What pet peeves set readers’ teeth on edge? Washington Post writer Ron Charles wrote about them in this recent article. He asked members of the Post’s Book Club newsletter to let their opinions fly, and, he says, “The responses were a tsunami of bile” from hundreds and hundreds of readers. In case you’re working on a book now or even thinking about it, you’ve been warned.
Readers don’t like dreams. And why not? Is it because as you’re starting to get a mental grip on what’s going on in the story, you suddenly hit that “and then I woke up” line that means you have to mentally erase what you just read? Or, is it as one respondent said, “They are always SO LITERAL.” One example where this type of thing was handled very well was in Paul Cleave’s latest book, The Pain Tourist (my review here). There was never any confusion about whether you were in the comatose boy’s dream-mind, and he put together reality (what was going on around him in real life) and his mind’s protective mechanisms (the illusion that masked the horrible events that led to his coma) was quite astonishing and revelatory.
As you’d expect, readers take offense at historical anachronisms and factual inaccuracies. In essence, “say, dear reader, blah-blah-blah.” Too jarring. At the same time, unless an author is writing for twelve-year-olds, they shouldn’t avoid the occasional word that might send some readers to the dictionary. Not to be pretentious, but because it’s exactly the right word.
Readers want authors to write with authenticity. One respondent warned that “taking a cruise to Alaska is not enough to write a novel about the Last Frontier.” You can take the cruise and write the book, of course, if you bolster that with a lot of additional research.
Typos and grammar errors. Oh, boy. I confess I look up “lie” and “lay” nearly every time I use them (this was one of the errors singled out, along with popular misused homonyms). I’ve read it wrong so many times I don’t even know what’s correct any more. It’s worth the twenty seconds to check, so I don’t lie (ha-ha) awake at night, wondering.
Recently, I read a UK thriller where the author repeatedly used the wrong pronoun case. “He gave it to him and I,” “the book was for her and I,” etc. I was fuming. That’s something he should have learned in junior high. If you turn the sentence around, you see how bad it is: “he gave it to I and him.” And, while this particular error might be forgiven in dialog, because people do make mistakes while speaking, it kept appearing in the narration. This particular book was also, alas, morally bankrupt, so there was a lot not to like.
Readers complained about books that are simply too long. Especially books by best-selling authors Do they think “every word they write is golden and shouldn’t be cut?” one respondent wondered. And it isn’t just the book that’s too long, so are the prologues, chapters, descriptions, and everything else in them and especially those italicized passages. It seems italicized paragraphs hit a nerve with readers. Don’t do it, they say.
“What Readers Don’t Like” – Part 2 WEDNESDAY