Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Things that Will Make me Stop Reading--Wed 18th

 I just watched an episode of Dalziel and Pasco and the young woman goes down into the cellar, alone, after 2 murders have been committed. If that was a book, I’d have thrown it across the room by now. Instead I shouted at the TV set.

There are certain things that will make me stop reading and the heroine, wearing only a billowing nightgown, going down to the cellar because she heard a noise when there is a serial killer in the neighborhood and the power is out is one of them.

My heroines are not always sensible but they are not clueless either.

Other things I find hard to swallow in books: reasons for amateur sleuths to solve a murder. If I were at a wedding and someone died in the punch, my first thought would be to get out of there as fast as possible. I’d never say “Oh goodie—a murder. Let’s solve it.” For me an amateur sleuths need a really good reason for solving a murder, even if we do suspend belief in a mystery novel.

I am always incredulous when a person who has murdered several people without blinking finally has the heroine in his power and instead of dispatching her neatly he ties her up.  And even says “Now, my pretty, I am I going to take my time in thinking up a good way to kill you.”  Unless he was a psychopath to begin with, he’d want any hindrance to his escape out of his way as quickly as possible. She'd be gone. The book would be shorter and it wouldn't be a series.

And of course the big one for me is when a writer sets a book in UK and just gets things wrong. When Martha Grimes found a skunk in one of her early Jury novels I swore I’d never read her again. (There are no skunks in UK) It’s amazing how often really bad howlers get past copy editors. But if I know one thing to be wrong in a story, how can I believe anything else that might happen. That’s why I work so hard on research to get all the little details right.

Also have you noticed that if the heroine and a young man meet and instantly loathe each other they are absolutely guaranteed to fight then fall madly in love.

So I’m interested, Reds and Readers—what are you personal trigger points that will make you put down a book and say “too silly/annoying/just plain wrong?”

HALLIE EPHRON: My 'walk-aways' are wonky things like sliding viewpoint and profligate use of adverbs. Also use of dialogue tags like "she averred" or "he pontificated" or "she complained" -- really almost anything but "said" and "asked." Also too many characters too soon, and the author hasn't written artfully enough for me to keep them straight without making a list. I'm out of there...

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I've put down books if I see more than one or two exclamation points on a page. Stop shouting at me! And telegraphing when I'm supposed to be excited, afraid, schocked!!! (Annoying isn't it?)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  My pet peeve - and I run into this from time to time reading romance - are male characters who act like women in a man suit. You know, the character who is a super-macho ex-Navy SEAL tycoon, but who puts aside vital business meetings to spend time walking the heroine's puppy. Or he shares all his feelings with his BFF. Or he talks and talks and TALKS all the time. I mean, all you Reds are married, right? Does that sound realistic to you?

The reverse problem appears in thrillers written by male authors: the woman who thinks/acts/sounds like a guy in a skirt. A LOT of thriller bestsellers are guilty of this. I always want to say, "Guys. You're writers. You can observe the opposite sex. If you can imagine an attack on an Al-Qaeda stronghold, you can imagine what it's like to be a woman.

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Julia, MY  husband talks and talks and talks all the time. But he's certainly not guilty of any of the other guy-in-a-skirt things:-)

Hallie, I am with you on the sliding viewpoint. That is probably my biggest pet peeve, although there are writers who use it that I like so much I read them anyway.  Just proves there is always an exception.  Too many adverbs. Tagging dialogue with silly adjectives!!!!! (Did I mention exclamation points?) "She moaned" might have a place in a romance novel but NOT after a line of dialogue.

And I really, really hate heroines (or heroes) who do really, really stupid and unnecessary things. If you are going to go down in that dark cellar, alone, when there is a serial killer lurking, it had better be because there is a child trapped in there and you are the only person that can rescue him in time...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Funny how the sliding viewpoint is so annoying. I'll say wait--the main character CANNOT know what that person is thinking! Or going from head to head in each paragraph. Dizzying.

I'll stop reading when there's gratuitous violence--where its  gruesome and ugly and unnecessary.  You know those books--where it almost seems as if the author is having fun being graphic and grotesque. A little grotesque goes a long way.

Also--being cranky here: too much dialect, dropped g's and attempts at southern or cockney or brogue that get in the way of the dialogue. Tell me the person is southern, have them say y'all or bless her heart, and then be done with the drawl.   Logic--If I say to myself--she would NEVER DO that! Done.

Oh! One more thing. For me, at least. Entire prologues or whole big sections in italics. Seriously. I won't even read it. Talk about the parts people skip! 

JULIA: Oh, prologues. Stab me in the eye and be done with it.

RHYS: So what about you, dear readers? What makes you stop reading?


  1. Once I start a book, I’m generally likely to finish it, even if I absolutely hate it. But there have been a couple . . . .
    Please, I do not want to read an entire book in which the main character spouts nothing but expletives . . . get creative, write some real words!
    My other “pet peeve” is stories that jump around so much it’s virtually impossible to follow. And there’s lots of frustration when the same thing keeps happening over . . . and over . . . and over . . . .

    While I’m not a fan of sliding viewpoint, I’ll give the author a pass once or twice before I’m rolling my eyes and thinking about tossing the book across the room [figuratively, of course, since I absolutely loathe seeing books mistreated]. Those exclamation points don’t bother me too much, nor do prologues [as long as something is really happening] or italics.

    Conversely, the best books are the ones in which the author has given me a reason to keep reading; the ones that make me feel like the characters are real people, the ones that draw me into their stories. These are the books I read . . . and re-read . . . and love.

  2. I'm with the objection to paragraphs in italics. If it's more than a couple of words I refuse to read it - no matter WHO the writer is!
    And those too long sections that go blah, blah, like EL warns about. Or too many verrrrry loooong paragraphs. I like my prose short and sweet - my eyes read fast and short much better and my brain does too. I skip over loooong paragraphs...
    Thelma Straw in manhattan

  3. Hallie and Hank and I are teaching our annual Seascape "escape to write" workshop in ten days, and I've been buried in reading manuscripts. All these are such good points--and so familiar!

    My favorite kind of book is one where I don't *notice* the writing. Which would mean no averring, no going down in the basement in a nightie (or at least take the dog), no murderers explaining what they did...

  4. I'm like Joan, I rarely give up on a book. I can only remember a few. I keep thinking "it has to get better" and continue reading. I remember one not long ago that I stopped after only a few pages. I hadn't known then that it was written under a pseudonym by an author whose work I had never enjoyed.

    Although it hasn't made me stop reading, I get very distracted by incorrect facts. Geographical errors, mistakes like the skunks that Rhys mentioned (if I had known), even grammatical errors cause me to stop and wonder what else is wrong.

    But I'll usually finish it.

    And if I don't get a chance later in the week, I wish everyone a wonderful time at Bouchercon. I'd love to be able to attend but I have to speak at a training this weekend. Have fun, Jungle Reds. Don't get into too much trouble. :-)

  5. I have two pet peeves that will make me stop reading a book.

    The first is a male character who changes when he meets the 'woman of his dreams'. Makes me insane. Ewww.

    And, head-hopping. Stick to one pov per scene, please!

  6. Oh, giving up on a book. I'll do it at the drop of a No time.

    My husband plows on, complaining all the way. Just stop reading! I say.

    Eventually? Seriously? I hide ht book so he'll have to start a good one.

  7. Everything that Rhys mentioned bothers me, too!

    I don't like dialogue that bounces back and forth between two people, without any hint as to who is saying what. I just wish the author would throw in a "said John" or "Mary said" here and there.

    A few years ago I noticed that an author, someone I really like (but not one of you lovely JRW people) used the word "frown" or variations of it (frowned, frowning) over and over and over. I started counting. In about a page and a half it was used something like eight times. I've read everything in that series, and nearly every book since then has also been full of Frowns. (Yes, I did start counting them in each and every book in that series from that point on.) The most recent one is the exception; maybe someone pointed it out to the author. I'm trying to decide if I should look for overuse of other words in the series!

    Another pet peeve: when the solution to a mystery appears in a dream. Maybe my dreams are just uninteresting, but I can't see something like that happening in real life, especially not on a regular basis!

    Grammatical mistakes don't bother me IF it's the kind of error the character would make - someone for whom English is a second language, perhaps.

    I do not like gratuitous or graphic violence. When I run across
    it I skip those paragraphs. I've stopped reading books that were full of violence. It does not need to be on the page for the reader to "get it" that something bad happened! The author can use his/her imagination to get the point across!

    I recently stopped reading a book by an author that I've been following for a long time. It looked as though there would be a hostage situation, which happens often in that series - and it's about an amateur sleuth. How many times can that happen in one person's life? When the hostage situation goes on for a third of the book or more, the story line is just not moving forward enough to suit me!

    Male authors whose male protagonist always falls in love with women who are stunning or petite, etc, but NEVER with good, decent, ordinary looking women.

  8. I meant to say "the author can write just enough description to allow the reader to use his/her imagination to get the point across"

    (I've had only a couple of sips of coffee so far :-)

  9. I read a lot of romance novels back in the 70s (when I was far too young to be reading these things!), so one of my biggest book hurlers is a "hero" who is excessively arrogant and controlling, and the sweet young thing falls for him anyway. I don't see it as much anymore, but on one occasion I literally ripped a paperback in half and whipped it across the room. My books are in pristine condition, so you know that had to be extreme.

    Series where the heroine is involved with two men and trying to decide who to choose really turn me off after several books of waffling. Pick one and move on - you cannot please all of your readers and you run the risk of losing them through sheer annoyance. The amateur sleuth not share information with the police is also frustrating, especially if it goes a step further and the police are portrayed as bumbling idiots. Story aside, when the language is clunky or words are used incorrectly, I can tolerate it for only so long. My biggest word misuse peeve is "peek" or "peak" instead of "pique." Something "piques" your interest! I'd guess the wrong word is used about 80% of the time. It's always a pleasant thrill when I see the correct word.

    I read a lot of books on my Kindle, and that raises the issue of formatting. I don't care how good the book is, if the font is too large or too small, even after changing the settings, or if strange symbols pop up, I'm done.

  10. The big thing that will have me putting down a book before I finish is that I simply don't enjoy the writing. Amazing how one writer can write about a subject and hold me in the palm of their hand while another writer can write about the exact same thing and leave me dead cold.

    The other thing is total apathy towards the characters.

  11. So many interesting points. Me, busily taking notes of the NOTS.

    Yeah, Deb Romano - frowned and smiled and shrugged are the ones that get me, too. It can start to feel like a tic.

  12. I shuttle back and forth between NYC and CT and I'm constantly leaving books in one state or another. If I know I HAVE to take the book with me, even if I'll only be gone a few hours, it's a good one.
    The one this week...The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis. Weighs a ton but it's even going to the market with me.

  13. Oh, yes, Hallie, I forgot about shrugged!! It annoys the heck out of me!

  14. Characters who think, and think, and think, and think... Just DO something for crying out loud! (I think it's called excessive navel gazing.)

    Yes, the old "there's a serial killer on the loose, so I, the delicate heroine, will go into the unlit basement, alone and unarmed, to investigate" drives me crazy. Are people really that stupid?

    Women who simper. Stop - just, stop. Please.

    Overuse of dialect that is written phonetically. I mean, if it's really important, write one line that way, and then let me hear it in my own head.

    And yes, the uber-villain who feels the need to explain everything to the captive hero/heroine, giving plenty of time for escape or help to show up. It reminds me of the Pixar movie The Incredibles, "What does he do? He starts monologuing!"

    But if the story/characters are really engaging, the occasional POV slip/exclamation mark/adverb doesn't bother me - but if the story is weak, I'll start nitpicking on the tiniest things.

  15. If I am browsing books in the library and find something that looks interesting, I won't bring it home if it is mostly dialogue. I like to get into the head of the characters and understand things from their point of view. Come to think of it, this is why I put down Franzen's Freedom--not enough point of view, just superficial judgements. The big point of view exception for me is the killer's point of view, especially when acting violently. Then I put the book away.

  16. And of course the big one for me is when a writer sets a book in UK and just gets things wrong.
    Exactly! We Texans got a hearty laugh when Vernon God Little won the Man Booker. Outrageously wrong!

  17. Since I'm embarking on my first mystery, this is timely advice!

    My pet peeves are with cozies where there is no murder mystery until the first turning point. Another is too much romance, not enough sleuthing. An author who shall not be named wrote a series with a murder on page one, a lot whingeing about diet, hair, exercise, dating, and voila with virtually no sleuthing, the mystery is solved in the last chapter. If there are lots of italics, I skim rid or skip over them. If the past story in a past meets present story, I skip the past story entirely. I also hate long journal entries, newspaper articles, etc.

  18. Very useful comments! I am making a list of what not to do, but also noting this post so I can point people toward it in the future. See? It's not just me!

    I will drop a book and pick up a new one before the first one hits the ground. My number one annoyance is over-writing. Don't explain to me what I just read. I just read it. I got it.

    My other pet peeve is a misused semi-colon. Yes, I said the s-c word. If I see it used incorrectly on page 1, I know all I need to know about this author. (Too harsh?)

  19. Bad research or no research! I listened to a book years ago on a car trip. It was by a well known author who has written a ton of books. He set this story in New Orleans, where the house was on a hill, and had a basement. No, no, no, no, no. I've never read or listened to another of his. Another peeve: amateur sleuths who keep making the same dumb mistakes over and over and over......

  20. Oh and another thing...Using it's instead of its. Drives me crazy.

  21. Rhys, I hope you gave Martha Grimes a second chance -- I loved her wonderfully quirky characters.

    Errors like that don't bother me much, but I agree with disliking the hero or heroine who does something stupidly dangerous.

    I generally finish a book I start, just out of curiosity. But my shelves are filled with books I think I will read, but every time I take this one or that one down, I return it to the shelf.

    Time to weed the shelves!

  22. I think you ladies are particularly funny today. I am so intrigued by the fact that the UK does not have skunks. One of my pet peeves is too much description, repeatedly, of what the character is wearing.

  23. I often hear readers say they don't care for books that they feel are over-written. I'm not really sure what this means, but there are three writers out there who may be guilty of what I "think" people mean by this who are three of my favorite writers on God's green earth. James Lee Burke, Pat Conroy and Anne Rivers Siddons. I love descriptive passages that have me feeling the atmosphere. And I LOVE good dialogue. Dialogue done well is a huge treat for me to read.

  24. OOh, a good question for some hot debate here! I stop reading when I just don't fall for the characters -and dont care what happens to them. For me, it's all about the characters. Like Perry in Patricia Wood's LOTTERY. Fell deep in love with him!

    From another perspective,I'm a first-reader for the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency and I don't get past most of the first 75 pages of manuscripts for many reasons: heavy narrative and hardly any dialogue, backstory-backstory-backstory, repeated information, wrong voice for a certain character age, cartoonish characters, lacks tension, the real story starts 30 pages in, character is sitting around thinking about things, stereotypical characters, and riddled with cliches. There's a few!

  25. Poor punctuation drives me nuts. I also put aside a novel when every character's appearance is described and they all happen to be good looking. That may be true in Lake Wobegone, but in the real world, people have warts and I expect fictional characters to have them, too.

  26. I agree with Pam that we don't need to know what everyone is wearing. When there are descriptions of how many items of clothing someone can choose from when she gets dressed in the morning or to go out in the evening, I realize just how poor I am! Makes it difficult for me to identify with that character.

    Too often in fiction, everyone has a flawless complexion - except for the villains. So beautiful people are "good", and ugly or plain looking people are "bad", or at the very least, suspect. I'd love to read about a protagonist (amateur sleuth or brilliant detective) who is good natured, gets along well with everyone, respects the opinions of others, and is a plump, plain-looking middle-aged woman with thinning hair!

  27. Once upon a time, an editor gave me a stack of romances, because I'd never read any. I picked up the first one, and the heroine, living in a house she had inherited from her aunt, was approached by a guy (with moving van) who claimed he had just purchased the place. Waved a document in her face.

    Did she read it? Did she go to a lawyer to read it? Did she call the sheriff and say, "You knew my aunt, you know the property wasn't for sale."? No. She "didn't trust lawyers" so she let the guy move in and share the house with her.

    Could he have been a serial killer? Sure. But she liked his smile.

    She would have deserved a serial killer living with her instead of "true love after obstacles." I threw the book in the nearest recycling bin.

    That said, inappropriate shifting of points of view drives me nuts. So do people who have "written a screenplay" they couldn't sell, so they-- having never read a novel-- decide to turn it into a novel. And then want me to bail them out of a contract they voluntarily signed with a vanity press.

    "Spare me," she cried, lifting her hand to her brow.

  28. Can I confess I groan when a writer composes a delightfully intriguing first sentence .......then immediately disagrees with it? "I walked out on my husband the day he confessed to sleeping with my sister Well, I didn't really walk. I ran. And he didn't really sleep with her, but...." I can't slam the covers fast enough. If the first page is nothing but the author backing-and-forthing, I know I'm in for a long slog. Life's too short.

  29. I will instantly stop reading and throw the book in the trash (or back to the library) if I catch them in historical errors. If I know enough to know they didn't do their research, they don't deserve for me (or anyone else) to read their book. I also cannot stand (absolutely drives me nuts) when I encounter misspellings or grammatical errors. Isn't that what editors and proofreaders are for?

  30. What a good question! It took me years to give myself a permission to quit reading a book that I didn't like; too often, I kept waiting for it to improve, and it rarely did.

    I've written 800 Amazon reviews (and have well over 10,000 Helpful votes), so I poked through some of my one- and two-star reviews to see what made me say, "I gave up on reading this." (I won't include the titles; that would be cruel.)

    One is a failure of "Show, don't tell," as I explain on this one:

    Why? There are several reasons, all regretfully exhibited in those first 15 pages. The author is so busy trying to create lofty phrases and strike heroic poses that she forgets to simply tell a story. She needs to be whacked over the head with a writing-techniques book emphasizing, "Show, don't tell." For example: "Trying to be subtle, Abigail could not help staring with kindly eyes at the young woman she met for the first time less than an hour ago." Nearly every sentence is like that.

    Another reason I reject a book is a dependency on stereotypes. It's the author's job to create a character, not to slap a label on someone (even a walk-on character). Like this:

    However, the real weakness is that the characters are (at least to start with) described with too much reliance on labels. For instance, an old woman (who is also a Seer and apparently a witch) is described as a hag, and the author depends on that stereotype to carry our image of that character. A better book would have described her as an old woman (with her own set of personal attributes), and not relied on words like "hag" or "crone" to get the point across. It's not exactly that these are stick figures, but perhaps that they're scarecrows: stick figures with enough clothes hung on them to make them appear -- but not be -- real. At least to this reader.

    Cozy mysteries -- and I read a lot of those! -- have a unique challenge: They have to convince me that this amateur plausibly would take on the investigation rather than leaving it to the cops. I marvel at the deftness with which my favorite authors manage this. But when they fail, it's a good reason to dump the book.

    Another item specific to cozies? If you include a cat or dog, make them behave like a cat or dog. I recently reviewed one book in which the cat was there just for decoration; he didn't add anything to the story, even in a friendly "barf on the murderer" way. (And "Cat" was in the book title.)

    Historical or factual errors will throw me out of a story, too. I can handle one or two, but... well one reason a friend despised The Da Vinci Code is that the hero looks out the Louvre's bathroom window at the Arc de Trumph, and you can't see it from there.

  31. I don't like writing that is very tight. I like action, but I'm not reading a book for a fast move to the end. I'm in there to enjoy the story.

  32. I have two main pet peeves. And I have actually thrown a book across the room before!

    1. When the author hides information from you. The protaganist learns something vital to the solving of the crime, and mentions she found it, but won't tell you what it is or why it's important. I like to discover with the heroine. It makes me feel like I'm part of the story rather than watching the story.

    2. Gratuitous sex. I'm not here to read romance. I don't need long descriptions of the scene, particularly with vulgar language included. Tell me it's happening and move on. That doesn't mean I don't like flirting and relationship development. But I don't need watch porn, so there's no reason to read it too!

  33. Characters. Every time. If I don't care about them by halfway through the second chapter, why should I waste any more time with them.

  34. "There are certain things that will make me stop reading and the heroine, wearing only a billowing nightgown, going down to the cellar because she heard a noise when there is a serial killer"

    I read this as "...the heroine, wearing only a billowing nightgown, going down on the killer"

    And I was like "that's preposterous, but I'd definitely keep reading.

  35. My pet peeve is unnecessary and excessively long descriptions of setting, almost always a natural panorama. I can deal with it if its symbolic or contains detail important to the plot, but half the time it's for the word count.

  36. What a thought provoking conversation! I'm always looking for authentic characters. And I will quit reading a book with no guilt if halfway through the characters begin to do things way out of character with no explanation.

    I totally agree with the detailed sex descriptions. I don't want that. I will leave a mostly good book unfinished on the basis of too much sex talk.

    Also, I have had it up to here with writers using the first time sex leads to unwanted pregnancy plot twist. I'm not saying it doesn't happen in real life. But I would appreciate a little more creativity from writers.

    Otherwise, I try to be forgiving, since I aspire to writing myself.