Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My Literary Pet Peeves

We're doing this again?!?

As with all avid readers there are more things that I love about books than I can even count, but there are also things that make me want to rip my own skin off when I read them. These are things that can ruin a perfectly good story for me, things that make me not only want to not finish the book I'm reading, but also make me want to avoid anything else that author has written. 

I'm going to be doing some bitching in this post, so if you don't want to read about my literary complaints and irritations, you may not want to click through. Otherwise, come along, dear reader.




Don't Put Your Shit On Me


My greatest literary pet peeve is authors who project their own prejudices on their characters. I fully understand that successful authors write what they know, but in 2014 it is absolutely unacceptable for civilized humans to believe that their <insert: race, sex, orientation, geographical location, religion, etc.> is better than anyone else's or that other people's <see above> is somehow inferior. I am not naive enough to believe that no one holds prejudices anymore, we all do, but an intelligent, compassionate person does not express those beliefs, and we try to examine and change them when they pop up. 

So when I'm reading I expect my heroines and heroes to be free of prejudices or for their prejudices to be justified flaws that they are working through. When prejudices in the narrative are glossed over and assumed to be accurate it really pisses me off. Particularly when the author is using her narrative to symbolize the wrongness of a different type of prejudice and injustice. I still have a surprising amount of anger regarding the handling of a certain formerly-beloved series when it came out in the story that non-Christian =  soulless and that the very Southern American belief that one should never wander far from "home," would become the ultimate theme of the series. 

A better way to handle the beliefs on one's characters is to really examine who they are to understand what they believe and why, and to work them through any prejudices they may have. I was particularly impressed with one of my favorite authors, Jeaniene Frost, in this respect. I've attended several of her signings, and at one a fan asked about the religious beliefs of her characters. Ms. Frost, very much a Christian herself, explained that Cat, has always been Christian and remains so, but Bones's life experiences led him to non-belief but that he's still questioning, open to religious possibilities. She went on to say that Mencheres, who was once a pharaoh, still holds Egyptian paganism as his belief. Ever classy, Ms. Frost had clearly thought about her characters' experiences and understood what they would have believed based on their own lives, rather than their creator's beliefs. Bravo!


Above All, Don't Be Lazy

The other three things that authors include in their writing that make me roll my eyes so hard I nearly sprain them, are all devices that are lazy, cheap, and unimaginative. Stories that include love triangles, deus ex machinas, or retconning are ones that I don't generally finish, purely on principle.

I loathe love triangles. I think that they are dull, overused devices employed by authors not creative enough to think of realistic, meaningful obstacles for their couple to overcome. Simply tossing a third party into the mix creates shallow drama that replaces much more interesting, realistic obstacles. It's fascinating to read about a couple who are on opposite sides of conflict, or who have geographic distance between them, or who are certain they can't be together for altruistic reasons, or who just plain fuck up and have to make amends. I'd much rather read about any of those kinds of relationships than a book (or more!) filled with idle wonderings about who (s)he really loves the most.

I'm outta here!
Deus ex machinas are characters or objects introduced into a story that solve a previously unsolvable problem. Again, it's another, cheap, lazy way for authors to solve problems with the narratives they set up. They ridiculously undo the rules that the author established, like waving a magic wand. Tell me a story, make the rules of your world, even outlansdish rules, and stick to them, and I'll follow you just about anywhere. Break the long-established rules of your world, or introduce random magical problem-solving objects, and I'll bail nearly every time. 

Retconning is probably the worst literary crime an author can commit. Okay, that's some pretty grand hyperbole, but it is incredibly frustrating to be a long-time fan of a series, to fully understand the rules of the world, and to watch the author rewrite the rules and reframe the characters' actions and experiences to make the current events make sense. It often feels like that author either doesn't remember what she's written, or changed her mind partway through and had to backtrack to cover her changing narrative. I have absolutely no problem with an author writing characters who change, evolve, grow over time--in fact, that's one of my favorite things to read about. But when the changes don't make sense, or require a rewriting of history to achieve the author's goals for a character, well, that's just sloppy writing, and I would hope a professional author could do better than that. 

**All GIFs from www.fuckyeahreactions.tumblr.com

End Rant, Saucy Readers! Did I hit your literary pet peeves? What would you add to my list? Share your book irritations in the comments below!

2 comments:

  1. Loved your post. Retconning is a major peeve of mine and has occurred in a much loved series of mine, that I can no longer face continuing on with it.

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  2. I have no problem with triangles (they can be quite enjoyable, as long as they don't enter the realm of the ridiculous), but the rest of your list is pretty much my list. Love it.

    Breaking world rules and resorting to easy cop outs is probably number one for me, because it makes all speculation null and void. I consider it cheating and not only does it take out all the fun, it also a humongous breach of trust, especially when it happens at the end of a long running series. I loose all respect for the author and will never trust them again.

    Other things that ruin a book for me are forced endings, moral messages shoved down my throat, important things happening off page and duds (especially those nonsensical things put in for the sole purpose of dragging people along).

    I don't think I'm hard to please. All I need is for an author to respect both their own work and their readers, even if it's only a little bit.

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