Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 26 July 2015

THINGS THAT PUT ME OFF (WHEN READING A BOOK) by Gill Stewart


When there are so many books to choose from, why put your reader off with e.g. silly typos?

I’ve recently read a book published by an author who appears to sell well. It had many good points – great characters and setting, funny incidents that made you smile or even laugh out loud, but if I hadn’t been on a long train journey I doubt very much I would have finished it.

It contained two of my biggest bugbears:

      1)         Typos. Three major ones, where character names were used wrongly. That might not even count as a typo, rather just pure carelessness. It certainly pulled me right out of the story as I tried to work out why X was suddenly doing something when he/she wasn’t even supposed to be there.
      
      2)         Contrived plot/suspense. By contrived suspense I mean that the author, narrator and characters all know ‘something’. This something is hinted out to the reader but not actually revealed. This drives me mad. I can share a character’s suspense if they themselves really don’t know something, but I just can’t believe it when the character does know but the author is manipulating me to think something else.

In this particular book the hero was pining after a previous lover who had an androgynous name so it could have been a man or a woman. Nowhere in the first third or so of the book was he/she or his/her used in connection with this character. Clearly we were meant to be kept guessing. But why? The hero obviously knew. It didn’t add anything to the plot, just gave you a little thought ‘oh I wonder …’ which would have been fine for 4 or 5 pages but not a third of the book! And as soon as the lover is shown to be female the book is littered with use of the appropriate feminine pronoun in relation to her, so this obviously was completely contrived.

Black mark. Don’t play with your reader unless there is a point.

And that wasn’t the only example of contrived suspense, there were at least two others, so it was no wonder I wanted to scream at the book more than once.

The annoying thing was, apart from these issues, it was a good read. One that could have been made great by some judicious editing. This was a traditionally published book, so no excuse that there wasn’t an editor involved. It makes me wonder what went wrong. Lack of time? Experience? Training?

When you’re reading a book, what are the kinds of things that infuriate you (or, as I say more politely in the title, put you off)?

17 comments:

  1. Stereotyping of characters infuriates me.

    You should always travel with a Kindle on long train journeys then you wouldn't have to finish something which irritates you. Life is too short.

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    1. Yes, stereotyping - good point. And also re Kindle! Thanks.

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  2. "Don’t play with your reader unless there is a point." Yes, Gill, I so agree! It counts as cheating and it makes the reader feel excluded.

    Does it work the other way? How much can the reader known that (some of) the characters don't?

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    1. I like your quote Jennifer, that puts how I feel v. succinctly.

      Interesting as to whether the reader can known something the characters don't. I would say yes, if it is well-handled. If it goes on too long and becomes obvious to the reader and the character still doesn't see it then that makes the character stupid/weak and wouldn't work for me.

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  3. I don't like what for me, are unsatisfactory endings. I've read two high profile books lately, that have been very disappointing at the end. One in particular made me experience a range of emotions...tension, excitement, sadness. I wanted more at the end. It was like a balloon that went pop before I'd finished with it!

    Liv Thomas

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    1. I completely agree about unsatisfactory endings! That drives me mad. When things are left unresolved, or resolved in a completely unrealistic way :(.

      Thanks for popping by.

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  4. As an historical novelist, Gill, the thing that drives me to throw books, is when a nineteenth century heroine has been awarded a twenty-first century mindset. anne stenhouse

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    1. Thanks Anne. I can see how frustrating that would be for you. As a reader of historical novels, but not a writer, I have to admit that it doesn't bother me unless it is completely unnatural.

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  5. I agree with Anne. Earlier in the year I had the misfortune to read a book allegedly set in thirteenth century England, but which read more as if the characters were twenty-first century people magically set down in the Wild West. The author even used the word 'posse' more than once.

    Even more than an obvious lack of understanding of the chosen setting for the novel, I'm put off by typos and bad grammar. If you're a writer, why write as if you hate the English language? Of course you have to get the story written down quickly, but there's no excuse for not rereading or having someone else read it to spot those things that prevent a reader from continuing to suspend their disbelief.

    It may or may not be my imagination that books in general are not as well edited as they used to be, or perhaps I'm just getting better at spotting these things.

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    1. Thanks for the interesting comments April. I also feel books are not as well edited now as they used to be - but maybe, like you, I'm just more attuned to spotting errors. Although not, unfortunately, in my own work!

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  6. You've certainly got us all wound up, Gill! It's obvious we all have our pet hates (and loves). I read a book recently where I got to the end and was left hanging. It seems there was to be a second in the series (probably a year later). I'll never read it. I was incensed! Of course write a series - but you have entice your readers to read the next one because they truly want to become involved in their characters' lives beyond the pages of the current book. Leaving me in suspense was NOT the way to do it. There should have been resolution to the current situation - with hints, of course, that they would in future face further difficulties. Harrumph!

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    1. Yes, I do think the price of a book includes the beginning, middle and end. On the other hand, if the writer doesn't finish it, it gives us a free hand to make up the ending we think it deserves.anne stenhouse

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    2. Completely agree Jenny about being incensed by unsatisfacotry endings. Anne puts it just right - we are paying for (and expect) a beginning, a middle AND an end. I shall remember that line for the future!

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  7. I have just finished an interesting non-fiction book (not on Kindle) on experimental fiction, something I wanted to know more about. It is a Bloomsbury publication which used to represent quality. It is a strange muddle of typos, missing letters (such as the t missed of 'that') and word), and confused information such as Nicholas Royle being quoted as senior lecturer in Creative Writing At Manchester Metropolitan and then TWO paragraphs later, Nicholas Royle is Professor of English at he University of Sussex. The whole book is set out in an almost exaggerated question and answer format, like non-fiction books in the sixties: "In what way were the Beats spiritual?" The author then goes on to answer the question.A short section at the beginning of each chapter repeats that the chapter will do this or that so readers and writers can do this or that and "incorporate these strategies into their own fiction" Just once would have been enough. It's almost as if the draft of a University manuscript has been published without any editing. The author, Julie Armstrong is Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, so clearly she can spell 'that' without missing off the 't'. I'm not sure who is at fault here but I have never read such an infuriating book. She has published experimental fiction herself and yet the exercises provided are, in most cases, not much use without a decent amount of research: "Imagine you are one of the Beats in a club listening to jazz and engaging in conversation". A jazz club in America in the 1950's, conversations about music, politics, drugs...would most people find this do-able, off the cuff? I don't know. Perhaps I am being too hard. Books covering varieties of modernist and post-modernist experimental fiction and its writers, in an accessible way, are not common. The content was broad ranging, engaging, exciting even. With some decent editing, the book could have been amazing.

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    1. It sounds like a fascinating book Lesley, but one that would definitely have made me cross, too. I'm impressed that you obviously persevered! Thanks for dropping by.

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  8. Hello Gill, I liked your post. I'm both a reader and a writer. As a writer, I'm so pleased to read all your comments. This is the kind of free feedback that drives me to write stories readers are happy with. When I first started writing in 2010, I wrote straight from the heart. I didn't have formal training on writing. I love romance stories and I wanted to write the kind of stories I enjoy reading. I didn't get an editor because I could not afford one. Simple. When you read your stories over and over again, you stop spotting the errors. When I got one review that told me in clear terms, go and get an editor. I did.

    For my last 5 published novels, I got an editor and my writing has improved over the years like good wine. Lol! And for my last 3 books, I engaged professional cover designer with great results. More recently, I have gone back to re-edit my earlier publications. As I read my earlier novels now, I shake my head and wonder...was I so bad? As a writer, I treasure reviews - good and critical.

    As a reader, what infuriates me is when I see traditionally published books with simple typos indie books are accused of. It means the editor is not as well trained as expected. I have paid an editor in the past who didn't get rid of my grammatical errors. I had to send it off to another editor who cleaned out the manuscript.

    I love surprises. If an author tells me what is going to happen in advance instead of showing me, I lose interest.

    If a book has too many characters introduced almost at the same time, I can't keep up with the names, I'm incensed.

    Stella Eromonsere-Ajanaku
    Author/Creator of Flirty & Feisty Romance Novels

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