Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Pet Peeves in Novels

As a treat to myself because I've successfully completed the work week (even though, technically, I'm still on duty this weekend), and because I'm trying to avoid housework, I'm going to give myself the treat of a mini-rant.

The following is a list of the things I really, really hate when I come upon them in a novel. Some of them will cause me to stop reading the novel. When this happens, I may, or may not, go back to reading the novel. Sometimes, I won't even buy another book by the author.

I'm not saying authors should avoid doing these things, because all readers have their own list of pet peeves and if you put all the lists together, you wouldn't be able to write anything. You've got to write the story you've got to write, period. However, some of these things may just be poor writing technique, which can always be improved. I've noticed that big-time authors (Tess Gerritsen, Lindsay Davis, Sue Grafton, Dick Francis, etc) don't seem to make these mistakes, so I have to assume that there is a higher level we as writers can attain. Or at least try to attain.

So here is my list. Feel free to add your own comments and items...
  1. She glared at him, her emerald eyes flashing, her rich fiery-red tresses streaming out behind her like a living thing, glowing in the darkness... This hits several of my hot buttons. I may have mentioned how I'm just tired of characters with green eyes and red hair, and I'm particularly tired of eyes described in similies to jewels and rocks... His obsidian eyes raked over her, lingering on the neckline of her dress which had slipped fractionally, revealing her large, ripe breasts, rising and falling rapidly as she tried to control her anger... I don't know what it is, but if I read about another pair of "obsidian" or "emerald" eyes, I'm going to scream. Surprisingly, I have less problems with granite. Anyway, I'm not here to psycho-analyze myself--so that's number 1.
  2. Women acting like fools. I don't mean what you think I mean. I'm actually okay with the woman creeping down the dark basement steps with a flashlight and no gun or cell phone, knowing that a mad-dog killer is on the loose and having heard the sound of breaking glass in the cellar. I'm okay with that because I'm hoping that either: a) she's about to die horribly; b) it's going to be exciting; c) the mad-dog killer's about to die in an inventive way; or d) it's a trick and it's really the cat knocking over a jar of preserves.

    What I mean by "acting like fools" are those absolutely humiliating scenes the authors contrive to have the hero walk in on the heroine where she's doing something "cute"/stupid/humiliating. Here are just a few examples:

    The heroine decides to go skinny dipping on the hero's property. This is particularly aggregious in a historical romance. I mean, come on!

    The heroine decides to burst out into song and dance somewhere other than her own house (or better yet, bedroom/shower), like in the middle of a field, garden, or woods on the hero's property.

    The heroine decides to take a bath in the hero's bathtub, when he's supposedly not home, or when she's like...some kind of a worker like a maid in the hero's house.

    The heroine is in the shower and she screams because a cockroach (or something similar) falls on her head and the hero comes running from the guest shower or bedroom, or whatever. Of course, he's probably naked, too, for whatever reason. Sheesh.

    The hero and heroine decide to wrestle in the nude. Honestly, I read that in a book and I was like, o-kay I guess we're just a little hard-up for an inventive s-e-x scene, now, aren't we?

    The heroine performs a little song-and-dance strip-tease routine for the hero (yeah, that's right, like in that movie...).
    I actually have to leave the room or skip over it....
  3. Emotional manipulation by the author to make you like the heroine or hero. The most horrendous are the animals. I am so sick (gag) of stories where in the opening scene, the hero or heroine is saving an animal of some sort. Paticularly a wild animal. Paticularly if the author has that person caring for a wild animal on their own, because most states in the U.S. have laws about that--you're supposed to take the critter to a wildlife rehabilitiation specialist--and this really steams me if the author has someone like a vet (who should know better) patch up the wild critter and give it back to the people who brought it in for care! That vet should lose their license and be hit over the head with a brick a few times. Okay, it's hard for me not to launch into a really long rant over this, but suffice to say, the proper thing for a vet under these circumstances to do would be to do what they can to stabilize the critter and then call the appropriate authorities who will contact a licensed wildlife rehabber, who will then do what is necessary. Under no circumstances would or should the critter go back to the nice, caring individuals who brought it to the vet. Give the people a gold star and let them go on their way.

    And if the hero or heroine are not licensed wildlife rehabbers than I don't want to read about them picking up and taking care of injured wild critters, because for one thing it's irresponsible. (Do you have any idea how many fawns/deer starve to death or get diseases or illnesses because some fool decided they knew what they were doing and were going to care for them? That they even had a clue about the dietary requirements?) Like I said, don't get me started.

    Of course, that's just one example. The other examples of emotional manipulation is the poor heroine who has to take some horrible job as a companion/governness/mistress because the poor heroine has to earn money to take care of poor old granny and/or lots of young brothers and sisters, and let's not forget the cute little brother or sister who has some kind of physical or mental problem. This is generally more of a historical-type situation. I actually don't mind the companion/governness/mistress part--I actually like stories like MISTRESS OF MELYN (I can't spell the title, but I like it) but there is no family, no sickly younger sibling involved. It's those appendages that make me feel like the writer is looking for a short-cut to make their hero/heroine look sympathetic.

    I actually like quite unpleasant heroines/heros. I like characters with flaws. I don't like being manipulated, however, into liking a character based on "poor little me - I'm trying to take care of all these relations..." That just ain't gonna happen.
  4. Anger management: If your hero and heroine fight from page 1 through page 389, one or both need to be in anger management. If I read about one more heroine who stamps her foot and glares at the hero after he makes some innocuous statement, I'll...well...maybe I need anger management. For some reason, hero's don't tend to do the foot-stamping/glaring stuff so much, for which I'm eternally grateful.

That's four biggies. I have more, but it really is getting late and I've got to at least pretend to do some housecleaning today.

What are your pet-peeves?

(I have an ulterior motive--I'm paranoid I'll do something really, really stupid in my own books...)


David Oppegaard said...

Ha ha. What books did you find these pet peeves in? Nora Roberts stuff?

I'm sick of New Yorker stories where 20 something and older children work out deep seated "issues" with their parents through the arc of short story. Or try and fail to work them out. Either way, I'm freaking sick of it.

HAWK Center said...

I LOVED your rant about how people should get animals to a wildlife rehabilitator! THANK YOU! Maybe someone will read and process it in a positive way.
HAWK Center