A Reader’s Pet Peeves

I read a lot of books. I don’t stick to a particular genre or the authors I know about; rather, I go outside my comfort zone and pick books that seem to promise a new experience. However, I do avoid certain things when picking out my next read, and there are some aspects that undeniably turn me off… my pet peeves, if you may. In no particular order, here are some of them:

Widows and orphans - No, no… I’m not talking about real widows and orphans. In typesetting, widows are the lines which are separated from the rest of the paragraph and appear alone on the next page, and orphans are the words that are left alone on a line, sometimes all by themselves on a single page. These are kinda bothersome, especially when I’m writing!

Books where the protagonist’s main concern is their significant other – You know what I’m talking about… these books where the whole point is to get two characters together, or where the protagonist’s existence depends solely on their SO. I don’t mind romantic elements in books, but please give your characters more depth and credit than that!

Love triangles – Love triangles are so overused and filled with clichés; two gorgeous guys fall head over heels for a fairly ordinary girl and it is left up to her to choose which one she would like to date, cue in a lot of heartache, a lot of ice-cream/wine/etc, a lot of pampering, several defining moments and eventually crushing the heart of one of these poor guys. Or it could be two girls and a guy, whatever tickles the author’s fancy.

Descriptions – I don’t mind descriptions when a writer is trying to create a new world from scratch, but sometimes it gets overdone. For example, I don’t like lengthy descriptions of a character; few defining characteristics will do.  I also don’t like when a writer goes to great lengths to describe a fairly ordinary room, or when they describe every nook and cranny in a town. I usually just skim through all these.

Love at first sight – Let’s get one thing straight; these things do not happen. You can’t just see someone and fall in love with them the moment you set eyes on them. You can call it “lust at first sight”, because love isn’t something that gets built upon appearances.

Vampires – Any book that has sexy vampires is automatically dismissed by me. I’m tired of seeing books that have covers depicting a beautiful person with glowing eyes. I’m tired of seeing the “girl meets vampire and they fall in love” storyline. There are some good vampire books out there, like Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and Pretty Maids All in a Row by Christopher Golden (a book about Spike and Drusilla from BtVS) for example, but I find myself rolling my eyes at the majority of them. If you know of any original vampire books, please do tell me about them; vampires are some of my favourite mythical creatures, and it pains me to see them used like this.

A throng of characters – One example of a book that contains one too many characters is A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. It just has so many characters that eventually I found it difficult to remember who’s who, and they weren’t given enough screen time, so by the end of the book I didn’t care about any of them. It was annoying, and I only pushed through to the end because the book had won a Pulitzer, so it had to be good, right? I was proven wrong.

Graphic scenes – They’re just not my cup of tea. Strangely enough, whenever I’m thumbing through a novel at a bookshop, I’ll almost always stop at these scenes. I’ve tended to call this… quirk? Habit? Intuition? Luck? of mine the “Sex Detector”, because it often helps me put titles I would’ve otherwise bought back on their shelves. I don’t mind those scenes when they’re hinted at or just written in passing, but details make me uncomfortable. Just a preference.

Damsels in distress - I don’t think elaboration is in order, but it truly annoys me when a book contains a heroin or a protagonist’s love interest who is depicted as a poor, defenseless girl who just sits around on her bum waiting for her knight in shining armour to save her.

On a semi-related note, I also like my books to be in pristine condition. Any dents, creases in the cover, stains, etc, just bug me completely. If I lend out a book and it returns to me in a less than perfect condition, I will be quite upset. My fiancé covered this a lot better in this post here about things that shouldn’t be done to books.

What are some of your pet peeves?

41 thoughts on “A Reader’s Pet Peeves

  1. Zen,
    That is a lot of pet peeves! It’s a wonder you find anything to read! :)
    Having said that, I do agree with some of your comments… The widows & orphans, I am the same… I hate having a page with one line or word on it… It looks messy… Surely the author could have corrected this somehow!

    I must admit, I disagree with your love triangle pet peeve… I do love a good traditional, predictable love triangle sometimes.

    Descriptions, I think they are useful when needed, but sometimes they can be over used… And it can make that section very boring & hard to read.

    Overall, it has been useful as a writer & a reader to know your pet peeves… I will try and keep some of them out of my writing! Hehe

    Thanks, :)

    • Haha, you’d be surprised at the number of books I can find (and love)!
      To each their own, of course, and I’m fine with a love triangle as long as it doesn’t become the whole focus of the book. One of my favourite books, The Night Circus, includes a love triangle, but it’s so subtle you barely register it’s there!
      And about the descriptions… yep! They’re okay in moderation, but too much of it can be a bad thing.
      I’m glad you found my post useful! Thanks for commenting! =D

  2. I shall take your list and print it and put it beside my computer because these are huge traps for a writer to fall into and with your guidance I shall avoid them (apart from love at first sight because this has happened to me! It won’t happen very often though!)

  3. Zen, show your face … you’re really my sister, right? Is that you, Anne? :-) I find myself agreeing with so many of your posts. Today, I held my breath while I read your pet peeves. I don’t have love triangles, vampires, or graphic scenes, and nobody will ever accuse me of over-describing; I’m pretty minimalist with description. But I laughed that you want your books to be pristine. I am the same way! I buy hardcover books with dustjackets, and even the ones I’ve read are still in new condition. I never take the book at the front of the shelf in the store for fear it’s been flipped through; I always reach in the back and pick the nicest one. I only do that for books.

    • Ahaha, no, I’m pretty sure I don’t have a long-lost sister. xD You shouldn’t have to worry about my pet peeves; after all, to each their own. But I’m still glad you agree with them! And I do that too! I try to make sure the book’s in perfect condition when I buy it and read it, and if I get home and find a dent in it, I feel ever so disappointed.

  4. My #1 pet peeve is definitely too much description. I hate overly ornamental and flowery language when it’s just not needed. This is especially bad in fantasy books, where there will often be pages upon pages of mostly description. Granted, books like Perdido Street Station are still worth reading, despite that, but it’s a pain to suffer through what shouldn’t have to be there.

    • Agreed! I think that’s why I struggled with Lord of the Rings. Tolkein is a great story teller, but he uses a lot of description and flowery language, and I end up skipping many parts or just glazing over them.

  5. I struggled with Tolkien – who I think did a great job in theory – the problem is, I just can’t read his books. All those historical facts of someone’s ancestor and huge chunks of the world’s history thrown in at random points and totally not contributing to the action… Gosh. So yeah, too many people and too much pointless description. Agreed.

    I don’t mind love triangles at all, as long as they are well done and not, as you say, the whole point and focus of the book.

    What ticks me off totally in books are spelling mistakes. That’s just so sloppy and I get really upset about it.

    And another thing that I really can’t stand is incoherence. Like, when the character is in the middle of one action and suddenly does something that is really not possible, or that would stop the first action. I’m explaining badly… An example: Nora Roberts’ Montana Sky (which I like very much) – two of the girls have to bring fire wood into the house during a blizzard, it’s freezing cold, the wind is howling like mad, and they have a snow fight (which is already not that believable, but I’ll let it pass for the moment) and they have a short dialogue, but they just say the things normally, without having to shout over the wind, or without having to shout ‘What?’ back or anything. Just not very realistic. Did the “howling wind” just stop for a few minutes or what? Sloppy.
    And I notice things like that in many books. It’s like the author just decided to plunk a bit of action just anywhere, because he/she needed to have it in, without paying attention to the surrounding scene.

    Reading back on this, I think maybe my true calling is to become an editor… :)

    • Wordsurfer I agree with you! Spelling mistakes and the misuse of grammar really get on my nerves! Especially when it is a published book from someone who has written more than one. You would think they would have learnt how to check their work by now!

      I find reading it from the end to the beginning helps to spot spelling errors, as you aren’t predicting what happens next.

      But I do find it very distracting when I am reading and there are those mistakes. E-books I have found are the worst offenders of this… It seems to me the authors have rushed the work, to get it out there earning them money… But surely if they spent more time on it they would receive better reviews & sell more?!

      Anyway, thanks for comment, it’s good to know I’m not the only one out there who hates this.
      :)

      • If there’s spelling mistakes in self-published work it definitely is a bad sign for the author, but in general I think it’s more the publishers’ fault. I recently read one of my favourite books in a different edition by a different publishing house, and there was a misspelled word on almost every page! I couldn’t get through the book (even though I adore it!) and wrote the publishers an e-mail, ticking them off in the most severe language I could muster – I’m still waiting for a reply! :)

    • I know what you mean about Tolkein. I’m currently reading The Hobbit, and while I’m enjoying it more than the LotR trilogy (possibly because I read that one at a younger age), I still find myself skimming when he starts describing things.
      Spelling and style mistakes bug me when a book is traditionally published, because these books have a whole crew of editors and proofreaders behind them. I don’t begrudge indie authors for mistakes because many of them can’t afford editing services, and being close to their own work, they might end up missing a thing or two. And I do agree about consistency! The example you gave sounds truly sloppy.
      Hey, editing is a good job to consider. =D

  6. Zen, thanks for reading one of my posts and leading me here. I agreed with much of what you had to say, but honestly I think books are meant to get beaten up. It shows character. My copies of The Lord of the Flies and The Great Gatsby have long since lost their covers and pages have been dog-eared multiple times. It’s a point of pride for me.
    You asked for a vampire book suggestion. I’m definitely no authority on the subject and have never stopped twice to even look at the cover of a twilight novel, but I read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova last summer and found it really interesting. It’s a thriller/mystery novel combined with a whole history of Dracula. There’s also no lame love sub-plot to annoy you. Trust me, I wouldn’t have read it if there were. Enjoy.

    • Oh no problem, and thank you for commenting!
      I guess it comes down to preference then, doesn’t it? I know many people like to show how well-worn their favourite books are, but I like to keep them looking as good as new! And thank you for your recommendation. I just looked it up, and it sounds like the kind of book I would enjoy. =D

  7. Great post! I’m with you on the widows, orphans, and other poor typesetting and design decisions. A book should look appealing with clean, elegant pages that do not distract from well-written prose. This is one small reason I enjoy feasting on books of poetry. The page design must be good because, for me, the poem is enhanced by visual and tactile elements.

    • Agreed! I like my books to appear very neat and tidy, with not-so-large fonts and justified lines! And I’ve seen poems that are designed in quite elaborate ways, so I understand what you mean. =D Thank you for your comment!

  8. I’m with Wordsurfer and co. When I find typos and editing mistakes in books, it always takes me right out of the narrative and into my unhappy place. I’m also way over the clumsy-but-adorable heroine.

    • Mistakes like that are annoying, yep! Though as I mentioned in my reply to Wordsurfer, I’m more begrudging of them when I find them in traditionally published books. Being a self-published author, I know how difficult it is to edit your own work, so I allow indies a margin of error. And that kind of heroine has been overused!

  9. I was just talking about this. Every book I read lately the female protagonist is a spineless, flimsy woman who can’t control what choices she makes.
    She’s ALWAYS, bloody a.l.w.a.y.s. going back to that bad relationship cuz she just “can’t stay away from him”.
    I mean, really?!

    • The thing is Daphne, this does happen in real life… People do stay in bad relationships, because they “love them” or they are scared to leave or they naively believe the other person will change for them. So yes this kind of female protagonist can be annoying if you read it over & over again… But the reality is they do exist. Granted strong independent women exist too but there isn’t enough stories written about them!
      :)

      • Oh yes, I know they exist. I didn’t mean to sound so ignorant lol. I agree – they don’t write about the independent strong women often enough! It would be rather refreshing to read about one sometime soon. ;)

    • Were you thinking of Fifty Shades of Grey when you wrote this reply? Haha. As AuthorWorld said, it does happen in reality, but I too cannot bear to read about it. =/

  10. I’ll have to finish reading the comments in a moment but I disagree with your love at first sight peeve also.

    It does happen.

    My husband and I are proof of that. We fell for each other the first night we met. We met at a hospital ER, in the middle of the night, where we both had people being looked at.

    It’s not just lust when the man leaves from that first meeting and tells his brother on the way home, “I’m going to marry her someday.” No man simply lusting after a woman is going to declare that. On top of that he was leaving the following week to go to school in another state. He didn’t go… because of me. That ain’t lust either.

    We were married on our one year anniversary of meeting and have been married for almost 13 years now. (With three children to our credit also. heh.) We have had a total of six arguments during our marriage. We still have all the passion and romance that we did when we first met. I stumbled upon the term “twin flames”. I didn’t believe in that kind of stuff before meeting my husband but this just might explain us.

    Either way, while love at first sight is probably rare, it’s not impossible. Sometimes two people’s souls recognize one another right away.

    • Well, you’re right – I shouldn’t have generalized, and I think it’s sweet the way you and your husband met. Here’s wishing you an eternally happy marriage with your soul mate. =] What I meant is that I see this happen so often in novels that you’d think people are meeting their soul mates (or twin flames) around every corner, and I think you’ll agree with me that that’s not entirely possible.

  11. I’m guessing, based upon your pet peeves, that you are not much a romance, paranormal romance, fantasy or urban fantasy reader. ;)

    One suggestion to make you laugh, groan or perhaps want to hurt someone would be “All I Want For Christmas is a Vampire”. Yes, my MIL passed this one on to my SIL as a joke and it was passed on to me.

    For me, I also cannot stand errors in books or online professional sites (such as my local news station). I do not have much of an education and I want to be a writer. I have studied writing on my own for years and I know that I’m still not quite “there” as a writer. I’m not giving up on learning. So, when I see a book that has errors screaming at my eye balls or heavens forbid a news website (mine has errors in almost every single article), it’s like someone hit every nerve in my neck with a sledge hammer.

    Another peeve: Whining characters. Worse yet? Whining main characters. I read a story recently that I fell in love with due to the world building. Fantastic! The main character killed it for me though. All she did was whine at a constant rate about how her EX controlled her and she wasn’t going to ever let anyone make her decisions for her again, but throughout the entire story all she does is rely on this guy she just meets and actually gets peeved at him at one point for not making a choice for her! This behavior never resolves. She never grows. I can forgive a character for this kind of behavior in the beginning of a story but when the character just stays stale like that… Trust me, I’m not reading the next book.

    I also avoid “bodice ripper” novels. If the cover has a steamy looking guy in various poses, usually half naked–please could someone teach these guys how to button a shirt–and a woman in something flimsy, hanging on him, nope! No way. Not touching it with a ten foot pole.

    I know I hate super steamy romance novels. If the book includes a description of the male such as “rock hard chest” then I can pretty much promise that I’m going to hate it.

    • I actually do like the occasional fantasy or urban fantasy, but it’s difficult to come by ones that do not include the above pet peeves (or at least includes them in minimal doses). For that reason I sometimes wander over to the Children’s section, because books for children can include brilliant fantasies (Harry Potter was first and foremost a children’s book) without all these annoying elements. I have looked up the book you suggested, and it seems interesting enough! Thank you. =D

      I agree with you to some extent about errors, though I do offer some leniency there. I’m actually writing a post about that now!

      I dislike whining protagonists too, because you have to put up with them for the whole story. You can’t escape from them at all because everything is told from their POV. And I’m with you on the bodice ripper novels! There are so many of them these days, and most of the time I just look over them with disdain.

  12. I find myself agreeing with you on most of this…flawless characters, too, really get on my nerves. Or characters that have one flaw…or characters that are described as ‘plain’ but have every guy in the place fallin head over heels for them. I think love triangle can be done well, but it just depends. (Okay, I’ve used it in some of my stuff, but I like to think there’s an element of originality about it. Hopefully!) And love at first sight…depends on the character. I’d say, if a character is built up to be a romantic, why not love at first sight? IF it’s unrequited.

    Going back to love triangles, I’ve had it in my head to try something with a guy who is a bit of an arsehole (I love my loveable arseholes) who has two girls fighting over him; one girl = seemingly goody goody, but in reality a little scheming and manipulative. The other more of a bad girl stereotype, but…well, with a little twist. I hope. Just something I’ve been thinking of for a while, God knows when I’ll get around to writing it though. Still, hopefully I could make it a little less cliched than the idea usually is.

    • Oh you mean Mary Sues! I can’t believe I forgot to include those in my list; they annoy me quite a lot.
      And good luck with your plot! I shouldn’t have generalized, but most of the triangles I’ve come across are mediocre and similar, so it would be nice to get a fresh take on it!

  13. This speaks straight to my heart, I swear. Or maybe mind. I tend to use that more.

    First off, a good series of books where vampires are vampires is the Joe Pitt series by Charlie Huston. I almost passed this one over, to be honest, because it spells the word ‘vampyres’. I hate that. So, so much. But I was able to get around that irritation by getting it in audiobook form. seriously, great vampire book. The vampires aren’t reliant on sex appeal, and they can’t go outside during the day.

    Also, check out Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth. It’s the first in a series and it’s about a vampire who is under a gease to work for the U.S. government. Sounds corny, but holy crap, it is a good book. You won’t be disappointed.

    As for the content of your post, well, you are preaching to the choir here. I have many of the same issues, to the point that my entire blog is about them. Of all of your points, I have rarely seen any of these devices employed well. One that I would add is infodumps. Those are a terrible thing that segues straight into another terrible thing – telling instead of showing. I hate being told what to feel or think. But when the characters show me what they are feeling through actions and interactions, that is where writing goes from ‘meh’ to fantastic.

    Also, characters who are given a ‘flaw’ that is illuminated in a way as to make it a strength. Mary Sues. Ugh. I could go on and on, but I’ve already written a mini novel here in the comments. And you’re giving me more ideas for my own blog!

    • Thank you so much for these recommendations! I just looked them up on Goodreads, and they do seem interesting. =D

      I think one great example of the “telling instead of showing” is The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, where dialogue is sparse most of the time and the author ends up telling us every single thing that happened to the characters. If it weren’t for the fact that the story was interesting, this would’ve been a very disappointing read to me.

      Oh I know what you’re talking about. And I can think of a couple of characters that fit the bill quite well. They irritate me to no end.

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