Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Top 5 Pet Peeves in Books–Angela Ackerman Guest Post

on July 11, 2012

Today, I’m pleased to host Angela Ackerman as a guest blogger! Angela Ackerman is a Canadian who writes on the darker side of Middle Grade and Young Adult. A strong believer in writers helping writers, she blogs at the award winning resource, The Bookshelf Muse and is co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression. Angela is represented by Jill Corcoran of The Herman Agency.

 

 

 

I’m a big fan of The Bookshelf Muse. It’s a fabulous resource for writers and includes an amazing thesaurus listing of everything from settings to character traits.  So, when Angela and Becca announced they had a book coming out, I couldn’t wait to download it on my Kindle!

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression is a writer’s best friend, helping to navigate the difficult terrain of showing character emotion. This brainstorming tool explores seventy-five emotions and provides a large selection of body language, internal sensations, actions and thoughts associated with each. Written in an easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment.

You can purchase The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression at:

You can also find the book on Goodreads.

Today, Angela Ackerman is guest blogging about her Top 5 Pet Peeves in Books.  I participate in a young adult book group, and I have to say, I think all of these Top 5 Pet Peeves in Books are things we talk about in the book group too!

 

We all know writers are the toughest critics. Yes, we completely appreciate the time and effort that it took to craft the book we’re holding in our hands, but we also know just how hard it is to get published. Most of us have been rejected times beyond number throughout our careers and so when we read a book, we have high expectations, and a very long measuring stick.

Does this mean we can’t be drawn in? Does it mean that we only read with an eye on the writing? No, not at all! Writers might be tough critics, but we are also deeply in love with a good story. We want the author to enthrall us and we’re rooting for them to succeed. And most often, these pen wielders achieve what they set out to do–weave a great story.

Unfortunately, not all books are flawless. If I were to think hard about what bugs me most, I could narrow it down to five pet peeves:

The Bait and Switch: I love the mystery element of a story. There’s nothing better than being drawn in by compelling characters, following their lives as the plot edges toward revealing the who-dun-it. So, nothing drives me more bat-smack crazy than when an author spends time and energy developing suspects, carefully revealing their storylines inch by inch, only to have the killer/thief/bad guy be a distant cousin whose name was mentioned once in passing at the 3/4 mark of the novel, or a random drifter, or the whole thing turns out to be a dream….GAH! When this happens, it leaves me so frustrated I refuse to read anything else by the author.

TMI (Too Much Information): Books with a good sense of pacing hook me hard. There’s nothing better than reaching the end of a chapter KNOWING I will be reading on (even though it’s 3 am, or the kids need dinner, or the dog has gotten lost in the laundry pile) because the events unfolding are so incredibly compelling. However, what slows…everything…to a lurching…crawl is copious backstory, internal monologue lumps or sludge piles of description. I love the characters and the setting I do, but I don’t want or need to know everything about them. I’m betting that I’m not the only reader who starts to skim when I hit bloated passages.

Head Hopping: Some things I have no forgiveness for, and head hopping is one of them. It always shocks me to find it in published books, because it’s such a writing 101 mistake. And, as I stated before, I’ve felt the heartburn of rejection too keenly to let poor writing technique slide, you know?

Bi-Polar Characters: I hold huge admiration for any author who can make characters feels so real that my chest tightens the closer I get to the end of the book, because I know I’ll have to give them up. This is magic! It takes incredible talent to create such empathy and deep understanding in the reader, and it means the author knows their character almost as well as one of their own children. Bi-Polar Characters are the opposite of this–their thoughts and actions are chaotic, their emotions are explosive and disorganized, and as a reader, I don’t understand their motivations. If I can’t identify with a character, their trials and goals become meaningless.

Plot Holes: For me, plot is like a beautiful spider’s web…a reader should be drawn along the delicate strings, see the branches & the connections until finally the author ties everything into a stunning centerpiece. If I spot a flaw in the logic or a see a situation that is never resolved, it’s like coming upon a giant hole in the web. The story is no longer complete or satisfying, and as a reader, I feel let down by the author.

Well that’s my five, so what’s yours? What peeves cause you to close the book completely? Have you ever felt so let down by a book that you left a negative review?

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50 responses to “Top 5 Pet Peeves in Books–Angela Ackerman Guest Post

  1. Kelly Polark says:

    Ahhhh, great things to look for in our own manuscripts, Angela! I’d love you to elaborate on head hopping though. I think I know what you mean, but more examples? THANKS! 🙂

  2. Christine Hardy says:

    Telling. I don’t min a little of it, but whwn the whole book reads like stage directions in a screenplay interspersed with dialogue I check.out. (Joe opened the fridge, took.out the milk and drank some. “It’s hot.” He opened the window. He was tired so he took a nap. Then he went to the store for more milk.)

    I’ve read books that were so dull I figured the author did that on purpose to get ot of and endless series she was tired of writing. Bestselling authors, too.

  3. Patchi says:

    I worked so hard to clean up the head hopping in my WIP that it now bugs me to spot it in published books.

    Bait & switch is another one that drives me crazy. Especially when it comes in the form of setting up a strenuous love story and, right before the happily ever after, one of the two lovebirds dies in a stupid accident just to make a point that life isn’t fair. Those are the books I literally fling across the room.

  4. Patti says:

    I totally agree wit h you on the bait and switch technique. Drives me crazy. And the head hopping, especially in the same scene.

  5. Carrie says:

    Oh, that head hopping is huge. I don’t mind multi-POV but it needs to be separated (as in separate chapters or something) I hate seeing the switches mid scene, drives me nuts since i know I sometimes slip and it’s something I am working on fixing in my own writing 😉

  6. Hi Kelly,

    What I mean by head hopping in published books is where the Omniscient POV is done very poorly and a lack of transitions sends us from one character’s thoughts to another character’s thoughts and the reader is yanked out of the story because they have to pause to think about which character’s head they are in.

    Sometimes as well there are blatant breaks in other POVs, such as 3rd or 1st, where there should only be one POV character at once. If there is a scene break or new chapter, an author can choose to switch POV in this case, but breaking point of view is when these rules are ignored and the author switches between two or more characters in the same scene, giving us the thoughts of both.

    Point of view is one rule that must be followed. For clarity, the reader should always know which character’s story they are following, and whose thoughts they are privy to.

    If Anna is the POV character and her thoughts tell the reader that she really likes Mike, a boy in her class, the author cannot also tell us in narrative that Mike hates Anna. Conveying this information directly breaks POV. The only way the author can show readers that Mike hates Anna is by either relaying Anna’s memories of a time when Mike did something to show his dislike of Anna, or by showing the reader Mike’s current actions, dialogue and body language as he interacts with Anna in the scene.

    I hope this clarifies a bit! 🙂 Point of View is hard to learn, but it is critical to do correctly. If there are POV breaks in published works, this is as much the fault as the editor involved as the writer, because both should know better.

  7. Sandi Jones says:

    Great post. I’ve read a couple of wall-thumpers before that pulled the bait-switch on me. I’ve never read anything else by those authors. One especially memorable romance I read had a hero who turned out to be the villain!

    • The hero turns into the villain? What, what, WHAT? That’s crazy. Something like that has to be set up in little bits, like Thor’s brother in the movie Thor.

      Ummm. Thor… 🙂

      • Leigh Daley says:

        I totally agree about that. What? Hero/villain? In a romance? That’s nuts! But then you said Thor and I kinda lost track of everything else. Hmmm. Thor. But you know, I also had some serious liking action for Loki in The Avengers. I’m happy to fall in love with a bad guy but only if he’s an anti-hero. The extreme bait and switch and random resolution ticks me off entirely.

  8. Christine, I agree! There is a place for telling, but if the writing is full of it, a reader’s interest will wane. Showing is much more powerful and is the heart of storytelling. Telling should be saved for critical yet unimportant details like summarizing how a character got from point A to Point B, or relaying mundane details (grabbing a cup of coffee on the way out the door, etc) to convey a sense of realism.

    Patchi, I agree! I recently read a book where it followed 3 characters and their lives, and there was a murder to solve. You assumed one of them was tied to the murder somehow, and clues were planted for all three, showing how they could be ‘the killer’. Then at the end of the book, the author revealed it was a second cousin to the victim who was back in town for that day at a funeral. I was all, WHAT? because the cousin was only mentioned once in passing. It did feel like a big rip off!

    Patti, agreed. A writer never wants to leave the reader frustrated. This is why we all work so hard on our craft!

    Carrie, I know–this is such an important one to get right. 🙂

    Thanks everyone for the comments, and to Mindy for the warm welcome! 🙂

  9. I think these five examples are pretty complete. Great list to keep in mind during revisions (as I will be doing soon.) thanks for a good share.

  10. The Bait and Switch is also one of my pet peeves but I have another to add: the drilled in idea. This happens when the writer’s been really clever about something but won’t shut up about it because they don’t trust that you’ll get it. So they keep bringing it up over and over – trying to drill their idea into your skull – until you just want to scream: ‘I GET IT, OK?’ and fling the book across the room.

    • Oh yes! This is another great one to add. I will admit, knowing how many clues to sprinkle has always been a tough one for me, but readers are smart–they pick up on things. There’s no need to beat them over the head with something. Thanks Louise!

  11. becca puglisi says:

    Great points, Angela! I am particularly sensitive to #5. Finding a plot hole in a story I’m invested in drives me a little crazy.

    Another is clichéd characters or story lines. I think this is a danger especially for YA, where ideas get popular and tend to be done to the point where you wish the entire genre would just die already. If you love vampires and you’re passionate about writing them, it’s your job as a writer to make sure you’ve got a unique slant to set your story apart. My two cents.

  12. Thanks Angela for sharing your Pet Peeves! This is a great discussion!

  13. Rose Green says:

    I have a hard time with books by successful adult authors who want to write something for the kiddies, and talk down to them in the process. There are some adult authors who transition extremely well to MG (Rick Riordan and Brandon Sanderson come to mind), but I’ve read far too many that think kidlit means excessive telling, too much time spent in the heads of adult characters (because the kids are too dumb to have in the scene too long??), watered-down stakes where everything feels so safe you can’t suspend disbelief, and a lack of realization of just how deeply kids can feel. (Also, calling a book YA when the characters notice the opposite sex as much as a six-year-old.) Basically, good writing is required across the board, no matter what age you write for–and since the books do tend to be a bit shorter, there’s perhaps even less room for bad writing in kidlit.

    • *loud clapping* Rose, you nailed it. Authors who think writing for kids is a cinch because you just just have to use shorter words and throw in some morals….*rips hair out* Not a lot of these books slip through and get published, but some do…especially if there’s a celebrity name attached.

  14. readatouille says:

    POV hops drive me crazy, too–especially when the mc, in first person, comments on his/her own facial expressions (with no mirror in sight) or tells you what someone else is thinking!

    • Yes it is super tricky to get in personal description when in First person, but it can be done without a person thinking about their long, pale blonde hair, piercing green eyes, etc etc…or standing in front of a mirror.

  15. Romances when the characters involved would have no difficulties if the *only talked to each other.* This drives me around the bend.

    • AGGGH! Yes! I really agree with this one, especially if the author keeps throwing in obstacles to keep them from resolving the issue and they ‘feel’ like author intrusion. Same thing with action delays. Very annoying.

      • Leigh Daley says:

        Can I just say Amen to this one too??? I rapidly run out of patience with characters who are just too immature to have a relationship with each other. Sure the genre calls for blocks, but can’t the blocks at least be realistically based in character? Sometimes I quit rooting for a HEA for characters because they are too danged stupid to deserve it.

  16. The Golden Eagle says:

    Yes, I’ve left negative reviews of books that disappointed me. Plot holes are my biggest pet peeve–if things aren’t resolved or proceed illogically, it can be a turning point for a story I otherwise enjoyed.

    • I will admit to leaving a few as well, although I don’t do this any more. I think if a book leaves me angry, not disappointed, or frustrated, but actually ANGRY, then that’s when temptation is strongest to pen a review.

  17. Leigh Daley says:

    Super awesome post!!! Great discussion too! Thanks so much for this.

  18. excellent list, Angela, and lots of good points in the discussion, too. I think what all these peeves have in common is they pull the reader out of the story. And that ruins the moment or the entire book depending on how serious the infractions are.

  19. Mirka Breen says:

    Love your fifth point- plot holes. This is a reminder that fiction is not life, because life is full of holes.
    I have made the decision not to leave negative reviews. What for? I endorse, or keep mum. My pet peeve is writing so dense that I have no idea who or what. I was recently asked to give feedback to a manuscript that left me feeling intellectually challenged and dizzy. For some reason it was labeled ‘literary.’
    A reminder^ that not everything is for everyone. That’s why a review from me will be an endorsement or it won’t be.

    • I agree Mirka, and this is what I am now doing. If I can’t endorse it, I just don’t review. Regardless of whether I enjoyed it or not, the author went to a lot of work to write it. And, we each have our own tastes, which is totally okay 🙂

  20. Great list, Angela. I’d like to add one of my own though that really drives me nuts. You are reading and getting into the story and the plot seems to be moving along with various intricacies that lead you to think it’s going to end with one of them being resolved. Then suddenly without any warning the book ends and you are left with a feeling of huh? I find this happening sometimes in paranormal books and in some YA books where nothing really happens. When that is the story I just want to throw the book at the author and ask them how they could have manipulated me to read all the way to the end for nothing!!

    • I agree! I’ve always hated “open ended” endings and really feel disappointed when I’ve experienced one. Most of Stephen King’s later works drove me nuts without any real resolution offered. Just my opinion…

  21. kittyb78 says:

    Plot holes and bait and switch are two of my biggest.

    • I think these ones are perennial grumbles for many of us writers. We know what we’re supposed to avoid, so when we see it in a published work…it drives us crazy. Thanks for stopping in Kitty!

  22. Good ones, Angela! Stereotypical characters is mine! *hi Mindy*

  23. Yvette Carol says:

    Angela I’m interested in the ‘head-hopping’ bit. The lovely Maria is helping me with critique of what will be my first book. She said I had swapped POV in the first chapter and suggested I restrict it to the protag. I did so and it’s improved the flow. However… this story is also told from the antag’s POV and at various times from other characters (when the antag or protag are elsewhere). How would one get around this? Or do I cut out all of that altogether? Your advice would be appreciated!!

  24. HI Yvette,

    There’s nothing wrong with telling the story from several points of view as long as you follow a few rules. 🙂

    First, every time you change the POV, you must have a scene break or a new chapter. This signals to the reader that the old scene has ended, and a new scene has begun, and possibly through a new POV.

    Second, you need to clearly show who’s POV it is immediately so the reader is not confused. This can mean a chapter heading with the character’s name, or a strong distinctive voice that tells us immediately whose head we’re in, or directly picking up the scene where the last POV chapter or scene left off. For example, if the character Al had his POV scene ending where he was heading out to a gun shop, his next POV scene should show him tapping the glass showcase and telling the guy behind the counter he wants the Glock 9 mm. By having a smooth flow of events that connect, there is no doubt we’re back in Al’s POV when we find ourselves in the gun shop, see?

    Another way to differentiate dual POV characters is to chose one POV in 1st, one in 3rd.

    A word of caution…only tell the story from the POV characters you really need. I recommend no more than 2 POV in a novel. I have seen more done, but often this is through Omniscient POV, which is very difficult to pull off without practice. Stephen King is a master at it. If there is a scene where neither POV character is present yet you must show the events…figure out a way for one of the main characters to be present, or challenge yourself to have the info come out another way.

    When writing multiple POV novels, some people struggle with deciding on which character to give the POV to in each scene. I can’t remember where I heard it, but I read once that the right POV in a scene is the Character who has the most to win or lose in a scene. To me, this seems like sound advice. 🙂

    Does this help a bit?

    Angela

    • Yvette Carol says:

      Gosh! Thank you Angela. That helps a lot!! Maria critiqued chapter one which is now solely from my protag’s POV, then she just did chapter two last night which is from the antag’s POV. I was really nervous to open the email! You’ve echoed some of what she said, in that she said it works in this instance because each chapter was clearly a distinctly different character. However that left me with unanswered questions as to how to get around my switches later on in the book. It’s going to take a heap of revision now instead of a smidge, shall we say!
      Your advice will help a lot. I’ve copied & pasted it into my revision notes. Do you mind if I also post some or all of it on our group board? I think it’ll be beneficial for everyone to see…
      Thanks again for the depth you went into covering all angles. I appreciate it 🙂

  25. These are great. As the mother of bipolar children I understand that too well. I was critiquing a book for a friend and the way her character was all over the place made me nuts–I even asked her if her character was bipolar. lol

  26. Susan Lampe says:

    Thanks Mindy! I put her books on my amazon Wish List. SGLlam

  27. […] awesome Mindy Hardwick asks me to spill my Top 5 Pet Peeves in Books. Do you have the same ones?   The talented Elizabeth Arroyo is giving her love to a previous […]

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