Monday, July 27, 2015

Peeved Pets of Literature

I suppose that everyone has a few hot buttons, as it were.

Mine are unsettlingly simple.

1) What I read MUST have a plot. Sounds easy enough, I know, but it isn't always. I once read a novel in which two college-age kids living in a skeevy dive of an apartment building in New York find an AMAZING discovery, a place where, if something enters a hole in the wall, it is immediately and permanently transformed. The main character, the guy, was sort of a wishy-washy 20 something, fair enough, and the girl, his love interest, would basically sleep with anyone but him.

I have just told you the ENTIRE PLOT and most of the SUBPLOTS for that novel. It was two hundred pages of existential ennui, with a promise that somewhere along the way something supernatural and cool would happen.

Know what happened? Because I was the sort back then who HAD to finish a novel, I read the entire thing and lost several hours of my life that I can never get back. Because my wife went with me to conventions, and because SHE had read the book first (and made me read it, but that's a different story) She had the privilege of laughing when the threw that piece of crap first against the wall and later into a trash can. I also had to stop her from choking out the writer when we saw said write4r at a convention later.

2) Realistic dialogue or suffer the consequences.

I'll use two of my favorite examples: While reading a manuscript by another author, I had to stop and ask for a laity check. Me. I write FANTASY and I had to demand a reality check. Why? because while engaged in a full on, no holds barred, to the death sorcerous battle, one of the two spell casters involved repelled a blast of magic that nearly killed him and said the equivalent of, "Ah. I see you're using Bob's Furious Spectral Hammer of the Underworld! Not you best choice as I know the defense!"

Um. No. been in a fight. I don;t tend to brag when I block someone trying to punch my head off my shoulders. later at the bar, sure. but not while it's happening. The best I've done was compliment someone who tagged me while I was sparring and even then it was "nice one," not a couple of sentences of poetic diatribe.

Charles R. Rutledge, my good friend and occasional co-author recently told me about a book he was reading where two thieves break into a dungeon and run across a nasty demon guarding the treasure. Their response? Witty banter as they fight the thing that is supposed to kill them.

To Paraphrase Charles: "Listen. I KNOW that maybe demons are the norm in the writer's make believe world, but tigers exist here, and if one comes into the room where I'm working and it's roaring and determined to eat me, I'm not going to cracking jokes. I'm going to be screaming my head off and finding the closest exit."

My point? Congratulations. that demon is no longer even a little scary You just threw away any sense of menace.

The same with colloquialisms. Anything in moderation to make your point. Don't write half a story out phonetically to make you're point. If I can't read it with ease, you're pulling me away from what should be an escape from reality.

3) Cliches

Okay. I've said it before and I will again, there are differences between trope and cliches.

Trope: Big, menacing, dark castle on the moors in a Gothic romance.

Cliche: Every rip-off of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Ever.

As I've said before, I spent a LONG time reading sword and sorcery fantasy before I ever decided to try my hand at writing it. Orphan boy A) finds Mystic Item of Power B) just in time to stop Ancient Overlord with demonic horde C) from conquering the land.

Wish fulfillment. I get it, I dig it. THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN by Lloyd Alexander is a perfect example of everything I just told you I hate. Here's the difference: The books by Alexander were published over five years, from 1964-1969 I believe. They were for young adults and they were in addition to the tropes mentioned, a potent, incredible journey of one young man from early adolescent to adult in a terrifying time of war and transformation. I don;t mind a few cliches, especially if the writer sets out to break them. Same as with stereotypes. But I loathe what amounts to a retelling of a bad Dungeons & Dragons module.

There you have it. My list of pet peeves.

I just finished CITY OF WONDERS. The next book, THE SILENT ARMY, is due to my editor in 90 days. Back to work for me.


  1. Excellent point on the realistic dialogue. I've read some books that try pull of similarities to your example and it pulls me right out of the story. Hasn't made me want to choke out an author yet...guess I would need to attend more cons first.

  2. Unless Errol Flynn is the main character, yeah, forgo the fancy dialog. He just might be able to pull it off during a swordfight or magic battle LOL.

  3. Oh, I don;t need to go to cons to want to choke out authors. But it helps. ;)

  4. If you're going for a good swashbuckling tale, I'm game But find me a character that can get away with it, don't just throw witty lines from someone fighting for their life.

    1. Unless it's The Princess Bride... :-)

    2. That would be the number one exception, Jeffe!