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?