The top three things which cause me to throw a book across the room

So the title is somewhat exaggerated. I don’t really throw books across the room, but when faced with any of the below, I most certainly close them with disgust. As nearly every fiction writer, I’m a reader first. And in my reading journey, I’ve come across many lapses of writerly/editorial judgement. Many forgivable. Most forgettable. But then again, there’s the other type…

Of course writing it subjective, and so what repels me, might be the height of entertainment for others. But here are some things I absolutely hate coming across in fiction:

  1. Pontificating is the top of the list. In the era of social media, being loud about every single thought running through our minds has become endemic. So much so that on occasion writers forget what their job it: to transport the reader into the world of their book. It is expressly not the place to copy and paste your least popular tweet, which you feel really ought to have gained more traction based on its pure incisiveness. Whether it’s politics you wish to discuss, or the state of education in your home country, or the way you think people REALLY OUGHT TO dress for an evening party, your book is not the place to vent those views. If it doesn’t serve the story, it belongs in the editorial bin.
  2. Gross self-inserts. I was reading a novel some time ago, by a rather well-known author, where the young, feisty female protagonist is mooned over (in the most inappropriate and creepy way, frankly) by her, let’s call him “mentor”. This mentor is much older, in a position of authority over the female protagonist, and has no qualities that could possibly be attractive to the object of his desire. Yet, at a pretty randomly chosen point, the girl notices him. She suddenly sees him in a different light. The bumbling, boring-as-toast older man becomes interesting and masculine in her eyes. Little things she never noticed before light up a fire within… For no reason. Literally nothing’s changed in the older man. He did nothing note-worthy (in front of the female protagonist at least). And as the pages droned on, one couldn’t help but see the somewhat disturbing similarities between the mentor character and the author. And of course, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the private fantasy of “punching above one’s weight”. But when written down, it is painfully obvious that that’s exactly what it is: the author’s self-indulgent fantasy.
  3. Ye olde stylle of speech. Certain genres are particularly prone to this grievous sin. Sometimes a writer really really wants to show that the book is in fact set not in anything approaching a contemporary setting, but could very beautifully fit in the standards of the olden days. The temptation to rewrite everything in a style neigh incomprehensible to the modern reader can sometimes be too much to resist. The easiest way to indulge the urge is to pile in archaic vocabulary, mess with syntax, sprinkle in some schoolboy french and voila! A book with prose that resembles nothing in the history of the English language is ready! And while it doesn’t bother everyone equally, I find it distracting, occasionally hilarious (when eyes become “orbs” for example, to emphasise that before 1950s vocabulary was so much more refined), and mostly disappointing. There are many ways to transport a reader to a particular time and place. Misusing archaisms is not one of them.