I'm a notoriously picky reader, especially when it comes to novels. Some of my TAs at school have learned this, and others are probably oblivious, but when I'm not entertained by a book, it instantly becomes a chore and, thus, difficult for me to actually get through (sometimes I stop reading entirely, even though they are school books). Since I already have to read so many novels, I find myself largely becoming uninterested in books that don't immediately grab me and, thus, I develop a more sophisticated (not necessarily better) taste in literature.
Here are ten things that will almost always make me toss a book across the room:
- Unrealistic Sex Scenes
I realize that the uber dork meeting an attractive woman and then having an all-night-romp of passionate, intense love making is appealing, but it's also incredibly unrealistic and somewhat pathetic. What about nerves? What about guys who aren't reincarnated sex machines? Most men aren't super lovers who can go seven times in half a day (I'm looking at you, Greg Bear; that scene in Blood Music was absolutely absurd and seemed too much like a personal fantasy). Of course, most men won't admit this, but that's not the point. The point is that sex isn't perfect. Not everyone who is inexperienced will magically be good at it. Most will suck. Let's put some of that into our novels, please. The unrealistic inexperienced lanky guy who gives his partner five O-moments in one night is a bit, well, overused and easy to see as poorly disguised personal fantasy.
- Rape (Used Poorly)
Any time when rape is used for shock value, I'm out. The same can be said for scenes following a rape in which the victim seems relatively un-phased. I don't find rape entertaining; most people don't. Rape should be put into a story to serve a purpose. This is why I couldn't stand The Hills Have Eyes 2: the rape scene was there only to be shocking, not to develop a character in a certain way or drive the plot or anything (it was an opportunity to do something disgusting in order to make our skin crawl). I will drop books that do not address rape as an important and emotionally devastating thing. It's no walk in the park and I want to see that in the writing.
- Violence For the Sake of Being Violent
I don't mind blood and gore. But just as with rape, it has to have a purpose. If you're just showing me limbs being chopped off because you like it, then I'm likely to drop the book. I want violence that takes itself seriously, that tries to convey a scene realistically and with logical consequences. If a character is involved in a war and manages to survive relatively unscathed after seeing all his friends get chopped to bits, how does he respond to that? If your answer is anything like "he goes off and dances to lively elven music while remarking how awesome the battle was," then I'm out.
- Being Artistic For the Sake of Being Artistic
Consider this literary snobbery, if you like. I absolutely despise novels that try to do new things with language or story for the purpose of being artistic. The problem I have with a lot of literary fiction is that most of the people who write that stuff are so focused on the art form that they have forgotten how to tell a story. Literature is here to tell and show us stories. Novels that don't give any attention to the story and all the attention to language and style are ones that eventually get dropped by me. Entertain me with your pretty language; don't bore me to death.
- Laggy Beginnings
If it takes more than fifty pages for something to happen that is interesting, then I'm not likely to finish the book. In a 300-page novel, it's not much to ask for a bit of action or something in the beginning, even if it's something small. Set up a question or show me something crazy. Do something. You've got more space to get me interested in the rest of the book than you had with your editor. The ending shouldn't be boring, period.
- Crappy Writing
This one is pretty obvious, right? I'm going to lob all forms of crappy writing in there: bad style, lots of spelling/grammar errors, poor plotting, etc. I don't think I need to go beyond this except to say that how you tell a story is extremely important. If reading a work is like trying to decipher ancient hieroglyphics, then clearly whatever it is I'm reading doesn't deserve to be published.
- Poor Science Played Off Like Legit Science
I'm perfectly fine with letting slide things like faster-than-light travel, aliens that look human-ish, etc. What I don't like is when a science fiction author writes a story filled with explanation about some "new" science that, in reality, is actually a load of absolute nonsense. If you want to write fantasy, then write fantasy. If you want to write hard SF, then stick with sciences we know. The one thing that non-hard SF writers do successfully is represent their "fantasy" tropes as just that: tropes. FTL for them is simply there, thus allowing them to focus on the story rather than trying to explain how their FTL works without violating the laws of the universe. Don't explain to me how FTL works, just tell me it does and move on.
- Confusing Names and Other Bad Worldbuilding Crap
Names need vowels. Fjfjcbvyx is not a name; it's what happens when your cat runs over your keyboard. The thing that bothers me about some fantasy novels is the endless repetition of the unpronounceable name. This alone isn't enough, though. There have to be a collection of worldbuilding-related things working together to get me to drop a novel. These include, but are not limited to, such annoying things as invented languages that are too obviously derivative of Tolkien's elven tongues, reinventions of fantasy creatures that are too absurd to be fantastic anymore, and perfect heroes.
- Too Much Telling and Rambling
I absolutely cannot stand when an author tells me things without showing them, especially when at the most random of times. The same can be said for long infodumps and ramblings about stuff that actually has nothing to do with the story. Show, don't tell. Seriously. I know that there are exceptions, but it's not that hard to show me when someone is upset rather than just saying "Bill was upset." Use your words like a big writer.
- Too Many Characters and Switching POVs (in the middle of a scene)
For the record, it takes a hell of a lot of POV characters before I drop a book. I hate being confused when I shouldn't be and stories with more POV characters than I can count on my hands are ones not worth reading, to me. I also don't understand why people randomly switch POVs in the same scene, without a break of some sort. It gets confusing and it's amateur. Even good writers get this wrong. Being confusing is bad. Avoid it.
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