While wandering around the internet today, studiously trying to avoid anything related to the election, I came across a group of copy editors talking about the pet peeves they have when it comes to reading (and editing) fiction. Being editors, a number of their pet peeves dealt with things like incorrect word usage (their/they’re/there or then/than) and the overuse of sentence fragments. They all seemed to agree, however, that the number of books that appear to have been published without being edited in the least is simply appalling.
Here are some of the other pet peeves that were mentioned:
Inconsistent World Building
This was the top issue that was raised, most frequently in relation to science fiction and fantasy novels. If you’ve read enough books, you’ve undoubtedly experienced this issue on occasion. Pages and pages are spent explaining the intricacies of the fictional universe, just to have those rules broken few pages later for no reason. This also includes inconsistencies like having a cell phone appear in a story set in the 1960s or having a woman going off to vote in an election in the 1890s. Sure, a work of fiction is not intended to be a historical text book, but unless inconsistencies are clearly explained or intentionally done, they just look like lazy writing.
This is one of my own pet peeves–details in a story that change over time. Who hasn’t read a story where the hero’s eyes changed from blue to brown somewhere along the way. In a recent story I read, the couple was said to have been married for thirty years in one chapter and then not ten pages later, it said thirty-five years. It’s a little detail, but that kind of inconsistency is like fingernails-on-the-blackboard to me. Once noticed, it then stands out like a beacon. I’ve seen this more often within a series of books rather than with stand-alone books, especially when the author has written a book that wasn’t expected to be one of a series. It underscores the value of keeping a story bible, or at least a spreadsheet of details that can be easily referenced, especially for books that are released in audio. An update can be sent out reasonably easily to correct an error in an ebook and not as easily in a print book, but I’m guessing authors rarely re-record bits and pieces of their stories when errors are noticed. In Louise Penny’s first book, for example, the name of a minor character apparently changed some time after the book was recorded in audio. If you listen to the audio while looking at the ebook text, you hear the narrator say “Lucas” while the text reads “Daniel.”
I think the issue of stereotypes is on many minds these days. For non-fiction writing, editors are trained to make sure language is gender neutral and to ruthlessly weed out stereotypes unless they are integral to whatever is being written, but that is more challenging to do in fiction writing. Some stereotypes are easy to spot, but some may be missed unless the stereotype actually affects the writer. When describing a character’s eyes, for example, what words are just descriptive and what words contain an implied stereotype? What about descriptions about skin color or any of the other details used to build a character. How about the situations characters are put in and the responses they have. It’s tricky and, even with the best of editors and beta-readers, things can unfortunately make it into print before being caught. Despite careful editing, a well-known author was called out not long ago for a stereotype in one of her books (which she took quick action to correct).
Timing can be tricky when writing. You have to worry about little things like “did my characters eat lunch twice in the same day” and bigger things like “did I just have my character give birth after only being pregnant for five months?” As a fan of excel spreadsheets, this is one peeve that I–knock wood–haven’t been guilty of thus far. When I read Regency fiction though, I occasionally encounter things like characters who miraculously manage to make it from place A to place B in the short amount of time that would make sense if they used a motorcar but is nonsensical for a horse or carriage. Fiction is no excuse for incorrect including incorrect facts, unless it is done for a specific purpose.
Other pet peeves mentioned included stilted dialog, characters with no common sense, one-dimensional characters, weak female characters, and unbelievable love stories. These are all a bit more subjective than the things listed above, though still worth keeping in mind when working on a story draft.
So, do you have any pet peeves you would add to the list?
(-: These are very good peeves! And it sounds like most of them can be fixed with a good story bible/series of spread sheets.
I’ve noticed that even for short stories, I sometimes need to keep track of the characters on a piece of paper next to the computer. Sure, I could (and do) scroll back to see what the name of Minor Character B was, but it’s a bit of a pain.
One of my pet peeves is when a writer starts out full blast with great writing, characterizations and plot-work, then wraps things up rather summarily, as if they were sick of the whole thing. I have to confess, I often do this in my own work. I’ll grab the first ending available.
For NaNo this year, I’m doing a series of short stories instead of one big story, and I just finished my first one yesterday (yay!). The only thing is, I’ve got this Goat (a real goat, not a fake one or metaphorical one) that features very prominently. This goat looks like Chekhov’s pistol, but it never actually goes off. I have it kick the goofy narrator and their buddy at the end, but that’s only because I feel like I need to use the goat. Maybe when I get around to the second draft (December?), I’ll have a great idea to put the goat in the center of the action.
Your Chekhov’s pistol goat” gave me a real chuckle. Thanks for that. Congratulations for finishing your first NaNo short story. It’s always so satisfying to finish something, even if it is just a first draft. I’m sure you’ll figure out the reason for the goat as you work along. Are your short stories intended to be independent or are they interlinked?
As for your pet peeve about “full blast great writing”, that’s a good one to add to the list. I’ve hit a few stories where it felt like the author just lost interest near the end or maybe just wanted to be done and move on. I’ve often wondered if that is because the beginning portions of a book seem to get so much more revision and rework than later sections.
I’m not sure. The first one, about corruption on Thanksgiving Day at the Gerben City Petting Zoo, is set in a non-COVID near-future (I hope!). The second one is about space cats on a space station . . . but just now, for the hell of it, I used the same hotel on the Space Station as I did in the Gerben City one (no anthropomorphic creatures in Gerben City — all are cis-humans or cis-animals). Still, everything can be fixed in the second (or third or fourth) draft, so I’m not too worried about re-using the hotel name. I’ll have to see if there are more links or interconnections as the month goes on.
The name of the project is Weird and Wonderful Holiday Tales . . . so each one needs a holiday, and it needs to be weird, wonderful, science fiction, or fantasy. So, I’ve got a lot of scope, and will have NO excuse for not finishing this year’s NaNo. I just need to write another short story if I wind up short on Nov. 28th.
I really like this year’s rules, and I’m loving the “my stats” page — very useful!