My friend Camryn Rhys and I went to a great workshop by Susan Elizabeth Phillips at RWA 2011. I can’t say I remember every point she made, but she kept repeating one thing and it’s stuck with me since:
KEEP THE READER IN THE STORY
What does that mean? Don’t do anything in your MS that’s going to make your reader’s brow furrow. When that happens, they stop reading and being engaged in the story and instead think about whatever it was that stopped them dead. As a writer, you don’t want that, so this post is dedicated to some things that take your reader out of the story.
- Hard to remember/pronounce names of places and characters. If your reader has to stop and think “How is that supposed to be pronounced?” they’re out of the story.
- Unrealistic dialogue. Have you ever come across such a stilted conversation it was either obvious the author was trying to impart something specific or she has no idea how her character would talk?
- Overrused tropes/situations. For me, a pet peeve lately has been parents dying in car accidents when the hero or heroine was small OR who had drunk, abusive dads and lazy, indifferent mothers. Yawn.
- Believability problems. I call this the “James Bond” effect, and it annoys me in those films too. Your heroine grabs a gun off the floor and pops off three rounds right into the heart of the killer without so much as a blink or a kickback. Sigh.
- Characters who can’t catch a break. Yes, you want your characters to be tortured so they can grow and have their character arc, but enough is enough and if you overdo this your reader will be exasperated, rather than sympathetic.
- Characters with high-power, high-stress jobs who still manage to spend hours in bed/wooing the heroine. I call this the “Christian Grey” effect.
- Authors who put so much detail in that it becomes about the research they did, not the scene. Yes, we know you did research. No, we don’t know all 58 steps in a contract negotiation or every single variety of flower in a garden.
- Laundry lists. Jackie slogged out bed, put on her robe, opened the bedroom door, shuffled into the kitchen, opened the tap to fill the coffeepot, turned the coffeepot on, reached for a mug, and then got out the sugar and creamer. We don’t need this level of detail about mundane tasks.
- Obvious copies of other entertainment mediums. I call this the “50 Shades of Grey” effect. It applies to authors who copy ideas from other books, tv shows, or movies.
- Authors who either use bigger words than necessary or talk down to their readers. Neither is good, nor is their insistence on using “utilize” where “use” would’ve sufficed.
- Descriptions that leave out the obvious. Is it January in Maine? That character better not be standing outside for a half-hour waiting for a ride unless your aim is to have them freeze. And if you don’t mention how freaking cold it is or that the character tugs up a scarf, etc? Even worse.
- Characters who very good at something with no practice. Your heroine decides she wants to write and sing a song for the hero. Is she musically inclined? We have no idea because you, dear author, haven’t told us. Will her voice sound like an angel sent straight from heaven? Maybe, but probably not. When did she learn how to compose music?
- Dialogue that’s obviously trying to refer to action in an older book in the series, in the past, etc. A dead giveaway about this is dialogue that includes something like, “You’ll recall…”
What are your pet peeves as readers?
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