A while back, I did a Things I Like in Books post. This week, I’m doing one on things I don’t like.
Please note that this is simply my opinion. I’m not telling anyone they have to write this way.
Immorality that’s positively portrayed. This annoys me because I think it’s wrong, but the book is telling me it’s not. If the main character is immoral, that bothers me. I don’t want to read about someone who lies, disobeys good parents, steals, doesn’t wait until marriage, or is in a same-sex relationship.
Graphic violence, sex, or language. I can take a decent amount of violence, but I don’t want to imagine the really graphic stuff. I want to know if a character is dying or has a flesh wound, but I don’t need to know how many internal organs are no longer internal. I don’t like swearing or sex, so I prefer that stay out of the book entirely.
Childishness is on the other end of the scale. If the book isn’t dark enough, I won’t worry about the characters, so it gets boring. Also, if the characters feel very immature, that makes me get bored.
Preaching. It’s sometimes tolerable if I agree, but it’s generally still annoying. If I don’t agree with the message, I might stop reading. The message in the story should be told through the characters’ actions, not their words. Even then, if I don’t agree with the message, it might cause me to stop reading.
Weird writing styles. I understand the character may be illiterate, but that doesn’t mean the author should write without proper punctuation or include slang throughout the entire book. Overdone sentence fragments are another problem. A few don’t bother me, but a lot slow things down instead of speeding them up.
Slow writing. The really descriptive infodump style that’s common in classics may be part of the reason kids don’t like reading after they’re forced through the classics. It’s boring for most modern readers.
Love triangles and romantic tension over stupid things. I don’t care much for love triangles. Part of the reason is because I rarely like both guys, and sometimes, I don’t like either of them. (I’ve noticed it’s normally one girl and two guys, not the other way around.) If there must be romance, I want it to be very light and not the leading drama issue in the book. If there is romantic tension, I prefer it be something involving politics. I’m normally more worried about the fate of the human (or alien) race than I am about if the main character finds true love. If the fate a world can somehow hinge on the romance, that makes it much more interesting. The most annoying thing is if the characters are more worried about the romance than the fate of something important.
The Chosen One, or in modern books, The Special One. This is a character that is for some reason naturally better than everyone else. Even if they’re not chosen to save the day, they normally have better powers than every other character in the story so they’re the only one who can save the day. I have seen a few well-done cases, but these are rather rare.
Nazi based racist villains. Hitler isn’t the only dictator in the history of the world, but he’s the most commonly used historic model for villains. The story is almost always dealing with racism. I’ve seen at least two cases in popular books involving talking animals and it’s getting old. In Legend of Korra, I was happy to see season 4’s villain used other aspects of World War II, such as a nation trying to reclaim land taken by a previous war.
A sister trope to the Evil Nazis is the (normally white) cardboard cutout racist. While most shows now try to explain why the villain is a villain, racists seem to get no sympathy. They’re just shown as fully evil monsters without much variation. Realistically, not all racists would support killing another race. They might just want the other race to stay out of their hometown, or they might be in the closet with the issue. The only sympathetic “racist” I’ve seen is Magneto, who at least has a somewhat understandable reason for wanting to kill everyone who isn’t like him. If you write a racist or any radical political ideology, do some research so they’re well-rounded. (The internet makes it extremely easy to find their websites so you can get their side of the story.) Another problem with this sort of story is the message generally ends up being “racism is bad,” which is something I’d hope readers already know.
The Muslim or Anti-American terrorist. This one has the same problem as the evil Nazi. These characters rarely have any good motivation for what they’re doing, they’re just cardboard cutout villains. It never seems to occur to the writer to add a few shades of gray to the villains.
Poorly portrayed religious people. If someone believes in a certain religion, they often have a certain moral code that may be different from the secular characters. A writer shouldn’t say the character is part of a religion then have them act like everyone else. Certain things that don’t bother secular characters, such as living together before marriage, may bother a Christian character. Also, please don’t make every religious person evil.
Cardboard cutout villains who hold the “wrong” political views. It seems whenever politics are involved, people forget the other side is human too. Generally, the nasty people who make the news aren’t the only representatives of their particular ideology.
Every good guy having the exact same beliefs as the author. Two good people can have differing beliefs, especially if you’re in a fantasy or sci-fi setting where multiple cultures are involved. If an Orc joins the Elves, he might still have a tendency to eat dead horses or think taking prisoners is stupid. He doesn’t automatically convert to a polite vegan tree lover just because he left the Horde. I can understand an author wouldn’t want to positively portray something they don’t agree with, but even if they keep the character from sinning (in their view) there are plenty of small differences.
Historical fiction where the main character seems like he/she came from our time period. I’d like to see more books set in the past where the main character holds beliefs from that time period. It’s not accurate for every good person to be wanting equal rights for every race, gender, and sexual orientation in 1845. There were good people in this time who didn’t hold modern beliefs. This is something to keep in mind for fantasy too. In The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, it’s considered immodest for women in a certain culture to expose their left hand. This is portrayed as perfectly normal by the people in that culture, just like cultures in different time periods had beliefs we consider strange.
Trying to force readers to like the villain. Yes, it’s good to give the villain understandable motivation, but it can be taken too far if the writer tries to make the villain so sympathetic that the audience doesn’t want to see them get justice. I want to understand the villain, but I don’t want it to be sad when the villain gets what they deserve. Worse, some writers in the film industry try to make the villain so sympathetic that the audience and characters seem to forget that person is actually a bad guy.
Morality based off how important the character is to the reader. If the villain murders an unnamed soldier, that should be just as bad as if he murders the hero’s girlfriend. It’s understandable that the hero may think differently, but the writer should show that even minor characters’ lives matter. This also counts for the hero. The hero should not cut his way through a dozen guards who were pressed into service only to spare the villain who forced those guards to fight the hero in the first place.
Not clearly stating a character’s race early on. Dark skin could describe anything from a Spaniard with a tan to an African. Worse, sometimes, the race isn’t mentioned until far into the book. I prefer to see the race clearly written out, if possible. I don’t like having to reimagine the character halfway through the book. Also keep in mind books are going international. A reader in Australia or Russia will likely imagine a description of dark skin differently from what a reader in Florida will imagine.
Buzzards. In Europe, a buzzard is a bird of prey in the same family as the red-tailed hawk. In the United States, vultures are often called “buzzards.” This leads to confusion since I have to figure out what country the author is from before I know what kind of bird I’m reading about. It’s especially important to keep these terms straight now that books are going international. My advice, if it’s a vulture, call it a vulture, not a buzzard, unless calling it a vulture would be very out of character for the narrator.
Emotional wreck characters. I don’t mind a main character who gets upset, but if they aren’t thinking in a way I consider logical, I have trouble relating. When it comes to my enjoyment of books, my ability to understand the character’s thought process is one of the most important things. When I can’t understand the character, I feel like I’ve been locked out of their head.
What are some things you dislike in books?