Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Why the Reader Put That Book Down

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I do a ridiculous amount of reading because it is part of my job as a writer. My job in particular because I blog about craft. I read all genres and go through anywhere from 2-4 books a week. Audible will go bankrupt if I’m ever hit by an ice cream truck.

This said, I think I’m in a fairly good position to guide you guys on pitfalls to avoid from a reader’s POV. These are the mistakes that will have me railing at the heavens and throwing a book across the room…followed by depression because I can never get those wasted hours back.

I just returned a book so bad that I cannot believe I read as much of it as I did. It is a prime example why reviews can be misleading, even good ones.

I finally had to return it because there was just not enough blood pressure medicine in the world. I’m not a reviewer. It isn’t my brand so I’m not going to name names. Also, fiction is highly subjective so this is what pulled ME out of the story. But I’m hoping the thin silver lining from this dreadful experience is maybe I can use the flaws in this book as a cautionary tale.

Good Fiction is About Problems

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First and foremost good fiction is the path of greatest resistance. NOTHING should come easily for the protagonist. This is fiction, not a frigging Barbie Dream House for a writer to play out her dream life.

The protagonist had absolutely NO resistance whatsoever. After the death of her fiancé and childhood sweetheart, she decides to open a coffee shop. Magically she is gifted almost a quarter of a million dollars at the funeral. Okay. Plausible. Then she needed a space but her credit was bad…oh but magically mystically the owner of the space and a total plot puppet visits her house and gives her the lease and tells her he won’t charge rent until she opens and to take as long as she needs.

Oh-kay.

Then her friend—a premium designer—offers to redo the space gratis. And on and on and on. She never has a setback and the world is just bending over backward to hand her whatever she needs.

Now the book began sort of interesting. A psychic shows to the funeral to tell her her fiancé is alive. Okay, cool, that is a story. But does the protagonist pursue this? Ask any questions? Maybe fly to Mexico where the love of her life disappeared to check it out for herself? Even though she is flush with plenty of cash?

Nope.

We spend I kid you not, half the book of her essentially playing literary Barbies…including Sexy Photographer Ken who is every woman’s dream and who is willing to stop globe-hopping taking award-winning gallery quality shots….to be her barista for her gourmet coffee shop even though she refuses to date him.

Whenever we write fiction, of course we are injecting our fantasies into a book but we also need to make sure that everything isn’t going so smoothly that the reader is a Fly on the Wall of NOTHING FRIGGING HAPPENING.

Characters Who Are Too Dumb To Live

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As I mentioned, the book hooked early with the promise of a faked death and a psychic. But even after a vision of her love being in danger, in water, bullets whizzing by…the protagonist never pursues the question.

What is interesting is she (Barista Barbie) is happy to keep Photographer Ken waiting on the hook for TWO YEARS while she opens her Barbie Playhouse Gourmet Coffee Shop. The protagonist cannot date him because she still has questions whether or not her fiancé is still alive….

WTH?

YOU HAVE HAD TWO YEARS!!!!! So you keep Photographer Ken on the hook for two years because you are unsure if the psychic was right? That your love could be alive? But you NEVER look into it? IN TWO YEARS?

What…is…wrong….with…you?

Even more perplexing, what is wrong with Photographer Ken? Move on. She is a game-playing b$#@!.

Every mystery masquerading as tension was something easily remedied with a google search or a PHONE CALL. When there a deep nagging questions that can be remedied with a five minute conversation, and that conversation never happens?

*left eye twitches*

The entire premise of this book is that maybe her fiancé isn’t dead. NOT ONCE does she ever ask, “Hey those remains you found and that we buried? How did they identify it was him? Dental records? DNA?”

NOT ONCE.

*shoots self*

Dumb Factual Errors

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Right now I’m writing a Western Horror and historical is a totally new thing for me. I’m constantly stopping to research my facts and I know that one day when it is in print I will have some Curator of All Things Western probably nail me on some detail I botched. But, I tried. I did my due diligence. Thing is, we probably will all miss a fact here and there and that is all right. I really don’t mind that stuff.

But when an author has an error that could have a) been fixed with simply thinking for a minute and if still in doubt? b) GOOGLING IT…it ticks me off.

So after an absurd amount of time, protagonist FINALLY takes a break from baking and making frou frou coffees to check out Mexico and maybe see if the love of her life is still alive. What a peach! She lives in San Jose and it is a NINETEEN HOUR FLIGHT to Mexico?

Whisky Tango Hotel?

You don’t even need to be local to California to know that there is no way in hell that flight is NINETEEN HOURS. She could fly to New Zealand in THIRTEEN. This was actually the point I tapped out and gave up.

Seriously, the devil is in the details. It is too easy to get most of our facts correct in this day and age so when we bungle something that obvious? It frustrates the reader.

Word/Phrase Echoes

Again, this is something all of us do, though hopefully a good editor will help you remove them. Word echoes are my super power so I tend to be lenient when reading because I know I’m trained to see these things and so I’m tougher than most. I’ve learned to lighten up. But if we have a word or a phrase that we use to the point of distraction? It wrecks the reading experience.

When reading this book, I pondered making a drinking game out of it. You know, take a shot every time a character “rounded his eyes” (whatever that is—surprise?)…but I would have gotten alcohol poisoning in less than three chapters.

We need to mix it up and if you need help? Seriously, get a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus. 

In the end, any one of these oopses might not tank a book but these are at least some good things to keep in mind when writing and later editing.

What are your thoughts? What are your pet peeves? What makes you want to punch a book in the face?

I love hearing from you!

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November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

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115 thoughts on “Why the Reader Put That Book Down”

  1. Lisa OrchardLisa Orchard

    Good advice! Thanks for sharing with all of us!

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  2. russtownerusstowne

    Thank you for the excellent post, advice, and recommendation regarding the Emotion Thesaurus. I just ordered it, and the Positive and Negative Traits versions as well.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  3. pancakelady3pancakelady3

    “My eyes squared at being asked to track the rat bastard down. After all, he took off with my favorite thong and matching coffee cup!”

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  4. C.E.RobinsonC.E.Robinson

    Kristin, you have me shaking my head! Great advice! Thankful I’ve kept the protagonist working through obstacles to find out the truth about a family secret. She starts out at age five and finally gets her answers as a young adult. No one in the family helps her. Outsiders take over in a surprising way. The research is extensive to get world facts in that era correct. ? Christine

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  5. Ken FarmerKen Farmer

    O ye of like mind. I write historical fiction westerns and my pet peeve is well-known authors being way off base on their historical facts. One such best-selling author (no names) has twice written novels (that I know of) with the setting in the Indian Nations (eastern Oklahoma. He has the protagonist crossing the Red River into the Nations near Tishomingo and into a Cherokee village and meeting with breechclout clad Cherokees riding bareback…NOT. The Cherokee Nation is in far northeast of what is now Oklahoma…think north and east of Tulsa. They were known as the civilized tribes. They dressed like white men and cut their hair short. Another author had the protagonist crossing the border separating Arkansas from the Cherokee Nation in the morning and by afternoon, he could see the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma Territory some 400 miles to the west…NOT. Must have been a hellova fast horse. As you said, it’s not too hard to Google for the facts. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just pure laziness and bad writing…I never finished either book. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  6. Chris SaperChris Saper

    Sometimes I can’t even identify what makes me put a book down…just the fact that I am not looking forward to opening it and find reasons not to is enough. THAT takes a lot when you really love to read.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  7. AulAul

    Always a good read! Your analytical skills are very similar to my dad’s…which means he really must be a good editor!

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  8. JaneJane

    Thanks for this post and for the great advice. Can’t imagine how that book got published!

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Oh it is better than that. It was a Wall Street Journal best-seller and it had over 5,000 reviews most of them 4 and 5 stars. I was flabbergasted but apparently I was not alone. The folks who gave it one and 2 stars were mystified how it ever was published. It read like some silly high school girl’s first go at fiction.

      Reply
      December 16, 2016
      • authorguyauthorguy

        How many people go to the WSJ for their book recommendations?

        Reply
        December 16, 2016
        • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

          I didn’t even know they had a list to be honest. I just saw it in the description next to a gazillion 5 star reviews. So I was all, “Okay, I will try it.” Yeah… Doesn’t give me a huge vote of confidence for their lists (though all list are guided by sales figures not necessarily quality).

          Reply
          December 16, 2016
  9. tonytony

    I love your posts, Kristen. Thanks.
    About the 19 hour flight: I’m certain that you can find a way for the flight to last 19 hours. To your point, however, there better be a reason for choosing that over the hour and a half one we all think of first!
    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
    • authorguyauthorguy

      When I was doing my rewrite of season 4 of the TV show Chuck (fanfiction) one of the things I kept having to correct was the timing of events. They’d do a scene change from LA to Macau, but have the conversation continue at the same point, as if they never talked for 15 hours. They did that a lot in that season, so I had to constantly rearrange scenes to allow for travel time.

      Reply
      December 16, 2016
    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      If the flight takes 19 hours, she better mention she had a seven hour layover in Utah because there were no direct flights. Otherwise? I am irked.

      Reply
      December 16, 2016
  10. D. A. M. SteelmanD. A. M. Steelman

    I get it… I get not wanting to hurt our characters… Maybe good writers are sadists? That’s all I can come up with, really. My first NaNoWriMo, I didn’t want to hurt her… but this book… OMG.. This poor girl. I think i found my inner sadist! <3

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  11. K.R. BrormanK.R. Brorman

    Verbing nouns. It can be an interesting twist, but as a seasoning not gravy over everything. Please stop NYTBSAuthoring up the narrative.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  12. lylenicholsonlylenicholson

    Thanks for putting in words, the frustration we read. I’ve become tired of pulling free books off of BookBub that have defiled the principles of “give the reader a story.” Conflict is what draws us in, resolution to the conflict takes us to the end of the book.

    Thanks for writing this Kristen.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  13. WillWill

    Is there a word that says “brava” and “ouch” at the same time? ‘Cause I can’t pick which one should go first.
    As a writer I am prostrate with worry that the whole thing sucks, whatever I’ve just written/reread/thought about again. You skewered this poor person so perfectly it’s hard to keep from laughing AT. Except I know it could be happening to me too… which would greatly suck.

    Lots to think about here!

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  14. Alexis ChateauAlexis Chateau

    I’ve come into books like these that also drove me crazy. Twilight was one such book, in spite of fantasy masquerading as obstacles.

    I also have a hard time making it through books written by men with female leads.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  15. Terri BensonTerri Benson

    I write historicals and I spend hours on research. I’ve had someone tell me, “don’t worry, it’s fiction” but that’s not the right way to look at it. I want readers to BE THERE and not wonder where the hell they really are. I love your blog – not only do I learn, but I get to laugh, too. Thanks!

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Thanks! And yeah historical is a real challenge for sure. What makes it even more daunting is readers of historical are probably well versed and they will NAIL YOU if you mess up.

      Reply
      December 16, 2016
  16. mandibelle16mandibelle16

    I think you make an excellent point here. Events/problems need to keep happening to keep us interested and certain details need to make sense in the real world such as flight times and having two-years to find your now alive fiancé. It makes me think, she didn’t like this fiancé much.
    When I’m reading one if biggest pet peeves is repetition of a phrase or a few phrases, over and over again. Also words such as obviously or of course because though things maybe obvious to a writer, they aren’t necessarily to his audience/readers. Starting each paragraph the same way too can be annoying. Thanks for the great advice!

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Yeah it was just completely illogical. Either a psychic reaches out and you dismiss her completely OR you take the time to consider what she has to say. You don’t blow her off and every time she tries to reach out call her a quack and refuse to hear her out…but then keep Photographer Ken waiting because you think she might be right and fiancé is alive. HUH?

      And all I can think of is how much I love my husband. If there was even a HINT he was alive and I was having visions of him in danger that I would not drop everything and comb the ends of the earth until I at least had some satisfying answer. Most readers have loved ones so the protagonist’s behavior not only made NO sense, it made her a despicable human being. And then when the author is trying to pull on my heart strings of how much she loved her fiancé and missed him, I called BULLS^%$. She couldn’t even be bothered to listen to the psychic which would only have cost her five minutes of TIME.

      She didn’t love him all that much.

      Reply
      December 16, 2016
  17. authorguyauthorguy

    The book I most recently gave up on killed my interest within the first chapter. It was in first-person, and all the exposition was done in italics, as the character was constantly and explicitly thinking, in real words, of what she was seeing and what she planned to do. I draw a distinction between what I call real thought, which is rendered with italics but is rarely in words, and expositional thought, which is describing the scene as the character sees it and shouldn’t be in italics.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  18. csperryesscsperryess

    Great stuff & thanks. As to what curdles my cheese in a promising book, lately with the call for more diverse books, I often run into books in which every other character happens to have a name from a non-Anglo culture & possible physical traits to go with the name (often a skin-color labeled with some fancy coffee drink), but appears to have that name & those physical traits simply to round the book out with diverse characters.

    Do we need diverse characters? Absolutely! But not in name & skin-color only.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  19. sandrawwwsandrawww

    Read that book. Totally agree

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      I was thinking something was wrong with me until I checked out the 1 and 2 star reviews and they were all saying what I was feeling.

      Reply
      December 16, 2016
    • Cathy F.Cathy F.

      I’m a horrible person. I want to know what the book is so that I can go read the 1 and 2 star reviews. LOL

      Reply
      December 16, 2016
  20. Linda Maye AdamsLinda Maye Adams

    Also white room syndrome. I picked up a fantasy novel based on a recommendation from another writer without checking the sample. Two pages and I was done. Setting is requirement for fantasy readers. The writer told us the characters were in a mine, and then went off and never mentioned the setting again.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  21. Deborah MakariosDeborah Makarios

    I remember putting down a book I thought I was going to love – and never looking at that series again – because the first chapter had a woman weeping with relief when she found out that her group of friends weren’t going to totally reject her when they found out she was a millionaire (and prepared to finance their group endeavours, what’s more).

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
    • Cathy F.Cathy F.

      That makes me a little sick, just reading your description.

      Reply
      December 16, 2016
      • Deborah MakariosDeborah Makarios

        Unfortunately I can’t remember the title (or author) so you’ll just have to tread warily – that book is still at large!

        Reply
        December 16, 2016
  22. Tracy's PlaceTracy's Place

    Thanks for the frustration solidarity. My pet peeve is when a guy/girl stays with another guy/girl (like the photographer Ken you mentioned) even though their romantic interest has zero redeeming qualities and there is no plausible motivation for staying. That’s when I’d like to smack a character through the pages.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  23. ellenchauvetellenchauvet

    As always Kristen you nailed one of my pet peeves – Let’s give Barbie a lobotomy and hope that causes a problem for her:).

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  24. ireadgoodbooksireadgoodbooks

    For me, it’s authors who won’t use contractions in dialogue. Make your characters talk the way actual human beings talk, dang it!

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
    • LauraLaura

      I have one character who doesn’t use contractions – but she’s not a human, so… 🙂

      Reply
      December 17, 2016
    • Ken FarmerKen Farmer

      Actually, in historical novels, say prior to the Civil War in the US, contractions weren’t used. I had to school my editor on that fact when she said I needed contractions in the period dialogue for the early 1800s..

      Reply
      December 17, 2016
  25. Cathy F.Cathy F.

    My biggest bugaboo is the Physically Impossible Action. I have tried to help some writers in writing groups see it, by standing up and forcing them to try to act it out. One writer I know had a 5’6″ slim woman (a princess, natch) standing in front of a massive (6’4″) warrior-type, with a knife in her hand, pointing it at his chest, successfully going in for the kill. “Do you know who I am?” she stands there sneering, before stabbing him as he stares at her, confused.

    I got the nearest tall man, stood in front of him, told her “I’m 5’7″, now watch”… he was 6’3”. I held an imaginary knife in my hand, sneered “do you know who I am?” while he took my wrist in his hand and quickly “disarmed” me. Easy-peasy. I was disarmed before I finished the question. No warrior is ever going to stand around letting some wisp of a girl hold a knife to his chest. He’d probably laugh in her face as he disarmed her. The guy added that she could only hope to stab him if she took him by surprise. Which would preclude the question of identity.

    Another writer had a 5’4″ inch woman taking down a 6’8″ (or taller) demon character with multiple karate kicks to his chest. No. Legs on a 5’4″ average (not super-hero) woman wouldn’t even reach his groin before he could knock her out with a kick of his own. He’d grab her foot, since she’d have to be so close in order to even reach anything that mattered. Not possible, and he sure isn’t going to let her kick him more than once.

    The physically impossible action. I notice it, and it stops me cold, trying to figure out how that could even happen. Every time.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
    • Deborah MakariosDeborah Makarios

      Ever read the Song of Roland? Various characters charge about the battlefield cleaving foes in half vertically. The Medieval French Literature lecturer told us it’s physically impossible – apparently ‘fact-checking’ this sort of thing is what they do at medieval literature conferences 🙂

      Reply
      December 16, 2016
      • Cathy F.Cathy F.

        Never having read it, or seen commentary on it, my instinct would still be to say “wouldn’t the sword slide off the skull, for the most part, even if the warrior doing it happened to be tall enough to try it?” Seems like it’d take a huge amount of downward force to make it through the skull and all the bones in the body.

        Especially once the battle gets messy. People sliding about in mud and blood probably don’t cleave very neatly.

        Reply
        December 16, 2016
        • Deborah MakariosDeborah Makarios

          Definitely! I mean, cut in half horizontally, that would be so much easier…

          Reply
          December 16, 2016
    • Newt JohnsonNewt Johnson

      True, true. — In the current WIP, I had a character who walked forward while cracking a twelve-foot bullwhip. Wasn’t sure it could be done, so I found a nice bullwhip company online and ordered one. After a week of rather painful self-training, I found that he could indeed do the two things at one time. Also discovered a new favorite hobby, to my son’s horror. I told him that at least riding herd in a wheelchair with a bullwhip would be a diversion when I went to the nursing home.

      And Kristen, as always your blog posts are spot on, plus they’re funny and interesting to read. Love ’em! Thanks!

      Reply
      December 17, 2016
  26. Alice FleuryAlice Fleury

    And that is why I don’t read self published novels. I always look to see who the publisher is and I google it if i don’t know. If this is published by a traditional company, I say curses. There are enough traditionally published which I give up on. Not wanting to leave a poor review I made a special section in my goodreads labeled stopped reading.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  27. DeeAnna GalbraithDeeAnna Galbraith

    I read. I write. I edit. I cringe. bought a book from a romance author who supposedly sells 1,000 books per month of backlist. Here comes tall gorgeous redhead (who BTW has no idea she is even pretty), who is dyslexic and thinks she is stupid, but researches history of house she wants to turn into B&B. Madly in love with rich guy and has sex over and over with him. He cannot commit because he has daddy issues and daddy holds the purse strings. His mother comes to lunch at new B&B and redhead dumps pudding in her lap. Twice. At two different times. Which causes red to run into the woods, fall at the foot of a tree and cry her heart out. She becomes pregnant from all the unprotected sex and doesn’t tell the guy because he is rich and too good for her. By now I am looking for matches and a safe place to burn this miserable POJ. Beam me up, Scotty.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  28. Raidon T. PhoenixRaidon T. Phoenix

    Okay, you are way more forgiving that I am, Kristen. Kudos. I would’ve stopped at, “I’m a landlord that’ll lend you a business front and not charge you a dime of rent even though you’ve got a quarter mil in the bank.”

    No. Just no.

    Also, details. I love fantasy, and read it a lot, and I was always the one in high school going, Wait, what about this part, where it clearly says this is a thing you cannot do with magic, but yet this character just did this thing? Because plot? Reasons? What? NO. Nope. Done. Good bye.

    Also, too dumb to live, but “good as comic relief trope.” Please no. Begone. No one needs that.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  29. judithannepettersenjudithannepettersen

    Who on earth gave that book a good review? It sounds lame, and corny, and boring. it’s soul crushing to read a book that is indie OR traditionally published and sucks this badly. I swear, a small part of me dies when in happens, especially if I paid full price. There are some famous writers that this applies to, the ones who churn out a book every three months with hackneyed, overused plots and paper thin characters. I truly don’t understand why people keep buying their books. Not mentioning any names, but this applies to a few romance and mystery writers.

    Reply
    December 16, 2016
  30. Cat Dubie (@CatDubie)Cat Dubie (@CatDubie)

    Another great post. Thank you! I would’ve stopped reading that book too, but I might’ve turned to the last page for a peek at the ending.

    Besides all the turnoffs you mentioned, I’m annoyed with historical writers who add needless information. As in – I researched all this and you’re going to read it, pertinent to the story or not.

    And I need to be able to visualize what is written. It has to make sense. I have to be able to “see” the action. If it’s too hard, I give up.

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  31. finnegandaleyfinnegandaley

    I sense a new reality TV series coming on here. “How Not to Write”.

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  32. Ernesto San GiacomoErnesto San Giacomo

    Certainly a frustrating experience. I used to go crazy when I was studying cinema. It is very difficult to find investors and then I turn on cable and see a new ridiculous film. I would find myself saying, “How the hell did they ever pitch this idea?”
    Now, I sometimes take advantage of the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon. I see a string of glowing reviews, only to cough and gag at the title of the prologue with the whopping errors.

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  33. ariefarnamariefarnam

    And this had good reviews? 😀 My sympathies to you as a reader certainly. Even my teenage writing students don’t do this sort of thing… most of the time. (And if they do they get the wrath of the fiction gods.)

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  34. jazzfeathersjazzfeathers

    Well, by the sound of it, it looks like this book was pretty easy to demolish 😉

    I’m always baffled by the stupid errors we find in books. Like the ones you mentions, the errors that a simple google search might have avoided. There are things which are far more hard to research (I write historicals, I should know 😉 ) so I always wonder why an author wouldn’t spend a few minutes searching google for a quick answer.
    I’ve come to the conclusion these authors don’t ask questions, which is a capital sin for an author, if you ask me. These authors just go their way and never ask questions and I always wonder: if this author don’t ask herself, “How many hours does the flight from San Jose to Mexico City take?” may I really expect her to ask any more profound questions off me as a reader?

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  35. Chris GrahamChris Graham

    Great post, Kristen. I edit, as well as write novels. My pet hate is when a writer shows a lack of either understanding, knowledge, or research in what they’re writing about.

    We don’t accept it from non fiction writers, because they’re usually writing from the point of an expert, but novellists will all too often describe a car’s behavior in a chase, or a weapon’s effects in a fight or assassination, that are totally wrong.

    I read of a PI secreting a magnetic tracker to a Corvette by putting it inside the wing (fender to the septics)… yet a Vette’s body is made of fibreglass. A rear drive BMW hanging its rear wheels over a drop… then its front tyres scrabbling for grip before pulling it out of trouble. Impossible!

    It only takes Googling to get these details right. At worst a phone call.

    I’ve phoned public buildings and company reception desks to ask simple matters like where the gents’ loo (rest room) is; what kind of lifts (elevators) they have; can you see the car park entrance from a certain viewpoint within the building. Tell the receptionist you’re an author and they’re usually only too pleased to break the monotony of their day by helping… often by phoning their colleagues if they can’t answer themselves.

    I’ve phoned local police headquarters to get details of prisoner holding cells at smaller local stations. I called a company that specialises in working on and restoring classic Italian cars to find out if a particular engine has a steel sump pan, or an aluminium one (it’s about those magnetic devices again). I frequently use ‘Streetview’ to check sight lines and the lie of the land.

    If you aren’t CERTAIN about something you rely on for your plot (or even just for adding colour to your narrative) then gloss over it. It’s better to simply have someone leave a location, then be shown at a new one, than describe their journey that couldn’t be done. If you don’t know whether there are direct flights from Bristol (UK) to Beziérs in south west France (there are), then don’t show your character flying on one without checking.

    My motto is: ‘Get the facts right, and they’ll believe the fiction’.

    There’ll always be some smartarse who’ll pick you up on wrong details… if you don’t give any, they can’t shoot you down for it so easily.

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
    • LauraLaura

      I’m picky about the details, too. I found a geologist at a university who helped me figure out the depth and thickness of salt layers in the area I wanted my time agency to build their underground bunker, because I wanted it to be plausible and safe, with an entrance in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere I have his name and title so I can thank him in the credits when I self-publish.

      Reply
      December 17, 2016
  36. English LadyEnglish Lady

    I know what you mean by silly factual errors. Totally know- and they are a pet peeve of mine. One problem is ‘British Fiction’- Regencies or Meideval Fiction set in Britain. I think in some ways this genre is a victim of its own popularity, there is some that’s great, but some is written by authors who have obviously never set foot on British soil. Now some of them do a wonderful job, meticulous research, and even have British proof readers, and so pull it off well.

    But others do not- really do not- and I get really annoyed with 19th or 20th century Brits talking about the ‘sidewalk’, wearing ‘pants’, eating ‘candy’ or putting Cream in their tea…and as for some of the howlers in Medieval fiction, well let me list a few.
    Turkey, potatoes and Hickory trees in twelfth century England, a raccoon running around in a medieval English Pine Forest. Bears? No. Just no on every level. If in doubt, base the Flora, Fauna and Langauge of your book on what you know in America should not be a rule.

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  37. RachelRachel

    Very informative. Thank you!

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  38. sharonecathcartsharonecathcart

    Reblogged this on Sharon E. Cathcart and commented:
    Yep. While real life is not made of constant conflicts, there needs to be some underlying tension in fiction — even when things seem to be going perfectly.

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  39. Mark MyersMark Myers

    I’ve discarded two books recently. The first had the most appealing intro I have ever read. I laughed out loud in the bookstore and purchased it. The author wrote it and I expected that the book would follow. What I got was the most boring book with absolutely no humor. The introduction was complete bait and switch. I got fifty pages in and felt completely fleeced. The second was a book very grounded in fact and description. The LONG story followed a woman from her early years to her death in great, mind-numbing detail. And yet, there was one huge and very important leap that forced you to suspend reality. It couldn’t exist based on the facts that had been presented at length. AT LENGTH! So I guess for me, there has to be some kind of consistency in the content.

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  40. Kathryn CraftKathryn Craft

    No novel is a waste of money because we always learn something, whether about craft, human nature, or our own tastes. When it comes to craft, it helps that leaders in the writing community are willing to point out what does and doesn’t work. So thank you for that.

    But I’m surprised that in all these comments, no one has yet called you out for the mean-spirited nature of this post. We need our writing community–what good can come of spitting on one another? The person who wrote this novel is a fellow creative, striving to put the work of her heart into the world just as you are–and doing quite well with it. Since no novel is perfect, and since nothing but a feeding frenzy can result from demeaning a novelist’s debut effort, it seems a better use of your space to try to analyze why this book did so well. That’s why I read it, because clearly there are storytelling bonuses that, for many readers, can trump the craft issues you defined. Maybe that could be your next post.

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      First of all, if it was mean-spirited I would have used a name and a title which I did not. This is a reason I am not a book reviewer. If I can’t give a book 4 stars I don’t leave a review. I never mentioned the name of the author and you are the one mentioning debut, not me. Additionally, I am allowed not to like things. I don’t hang up opinions simply because I am a writer. When we are learning about craft, good examples of story help, but bad ones do, too (See my criticism of Star Wars Prequels and 50 Shades).

      I pointed out elements that pulled me out of the book, that frustrated me. Elements that all of us can be guilty of. In this case, they all just seem piled in the same work. Was a shame, too because the initial idea did hook….then just fizzled. I have no idea why it did well but you know? Good for the author. That is one of the big reasons I don’t name names is everyone has tastes and preferences. These habits in particular? They just lose ME.

      Reply
      December 17, 2016
      • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

        And hey, any author’s biggest challenge is discoverability. If people who read this blog go digging to find it maybe they will read it and maybe I am completely wrong and that author will get MORE five star reviews 😀 . But this is why I have long argued with writers that it is impossible to have an author brand AND a book reviewer brand. When we criticize at all, writers feel hurt. When we start naming names and titles? They feel crushed. It is a sticky situation that is tough to navigate.

        Reply
        December 17, 2016
      • marymtfmarymtf

        You’re entitled to like or dislike a novel, Kristen. I think the sorts of criticisms that you’ve made here were legitimate ones. You’re right, it does seem to read like a personal fantasy before you begin whipping it into shape and making it entertaining for an extended audience. And if someone told me my beloved was still living, I’d be on that plane before you could say Joan Robinson.

        Reply
        December 17, 2016
        • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

          LOL. It reminds me of my first novel, though I use that term loosely. I am so happy that self-pub wasn’t around and the cost of vanity press saved me from myself. That and agents willing to reject me until I got a clue.

          Reply
          December 17, 2016
      • Tina Ann ForknerTina Ann Forkner

        Yes, good for the author that the book did well. Your description makes the widely-read book very easy to spot. As readers, we don’t have to like every book we read, but as fellow authors, we should note that the author of the book being discussed is one of the biggest supporters of other writers in the industry. She is also a best-selling author. That’s no accident.

        Reply
        December 18, 2016
  41. marcia23marcia23

    My pet peeves are fluff and too much detail about the setting. I want a page turning, get to the story book.

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  42. Sarah RosinskiSarah Rosinski

    Oh, you are the best!

    It grinds me when every female protagonist is biting her lip or digging her nails into her palms until they bleed. Many authors use this. It’s annoying. People don’t do those things. Even when the hottest peppermint breathed guy pretends he doesn’t know she exists. GAH!

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  43. PagadanPagadan

    I’ve done research for my SF stories, and especially for my lone western, I was surrounded by atlases, books–and Google. When was barbed wire invented?! I am annoyed by mistakes, including ones that have been perpetuated for years…

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
    • Ken FarmerKen Farmer

      The first patent for barbed wire was issued in 1867 to Lucien B. Smith of Kent, Ohio. He is considered the inventor.

      Reply
      December 17, 2016
  44. Susan GourleySusan Gourley

    Barista Barbie? LOL. The story sounds so boring besides all the ‘too stupid’ stuff. I can wonder about plot but the thing that makes me put down a book quickly is unlikable protagonists. Ones that I just can’t care what happens to them.

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      The sad part was the story idea was pretty cool. It hooked me which is no easy task. It was the order of things. Might want to investigate that death BEFORE worrying about coffee recipes.

      Reply
      December 17, 2016
  45. beyondldopabeyondldopa

    I don’t read everything blogable, but this was good to hear for a poet and nonfiction writer such as myself in addition to your fiction writers. Funny and makes the point loud and clear. Thank you.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  46. TheChattyIntrovertTheChattyIntrovert

    Glad i read this, and I had no idea there was something called The Emotion Thesaurus. It was worth reading just to find that out, but my goodness, this book felt like the equivalent of those teen horror movies where somebody goes to investigate the spooky noise alone in the dark, or ignores constant bad happenings. Like one of my fave stand-up comics, Pablo Francisco says, “they’re so easy to kill, you could strangle them with a cordless phone.”

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  47. AdamAdam

    I once had a film class where the instructor showed us an astonishingly bad film, to the point where they reused the same clip several times, cutting away and cutting back, to show a character running to help. And it was a powerful learning tool. There are many things that good authors do, that are so universally done that we as readers don’t even realize how important these simple techniques and structural conventions are.

    I recently read a book that astonished me. It was poorly written, and the plot was long repetitive patterns of waiting, trying to solve a problem, and ultimately ending up right back at the starting line again, until an eleventh hour character saved them from a horrible fate, by essentially doing the same thing, but being much nicer about it. And the biggest problem, in my opinion, was the fact that at no point in the entire story did any of the protagonist’s choices actually change anything. the protagonist could have been in a chemically induced coma and achieved the same ending.

    It really helped me realize not only what I sometimes take for granted as a reader, but what I really care about as an audience.

    Reply
    December 17, 2016
  48. Lora DLora D

    Oh wow, you and me, both… and many others, too! I see inconsistencies and implausibilities and flat-out ridiculous errors constantly in books I edit (and read), and it drives me nuts! I actually posted a blog on the same topic the day before you did: https://editsbylora.com/2016/12/15/t-shirts-tabasco-and-air-ducts/ I’m glad I’m not alone. 🙂

    Reply
    December 18, 2016
    • Lora DLora D

      Oh, I forgot to say that I linked to your post on mine (same link as above comment).

      Reply
      December 19, 2016
  49. Romy SommerRomy Sommer

    I spent about nineteen hours traveling from South Africa to California. And that includes the time for layovers. Even I, from half away across the world, would get an eye twitch from a nineteen hour flight anywhere on the North American continent.

    Reply
    December 18, 2016
  50. Dawn RossDawn Ross

    Head-hopping is my pet peeve. I’m reading a decent story, but the story could be so much better if I didn’t have to keep rereading parts to figure out who is thinking what.

    Back to your post… I have a question about mixing it up with emotions. One of my main characters has a bit of a temper and his temper sets off other tempers. Although I have the emotion thesaurus and have come up with a number of ways to express anger, how much do I need to mix it up? Certainly not every time, right? I’m trying to mix it up, but may duplicate the same emotional expression with the same character so that one character tends to feel his anger as a simmer or boil while another tends to feel it as an eruption or explosion.

    Reply
    December 18, 2016
  51. Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life.Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life.

    Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Kristen Lamb with 101 reasons why a reader will slam a book shut and not finish it.. What is the most irritating thing about a book you would like to share?.. please head over to Kristen’s and read the very entertaining and accurate post for yourself. I read a lot of books.. not for a job like Kristen but because they are like an addiction.. However.. I usually lose the plot by the third chapter if I am not engaged by then. Also poor research… I read one book where the heroine could see the Eiffel Tower from the Costa del Sol… anyway over to you… well worth reading.. especially for those of us who write!

    Reply
    December 18, 2016
  52. claire plaistedclaire plaisted

    Reblogged this on Claire Plaisted – Indie Author and commented:
    Food for thought. I do remember going back into a book edit and researching flights, helicopters and how far places were from each other. Thanks for the blog. 🙂

    Reply
    December 18, 2016
  53. Rosemary Reader and WriterRosemary Reader and Writer

    You know what, Kirsten, if I win that prize in your ‘hat’, and you therefore find yourself looking at the first 20 pages of my novel, I’m going to be terrified. How much am I going to check everything against what you’ve written above before I send it to you?

    Reply
    December 19, 2016
  54. Rosemary Reader and WriterRosemary Reader and Writer

    Reblogged this on Write on and commented:
    Good stuff here. A reader tells you what keeps her reading. Do you look for the same things as she does? Personally, I like a bit of good stuff, to share some ‘feel-good’. Why otherwise do you suppose so many detectives have loving families or good circles of friends? But I’m with her on checking facts. I’ve noticed that many writers – particularly – get it wrong when writing about the church and local government, but then that’s two areas I happen to know about. I wonder what other ‘areas of misinformation’ are out there.

    Reply
    December 19, 2016
  55. Kristen TwardowskiKristen Twardowski

    This was hysterical and made me smile on a dreary Monday morning. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    Reply
    December 19, 2016
  56. Graeme IngGraeme Ing

    Repeated words irritate me too, though like you, I know how hard it is to avoid them in our own writing, so I won’t be so harsh over reading them. Stiff dialog irritates me, either verbosity, repeating in dialog what just got said in narrative (drop the narrative version), and especially the overuse of names. “Hello, John. What do you think of this, John?” Infodumps make me groan, doubly so when the information isn’t even relevant at this point. I’ll throw a book down if I see infodump and bad dialog together: “As you know, John, we came here to day to…” Argh! Slow middles. Hate them. Similar sentence constructs: He did this. he did that. He did something else. Wow, I guess I’m a picky reader! 🙂 Great post, thanks.

    Reply
    December 19, 2016
  57. Kelly D. Vorhis (@kelvorhis)Kelly D. Vorhis (@kelvorhis)

    Your post from made me laugh out loud this morning and almost spit my coffee across the kitchen counter because you sound like me when I’m reading. I’ve been known to throw a book or two across a room in frustration much to the alarm of my family and/or students. I once felt obligated to finish reading every book I started, but these days my TBR stacks are almost as tall as me, literally (I’m 5’0″) so if a plot isn’t working I move on to something else.

    The Emotion Thesaurus is a must-have for every writer, I own a copy and it is wonderful.

    I’m especially appreciative of your post because I teach high school Creative Writing, and after our winter break we’ll be writing fiction. Your thoughts and ideas along with others comments are helpful reminders. Thank you!

    Reply
    December 20, 2016
  58. alex mcgilveryalex mcgilvery

    I see these a lot as an editor, the other thing is the fab beginning with a great character, the chapters 2-12 are info dump about the love interest in the vain hope of making the sap attractive. (why does every genre need to be hyphen romance?)

    Reply
    December 21, 2016
  59. MelHopkinsdotcomMelHopkinsdotcom

    This was such a fun read and review! I stumbled upon a website that calculates the flight/drive time between cities, countries, et al. A quick search with proper search terms would have landed the writer on the site. I needed to know the flight time from Pittsburgh and Hope Arkansas for a short I was writing. No airline had a direct flight – so I used a search engine and found the site that I called in my blog post “A writer’s delight”

    Reply
    December 21, 2016
  60. bardotbarbituratebardotbarbiturate

    There’s a book I’ve been trying to read for well over a year and it’s so bad that I find myself editing it as I go along. I decided to turn that into a positive and bought a physical second-hand copy, armed myself with a red pen and have been practicing my editing skills on it. I’m hoping that it will help me when it comes to editing my own work.

    Reply
    December 23, 2016
  61. R.C. ThompsonR.C. Thompson

    Ayn Rand’s work was the worst stuff I ever saw in print. It droned on so much I’m surprised it didn’t fly away–best I could do was 100 pages. J.K. Rowling’s first few books were way too slow and wordy–I had to bail out in less than 100 pages and so gave up reading the rest of them. Lots of modern literary short stories stinks on ice–lots of petty words that don’t say much if anything. Where’s the beef? is what I ask myself.

    Reply
    December 23, 2016
  62. Betsy MillerBetsy Miller

    I’m currently reading an indie novel by a first-time author. The premise is good and the writing mechanics are fine, but the main character is: super skilled at combat, a brilliant inventor, was formerly two revered kings (he can shapeshift and apparently has a very long lifespan), is the only magic user in his local community–uses major magic with impunity (no side effects–it doesn’t even tire him out), gets along with everyone, and doesn’t seem to have any flaws. Oh, and nothing REALLY bad happens to him because he outsmarts or outfights everyone who comes at him and can heal himself from any associated injuries. I have been trying to get through the book, which is relatively short, but I don’t think I’ll make it to the end. I met the author at a writing event, and bought the book to give it a try. We’re in touch, so I’ll ask her if she wants feedback. If yes, I’ll let her know what I liked, and where I found the book frustrating. I think for some writers, it’s only after they self-publish that they start to get read by people who are not friends or family.

    Reply
    December 23, 2016
  63. Leanne SchwartzLeanne Schwartz

    This is great advice. I’m midway through a WIP and pausing to rework my outline precisely because I’m starting to lose having tension/conflict in every scene, and I want to be sure I’m juggling the characters dealing with the main conflict in the smartest way. This was helpful reading!

    Reply
    December 23, 2016
  64. Marianne Frontino McCreightMarianne Frontino McCreight

    Thank you, Kristen, for another hysterical yet helpful post. I am so glad I’m not the only one who can’t stand it when the details are all flubbed up. Sometimes I wonder if people even proofread their own stories, let alone had anyone else take a look at it. And the ones I really hate and the ones that you can tell all they did was run the grammar-checker and the spell-checker on it. Those things are just wrong so often, and the people who just click ‘change’ on everything make my eye twitch.
    Anyway, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Awesome Kwanzaa, and Happy New Year. Thanks for all your words of wisdom. Marianne

    Reply
    December 23, 2016
  65. xxsarahcarolinexxsarahcaroline

    I wish you would do more bad book reviews because they are SO FUN TO READ. You can make them vague so we don’t know what book. 😉

    Reply
    December 27, 2016
  66. sallypoyzersallypoyzer

    Great article. Repetitive words drive me crazy. In one book series the word ‘cupped’ (as in “He cupped her chin”) was used at least 6 or 7 times over the 3 part series. Cupped is a word that is too uncommon to get away with being used that often. I mean, who says that in every day conversation??? It stood out to me the first time the author used it and then irritated me every time after that. It becomes so distracting! The books themselves were great though, so I didn’t give up. In that case I think a good editor should have picked it up…

    Reply
    December 28, 2016
  67. shadoweyeblogshadoweyeblog

    These are all good things for authors to consider. Definitely will make sure my novel doesn’t have any of these mistakes

  68. Barbara MeyersBarbara Meyers

    I hate it when an author repeatedly tells me what color hair and eyes the characters have. Even if they vary the description, I’m not an idiot. Blue eyes? Yeah. I got that the first time you said it on page four.

  69. Jacqueline EstherJacqueline Esther

    Could you maybe do a little proof-reading of your articles since they are …. you know…. about writing and you’re setting yourself up as a guru/expert/authority on the topic. There are obvious errors in grammar etc all through it and because you were being self-righteous about another author (and apparently with some merit) it was annoying me that you couldn’t be bothered fixing your own writing.

    Reply
    February 10, 2017
    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      The post isn’t about grammar and I never claimed to be an expert on grammar. I write in a conversational style meant to mimic everyday vernacular. You don’t like it? Find another grammatically correct blog that better fits your needs.

      Reply
      February 10, 2017
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