Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What I don't like

I thought I'd take a trip through a few things I dislike in novels. They're not dealbreakers, but the more of these an author incorporates into their work, the less I'm likely to enjoy the result.

In the comments, you're welcome to add your own. Mine aren't listed in any order - they're just hitting the post as I dream them up.

1. A cast of thousands.
In a movie you get to put a face to every name. In a book you just get the name plus a description, which is promptly forgotten. The worst characters are those which are so similar to half a dozen others in the same book you end up wondering why the author didn't just roll them into one. Mentally, I already have.

2. Excessive description.
To me it's a table, or a sword, or a room. You can just about get away with 'large' and 'small', and you're only allowed to embellish the description beyond this if said item reappears later in the book. By which time I'll have forgotten the description. And the name.

3. A cliffhanger ending.
There's a reason I wait until TV shows are wrapped up for good before buying the mega boxed set with a ton of extras I never look at. I hate cliffhangers! (Not as much as I hate ads, but we're getting close.)
Give me cliffhangers in scenes and chapters, but not at the end of the book. If the book DOES have a cliffhanger ending I'll get the whole lot when the last one is released. (And trust me, I'll know. A book with a cliffhanger ending has 'book N of Y' on the cover, and I'll wait until N = Y thankyouverymuch.)
Why the antipathy? Because I once got caught out by an author who spent five years writing the last book of a series. By the time I read it I couldn't remember the characters, the plot, OR any of the names. It might just as well have been alphabet soup for all the enjoyment I got out of it.

4. No plot
Plots are a handy little aide-memoire. If I can't remember the character's face OR name, I can at least try and remember what they're supposed to be doing. Give me something to distinguish this book from fifty thousand others published at the same time.

5. No typos
A few of these sprinkled around liven things up, especially if I can't remember why whosisname is doing whatever to whatsisface, but if I stop reading for enjoyment and start reaching for the red pen, look out.
I realise they're not all down to the author, but I never said this was fair.

6. Misleading or fabricated cover blurbs.
You know the ones: "Its ... steaming!" standing in for "It's a steaming pile of crap and I only managed to read the first chapter!"

7. Completely misleading cover
If there's a face on the front I'm going to associate it with the protagonist. If there's a plot on the back, I more-or-less expect the book to follow it. If none of it bears any relation to the contents I'll rip the cover off and attach my own version, and then donate the book to the local thrift shop. With a pencilled review above page one.

8. Contractual obligation books
Anything trotted out to meet a deadline, instead of being written because the author loves the entire process from beginning to end. (That includes rewriting and polishing, folks.) There are plenty of new writers out there who would kill for a chance to get published. If you write garbage for the pay cheque, it's your spot they're after.

9. Tie-ins written from movies which were adapted from a novel in the first place.
Kerching! I have nothing against movie tie-ins, books written from TV shows, etc, etc. I'm specifically talking about books which are competing against the original, by way of the movie. As far as I'm concerned, anyone reading the novelisation or a movie of a novel is getting short-changed.

10 and last: Really good novels I wish I had the talent to write*

* Nonono, not literary fiction or classics or worthy books. I'm talking about fun books which hit a nerve with the public.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

1 comment:

Ben-M said...

10 and last: Really good novels I wish I had the talent to write*



My most recent pet peeves, in no particular order:

Changing first person perspective. A friend suggested reading Stephen Lawhead's Song of Albion trilogy. Because I am a stubborn pigheaded masochist I battled through the (#2) purple prose of book one to be completely dumbfounded by the start of book two. N pages in I realise that the "I" of his character is actually some other character. Thanks for that! That I managed to finish all three books only suggests how much I must hate life itself.

Books that include a dictionary of made up words. I'll readily make an exception where they clearly (and obviously) add to the plot. However, if an author relies on me learning a new language just to read their ... steaming novel then it gets loaned to an unsuspecting and gullible inlaw. Which is exactly what happened to Neil Stephenson's Anathem. At 900 freaking billion pages I don't expect to see it back until I retire, at which point the fuel crisis will have deepened to the point that I'll need it to warm me in winter. If you get my meaning.

I'm no English Lit major and wouldn't know the back end of a critique from the front, but I totally agree, some things really, really get up one's nose.

And posting comments on blogs is much easier than forcing myself to reach my writing target for tonight.

Since that only brings the moment of someone critiquing my project that much closer.