It’s time for another Twin Thursday with Rachel from Undivinelight! As always, be sure to check out her post!
So, last week I looked at five things I absolutely love in a few of my favorite books or series, things that keep me rereading them time and again. This week, I want to talk about a few peeves that drive me the other way. Now, none of what I’m about to say means that the books below are badly written or that you can’t enjoy them. It’s simply that they didn’t work for me.
- Not feeling the stakes for the main character. If it doesn’t feel like the protagonist has anything to lose or gain, it’s easier for me to shut the book and walk away.
The first example that comes to mind for this is Matched by Ally Condie. I finished the first book and my literal thought was, “So?” Even though the setting had potential–I LOVE a good dystopia–there wasn’t a real sense of danger for me. The little bit of suspense that I had was so late in the book that it fell flat, and the love triangle wasn’t enough to pull me forward.
- Not relating to the main character or their voice. This probably kills more books for me than anything else, and it’s the hardest thing to fix because it’s completely subjective. What one reader likes will throw the next out of the story completely.
The most recent example I had of this was Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. It came very highly recommended from a close friend of mine, and our tastes usually fall very closely in line. I gave the book two chapters, much longer than I usually do for a new read, but the characters just failed to connect to me.
- An excess of useless details and asides. I like plots that run like Arabian horses, light and fast. A flood of worldbuilding details or research that doesn’t further the story is like taking that beautiful creature and strapping it to a luggage cart. It slows down my progress through the narrative and makes me want to take a red pen to the whole thing.
The DaVinci Code did this to me. I’d already seen the movie and loved it, so I knew the plot and most of the twists going into it. I liked the premise. I loved the characters. I was ready to roll! But I soon found that, where the film had streamlined a lot of the narrative, I got bogged down in all the extra details that Dan Brown heaps into the text. I got to the end, put it on the shelf, and never picked up another.
- Rape and sexual assault treated cavalierly. Or, worse, romantically. I and a lot of people that I know have personal experiences with this. Most women and a larger-than-reported amount of men have survived terrible things. Now, I’m not going to say that rape or sexual violence has no place in fiction–survivors deserve to see their experiences handled on the page as well as anyone else does.
But the key is to treat those experiences with respect, and that’s where I’ve seen a lot of books and movies fail. They throw it in for shock value, to titillate, or worse because they legitimately don’t think of the thing they’ve just committed to the page as a crime. I’ve noped my way out of too many books to name one here, but my threshold for it may be lower than others’.
- The Trauma Conga. Fiction is a delicate tightrope to walk, because you simultaneously want enough things to go badly that the reader stays interested, something my wife–and TV Tropes–calls a Trauma Conga. The point of the TC is to gain the reader’s sympathies by piling on the misfortune.
But you don’t want to throw too many problems or abuses at them in a row. Or, at least, you don’t if the reader you’re aiming for is me. At a certain point, the Trauma Conga for me hits a level of “Really? Now what?” and then I stop caring about the protagonist at all. My suspension of disbelief shatters, and the author reminds me that this isn’t a person I’m feeling sympathy for–it’s a collection of pixels on a screen or ink on a page. The character is suffering for no reason other than the author wants them to. I walk away feeling manipulated at best and angry at worst.
George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire springs to mind first here. I won’t spoil anything for people who are enjoying the books or show, so no worries, but the constant rain of bad things on worse people just didn’t do it for me.