Somebody else has written an essay on something to the effect of “What makes bad books bad.” I haven’t read it (yet), but since I was trying to come up with a topic to write a blog about, I thought I might write about that. Because there Are things that make bad books bad, generically speaking.
However, those books are bad enough that they don’t usually get published. (Hopefully, anyway.) I’m talking about books with bad grammar, or “fishheads,” (also known as backstory dumps at the front of the book). There are manuscripts out there that detail Every Minute of the Character’s day. Taking a shower. Eating breakfast. Walking on the beach. Driving to work.
Now–walking on the beach can be fascinating in real life, obviously. I’ve written way too many blogs about it (probably). But in a book–if your character is going to walk on the beach, something has to happen on that beach that will change the story. He has to find a body washed up on shore–maybe tangled in the tentacles of a Portuguese man-o-war, but the jellyfish isn’t what killed her. Or she needs to kiss the hero. Or fight with the hero. Or make a confession of some kind to the hero. EVERYTHING that happens in a story must be important to the story in some way.
But what drives one person crazy (me) might be what another person loves about the book. So I’m just going to talk about the things that make it hard for me to finish a book, or have me arguing with the author/characters.
One of the things I’ve already mentioned: Nothing happens. I remember reading a historical romance–a traditional Regency, if I recall correctly–that opened with the heroine wandering over the hillside pondering the recent events in her life. I stuck with it, but it didn’t improve much. The pace remained abysmally slow. Which is kind of the same thing. Slow pace = nothing happens. Some slow paced books can work, but mostly, they just aggravate me.
Ponderous, purple prose. That annoys me. Sometimes it’s not even purple, just ponderous. Stilted. Like they think authors are supposed to write in lofty language. That works for Georgette Heyer. Barbara Metzger can do some very interesting things, playing with Heyer-ish language. Others–not so much. There are some authors who write mostly in that lofty tone, and then the characters will suddenly use slang. Or think in slangy, contemporary language–when they haven’t been for 2-1/2 chapters.
That’s another thing that can drive me bonkers. Inconsistency. If you’re going to use a historical-feeling tone, then use it. Don’t jump back and forth. Characters need to be consistent too. Obviously, emotions can change, but I’d like to be able to follow the change. You can let your characters do whatever they must–if it’s motivated. Too many unpublished authors (I’ve judged a lot of contests) don’t get enough internal thought, emotion and reaction into their stories, so their characters seem flighty. Unfortunately, there are a few characters in published books who don’t make a lot of sense. I want to be able to follow the character’s thought process as they make a decision. Not a bunch of wishy-washiness, or hand-wringing, but what they think, and why, and how they move to this decision, whether it’s a major change of heart or simply an important decision.
There are other things that make me crazy–poor historical, or even contemporary research. (IE. A state football championship in Texas that is played in the school’s home stadium. Excuse me? Even the 6-man football championships are played in AUSTIN. (The state capital) ALL championships-whether sports, music, academic–all of them are Always in Austin. Period. And it ain’t that hard to find that out. Geez.) (Okay, the UIL Solo & Ensemble State competition for band and choir musicians is in San Marcos for 1A schools–but San Marcos is only a little ways south of Austin.) Bad research can throw me so far out of the story, I’m arguing with the author in absentia for hours.
And then there’s the language that isn’t bad, but has no spark to it. It’s just–well, dull.
Are these things that annoy most readers? Are they things that make the books objectively bad? A case could be made, I suppose.
On the other hand, it could be argued that some of these things are just my subjective taste, like my mild distaste for vampires and pirates. (A vampire story has to be really good, and probably different, for me to like it. Same with pirates.) On the other other hand, I’m always willing to give a good Western, or werewolf/shapeshifter, or marriage of convenience story a try. I’m willing to recognize my prejudices and subjectivity in those areas. My disposition against slow-paced stories falls in this category, I think.
Which is why I gave this post the title I did. These are things that drive ME bonkers. They might make you nuts too. But then–you might not care.
What does annoy you when you’re reading? What kinds of things will make you set a book down and not pick it back up? I’m not necessarily talking throwing-it-against-the-wall, though you can share those too, if you want.
I’m leaving town this afternoon and won’t have Internet access way out in the wilds outside Valley Mills, so y’all play nice. I’ll try to check in before I go.