a rationale for the killer virus, so, boom enter evil corporation. And I wouldn’t mind it so much except that it telegraphs who the villains are and destroys any narrative tension. Here’s the big reveal where it turns out that the virus was actually invented by the same people the main character is working for! (Bum bum bum baa!)

        And all the readers are saying, “Yeah, we knew that on page ten–can we go back to blowing things up now?”

      • Yes! More explosions plz! Oh, dangit… I’m only proving your point.

        I do tend to see the ‘Evil’ entity cheat exploited in movies more often than books. I’m sure that says something about the quality of popular entertainment and how gullible we (as a culture) are or that Hollywood thinks we are, but I’m probably too dense to get it 😉

  2. Oh man! This post is exactly what I needed today. I agree with every single point (and @MishaBurnett’s above). My biggest pet peeve sometimes encompasses the Damsel in Distress issue, but is often less a function of problematic character construction and more often a function of problematic plot construction.

    DUMB DECISIONS: I strongly dislike it when characters make illogical/irrational decisions for no clear character-driven or context-driven reason! Invariably, whatever that decision is leads to extra drama or new entanglements, but from my perspective, it’s like the author just cheated to boost the emotion or complexity of the plot. The classic example of this, of course, is the horror movie moment when the character runs past the front door and up the stairs, instead of running out the front door – where they’re not only less likely to be cornered, but also more likely to find help!

    It may not always be the case that my readers agree with the choices my characters make, but I hope that they can at least understand what vaguely logical (or understandably irrational) thought process the characters went through to make that choice. As real and imperfect human beings, we may not always make the best decisions in every situation and we may sometimes do things that are objectively stupid, but the kinds of people AND characters I appreciate most are the ones whose decisions can be traced back to some belief or preference or goal or fear or *something*.

    Thanks so much for asking the question!
    ~A23

    • Yes! This exactly! That’s the difference between me thinking, “Seriously, wtf?” and “Oh god, this is sooo gonna end badly,” and then continuing my reading frenzy to see if I’m right and to see how the character recovers from their mistake.

  3. I hate it when a character starts spouting off information or morality crap when I was never led to believe this character would say things like this – simply because the author is too lazy to figure out how to incorporate the information into the story (and by the way – no one wants to read a morality tale anyway). When I read a book, I want teens to talk like teens about things teens talk about and likewise for all characters. Your average run of the mill character is not going ot all of a sudden start sounding like he or she is reading from a guidebook, or a medical text, or fill in the blanks. OK – that is my rant. Characters – please stay true to who you are. Do not be used.

  4. sdownie2012 says:

    OMGaaawwwd, the Bella thing! It makes me want to bang my head against rocks, I swear! Also, whiny inner-dialogue, changing the rules mid-stream, puns (alright, BAD puns), obvious endings…

    I could go on.

    I should also admit that I have committed all of the above atrocities over the course of my writing career and worse…much, much worse.

    I think I’m over it.

    Probably. Maybe.

    • It’s okay, that’s the whole point of the post: to help us see the fail so we don’t commit it (or if we already have, fix it). We shan’t discuss my penchant for whiny inner-dialogue. I’m working on it, I swear!

      Could you clarify what you mean by changing the rules mid-stream? I think I get the gist, but don’t want to assume…

  5. sdownie2012 says:

    When we write fiction, we commit to being the creators of a whole new bright shiny world, complete with rules and limitations. It’s those rules that make it easy for our readers to accept the shifted reality, or rather, they allow the reader to believe, within the context of our story, that what we are telling them is realistic.

    Lemme ‘splain what I mean with an example from someone far smarter than me: JK Rowling made a world of magic and war that we believed because her characters and story were consistent. Harry couldn’t just magic Voldemort dead. Rowling gave Harry rules to follow and she stuck with them, weaving the story and making us root for Harry but giving us something to be afraid of if Harry wasn’t able to complete the mission she created for him. And she made it hard, which made it believable.

    It would have been damn easy for her to kill off Voldemort, and the whole frickin’ series, with a single spell uttered by Harry, a young wizard of unspeakable power who stumbles his way into a magic library in the beginning. But no. Harry had rules. He had to grow up. He had to have limits. Heck, even Voldemort and Dumbledore had limits.

    Changing the rules midstream, giving some orphaned boy wizard powers that were impossible for even the most powerful and feared wizards of all time, would have been a cop out. JK didn’t do that and millions of readers around the world are all the richer for it.

    Another example: I had a writing assignment when I was a kid in school. We were told to tell a new story using the character’s from Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book”. I was in a real flow, telling about Mowgli rushing toward an epic battle that would have been awesome if I hadn’t gotten lazy. Halfway through my story, I sent in a deus ex machina in the form of a disease that swept through the ranks of the enemy army (composed of violent and angry animals that had a chip on their shoulder for reasons I don’t recall). Why did the disease only kill off the bad guys? Because I changed the rules.

    That story blew. I knew it when I was writing it.

    Lots of writer’s do it and as a reader I always notice it and it always bugs the crap out of me. Sticking to the rules that we made up isn’t a whole lot to ask and it makes us work harder to be more creative with our writing.

    Hopefully.

    • What a great explanation and bonus points for using a Harry Potter ref. The issue of sticking to the rules of the world is a definite concern to me as a fantasy writer because the magic has to follow the rules I set up, but I also have to make sure no one is too powerful or too unstoppable.

      Thanks for the reminder!

  6. tracycembor says:

    Mary Sue / Marty Sue type characters who are just so perfect and amazing at everything.

    A couple years ago I picked up a book where a girl was literally cursed to be perfect and she just hated it. Her hair was always long and glossy, even when she didn’t shower, and her ratty shirts huged her curves in interesting ways. I howled for the first 10 pages, snarled for the next 20, then I flung the book. I just couldn’t get through it.

    Recently, it has also irked me that love interests are so freakin’ perfect. I think that characters with some blots and blemishes are much more engaging than a paragon of virtue. An aspect of love is to love someone in spite of a shortcoming, not because they are perfect like a Disney character.

    • I’m absolutely with you on this one. Aside from the fact that it galls me to have to constantly compare my own person against a perfect character, they’re just boring! If the characters, especially love interests, don’t have flaws there’s just no tension and conflict. I agree with you that it’s much better to read a story where the characters come to love each other in spite of their flaws. It’s so much more believable because it’s realistic. And it makes it that much more satisfying when they finally do get together.

  7. L. Palmer says:

    With the Damsel In Distress type, I think the problem is there is no drive within the character. We need our characters to take responsibility for the story and act, and do something. The only time they should do nothing the whole novel is in Literary Fiction that is making an artistic point.

    • Yes! I might get some flak for this one, but the one thing that drives me insane about the world’s best movie (ie Princess Bride) is that Buttercup is 100% Damsel in Distress. Yes she has some spunk and I do LOVE the movie and quote it incessantly, but she is completely dependent on Westley to save her. Gag!

      Obviously that movie still works, but that’s really because Buttercup is a secondary character. If a book has a main character that dependent and unable to take charge and act, I’m out. I’d much rather see someone make constant mistakes than do nothing but wait for rescue.

  8. berleykerr says:

    I’ve ranted about this before but I HATE the Magic Sword that can do ANYTHING. It slices, it dices, it’s a cliche. After Excalibur, The Sword of Godric Griffindor, Narsil, The Sword of Truth, the Sword of Shannara, and soooo many other examples. As much as I love some of the stories above, I just can’t bring myself to read another book about another magic sword!

    • I also love those same series, but I agree that the sword thing is overdone. Yes, a magic sword is a powerful symbol of strength, virility, and all those very masculine things. Yes, the symbolism works and I’ll refrain from pitching a feminist rant on the symbolic chalice we girls get. What am I supposed to do: throw the chalice at the bad guy?

      My biggest concern with the whole magic sword thing is that the hero’s power, or at least the most obvious representation is external. I want to see heroes/heroines where their most obvious strengths are in their personality and force of will. That’s why I forgive most of the authors above, because the characters have more than just swords that make them awesome.

      And if the sword saves the day more than the hero does, I’m going to send your e-book into the virtual wasteland of the dreaded recycle bin and find something else to read.

  9. Erica Dakin says:

    My biggest pet peeve has always been in the older romance novels, the Mills & Boon/Harlequin ones from the seventies and eighties where you had an 18-year-old virgin heroine and a 35-year-old hero. The hero was always arrogant and overbearing and used kissing as punishment and the heroine hated him from the word go.
    Until you got to halfway through the book, when she suddenly realised that she didn’t hate him, no, she loved him! At which point I’d always go ‘for the love of the gods, whyyyy??!!!’ because there would be absolutely no reason for it. The hero hadn’t changed in any way, was still as overbearing and arrogant as ever, it just seemed that because you’d got to the halfway point in the book, they had to love each other, because hey – romance.
    So yeah, I’ve written a romance novel, and the hero is an arrogant git when you first meet him, but I’ve made sure that there’s more to him than that, and that you actually find out about it too before any love starts happening.

    • See, that’s the trick: he has to be a good guy under all the gruffness. And please, for the love of cupcakes, no 18 year-old girls with 35 year-old men! I get that this was the norm in history, but I just can’t… no.

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