Thursday, 9 October 2008

Pet Peeves of Writers as Readers

I stumbled across the Blog of Nathan Bransford, a Literary Agent at the San Francisco branch of Curtis Brown by accident and spotted his request for things that annoy writers when they read. Some were hilarious as well as thought provoking. Read on.

I really hate when an author uses a ten dollar word like strabismic and then two pages later uses it again. Once is enough, and in some cases more than enough. I can just see them sitting there having just perused their thesaurus, thinking, "Oooooo, I love this word, it's so shiny and new, I just have to use it." And then an hour later, "Once more won't hurt." Yes. Yes it does. Just say squint.

Stilted dialogue and too much telling of the backstory. I'm reading one right now that has both and I'm ready to throw it across the room - And yep, you guessed it: it's a best-selling author who's well-regarded.

My biggest turn offs as a reader are when the author fumbles over words enough that you have to reread a sentence 3 times to make sure you're *not* the stupid one.
I don't mind reading that I'm stupid - I've grown quite used to it. However, I hate discovering that I'm reading something someone stupid has written!

Historical inaccuracies. Or geographical inaccuracy. Or embarrassing inaccuracies relating to science, the arts, cooking, name it.
In deference to your "de vivis nihil nisi bonum" policy, I'll name two Old Hollywood chestnuts: the movie Krakatoa, East of Java (not unless you sail around the world first) and all of Joan Crawford's lines from the godawful proto-cougar epic Humoresque, where she plays a patroness of the arts who, when asked what music she most enjoys, says, "Symphonies, mostly. Or any type of concerto.”

The words “now a major motion picture” in the title. I’m pretty sure we all know by now that a book and the film version share precious little. All that tells me is that this guy/gal has a damn good agent or some movie star’s personal phone number.

The Disorganised Author - Barbara Taylor Bradford announced on National TV this week, that her husband produced 'A Woman of Substance' mini-series! So it really is who you know!

Dropping me off in a brand new world at the start of the story, and then proceeding to give me ten million made up words without explaining any of them.

I don't want to know how the wind was lightly blowing across your shoulders as you walked ever so slowly through the forest, gazing up at the ominous clouds overhead. I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!

Technical details that are outright wrong. There is no safety on a Glock to take off, the smell of Cordite is interesting, but it hasn't been used in small arms ammunition for 50 years.

Book Covers.
1) Ones which misrepresent the book's content.
2) Sexually graphic ones, especially if it's not Erotica. A naked guy on the cover makes me think it's porn. It does not make me think it's going to be a darn good story with a riveting plot and multi-dimensional characters.
3) Endless Parade of Sameness. Every other Romance novel has a naked male chest on it and many of those pictures are of the same cover model. Sure, he's hot, but let's hear it for variety!

Anything written by a celebrity

The segregation of African American authors in bookstores

The Disorganised Author: I’m not allowed to say the second one as it's not 'PC', but I so agree with this one - why is it relevant?

And the one which struck a chord with me was:

It’s very frustrating to read unpolished writing in print. As writers, many of us face rejections almost daily. We familiarize ourselves with the rules: no passive language, no negative language, show don't tell, no adverbs and adjectives, etc. We go over our manuscript dozens of times searching for these flaws and chopping away at it for months. Then it gets rejected on the basis of some missed detail or hasty judgment. Usually it's something that makes us think, "but didn't you read page TWO?"
And then we pick up the latest Huge International Bestseller and find elementary, amateurish writing that doesn't even appear to have been edited.

I'm not saying it's all that way, but it happens. Not every bestselling book is the work of a great writer. Industry is about making money; fame is unfortunately more important than talent or polish. That is what frustrates me most.

And finally, to make us all feel a little less victimised....

I find that I'm more generous with authors now that I am a writer. The stuff that used to tick me off -- like many of the things listed above -- I now overlook. Who knows how an editor has urged the writer to change, this, this, and that... and how much of it had to be done on a tight DEADLINE? How much of it had to be plugged in to make sense of a new ending or a new plot point?

It's worth stopping by Nathan's blog as he has some interesting articles about manuscript formatting, sending queries, what to do when asked for a partial etc. The bad news is he doesn’t handle Romantic Writers – but then nobody’s perfect!


Ginger Simpson said...

Thanks for sharing. I totally agree with the word repetition thing. You know how that bugs me. *grin*

While waiting for my computer to be reconnected, I picked up a book I discovered during the move. It's a published book by a well-known company, and it's horrid. Passive voice throughout and although once it may not have distracted me, now that I know about it, it does.
The pilot is sitting next to the POV character and sentences like, "the pilot WAS watching...the pilot was asking..." How about, "I could hear the roar of the engine?" My editor would have insisted on "I heard the engine roar," thus moving it to immediate hearing and robbing me of extra words. *lol*

Anne Gilbert said...

This is really interesting. I've always been a great reader. And I've read a lot of books, both fiction and nonfiction, good and bad in both categories. Now I'm writing my own Great Masterpiece(s), and I notice things I never noticed when I was a mere reader! Things like passive voice, excessive use of adverbs and adjectives(you have to use some, sometimes, though), run-on sentences that could be chopped up, overly-stereotyped characters, too much "conversation tagging", and repetition of things that I thought were established in the first few pages. That's just to name a few, and these come from "established" authors that sometimes climb the bestseller lists!

Things like historical inaccuracies bother me somewhat, but not as much as they might other people. Geographical inaccuracies tend to bother me a lot more, because I tend to assume anyone could go and look on a map, to see wherever the place is. I haven't discussed this a lot on my own blog The Writer's Daily Grind

But wow! I think there's a blog there!
Anne G