How to Annoy Your (Fiction) Readers

Some people are more annoying than others—and you know who you are. And some writers are more annoying than others—and you may not know who you are. So I’m here to help. Here are six ways writers of fiction can annoy the heck out of the readers:

  1. Give your characters similar or hard-to-pronounce names

Fantasy writers, I’m talking to you. How in the world am I supposed to pronounce Fleurxgh? Sure, I know fantasy names can be fun and creative, but it’s irritating to repeatedly read a name that defies pronunciation.

That’s not the only way to annoy your reader with character names, though. I’m a Louis L’Amour fan, but I remember reading one of his novels that had several characters with similar names—something like Fletcher, Finnegan, and Fallon. Come on, man, throw me a “Bone” here or there.

  1. Make your characters talk too much and say too little

Characters in stories by developing writers (I’m one, too) talk way too much—and say far too little. Don’t get me wrong, I love dialogue, and I sometimes skip over passages with no dialogue. But dialogue is not transcribed speech. I sometimes call it telescoped speech. So don’t have your character answer the phone and say, “Hello, Alison speaking. Yes, this is she. Oh, hi, how are you, Fiona?” and so on. Have her put the phone to her ear and say, “Yeah, what do you want?” Fewer words, more calories.

  1. Head hop

It was different back in the day, when Dickens and Austen were writing. But to modern readers, point of view is important, so it’s important to master it. That is, know what POV you’re using and who your POV characters are, and don’t depart from it. When you “head hop” (cheat POV by giving me, the reader, information from more than one POV at a time, it reminds me that there is an author pulling the strings—and fiction readers never want to be reminded that it’s “just a story.” We want to lose ourselves in the story, and head hopping ruins the illusion.

  1. Explain the obvious

This is one reason dialogue tags can be so dangerous. We write:

“Don’t you dare speak to me like that,” she warned.

Yeah, I sorta picked up on that from her words; you didn’t have to tell me it was a warning. As my son would say often in his teen years: “I’m not stupid, you know,” he said disgustedly.

It’s better to stick with simply “he said” (which most readers skip over anyway) or, best, tag dialogue with action, not words (He tossed his math book across the room. “I’m not stupid, you know.”).

  1. Use “crutch” words

We all have them. One of my crutches is the word “nod.” People in the first drafts of my stories nod way too much. So that’s one of the searches I perform in self-editing in order to root out all but a nod or two. Many fiction writers have their characters look here and look there and look everywhere. Others overuse “frown,” “smile,” “turn,” “motioned,” etc.

  1. Write detailed descriptions that have nothing to do with the plot

Years ago, I edited a book for a writer who frequently descended into comprehensive descriptions of a room: furnishings, paintings, knick knacks, fabrics, you name it. It was excruciating. I commented, half joking, that he shouldn’t imitate descriptions in home design magazines to set the scene; he later admitted that’s exactly what he was doing! Yikes. Your reader needs vivid hints to set the scene, and not much more.

What about you? What annoys you as a reader of fiction?


Leave a Comment

The Art of the Sentence

A month or so ago I asked some social media friends what sentence from a book rocked their world. The replies were delightful, and I shared some of them in my June 27 post on this site, titled “In Praise of Memorable Sentences.” There were too many, however, to include …

Read More

Test Your Writing Out Loud

Once you write something, try reading it out loud. It might change the way you write. I worked with audiobooks for a number of years and few things were more interesting than how something sounded when read aloud by the audiobook performer, whether it was the author or a professional …

Read More

I Feel This Post May Hurt Your Thinkings

Everyone has pet peeves. I have a menagerie of them. One of my favorites is the common (and fairly recent) tendency of English speakers and writers to confuse and conflate the words, “feel” and “think.” But feelings are not thoughts and thoughts are not feelings. That might seem obvious and …

Read More

Book Reading in a Social Media World

At some point every writer confronts the trend of readers who would rather consume 140 characters in social media than 140 pages of words. Social media and smart phones change everything in our world and their impact on book reading and writing is substantial. At the same time social media …

Read More

Never Assume Biblical Literacy

It wasn’t long ago that a reference to a Biblical character or a Bible verse would be widely understood without explanation. That is no longer true. Researcher George Gallup said “We revere the Bible, but we don’t read it.” This was recently illustrated in our local newspaper in an article …

Read More

A Writer’s Best Friend

If I asked you what you considered to be a writer’s best friend, what would you say? Please don’t say “Wikipedia.” My clients would probably reply, “Bob Hostetler.” But that can’t be everyone’s answer. You might consider “a fine fountain pen” or “a blank page in a brand new journal” …

Read More

Are You Curating or Creating?

Every once in a while, a book proposal crosses my desk and catches my attention with its creativity and approach. It is engaging and makes me think.  Whether I agreed to work with the author or not, I needed to give them kudos for their great work. Rarely, if ever, …

Read More