Over at Murder She Writes, they're talking about wall bangers. What makes you heave a book in disgust? What can't you stand? I had to think about this for a bit. I am an extremely picky reader, which is bad. But, knowing that, I try to stick with a book even when it irritates me. Unless it irritates me so much that reading is a torture or, worse, boring. Boring is the biggest wall banger of them all. Predictable doesn't do it, head hopping doesn't do it, TSTL doesn't necessarily do it, but boring will.
I don't know how to describe boring, except maybe it's a book that's predictable, thinly layered (if at all), and cliched. Best I can do. I know it when I see it. And my boring isn't necessarily your boring. For instance, I thought a certain book about a certain religious conspiracy boring (can't name names because I promised to be nice from now on; even mega-blockbuster writers have feelings, ya know). Yawn, snore, oh my, boring. Most people don't agree with me on that one.
Head hopping was one of the things mentioned over at MSW. It does bother me, but not because I look at it and scream, like some sort of pod person from that body snatcher movie, YOU CAN'T DO THAT! RULE BREAKER! EEEK! EEEK!
Ooops, got carried away. 🙂 I agree that it can be done well and it can be done poorly. Nora Roberts does it well. (Literary novels do it all the time, but I'm specifically talking about genre fiction here.) What bothers me about it, though, is that I never feel close to the characters. I never feel like I know them, because head hopping done well means I'm never deeply in a character's head and I'm never there long enough to know the character. Head hopping done poorly means I don't care AT ALL because I'm too busy recovering from whiplash. What's the difference between poorly and well? I think, armchair analysis here, that done well has to do with a limited 3rd POV that feels light and nimble, whereas poorly done implies a deeper degree of immersion in the 3rd POV than can comfortably be gotten out of quickly. To ping-pong between deep 3rds gives that whiplash effect that often results in wall-bangers. 🙂
TSTL. Oh my. I seriously dislike too stupid to live characters. To pull an example from the movies, my husband didn't like “The Constant Gardener” because he thought the character played by Rachel Weiscz was TSTL. I liked the message of the movie, so I was able to overlook that to a certain extent. But, yeah, she was pretty stupid.
Backstory. Infodumps. Puhleeze. I try not to do it myself, I really do, so when I pick up a book by [insert famous novelist] and get ten pages of backstory to start the book, I grit my teeth but keep reading because she can get away with it and I can't. However, where it really irritates me is when the action of the book grinds to a halt for a page and a half of backstory. Aaaahhhhh!
It's like you're watching a movie, and the action is suspenseful, and the music is fast-paced and your heart is pounding and then—
Screeeeeeech. Light, fluffy music begins to play while the character takes you into an aside while she remembers the first time she met Hunk O'Man, how she's always loved him, how he's the only one for her, how their relationship broke up in the first place, how they can't be together because of the past, blah blah blah. Drives me NUTS! Why do writers do this? Why do we think we have to halt the action to tell the reader all about the characters' pasts? I'm guilty, I know it, but I'm trying to fix it. Think of backstory as sentences and lines, not paragraphs. Heard that on a conference workshop CD and it's the best advice ever, I think.
Anyway, those are my biggest pet peeves/annoyances that I can think of right now. I'm sure I'll think of more. What stops you when you're reading a book? Do you plow through anyway, or do you set the book aside for a while (guilty), or do you stop reading it all together? How many chances does an author get with you? If you dislike one book, will you try another?
Why I don’t read certain books…
1. Boring or another word is predictablity. When I can predict what will happen next and then look at the ending and it is exactly what I think is going to happen… I chuck the book.
2. When I cannot tell who the main character is… and I have invested all this effort into a character and she or he fades away or dies. The book makes a whole in my wall.
3. When the grammar is poor, and I feel like I need to act as the editor. Yep its a gonner.
4. When I read a book and it is the same plot with different characters… this usually happens will best-selling authors. I refuse to read their next three books because it will be the same…
5. Last but not least… if I am not in the action, I cannot spare the time to read it.
LOL My reasons for chucking a book… there have been a few that I have even chucked into the garbage… and you know how I feel about books.
For me, it’s bad (or lack of) research. My daughter Meredith, being a very literal-minded hard sciences kid, has been known to scream at the tv, “You can’t just make stuff up!” She really has to struggle to read fiction — too much “making it up” going on.
So if you’re going to make stuff up, it better be believable.
#4. Cyn, you’re right. This does happen, and it’s a shame for the readers. OTOH, with the pressure to produce, I can sorta understand how this could happen to a writer.
Good point about the research, Terry. I haven’t read any wallbangers in that department lately, probably because it’s more likely to crop up in historicals and I haven’t read one in a while. If it’s in the contemps, I don’t notice it (unless it’s something I know a lot about).
If someone wrote a contemporary book set on Oahu, for instance, and had their character drive to the volcano to watch it erupt, I’d erupt. 🙂 The volcano (erupting) is on the Big Island. When that silly cop show set here was on a season ago, they did just that. Had someone find a body at the volcano and the HPD showed up without any indication of whether they’d helicoptered in or what.
My biggest pet peeve is 1st person narrative. I’ve yet to read a book in this POV that didn’t frustrate me because I’m itching to get into the heads of the other characters at various times. I like very well-rounded stories, and first person is extremely limiting. As a reader, I dislike it very much.
Second to that is contrivance. I’ll snap a contrived book shut in a heartbeat. I feel it’s an insult to a reader’s basic intelligence to supress plausibility just so you can get a plot twist in, or force a certain happening. Gag me with a crowbar.
Thirdly, don’t bore me. I prefer pageturners. If it’s not a gripper, then it better give me a reason to want to turn the pages. 😉
To be on the safe side, I give all books the 50 page test. If it doesn’t have me by then, I chuck it. I used to feel compelled to slog through to the end – hated leaving a book unfinished – but no time for that anymore.
Now that’s interesting about 1st person POV, Millenia. I don’t think I’ve been bothered by it, though maybe it depends on the novel. I don’t really like romance novels done in 1st person, for instance. I’ve seen it before, though it’s usually pretty rare.
I think your 50 page test is a sensible one! I try to read the first chapter in the store, but sometimes I don’t. I get mad when I get home and find I made a mistake because I should have done the first chapter test. 🙂