Tag s | fiction

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?


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What’s on Your Shelf?

A series of interview questions that dig into my reading life. What’s on your nightstand right now? I am an extremely eclectic reader and have dozens of books waiting for attention. In fiction I’m currently reading Run Program by Scott Meyer a science-fiction story of a newly developed artificial intelligence …

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Writing Thoughtful Books

There has always been a hierarchy in fiction distinguishing “literary” from “popular” books, with lines drawn between both topics and reading levels.  Authors of each are different, somewhat like actors who work on stage versus those who work on screen. Comparisons of literary vs. popular and stage vs. screen are often done …

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Remove the Barriers in Fiction

Few things empower fiction better than well developed characters. Which is why you don’t want to create unintentional barriers between your characters and your readers. What barriers, you ask? Well, here’s one that affects POV characters: John knew he was about to learn something important. Do you see it? The …

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Contrived is a Four-Letter Word

Few things irritate fiction readers more than a story peopled by characters who act and react without any apparent reason for what they’re doing and saying. No reason, that is, except to illustrate the author’s message. Or prove the author’s point. Well, you say, don’t we all have a message …

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Escaping from Reality

I enjoy history, especially when I can match up certain events which occurred simultaneously in different places, making for an interesting snapshot of the world at a particular moment in time. Two events juxtaposed create a different story than either would individually. Seventy-five years ago this week the classic Disney …

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4 Questions a Fiction Proposal Must Answer

Last week we dealt with four questions a non-fiction proposal must answer. As promised we now turn to those who are putting together a novel proposal. If you compare these two posts you’ll see why a one-size-fits-all proposal template isn’t always helpful. There are differences between the two types of proposals. …

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Is Christian Fiction Dying?

Last year, a couple Christian publishers stopped publishing fiction.  Some publishers are nervous about it and in a wait-and-see mode. Others are excited about growth potential.  The answer to the title question is no, but it is certainly interesting to explore the reason behind such widely diverse opinions on the subject.

NOTE #1: For full disclosure, I am a member of the advisory board for the Christy Awards, had a substantial period of my time in publishing during growth years of Christian fiction and our literary agency is committed to Christian fiction and its authors (as well as non-fiction projects).  Therefore I have an interest in seeing Christian fiction grow both personally and professionally.

NOTE #2:  I am limiting my comments to traditional publishing only, not self-published novels.  

Here is why I think Christian Fiction is causing some publisher-confusion right now:

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Do You Give Them What They Really Want?

Last weekend, my husband and I attended a family wedding in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Though we didn’t have a chance to do much touring, we did drive through the town and neighboring Gatlinburg. We noticed that the shops, amusements, and attractions reminded us of another vacation spot we enjoy, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Except we were in the beautiful Smoky Mountains rather than at the sunny beach.

The tourist towns did their best to appeal to what their audiences want, yet each is unique. For instance, Tennessee boasts pottery made by local artisans while you’ll find opportunities to buy magnificent shells at the beach. Yet you’ll find frozen yogurt, putt-putt golf, carnival rides, concerts, restaurants, and other attractions at both locales.

Since I love books, I couldn’t help but make a comparison, and genre fiction came to mind. Each story holds elements of appeal to their audience. For instance, no romance novel is devoid of a heroine and hero falling in love. No mystery novel leaves the crime unsolved. Yet each story contains its own unique elements that readers will find fresh and enjoyable. Which is why readers keep reading!

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