7 Common Mistakes Authors Make
Alternate title: why I stopped reading three books. I usually finish every novel I read, so this was surprising to me; to put a book down unfinished felt oddly satisfying, but also bothered me a little. The following list is my explanation/justification for my actions.
- Too much exposition. This happens a lot in fantasy novels. We get that the world is amazing, interesting, and unique—but readers would rather not spend the first twenty percent of a novel being spoon-fed every detail about it.
- Trying too hard to make a character likeable. This comes in one of two forms: explicitly attributing a character positive attributes (“she was the nicest girl ever to come out of Compton”) or crafting situations that have no purpose other than showing how nice the character is. I’m not sure which one’s more yak-worthy.
- Not worrying about likeability. The flipside of #2, when readers can’t really get behind a character after several chapters—or worse, start rooting for them to fail—they close the novel. There are certain works that do well with characters readers are supposed to hate, but it’s very much a roll of the dice.
- Deliberately withholding information, for the sake of suspense. Won’t mention the exact novel, but the author had someone hit her character with a car to prevent him from revealing the great secret of the series—at the end of the novel. This was a horrible “ending,” and had the opposite effect from what the author intended. Instead of reading on to figure out the secret, I went on Wikipedia, and burned the book (okay, it was an eBook, and I’m generally against destroying the written word, but I deleted it maliciously—so that’s kinda the same, right?)
- Stilted prose. This is the simple point on the list. If readers can’t follow the story, and keep getting jolted out of it by grammar errors or awkward word choices, they won’t continue.
- Cliché story. Fortunately, these novels are usually easy to spot from the blurb. Some authors will even go so far as to describe their novel as “a modernization” of another story, or “x meets y”. In a world where those stories already exist, it’s hard to explain why readers would read derivative works. Caveat: several readers do (Divergent, anyone?), and this is more of a personal peeve.
- Boring characters. Most readers don’t get invested in stories where every character could be one of their neighbors; we crave the interesting, and exciting. Give readers an old man with a missing eye, an orphan whose adoptive parents hate him, and a clever Headmaster who made some mistakes in his younger days—oh, damn, I’ve just described Harry Potter.
I hope you found this list interesting, and if not—well, at least I got to vent. Do you agree with the list? Disagree? Think I make way too many lists? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments.