Sunday, 26 July 2009

What NOT to do 2

I've collected a few more of these, so here for your reading pleasure is What NOT to do part deux, alternatively known as Please Authors, I beg you, don't ruin a good book by doing these things. Maybe before reading this post you should go back and read What NOT to do 1 if you haven't already.

As before, I'm leaving out general problems like poor characters or plot. Here are some specific things I've been picking up on recently. Again, I'm not trying to criticise specific books so anything in quotation marks is paraphrased by me.

Show that a Lord in a historical fiction book is a nice guy really by having him always address his servants like ‘if it isn’t too much trouble, would you be so kind as to fetch Miss Moore some tea and refreshments?’ – I don't care how nice a guy he is, it wouldn't occur to him to be so polite to his servants all the time. Plus it gets annoying very quickly. Show how nice a guy he is by making him rescue kittens or something instead.

Heroines who are absolutely gorgeous, but charmingly unaware of it. – Generally seen through the eyes of several males just so the reader realises she’s beautiful (because charmingly modest heroine has told the reader that she’s not beautiful and we can’t have the reader believing that their heroine is plain!) before moving back to her point of view. On the same note, heroines who have a childhood friend desperately in love with her, several men along the way in love with her, just about anyone who meets her, in love with her.

Quests whose success balances upon knife edges/hangs on single threads – Questers are frequently reminded of this by random wise people along the way even when they’re not in immediate danger of any kind.

Questers seek wise/knowledgeable person to shed light on their quest. Wise person falls over himself being friendly and generally wise yet doesn’t say anything useful, despite knowing stuff. Finally, he wishes questers luck on their quest, telling them that he can say little (and why is that exactly? ) but this ... proceeds to speak cryptically and in verse even though he managed normal conversation moments ago. At the end of the poem, wise/knowledgeable person can say no more (other than you have very little time, usually) and reminds questers of Knife Edge/Single Thread mentioned above – Questers and reader alike can then spend most of the book trying to figure out the cryptic poem, which adds a fun element. Hey, it’s interactive! Then they can feel stupid at the end when all is revealed. How obvious! Everyone say ‘of cooouurse!’

Have a character called Cat – I’m not being critical if you ALREADY have a character called Cat, that’s fine. I have nothing against the name, or your books. But authors take note! There are now enough Cats in YA literature to last us a while. And Kat is not a whole different name. Same applies. I know two Cats in real life. I have read about more than fifteen. Why is this?

Have a boy who turns out to be a girl in disguise at the same time as the Princess disappears – WE KNOW IT’S HER!!! Just because author has ever so casually mentioned how Princess has one colour hair and girl in disguise has a different colour hair doesn’t fool your discerning readers. Some of us have heard of wigs before.

Some cryptic verse making up a treasure hunt to treasure which an eccentric, but extremely wise old person hid centuries ago (it is generally unexplained why such crazy-but-genius old people are always in possession of priceless treasures) - said eccentric knows, of course, that the treasure must be hidden well, so only one who is worthy/really needs the treasure/is noble of heart can find it. They don’t consider how if it’s important, maybe they shouldn’t bury it/ hide it in that secret compartment in the loft/ build a house on top of it. If it’s so important, maybe someone will need it in a hurry and not have time for a treasure hunt. Invariably, it’s a close-run thing, but treasure is found in the nick of time to avert disaster.

Explain every action of a character to show how good they really are. If someone was shooting at us/chasing us/trying to kill us in some horrible way, most of us would have no qualms in retaliating. You don’t have to explain why it’s alright for character to fight back – ‘I know violence is wrong and all, but I firmly believe that in self-defence it is occasionally the only action and I’m no pushover despite being peaceful and full of goodness. So I pulled my arm back and punched him’ is unnecessary.

Decide to branch out into young adult books and create a series (*cough franchise cough*). The necessity of an actual plot is reduced and the writing doesn’t have to be as good because after all the readers are younger. We won’t even give them a satisfactory conclusion at the end because then we will have the impressionable youngsters hooked for life – I hate to break it to you, but the choice in YA lit is more diverse than ever before. There are some excellent books out there and teens are harsh critics. Just because a few teen series have been huge recently does not mean that you will win at this. You probably won’t.

Make your book seem ‘classic’ and your newly created world rich in history by sharing it all in a dry and unexciting manner – Yes, that reminds us of a history book. Yes, we believe in your world as a real place. No, we are not still reading because the dry and unexciting voice sent us to sleep.

That's it for today. What about you? Any pitfalls you find authors falling in to far too often? Any irritating little problems that stop a good book from being a great book?


  1. ROTFL! I couldn't agree more. My pet peeve is the hero/heroine in a historical who acts and speaks exactly as a modern heroine. So annoying!

  2. I hate it when there are YA books that should be children's but are considered YA because there are some long words thrown in there. Those books would be really popular in the children's section, but are a flop in YA.

    Great list! You hit most of the problems I notice in books.

  3. Blaize - I hate that too! Have you seen the recent BBC series of Robin Hood? He's a politically correct pacifist!

    I've never really had that problem Priya, though a lot of books should really be YA and classed in the 9-12 section in bookstores. I guess it's the same problem but in reverse.

    Glad you liked it Lenore :D

  4. LOL - made me laugh.

    I just checked out the UK Along For The Ride cover - sooooooooo pretty! I think her best one yet.

  5. I hate it when villains provide the reader with an information dump right as they're about to attack the hero or heroine. They gloat, expound upon their plans, explain their motive, and often arrogantly belittle the protagonist. It's pretty unrealistic, and takes me out of the story because I'm usually shaking my head (or laughing) at the melodrama.