Readers everywhere, regardless of genre preferences, have pet peeves. These can be categorized into trends or themes of things readers don’t like. The Washington Post offers some insights with this article:
Since editor and authors are also readers, I’ll start with this list of my pet peeves:
- Grammar errors. These occur most frequently in self-published books that have not been touched by a professional editor. OK, there’s a time and a place for incorrect grammar, because any editor worth his or her salt knows that effective writing trumps grammatically correct writing. That means the writer (or editor) must know the language’s grammar conventions and understand how and when and why to break them to the best effect. Not knowing and still breaking grammar conventions is just sloppy writing.
- Information dumps. This occurs most frequently in self-published books. A paragraph or eight of expository description, background, or explanation halts the story in its tracks. It’s an obstacle the reader must wade through before resuming the action. Such deluges of information usually try to impart a detailed vision in the author’s brain to the reader’s. It doesn’t work. It’s better to weave in bits and pieces of information the author needs to make sense of the story as they become necessary to comprehension.
- Disjointed formatting. I’m not speaking of drop caps or other stylistic embellishments. For instance, I recently looked at a book in which the content of every page was center-justified. That’s just difficult to read. Formatting is important, and its purpose is to facilitate a positive experience for the reader.
- Malapropisms. This big word refers to the incorrect use of a word. Most of these occur as homophone errors: pair/pare/pear, phase/faze, bear/bare, reign/rein, etc. The presence of malapropisms indicates an author who didn’t use a professional editor or an incompetent editor who’s not a professional.
- Punctuation errors. This is a subset of grammar errors. The most egregious punctuation errors I see involve incorrect use of apostrophes and commas. The use of commas isn’t necessarily cut and dried; there’s wiggle room. However, the use of apostrophes to indicate plurals instead of possessives makes my teeth itch.
Larger peeves come in the form of some common tropes and/or archetypes. Since I read (and write) mainly romance, I’m all too familiar with these tropes and wonder about their enduring popularity in the genre.
- Secret baby. The “secret baby” trope usually arises from a one night stand. The heroine has a passionate one night stand with the hero and is surprised when she discovers she’s pregnant. Um … has anyone ever heard of consequences? You have sex, you risk pregnancy. It’s that simple. Another secret baby trope I loathe is when the heroine keeps the child a secret from the hero because … reasons. None of the reasons are, of course, justified; and the hero is understandably upset when he discovers the big secret. No thanks.
- “Broken” hero/heroine. The protagonist(s)—one or both of them—has suffered some trauma or major disappointment that makes him and/or her leery of the opposite sex and expect the worst. The emotionally damaged character never seeks therapy, but uses the trauma to justify poor treatment of other people, because all women are vindictive, manipulative gold diggers and/or all men are lying, cheating pigs. Ugh.
- Toxic masculinity masquerading as “Alpha.” Romance is chock-full of alpha male heroes, manly men who ooze what the real world considers toxic masculinity. This often ties into the broken hero trope, because the desirable alpha male exists as a womanizing chauvinst who treats women like toilet paper: use once and discard. Some heroines do the same with men. The alpha hero often takes command, asserts his authority, and imposes his will upon the heroine simply because he can. He’s domineering as well as dominant. Like romance readers around the world, I like a dominant hero, but not one whose dominance edges or leaps across the line into abuse.
- Idiocy. A clutz can be charming. We can relate to a character who has trouble understanding a particular concept or a character trying to prove himself or herself. But persistently poor decision-making in the face of repeated failure smacks of stupidity. I recently deleted a book in which the heroine not only got drunk (mistake #1, something many of us have done), but who mistook the hero’s room for her own (mistake #2), berated the hero who behaved like a perfect gentleman (mistake #3), lied to the hero (mistake #4), stole his horse to escape, while still wearing just a shift and not having any money (mistake #5), then lied to the hero again when he caught her (mistake #6). All in the first chapter. There’s a reason why we now have the TSTL acronym: that heroine was too stupid to live. And we’re supposed to believe the hero falls in love with such an idiot?
Sometimes the characters in my own books cross those lines (although I’ve yet to write a secret baby story) that can take a plot beyond building tension and delicious conflict to face-palmed disgust. There are no hard borders with most of these pet peeves; they’re more a matter of degree. When it comes to some stories and/or some readers, that degree hits the boiling point sooner than others.
The best a writer can do it tread the line between just enough and too much.
As readers, what are your pet peeves?