Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Top Ten Writing Pet Peeves

This is one of those blog posts where I offer nothing all that informative other than insight into what makes me tick.  In particular, this blog is devoted to what I consider to be the cardinal sins of writing.  Okay, so they aren't that bad--more pet peeves of mine.  As writers, we all have--at least I hope--our own styles of writing.  With those styles come opinions and perceptions of what is right, wrong and just plain annoying.  My list of the just plain annoying--keeping with my whole sin theme--is presented below:

1.  Thou Shall Not Write A Paperweight-I LOVE vivid descriptions...when they're warranted that is.  Some authors, however, like to riddle their works with as much unnecessary detail as possible resulting in a book with the capacity to kill someone if it were to fall off a shelf.  If I owned Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead in hardcover, for example, I'd make for darn sure they were on the bottommost shelf. Detail is great; detail is the icing on an otherwise satisfactory baked good.  Nevertheless, too much of a good thing will eventually make you sick.

2.  Thou Shall Not Begin A Sentence With The Word "And"-Let me make this clear, there is nothing grammatically wrong with beginning a sentence that way--unless of course you happened to have been one of my Language Arts teachers.  In Water For Elephants, many sentences begin this way garnering a reponse from me akin to someone running their nails down a chalkboard.  Even though I have reluctantly allowed myself to commit this act, it's just unnatural to me--which I guess is the very definition of "pet peeve".

3.  Thou Shall Refrain From Naming Thy Characters Either "Edward" or "Jacob"-I don't think I have to mention what book series includes these two names.  Unfortunately, they're also the names of two characters in Water For Elephants (which makes the fact that Rob Pattinson is playing "Jacob" that much more amusing).  There are other old school names besides "Edward".  For example, Harry, Peter, Rufus, Delbert...okay, I can see why Edward would be the  first choice.

4.  Thou Shall Focus On BOTH Plot AND Character Development For One Is NOT Better Than The Other:  I've read a few novels where there were incredible characters with a very narrow plot for them to traverse through (and vice versa, although not as often).  This is your novel, your attention to detail and perfection should shine throughout ALL aspects.

5.  Thou Shall Not Recycle The Same Story Over And Over Again-I've addressed this in my other blogs if you want a true rant on this little gem read my post on query letters.  As an aspiring author, I understand that pleasing your readers is immensely important, but if you've developed a devoted enough following, I think they'll understand if you mix things up a bit.  Instead of just a romance, perhaps include a smattering of mystery or suspense, for example.  I've read works by authors where it seemed like all they did was change the character's names and setting, but left the rest like everything else they've ever written.  Too often, I believe authors become so wrapped up in what has made them successful that they feel they've grown all they can.  This leads me to my next peeve;

6.  Thou Shall Travel Out Of Thy Comfort Zone-I'm the perfect example of this.  Not too many women dabble in science fiction (high five to my sisters who do).  In fact, if you would have told me five years ago that I would actually write a science fiction novel, I would have thought you crazy. When I first began writing, I toyed with romance, YA and works of a dramatic nature (just short stories, nothing big).  It was only after my novel refused to leave the crevices of my cranium that I finally decided that I would write it down just to eliminate the headache.  Sure, it was uncomfortable and required some research on my part, but not only did I get a novel out of it, I now have a series in the works.  If I would have stayed with romance, I may still be stock on a plot line.

7.  Thou Shall Not Question Thy Reader's Intelligence:  If your readers are surprised to learn that a school bus is a brilliant shade of maize encompassing a bulky metallic structure built for the transport of small humans, chances are they won't have the mental capacity to even pick up a book let alone read it.  Don't be overly descriptive of trivial things, it's both unnecessary and unfortunate.  Your readers know how to brush their teeth, you don't need to provide them with step-by-step instructions in your novel.

8. Thou Shall Not Overuse Punctuation:  I've never purported to be the Queen of all Grammar.  Lord knows--during the revision stage--I've often questioned my own comma misusage.  Don't place commas, semicolons or em dashes willy-nilly as though you're decorating a Christmas tree.  Take time to learn how they're used.  I know, I know I need to take my own advice on this one.

9.  Thou Shall Try To Maintain Unpredictable Dialogue:  This is, unfortunately, something I also need to work on.  All too often, I come across dialogue--mainly a parent talking to a child--where I don't even need to read the page to know what's being said.  Conventional dialogue doesn't always translate into good parenting.  Surprise the reader, make your characters say something completely unexpected or new.

Finally, the biggest one of them all:

10. Thou Shall Deliver On One's Promises:  I recently read a book that promised an epic battle; the battle of the century, in fact.  Well, maybe it didn't literally promise that this was going to happen but the build-up throughout the first 500 or so pages was really making me anxious.  About ten pages away from the ending, I'm thinking to myself, is there another book in this series?  Sadly, there was no such book...and no such battle.  Had there been one perhaps that series could have been saved in my eyes.  Instead, I was just pissed.  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD stay away from being anticlimatic.  For those of you who fail to heed this suggestion, you better begin readying yourselves for your readers to rally around your home with pitchforks.

There you have it, my ten Pet Peeves.  Now it's your turn to leave some of your own.  For the purpose of my blog is for writers to come together to vent, advise, debate and confer over the one passion we all have in common.

My next post will stick to my usual, informative format and will address the proper usage of semicolons and em dashes as I too could use a refresher course.

3 comments:

Megan Conway said...

For #2: Although I love The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, there is a lot of this and sometimes it gets on my nerves. I see your meaning.

For #5: True. It's annoying when you're basically reading the same story over and over. This is why, for Unexpected, it's not JUST a Mystery, but also a Romance and Supernatural.

For #6: I need to do this too.

For #7: You practically took the words out of my mouth.

For #8: Ugh! I hate this. I'm a grammar freak and if I misplace a comma, I'll dwell over it until I figure out it doesn't go there. Same with reading. I cringe whenever I see a misplaced comma (e.g. Twilight).

I think that's all I have to say.

-Megan

Sara Furlong-Burr said...

LOL every time I find a misplaced comma I cry a little. I've not read any of Tolkien's work, but I'll try him out and see if his usage of "And" bothers me. I'm looking forward to reading your books!

Thanks for the comment!

NyNy said...

A nice list you have here! I totally agree with most of your points, it really annoys me! "And" is what I was taught at school not to use yet when I read more and more books, that rule seems to not apply O_O many people write using "And" and it just confused me.

Haha, I will not use the names Edward and Jacob. Focusing on character development and plot is definitely important! I wrote a post about my own fiction pet peeves, it includes some additional ones that you may not have talked about but I hope you will read, comment and tell me what you think :) http://nynyonlinex.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/fiction-pet-peeves/