This article was first published May 9, 2016.
Perhaps it’s because I work with words, but when it comes to personal reading material, I’m beyond picky. I like fast-paced stories full of action and intrigue, and I don’t like the predictions I make while I’m reading to be right.
Of course, I’m often willing to give a book or screenplay a chance if others are ranting are raving—but there are some book-related pet peeves that I simply can’t get over. Here are five features of fiction that drive me totally bonkers:
1. Dual P.O.V.
Especially in romance novels, it irks me when an author is unable to successfully convey their message without switching between the first-person viewpoints of two main characters. When one chapter is narrated by Sally, and the next by Steve, it’s easy for me as the reader to get distracted or even confused, especially if the protagonists don’t have distinct voices.
In my eyes, switching point of view overcomplicates and slows down the story—a problem that is easily solved if the author writes in an omniscient third person.
Take, for example, Libba Bray’s 2011 hit, Beauty Queens. In this novel, Bray is able to navigate between narration from the viewpoint of half a dozen characters without the risk of readers getting mixed up because she writes in third person. It may come as surprise to young adult authors everywhere, but not all YA novels need to be written in first person.
2. Never breaking from the status quo.
There are clear trends currently dominating the contemporary young adult market: these novels are often written in first person POV, feature female main characters, include romance, are relatable on a personal level, and perhaps include some sort of supernatural or dystopian aspect.
As an aspiring author, it may seem easier to write what is already successful with tweens and teens, but I love to see emerging writers slip away from the status quo and get creative. Try highlighting friendships instead of romantic relationships, or making sibling rivalry the focus rather than a parent-versus-teenager battle.
Bottom line? I want to see something different. Following the same storyline over and over just gets old.
3. Too much narration (especially in book-based screenplays).
An example that sticks out in my head for this peeve is the film Twilight. The first in a series of five, this movie faced huge amounts of criticism for a wide variety of issues, but even in my young age when it came out, the first thing I noticed was lazy screenwriting.
Every writer has been told to show the reader who characters are and what they are thinking, not tell them—but the screenwriters of Twilight didn’t seem to get the memo. The film features extensive voice-over narration by Bella (the protagonist, played by Kristen Stewart) that seems to be copied-and-pasted from the original novel.
The beauty of novels is that you can describe what’s going on in a character’s head: you have more than just dialogue to work with. But in plays and films, writers don’t have that luxury. They are forced to show the audience what’s going on through action and speaking.
In Twilight, however, that didn’t happen. Instead of coming up with a method of showing the narrative to the audience, the main character engages in a lengthy monologue already penned by author Stephenie Meyer.
Screenwriting is an art that involves transforming an already-beloved story into one that is interesting to watch on-screen. With extensive narration, we’re missing the chance to see a new side of the story—one that goes beyond prose and takes us into a world of setting, dialogue, and action. When I read a screenplay, I don’t want it to fall flat in that regard.
4. Ridiculous amounts of irrelevant description.
Lord of the Rings fans, go easy on me: the best example of this for me is Tolkien’s prequel, The Hobbit. It was on a summer reading list for me in high school, and, to be frank, I dreaded every minute of reading it.
There was far too much description for my taste. In the beginning, I took notes on it. I figured that since the author was taking the time to describe each setting in great detail, what he was writing would be important.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.
The entire novel could be condensed into about 20 pages of actual action, and that really irked me. I felt like I wasted my time and gained nothing from the story except that Tolkien is a stellar world-builder and this seemed to be his way of living out his fantasy. The descriptions took every bit of substance away from the novel for me, and many of my classmates felt similarly.
In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Don’t say it was delightful; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only saying to your readers, ‘Please will you do the job for me?’”
5. Too little dialogue, too much dialogue, or unconvincing dialogue.
This applies to plays and screenplays as well as novels, but I find that novelists are the most prone to making these mistakes.
A story can be riveting and compelling, but without dialogue, it’s hard for readers to keep turning the page. Contrastingly, with too much dialogue, the story can run flat.
Worse still is unconvincing dialogue, which is the bane of many novelists even before publication. Time and time again, I see literary agents and publishing companies complaining that their submissions are good, but the dialogue is lacking: it all sounds the same.
The takeaway? Each character deserves their own unique voice, and that is not the author’s voice! How does your character talk? What dialects do they have? Make them believable by adding these intricacies: it will help readers connect to your characters and keep them convinced that your story is real.
What are your literary pet peeves? Share with me in the comments!
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