Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Book Turn-offs

This week's top ten list assignment from The Broke and the Bookish Blog is the biggest top ten book turn offs. I have a number of these, mostly related to characters, and I can get pretty ranty about it.  I'll try to avoid getting too worked up but no promises. 

1. Mary Sues

For a nice descriptive essay of this character trope visit here but basically this is a too perfect female character whom all other characters love.  My "favorite" technique of creating a Mary Sue is to give them a "tragic past" in order to create sympathy but since they have no real baggage as a result it usually doesn't - i.e. this is a weak, lazy way to make a character sympathetic. Bottom line these types of characters are at worst incredibly annoying and at best boring.

2.When I notice that characters are doing uncharacteristic things in order to make the plot work or ramp up dramatic tension.

A minor example of this is when a character keeps some piece of information to themselves for no real good reason and if they shared it all problems would disappear.  The plot's success rests on a character doing something unrealistic.  I add the caveat of "when I notice" because I think sometimes it can be done without being glaring and I guess I'm okay with that.  Basically characters are the most important part of the book for me.  The books that work best for me are ones with rock-solid well developed characters that serve as pillars around which everything else is built.  The plot must work for the characters and not the other way around.

3. When a teenage character's black-white world view is validated.

I should probably stop reading YA or else stop whining about it.  I'm a tad (aka a LOT) removed from my teenage years but I do remember them and specifically I remember what a brain-damaged, idealistic idiot I was.  Idealism is great and I still consider myself one but most everything in life is complex and has many facets and in short  - life is gray NOT black and white.  Portraying a teenage character with a black and white world view is realistic and I'm fine with it but validating that black and white world view and not allowing there to be growth and wisdom gained irritates me.

 4. Insta-Love.

Just as it sounds, Insta-love is when two characters fall in love instantly when they meet without any idea of each others personality or characters.  Not surprisingly characters who fall prey to Insta-love tend to astonishingly beautiful/handsome.  In some cases, perhaps the characters do get to know one another before love blooms but the author chooses to take care of this in a vague montage or off stage.  Basically it's the author saying rather than showing "these characters are in love and it's truest of true loves based on deep mutual respect and liking and not just because they're both so danged pretty."  Righhhht.  If you're gonna include romance in your book, do it right, let's see that Twu Wuv develop.

5. Pedophilia.

I had to stop about halfway through Lolita by Nabakov because I was just too disturbed.  The language in this book is amazing but I couldn't deal with the subject matter.  I should pick up something else from him some day.

6. The Guy Magnet.

This is a close cousin to the Mary Sue above but in this case the character may actually have flaws galore and be realistic in other ways.  In fact they may be quite bitchy and unpleasant.  And yet for some reason every man that meets them falls madly in love.  I'm sure there are some women in real life that are like this and good for them but I ain't one of them so I really can't relate.  And no I am NOT bitter.  Okay maybe a little.

7. Animal Cruelty.

I actually can't think of too many times that I've run into this but I really can't take it.  One place I ran into it that I remember clearly is Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky - there's a scene, which if I remember correctly is a dream, where a horse is being forced to haul a load much too heavy for it and though it strains to pull it, it can't and all the while the cart driver is beating the animal mercilessly until it dies and Oh MY God what is it with the Russians??

8. Bad Writing.

There are some authors out there that can spin a warn but at the sentence/prose level are just... not good.  Blech.

9. The Overly Macho Male

You know the one, drives a Harley, homophobic, swears a lot and is super buff. The Alpha Male. Would probably attach a pair of metal testicles to their pick up.  This is just not my kind of guy.

10. Characters I can't connect with/relate to.

Might as well end with a vague and somewhat re-cappy entry.  Basically I can't think of a fiction book that I loved where I did not in some way connect with one or more of the characters.  I don't have to like them but I do need to connect.

So what makes or breaks a book for you?  What are your pet peeves?


  1. I loved your #3, and I think you worded it great. As adults, authors should be able to use their worlds to illuminate things for teenage readers, even if the characters themselves have typically young and narrow views. Challenging expectations by presenting the world in all its nuanced glory, especially the ways that conflicts with the character's expectations, is how you make readers grow.

    1. I just started reading a decent amount of YA this year and when I noticed I was getting annoyed at some of the main characters I was upset because I thought I'd crossed over into curmudgeon territory. Then I realized that it wasn't the teenagers themselves that were annoying, it was the fact that their worldview was accepted as the way things are. Unfortunately it isn't and when I tried to give a pass to it - after all the intended audience are teenagers so of course the author would want to validate them - I rejected that as well because as you say, if written well, you can pass along lessons learned without insulting your audience. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I agree with Whitley - #3. I can relate to most of this list, actually, and your reasoning behind it. Also OMG I am now NEVER reading Crime & Punishment. I could not take that, I'd be in tears for a month. I have never done well with animal cruelty or animals dying in general - I refused to read Charlotte's Web, had to be taken out of the theatre when my mom took me to Bambi as a child and wouldn't watch Marley & Me. I recently tried to read Under the Dome and the scene where the dog gets shot trying to protect its owner from those horrible "police officers" nearly made me give up on the whole book. Bad writing is another major one - I read Beautiful Creatures awhile ago and there were so many dangling plot points, long, drawn-out, repetitive mental conversations, really transparent plot decisions.. by the end of the book I was just annoyed. (Sorry if you liked it! Just my opinion. The story was good, just the writing! Ugh!). Anyway, thanks for sharing your list, really enjoyed reading it!

    M at Backlist Books

    1. I've not read Under the Dome or Beautiful Creatures so its good to get fair warning! I am with you on the major soft spot for critters and just not being able to take anything violent towards them. I can't even look at solicitations from ASPCA or other animal cruelty prevention literature cause the stories and pictures kill me. When I read that scene in C&P I just sobbed for a long time I was so upset. Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Haha! Came over to check out your blog - and realized wait, I've already been here! Oh man, I SO hear you. I had to unsubscribe from PETA emails because I just couldn't take the pictures. I get that they motivate people to act - but they need to have a "sobbed for days after the last email so please send mine sans pics" option for us softies!