First, let’s get this out of the way: I’m a voracious reader. The whole e-book phenomenon has saved me countless thousands of dollars and spared an entire landfill of once-read-and-discarded books. I’ve become a bit choosier in my reading these last few years and find myself less willing to endure certain traits in books. Perhaps I’m just getting crotchety in my old age. Here’s the rundown.
- Grammatical errors. I understand that authors are human and we all make the occasional error; but, any book that’s littered with spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors gets tossed. There are places wherein grammatical errors are less tolerated than others, such as cover blurbs. If I come across such an error in a book’s description, you can bet that I won’t download the book, even if it’s free. For instance, I was reading an excerpt used in the promotion of a newly released title and stopped cold at the word “grinded.” Red flag, folks. The past tense of “grind” is “ground.” In a book, the occasional error can be passed over; in a cover blurb, an error is just sloppy.
- Poor treatment romanticized. Manwhore heroes who treat women like toilet paper–use once and discard–have a difficult time redeeming themselves. So-called heroes who treat their ladies like sex toys aren’t attractive; they’re creepy and manipulative. So-called heroes who blackmail and/or otherwise coerce women into obedience to their every whim reduces women to the level of the average Golden Retriever. In short, such treatment and attitudes dehumanize women. We’re fully half of the human race, ladies. Why do we persist in supporting this misogyny? When I come across a book with a misogynistic hero and a heroine who tamely and meekly accepts his poor treatment because the sex is sooooo damned good, I quit reading because neither penance nor redemption will come.
“Ah ha!” you say and point out my hyprocrisy with The Barbary Lion, an ancient immortal who kidnaps his bride and coerces her sexual compliance. Did you read the whole book? Atlas Leonidus isn’t a nice guy, but he does learn and grow and, in the end, redeems himself. His mate proves herself smart and resourceful and–this is important, folks–escapes. She eludes capture for years while Atlas slowly devolves due to his ill advised actions.
- Stubbornness instead of strength. There’s a not-so-fine line between obstinance and stupidity. Heightened levels of pigheaded behavior don’t equate to increased strength, but to idiocy. Strength incorporates intelligence, resourcefulness, and adaptability. A heroine or hero too stubborn to learn and adapt isn’t worth my time.
- Stupidity. Far too many books feature heroines who fail to think; they simply react. Or they think, but their thought processes are so unrealistic and, yes, stupid, that I lose all sympathy for their plights. Ladies, men are stronger than we are. Smart, resourceful people know when to back down, when to compromise, when to change tactics, and how to scheme. Going back to the aforementioned example, the kidnapped heroine–still wearing an evening gown–grabs a butter knife and tries to attack her captor. A butter knife. A smart and resourceful heroine would have exercised a little intelligence, lulling her captor into overconfidence with a show of meek obedience, and biding her time until she could cut the tracker from her ankle (what’s a little blood and pain when freedom’s at stake?) and flee. Just as I don’t have time for terminal stubbornness, I don’t have time for embiciles.
- Promiscuity. This pertains to manwhores and sluts alike. There’s no doubt that promiscuity confers high risks of disease, unwanted pregnancy, and other, less quantifiable maladies. In addition to being reckless and irresponsible, it’s also selfish and manipulative. I prefer my heroes and heroines to have some respect for themselves and for others. No respect, no read.
- Poor writing. Poor writing encompasses pervasive passive voice to mangled idioms (e.g., …another think–not thing–coming), anachronisms, glaring inconsistencies, stilted or inappropriate dialogue, etc. For instance, I recently edited a manuscript in which a 35-year old heroine–a Ph.D. and professor–talked, dressed, and acted like a hormonal, profane, 14-year old girl. If I weren’t being paid to edit the manuscript, then I would have quit reading before the end of the first chapter. I’ve harped on this before and often: writing is a craft. Master it if you’re going to publish your written work.
I don’t expect perfect characters. I don’t want perfect characters. Flaws make characters real; flaws and mistakes humanize them. I do expect characters to learn and grow from their mistakes. They may even backslide a little now and then, just like real people do.
If you want to keep my attention as a reader, then write well, embue your protagonists with a bit of respect for themselves and others, and allow them a modicum of rational capability.