Monday, October 20, 2014

Literary pet peeves

I was thinking the other day of some things that annoy me in fiction. In general, I'm a pretty forgiving reader. Plot coincidences? Sure, as long as they work within the context of the story. Occasionally clunky writing? As long as the storytelling is sincere and I'm engaged with the characters, I'll allow it. But there are a few things that really bug me.

"Because I Said So" Relationships: Character interactions are important to me. As a reader, I need to have an understanding of why characters are friends, enemies, lovers, etc. It doesn't have to be spelled out for me in letters three feet high. All I need is for the character relationships to feel believable and organic. But sometimes there will be interactions that just don't seem to work. For example, one character is deeply fascinated with another and wants to learn more about that person, but the reader doesn't see what makes the person so fascinating. This is the peeve I'm most lenient on — heck, there are people in my own family whose relationships leave me scratching my head.

"Eye of the Hurricane" Characters: Often found in "Because I Said So" Relationships, these characters have interesting things happen around them, and to them. Yet the characters themselves are not interesting. Oftentimes these characters are not so much people in their own right, but catalysts for the other characters' growth and actions. It's especially unfortunate when this not-to-interesting character is the main character — it gives the book a hollow feel.

The Character Arc Loop-De-Loop: This is the peeve I cannot let slide. Few things irritate me more than when a character, who's been established as behaving a certain way, decides to behave a radically different way just to keep the plot moving. This is not to say that characters can't change. They can, and should, but the change has to be organic, and dictated by what has happened to them over the course of the novel. A previously taciturn character should not suddenly become talkative and sassy just because a talkative-and-sassy character would have livened things up. A character who's been established as having strong views on a certain topic should not suddenly change those views in order to take the plot in a given direction. There are some books that I used to enjoy a great deal until on a re-read I realized they had the Character Arc Loop-De-Loop, and my affection for those books has waned a great deal.

Readers, what are some of your literary pet peeves?

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