Today’s topic is supposed to be my top five pet peeves, but that sounded sort of tedious. Since I am, after all, an author and a reader, I thought I’d talk instead about my top five pet peeves in books.
Now, before I get started, let me begin by saying that these are only my opinions, and we all know what they say about those. Just because I don’t like these things doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It doesn’t mean people who disagree with me are wrong. I’m not saying authors should always avoid these techniques or tropes, or that every book in the history of man to ever use one of them is wrong or bad or poorly written. I’m not saying any of those things. All I’m saying is, these are things I personally don’t care for when I’m reading.
If you happen to LOVE all of these things, that’s okay. If you write these things, that’s okay too. Again: it’s just an opinion.
Good. Let’s carry on.
Pet Peeve #1: Flashbacks
Cue the little wavering lines on the screen as we go back, back to those glorious days of yesteryear…
Nothing will make me toss a book out the window faster than a flashback.
Now, I should clarify: in my opinion, if a character recounts an episode from his or her past in dialog, or even sort of goes over it in their head in the course of the narrative (like when Simon tells Frances about his past in Saviours of Oestend), I don’t consider that a flashback. When I say “flashback,” I’m talking about the full-blown “I now take you to a scene eighteen years earlier…”, usually in italics to distinguish it from the actual story taking place.
Which is exactly why I hate it. Don’t stop the story I’m reading to go back and tell me some other story. If it’s important to the current story, then show me right here, in the course of the current story.
I’ll usually skim my way through one flashback, but when the second one shows up, I’m done. Moving on to the next book in my TBR pile.
Pet Peeve #2: Superfluous Prologues
I follow up “flashbacks” with “superfluous prologues” because so often, that’s exactly what they are: superfluous flashbacks that happen to come first. They’re frequently something that happened several years earlier that’s supposedly relevant to the story (but often isn’t).
For the record, I’m not saying I hate all prologues. In some cases, the prologue is relevant. One case in point that instantly comes to mind is Heidi’s Cullinan’s Dance With Me (Dancing Book 1). Her prologue is short and sweet and directly to the point. It’s not only relevant, it’s information that is emphatically critical to the character development of both protagonists. It is not superfluous.
Now contrast that with the prologue in most thrillers (which I read a lot of). We’re immediately introduced to some character — most often, an attractive, every-day kind of woman, or an awful, terrible, hateful man. Then we see her (or him) suffer some horrible fate. Then, like a director yelling “CUT!”, we jump to chapter to one, which is from the hero’s point of view. That character we just spent those critical first few pages meeting is entirely irrelevant. The prologue in this case served only one purpose: gratuitous titillation.
It’s juvenile, and it drives me crazy.
Pet Peeve #3: Too Many POV Changes
Epic fantasy, which I read truckloads of back in the day, is famous for this shit. Lots of authors use it, but few can pull it off. Even GRRM, who did it more effectively than most, overused it, in my opinion.
A good rule of thumb: if that’s the only scene using that POV, it either needs to be cut, or rewritten.
Pet Peeve #4: Super Heroines
Back when I read epic fantasy exclusively, there were two types of heroines. The first was the girl born to privilege, the daughter of a king or a baron or some random rich guy. Despite having been raised as a noblewoman, she defied tradition by training with the Captain of the Guard every day and could (of course) ride, fight, and shoot better than any of the soldiers. She spends the entire novel telling herself she can’t possibly fall in love with the hero.
The second type of heroine was the poor farm girl (who seemed to spend a lot of time herding either geese or pigs). She’s strikingly beautiful, but doesn’t know it. She knows nothing about fighting, but once the grand journey begins, she manages to learn everything she needs to know en route. Sure, it takes others years to master sword fighting, but don’t worry. It’ll only take her a couple of weeks.
Oh. And she also spends the entire novel telling herself she can’t possibly fall in love with the hero.
Because of these two lackluster archetypes, I began searching the fantasy shelves for books that never mentioned a woman in the blurb. I stumbled upon Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series, and of course the next thing I knew, I’d tumbled down the slippery slope into gay romance.
The rest, I suppose, is history.
I know some people will say I’m being anti-feminist by not digging the Super Heroines. What the fuck ever. Honestly, I just want a female character I can actually relate to.
Pet Peeve #5: Courtroom Drama
This one is pretty self-explanatory, and while I’m sure there are people who do it well (Phillip Margolin comes to mind), it just doesn’t grease my literary gears, so to speak. It’s like the second half of an old Law & Order episode — not nearly as interesting to me as the first half was.
So, there they are — my top five literary pet peeves. Let me know what yours are in the comments.
Also, I’m overdue for a giveaway!! So, leave a comment and I’ll enter you in the drawing. The winner will receive an ebook of Dance With Me, by Heidi Cullinan, as well as one ebook (winner’s choice) from my backlist.
And just FYI, I have another giveaway scheduled for tomorrow, so please stop by!