Sometimes you’re reading a perfectly nice novel, really getting into it, enjoying where the plot seems to be headed… And then the writer does something that makes you put down your book and let out an exasperated sigh: “you were doing so well, why would you do this to me?” Everyone has their own list of literary pet peeves, those lines an author can never cross without losing a bit (or a lot) of your respect. No matter how great the rest of the book is, you will always come back to that one thing, roll your eyes, and say “oh no, I really wish you hadn’t done that.” So aspiring authors, start taking notes: here are ten of my biggest literary pet peeves.
10. Conflicts That Could Easily Be Solved By The Characters Having an Honest Conversation With Each Other
If it can be solved by two people sitting down and having a reasonable two-minute discussion with each other like adults, it is not a problem. Unless, of course, the characters are not adults. Or are completely dysfunctional. Or both.
9. Shocking and Only Shocking and Nothing Else
A lot of authors out there have a Point to make and I’m all for that, but I have very little patience for books that are out to be controversial and have little else to offer. A number of people have told me: “Ah, but you’re supposed to think it’s repulsive, that’s the whole point.” Great, but… Then what? There has to be more to the book than just shock value and hammering home some vague notion about The World We Live In or People These Days, that is not enough. Be outrageous, really go for it, but give me something more. Give me answers, give me subtlety, give me layers, but don’t bark into my face that my response to your writing proves that I’m just a zombie like the rest of them, man, and then walk off like you’ve made your point. You have got to do better than that.
8. And His Eyes Were Majorelle Blue With Flecks of Periwinkle
Unless it is relevant to the plot, contributes to world-building, or tells us something about the character, I really don’t need to know every single detail about what they are wearing or what they look like.
7. “Strong Female Characters” Who Are Really Just Awful People
Sadly a very prominent problem in bad young adult literature. If your character is mean to people who did nothing to deserve it, it does not prove that she’s a badass… It just makes her a horrible person. Not the same thing.
I’m all for spreading your creative wings as a author, but for the love of God, put that thesaurus down. See also: terrible similes and metaphors. I still have nightmares about the flower of apprehension that bloomed in Clary’s chest in City of Bones. Oof. (Come to think of it, here’s a fun game: try to see how many of the pet peeves on this list apply to the Mortal Instruments series.)
5. Love Triangles
Stop it. I mean it, YA writers. This isn’t 2008.
4. He’s a Bad Boy But I Can Fix Him With Love
No, no you can’t. Avoid at all costs, I don’t care how sexy those leather trousers are or how well he wears that guyliner.
3. The Chosen One
This one is absolutely inescapable, especially in fantasy stories. I do understand the appeal (who doesn’t want to hear that they’re special and meant for something more?), but isn’t it a lot more interesting when a character isn’t the most important person in the universe because some prophecy tells him/her that he/she is? I find it much more engaging to follow a protagonist who isn’t a Super Special Snowflake, who doesn’t know whether everything will be alright or not, but goes on this journey anyway because it is the right thing to do. I will take a hero who chooses to risk everything over someone who is pushed forward by destiny any day. After all, Atticus Finch has taught us that real courage is “when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” And isn’t that hard-won victory much more satisfying?
2. The Mr Bingley Complex
A tie-in point to Love Triangles and the Bad Boy. This is a trope of my own invention where writers (for any medium, not just literature) try to create a greater contrast between the love interest and the Other Guy, either a comedy sidekick or the rival in the love triangle (sometimes both). To make sure that we all fall in love with the right character, writers make the other option less attractive by comparison, usually by making him cowardly, stupid, or just generally awkward. This is why Mr Bingley often gets turned into a complete idiot in film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. How will the audience know when to swoon over Darcy’s breeches if Bingley is allowed to be charming too? We can’t have two competent and likable male characters when there is shipping at stake! It would be madness, I tell you! Madness!
1. Romantic Relationships Are The Single Most Important Thing In The History Of Everything Ever
Family? Friends? Personal dreams and ambitions? Integrity? Nonsense! Romantic relationships are the only thing you need, nothing else matters! If your boyfriend breaks up with you and leaves, just drop everything and everyone because life is worthless without someone to make out with! (…Why yes, I am still angry with Twilight: New Moon.)
Do you have any literary pet peeves? Leave a comment below!