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!
17 thoughts on “Top 10 Literary Pet Peeves”
Excellent list! Also, kudos for the Atticus Finch quote, and I’d like to point out that even in fantasy stories, there is that little snowflake named Frodo Baggins who subverts trope #3 in every way you described (◕‿◕✿)
Ah, but if I remember correctly, Frodo is not a Chosen One exactly, because there was no prophecy or some other indication that Fate got him involved in this adventure. He just happens to be the nephew of Bilbo who happens to have befriended Gandalf and so on (though you could argue that the Ring choosing people is kind of like fate, I suppose). My point is, in the end Frodo volunteers to take the Ring to Mordor, it is a decision he makes out of his own free will. He doesn’t have to and it seems very unlikely that he will succeed, but he does it anyway. See what I mean?
Yes, exactly! Maybe I wasn’t clear enough, but I didn’t mean that Frodo was a Chosen One, but just that the traits that you described that make for an engaging protagonist fit Frodo perfectly, as you pointed out
Ah, my mistake! In that case: 100% agreed.
Fantastic list, oh my goodness. I laughed so hard at the title of pet peeve 8 – that is magnificent.
One of my pet peeves is when “righteous” or “hero” characters are motivated by anger. I just can’t get invested in a crusade that is fueled by the character’s anger because they’re not doing things for an emotionally healthy reason and i therefore don’t feel like i should be rooting for them. I want a superhero motivated because they want to do good and help the world, not because they want revenge/to avenge.
These are SPOT ON. Every single one!
Can I add one? When an author of a series writes something that completely contradicts a characteristic that has been a consistent part of a character’s personality just because it’s convenient for the plot.
Yes, that is the worst. Nice one!
Very good list! I especially hate #10, it annoys the hell out of me, in literature and movies and TV and everywhere. I have been known to scream ‘BUT WHY DON’T JUST YOU JUST *TALK* TO EACH OTHER YOU IDIOTS’ at my TV.
Poor Mr Bingley, you deserve better. Great name for a trope, though! Sounds like a romantic version of what a lot of adaptations (used to) do to Dr. Watson so Sherlock Holmes looks even more awesome in comparison. “New Watson likes jam. We’re very happy.”
Yes, Watson is another excellent example of the Mr Bingley Complex! Also: Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter movies.
Oh God, this list is hilarious. Cassandra Clare’s purple prose is painful to read! Another thing that I can’t stand is when the author introduces a new detail that doesn’t fit with the mental image I’d formed. And I hate it when characters save everyone at the very last second. Maybe one day I’ll write a story where everything blows because they’re a second late…
Number 10 is brilliant. Instead of being petty, embarrassed characters. Just talk about it. Stop assuming!
Mmm so good. I hate when a promising story has one of these and then, bam, it sucks. (Although even worse is when a friend LOVES the book and you have to finish it for the sake of the friendship, warts and all) My number 1 pet peeve is when a character is completely and utterly boring/unattractive/tasteless drop of drudgery and yet still surrounded by sparkling love interests (yes that is a not even subtle dig at Twilight. It’s a thing).
#4,5 and 6 especially bug me. Other pet peeves of mine are filler books in series that offer no further insight, as well as standalone books with 300+ pages where 90% is the exposition, and the remaining 10% is made up of a short-lived climax and conclusion/cliff-hanger. That always leaves me feeling cheated ahaha
A particular pet peeve of mine related to love triangles is when a story goes like this: Girl meets boy and they instantly fall in love with each other. It is understood from the beginning that they will be the main couple of the story; however, for some angsty reason they can’t be together, while still being forced to be around each other constantly. Naturally, since they love each other passionately, this leads to a lot of suffering. At some point she meets a second guy, who is kind and gentle and treats her well, and he falls in love with her. He helps her in some way or is generally shown to be very good for her. She grows very fond of him, and starts thinking that maybe she will be able to learn to love him. However, something else happens that makes her realize that she will never be able to let go of the burning passion she feels towards the first guy, and so she goes back to him and somehow they manage to be together at the end.
Now, what really irks me is not the love triangle per se, but the fact that usually we know next to nothing about the first male character — nothing other than the fact that he supposedly is the female protagonist’s ~true love~. And this is so annoying because how am I supposed to care for them or root for them, when the only thing that they have going for them is that they fell in love at first sight, which supposedly means that they were meant to be? And the worst is when, on top of that, he also acts jealous and possessive throughout the novel. All in the name of love, of course.
I honestly have nothing against love at first sight, but how am I supposed to find it credible when we’re never shown how this guy could be good for her? What it is about him that would make her want to spend the rest of her life with him? If you want to do love at first sight, be my guest, but don’t use it as an excuse for poorly developed characters and/or relationships.
In my desperate search for an easy read on the last day of the year (I challenged myself to read 50 books this year and I still needed one more) I reread “Me and Mr Darcy”. This wasn’t the first time I read it, which makes the fact that even touched it again a true Christmas miracle. Or maybe a New Year miracle. That whole book, and the entire genre of modernised Jane Austen is a pet peeve. One of my favourite things to do is watching really crappy romcoms, so this should have been okay, but it wasn’t even enjoyable from that perspective. I still kind of want to read the one where Darcy is a rock star, though. :p
I’ve actually been dreading to reread Me and Mr Darcy ever since I confessed to the world that it was a guilty pleasure book for me on Tumblr. I fear that, if I were to read it again now, I wouldn’t be able to shrug off all the things that don’t make sense anymore and just embrace the silliness.
I’ve read quite a number of Jane Austen spin-off books over the years, but about 90% of them have been absolutely awful. I could say that that’s part of the fun, but it’s mostly just frustrating.