There seems to be a shift of perspective when we become authors. We move from being just readers into being both authors and readers. And so, our relationship with books becomes complicated: I find it hard, nowadays, to just read a book. I will notice verbs, underline interesting words or even copy something I find irresistible and have to introduce into my own writing. But I can’t just read a book. Not anymore!
I have even turned my wife Electra into a critic of sorts, and she keeps complaining that I have ruined her reading experience. A few weeks ago, she read a book where the author used a lot the expression ‘the brow of the hill’. She thought that it was a really nice way of depicting the hill, but when she saw the aforementioned expression used for the umpteenth time, she glared at me and complained that I have ruined her reading experience, because a year or two ago, she wouldn’t have noticed it.
Anyway, I recently ran into a blog post from Novelspot, called “Reasons to stop reading”. Morgan, as the helpful blogger is called, makes a great list of all the aspects she hates in books, which eventually deter her from reading the book. Much like her, the following mistakes put me off from reading a book:
- Typos, errors, grammar mistakes are off-putting. Personally, I can forgive a couple of typos and I don’t mind if a comma or a full stop are before or after the quotation marks. But if I stumble upon several serious grammatical errors, I feel a bit unsettled.
- An unlikable character: This doesn’t mean that all characters have to be saints. They do, however, need to be believable, and consistent with the genre. So, an upbeat romance should involve to some extent a character that represents just that!
- Believable: Yes, we are authors. We use our imagination. All the same, there are some rules that make a person or a story believable, and we should keep these in mind. A beta-reader pointed out that in my new book, the way that a character reacted to an almost-fatal attack was not believable. So, I will have to go through that and make it more realistic.
- Lack of research and factual errors: especially when history, places or people in the past are concerned. This kind of mistake can creep into even the smallest places: I had a character that was pregnant, and I went through the book a number of times to ensure that she was giving birth after the normal time!
- Sameness: a writer can write many novels, but repeating the plot while simply changing the character names does not qualify as a new book. It just discourages readers from buying another book.
- The agenda-peddlers: although an author’s personality is bound to appear through the lines, a fiction book should steer clear of preaching. I like to finish all book I start, and have broken the rule only a handful of times. This is usually why.
- The story doesn’t go anywhere: There are few things worse than a rudderless plot, with no clear beginning, middle and end. I want to have a story arc and to feel that the story is progressing towards a denouement.
- Too little conflict: As with normal life, conflict and struggle –and we are not necessarily talking about full-blown war here- is an integral part of a plot.
- Too much conflict: Few people like a gore-fest. The pacing should include both drama and pauses; jumping from one tormented character to the next can leave the reader exhausted.
- A good book throughout: starting off with an amazing story and then leaving the whole plot to lazily unfold towards an uncertain ending can be irritating because readers start with great expectations and then find themselves towards an unexplained anti-climax.
- No explanation: if terms, places, people or events require an explanation, give it. Otherwise, readers are left with question marks hanging over their heads and feel they must be missing something.
Incidentally, I recently came across a conversation topic in Linkedin, where somebody made a very good point: that we should be writing books for readers, and not just fellow authors. Sometimes we may forget that, making any or all of the above mistakes. Instead, we really should seek to sell our books to our previous selves, rather than our current ones.