Saturday, May 9, 2009

Reader Turn-offs: What Topics and Techniques Should Writers Avoid?

I can be a squeamish reader. And a picky one.  I’ll give anything a whirl (particularly if it’s a book recommendation from someone I respect.)  But sometimes I don’t stick with a book; there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to plow through novels that don’t suit me.  I’ve compiled a list of things that bother me in novels and find that they’re things that I also avoid like the plague when I’m writing.

Topics I personally avoid:

Brutality towards children:  This is a big deal-breaker for me when I’m reading.  Before I had children, I was able to easily read books like Stephen King’s It and other books that portray children in dire straits. As a parent, it’s become too nightmarish for me.

Brutality towards animals: Same concept.

Anything overwhelmingly depressing for most of the novel. Maybe it’s today’s tough economic times and my need for an escape, but if I feel more unhappy reading a book than I was before I picked it up, then I can’t usually slog through it.  Give me a ray of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel.  A ‘this too shall pass.’ I can read 200 pages of depressing text if I know there’ll be a pleasing payoff, a redemption at some point.

Techniques I personally avoid:

Too many characters.  Or too many characters without enough tags to remind me who the heck they are.  Because of my busy lifestyle, I'm picking up and putting down a book sporadically.  If a book has thirty characters and no context to remind me of their identity, I’m irritated.  Do I need to leaf back through the book and figure out who this bit-part person is? Why not just say something like:  “Carol sighed. ‘What a day! I must have permed a dozen heads of hair today.’?”

Too many cliffhanging chapter endings. Don’t get me wrong—I love being forced to read a book past my bedtime. But don’t have cliffhangers at the end of every chapter, for Pete's sake.  Makes it more like an episode of Dynasty or something.

A meandering plot.  Is it a mystery?  Where’s the dead body?  Give me a body pretty soon, if it’s a mystery.  General fiction?  Then what’s the plot conflict?  What’s the internal/external conflict for the book? What’s the point?  Lovely descriptions of setting are all well and good, but I don’t have time for the book to rhapsodize prettily on the locale.

Too much internal dialogue. Sort of like reading a self-obsessed teenager’s diary entry.

These are just my pet peeves. And there are exceptions to the rules, of course.  Lord of the Flies, for instance. Breaks many of my tenets and I enjoyed the book immensely. What are some of your pet peeves as a reader? Do your peeves influence your writing?