We all have them. That one thing that gets under our skin and ticks us off. It can be any number of things depending on the person you ask. For some people it can range from bad body odor, unreliability, slow drivers, fake people, tardiness, just to name a few. When it comes to writing though, most of you reading this have at least one pet peeve in regards to books you’ve read.
If you were to ask a group of people what their pet peeves are I’m sure the responses would vary. Many of them though can be boiled down to three main complaints. This is by no means an exhaustive list but here are some of the top ones I’ve heard many lament about.
Overused cliches – This has to be the biggest and also broadest writing pet peeve. This pet peeve is a collection of popular clichés, from the popular-jock-gets-the-nerdy-girl to the infamous beginning: the alarm clock going off. Granted, it’s extremely difficult for writers to avoid all clichés in their writing. This is especially true in genres such as romance or YA fiction which are the most common offenders in my personal experience. Don’t get me wrong. Clichés are not bad in themselves. I’m guilty of a couple of them. It’s just that some get used so much, that the device becomes predictable and stale. If you do employ clichés, try to mix it up. So for example, the ‘hot guy with the six-pack,’ doesn’t have to be so perfect. Maybe he has insecurities he doesn’t want others to know. Or maybe he’s really smart but tries to fit in with his peers. Whatever you concoct; just changes things up. This leads into the next writing trap.
Mary-Sue – she is synonymous with a one-dimensional character that can do no wrong. For the boy counterpart you can call him be Gary-Stu. What’s wrong with having perfect characters? Simply put they’re boring. To a reader they come off being flat caricatures instead of real people with real emotions, hopes, and faults. Yes they’re fictional characters but you want the reader to feel that they’re real. Because Mary-Sue characters lack actual flaws, they’re harder to relate to. While I may not put down your book if I run into one, I would hope the main character is at least dynamic and interesting if you want me to continue reading past chapter one.
Not surprisingly, the idealistic, dreamy characters in a lot of teen fiction fall into this particular trap. If you want to find examples of this, free story-sharing sites like Wattpad are full of them. One way to counteract this pet peeve is to brainstorm your character’s strengths and weaknesses. This adds a layer of depth to the character that makes them more multi-dimensional.
Spelling/Punctuation/Grammatical mistakes – Most poorly written books suffer from this problem. The mechanics are not used correctly and the book is full of typos. Granted I’m not a “grammar Nazi” nor am I an English major so I will make blunders in this category occasionally. Because of this I try to be forgiving when I see a typo here or there in a book. When I start seeing glaring mistakes appear multiple times throughout the page that’s when the red flags pop in my head. Instead of enjoying the story, I’m now distracted by the errors the author made. As a writer you are personally responsible for editing your works. Rereading your work out loud can help you catch mistakes or awkward sentence structures. Having another pair of eyes to review your works really goes a long way to avoid this pitfall.
Again these writing traps as I like to call them may not necessarily be your pet-peeve. For example, while others may be more lax about typos some people who are coined Grammar Nazi’s may find a single typo or a grammatically incorrect sentence a complete turn-off. For me I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Glaring errors are pet peeves because poor punctuation and spelling are not only careless but sucks me out of the story.
Some pet peeves may include those outside the list I mentioned. For example I’m particular about language used in a story, particularly profanity. While others feel it’s no big deal at all, for me a f-bomb is a complete turn off. While I may let some things slide, personally a character with a potty-mouth is crude and off-putting. If you have stories littered with profanity, you can guarantee I will be quick to drop it.
Granted even with my list, I can’t speak for everyone because pet-peeves can and do vary from person to person. And that’s OK. Whether a writing device or blunder irks you depends on a number of factors from your temperament, ethics, belief systems, bad experiences, or simply personal preference. And to make things more interesting your current mood can heighten or defuse how you react to a writing blunder. If you’re a writer you can’t always predict what’s going to turn a reader off. But it’s safe to assume the three main writing traps listed earlier are things you want to avoid as much as possible.
If you’re a writer you don’t want to turn off potential readers. If anything you want to attract potential readers especially your target audience to your story. What can help in that regard? Well that’s a discussion for a future blog post.
Question to readers: What’s your biggest writing pet-peeve?