10 Pet Peeves I see in stories

Like many of you, I've been an avid reader all my life. I've actually thought that one of the worst things about dying someday would be all the wonderful books I would be leaving behind unread. At one time, a good story with good characters was all it took, but once I learned how to write effectively, I became much pickier about what I read. This isn't always a good thing. I love the first six books of the Drangonlance series--I even own the annotated versions--but I can't read them now. It's too distracting because I so badly want to edit the writing. 

Of course, different things annoy different readers, so I thought it might be educational to learn what annoys you, so to that end, I've made a list to share of the things that annoy me. Here's my top ten. What can you add?

1. When character change/growth occurs without any trigger for the change. I'm not just talking about the Main Character (MC). I've seen the MC's problems get resolved because secondary characters suddenly "see the light" and change their ways. Without something motivating the change, it just pisses me off. (Not only should you be able to point at the change and answer the question of "why" the change occurred, but the question "why now?")

2. Mary Sues. I hate when a character is "the most" or "the best" anything. If you're heroine isn't Sophia Loren or Catherine Zita Jones or Angelina Jolie (or whoever does it for you), she is simply NOT the most beautiful woman walking. Nor is your hero the most handsome, most Alpha, sexiest, most drool-worthy, most anything who ever lived. I have zero interest in MCs who can do no wrong and never fail at anything. I want MCs who are flesh and blood. Yes, the heroine's lover should see her as sexy as all get out--where he's concerned, she may even have a Glittery Hooha--but if every man in a hundred miles is lusting after her, I'm going to find her boring and unrealistic. And unless she's put in the time and effort and sacrifice to become "the best" at something, I'm not going to buy "the best" tag either. (How to tell if your character is a Mary Sue)

3. When a story and its characters are torn right from the tabloids (with the exception of non-fiction True Crime obviously). So yes, I'm tired of reading about Jennifer, Brad, and Angelina already. I don't need fiction from an author I regularly read rehashing that triangle--but I got it anyway.

4. When the author has a character ignore something because it's inconvenient for them to notice it. I can buy that MAYBE in the heat of the moment, but once the character has time to reflect, they should be able to piece things together. I can name some fairly popular authors who've done this (but I won't), and they've done it in books I've otherwise liked a lot, which sets up a serious internal conflict about whether I should continue to read that author.

5. When the viewpoint character knows something or has a flash of insight and it's not shared with the reader. I'll forgive it if it they don't keep me in suspense for more than a few pages, but any longer and I get ticked off. It's an artificial way to inflate the tension. In short, it's a cheat.

6. Author intrusion.The flip side to #5 is when an author intrudes and tells me something is going to be important. They might as well have a big neon sign pointing at the line that says "This will come back and bite the MC in the butt." I hate that. I'm at least as smart as the average bear. Don't condescend to me. It's insulting.

7.  Details that have no reason to exist. I love when an author hides clues in plain sight but that require you to be on-the-ball to catch them. When an author describes something in detail, I tend to pay attention because I expect that, sooner or later, a clue will be placed in just such an innocuous place. So when a writer continues to describe things in minute detail, but there's never a clue to be found, I get annoyed. This is something I might not notice unless I go on an author-binge, but if I do (and I've been known to), trust me, I'll notice.

8. Characters who never grow. Stephanie Plum & company. Need I say more? (Of course I bought about 15 books before I'd had enough.)

9. Openings that include a bunch of obvious back story on page one. I tend to put these books down without ever getting to page two. That said, some authors have a knack for doing this in ways I not only don't mind but that suck me in, forcing me to bond with the character. Harlan Coben is an absolute master at this, but even he uses it judiciously--which is probably why it works for him. If your name isn't Harlan Coben and you info dump on page one, don't expect me to read your book.

10. Excessive head hopping. I start to feel like I'm on a whirly-gig and I don't know who I should care about. In romance, I don't want to see much more than the hero and heroine's viewpoints and even in other genres, it's annoying. I have a list of authors I absolutely won't read because of this, even though they write otherwise good stories. I have another list of authors who walk the tightrope. Their books tend to keep getting moved downward in my to-be-read stack.

What do you see in books that annoys you? Any deal breakers?


  1. Unrealistic dialogue drives me nuts. It's a subjective one, but if I find myself saying, "Who says THAT?" then I'm likely to tire of the book quickly.

  2. I've seen a few Mary Sues about....

    What annoys me in the genre I primarily read is the author stopping in the middle of the narrative to go off on a "look how much I know about technology" ramble. They'll do the whole explaining how this bit of equipment is built, where it's done, what the foreman had for lunch on the day it was assembled...

  3. When a character makes decisions that no human being would ever make. Done as soon as I see it.

  4. I loved your points. I actually laughed out loud when you mentioned that one of your fears is not reading all the great books - I absolutely agree. Thankfully somebody else gets that too. I thought no.7 was interesting because I realise that I do that; describe stuff then realise it's really not relevant. I just don't want to cut it because it sounds nice... aha but I realise that it probably should go. I hate the reverse of no. 6 - where the author doesn't tell you enough to understand even the main plot, and has gazillions of plot threads that would tie in but never do. I attempted to read a book series like that, but by the third I just had no idea what had happened. It was like the writer had just torn chapters out - I think the MC died at one point, I didn't even realise. (Yes that did actually happen.) I gave them up quickly after that. Thanks for the post!

  5. I totally get #2. Nobody's perfect...who are they writing for when they write characters like that. I like # 9 and #7 also...or should I say, I hate to see them also. Great list altogether.

  6. Great list. I especially agree with number 8 and 9. I'm holding out for some growth from Stephanie

  7. Re:9, James Michener and Stephen King always have tons of back story in the beginning. Personally,in regards to number 5, when a character knows something secret and doesn't explain it to the reader for a long time, I think it builds some tension. Yes, it drives me crazy, but I like it.
    Great post.

  8. Characters who do something stupid or unnecessary to move the plot forward.

    Characters who withhold information that would let someone who wants to help them for no discernible reason. I read a police procedural by an author whose books I loved. Until I picked up a standalone where the heroine had this big secret and never told the husband she loved or the police when they came to investigate crimes that were happening because of this secret. A large part of the story was devoted to her agonizing over it, which was really irritating.

    I would keep reading the copy series, but standalones? I don't think so.

  9. Head hopping drives me nuts as well as sentences that leave me going What? and scratching my head in wonder. I also have a hard time reading most books any more because as you said, "I'm trying to edit!"

  10. When I don't understand what happened or the plot line it's very frustrating. If I don't follow it I'm pretty sure lots of others won't and tend to ditch those books. Boring is another. I can handle tremendous detail and wording but boring - no.