I thought that, this Wednesday, we could all have fun talking about the things that bother us. Yes, it’s time to air our pet peeves – literary pet peeves, of course, which is why I’m not going to bring up cluttered countertops and the evident conviction some people have that anything slipped between the fresh fruit and the bread never has to be put away.
I’ll start. One thing I can’t stand in fiction – it’s a deal-breaker in any novel or movie – is …
No truly good or likable characters. I once saw a black-and-white film called Christmas in Connecticut. It had every appearance of being a quaint, old-time movie, until I realized that every character in it was a jerk. The heroine wrote a column for a magazine, a job she had gotten by lying to everyone about her life. With her boss about to find out, she agreed to marry a man who could bail her out, and together they commenced Operation Fake Out the Boss. Or as the movie is called, Christmas in Connecticut.
The boss, a presumptuous and, yes, unlikable sort, invited a few people to go along to Christmas in Connecticut. One of them turned out to be The Hero, and of course he and the heroine fell in love, which meant dumping her fiance. But don’t feel too bad about it! He wasn’t too pleasant a guy, either. It would have involved The Hero dumping his girlfriend, too – who, by the way, he had romanced solely to get privileges at a military hospital – but shortly before the curtain closed, she dumped him. For his friend.
In a story like this, there is no character worth rooting for. In a better world, they would all lose. What I want in fiction is heroes I can root for, not heroes whose moral deficiency leaves me feeling the same ambivalence a writer once expressed regarding the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s: “Why can’t they both lose?”
Excessive romantic sap. Note the word excessive. I don’t mind romance at all, but sometimes authors lay the sap on too thick. I once read a book – a good book, despite the fact that I’m dragging it into my literary complaints – that had one too many I love you, you love me! moments. I wanted to take the heroine aside (it was written from her viewpoint) and say, “Look, I’m not in this to hear how your boyfriend’s eyes make you feel. I’m here for the superpower-inducing bracelet and the master criminals and the supernatural warfare. So let’s get back to the plot, shall we?”
The Missing Number. In these days, when every book becomes a series and the story never ends, you never want to read a book without first finding out its number – you know, whether it’s number one, three, nine, et cetera. This is important information, and if it’s not on the front cover, it ought to be prominent on the back cover.
But publishers have gotten furtive. I can’t recount the number of times I’ve stood in an aisle examining a novel, trying to determine if it was (1) part of a series, and (2) if so, which part.
It’s true that if you really examine books – if you read both covers thoroughly, including the author’s bio, and skim through the first pages – you will probably be able to figure out what the vital number is. But you know something? We readers don’t want to really examine every novel that interests us. And we don’t think we should have to. We think all you publishers should just let us know. We don’t like getting a book only to be sandbagged by the revelation that it is #2 (3, 4, 5 …) in a series, nor do we like to be made to parody Edgar Allan Poe’s detectives, searching for the missing number, so GIVE US A FRIENDLY TIP-OFF, OK?
Now it’s your turn. What are your literary pet peeves?