My favorite thing about the holidays is the excuse to lounge by the fire devouring piles of bad food and good books.
Well, mostly good books. I’ll admit I’ve read a few that came perilously close to being hurled at the wall.
As a reader, I’ve always been aware of my pet peeves in novels. As a writer, I'm hyper-conscious about avoiding them in my own stories.
The Lazy Man’s Adverb
I don’t fault writers for the occasional use of adverbs. Sometimes you just need to toss a little -ly love around. But there’s seldom a good excuse for using them with dialogue tags. Any author worth his salt should be able to show the speaker’s tone with context clues, body language, and the words coming out of the character’s mouth.
Lazy: “I don’t want to suck your toes,” she said angrily.
Not as lazy (but maybe a little oogy): She folded her arms and sneered at him. “There’s no way in hell I’m sucking your filthy toes!”
The Big Mis
Short for “the big misunderstanding,” this is one of those ancient plot devices that never ceases to annoy the ever lovin’ snot out of me. It’s where the story’s conflict centers around something that could be cleared up if the characters just sat their pouty butts down and had a 30-second conversation. Jane sees Herbert in Victoria’s Secret, and rather than saying hello and asking if he’s buying her the latex thong she wants, she assumes he’s a cross-dresser and spends the next 250 pages sulking.
If you catch yourself crafting a Big Mis plot, slam on the brakes. Are there other forms of conflict you can introduce that have a little more substance? If you're committed to your Big Mis plot, what can you do to make it feasible the two characters wouldn't have that conversation? If your solution involves removing their tongues and hands, you might want to rethink the story.
As You Know, Bob
I’ll admit it, critique partner Cynthia Reese taught me this phrase by pointing out my own offense in some long-ago manuscript. As You Know, Bob is a clumsy method of introducing backstory by having one character spontaneously lecture another with information they both already know. The result is a conversation that’s stilted, awkward, and as natural as Chelsea Charms’ sweater potatoes (Er, that’s a fairly benign Wikipedia link. I make no guarantees what you’ll find googling her name on your own).
I’ve gotten better at catching myself when I start an As You Know, Bob info-dump. It helps to seek less sloppy ways to introduce the backstory, like flashback or internal musings. In general though, readers are smarter than we give them credit for. Trust them to piece together smaller clues as you slowly feed out backstory over the course of the story.
Do you have pet peeves as a reader? How do you stop yourself from committing them as a writer? Please share.
And really, please don't blame me for the brain damage you incur googling that name. I did warn you.