To do my job well, I do a tremendous amount of reading. Additionally, I make it a point to make sure I read different genres so I get a sense of what writers do well (or not so well) regardless of the type of story.
I’ve been inhaling Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series as of late and I got ahead of my credits so I decided instead to take advantage of Audible’s Daily Deal. It was a suspense from a legacy published author. The book had almost a thousand reviews and almost all of them four and five stars. So I figured, why not?
Take a chance.
Shoot. Me. Now.
The book was absolutely awful. I won’t say which book because I won’t do that to another author. I have a personal rule. If I can’t give a book 4 stars or more I just shut up. Three would be the minimum. Since this one was a solid TWO? Yeah, just shutting up.
And FYI, I was beginning to think I was being too hard on the book but then went and looked at the handful of bad reviews and they complained about the same things…so I had NOT lost my mind.
I kept listening, thinking, “Seriously, this has GOT to get better.” It didn’t. So instead of just complaining about the hours I wasted getting dragged through this awful book, I figured I could harvest it for some lessons about what mistakes we can avoid.
Mistake #1—Protagonist Too Dumb To Live
Our protagonist doesn’t need to be likable. There are all kinds of examples of this in literature and movies. Often anti-heroes are pretty despicable folks. We simply need a way to emotionally connect with this character, to empathize. Often this is done by making a character’s goal empathetic (I.e. Breaking Bad) even if the means are ugly, or by juxtaposing this character against a greater evil (I.e. Pulp Fiction).
This said, our protagonist doesn’t need to be likable, but we as readers have to respect them. When characters are too dumb to live, it doesn’t matter how good or noble the cause we don’t care.
In the book I was reading the protagonist was in a bad crash and is suffering from amnesia. She awakens to realize someone close to her has been brutally murdered and she is the #1 suspect.
Over the course of this plot that moved with the momentum of frozen maple syrup, this character “remembers” that her sister who has been taking care of her on their isolated farm since the accident…is actually a violent sociopath.
She is assaulted with visions of this sibling very literally torturing her growing up (including one scene where the sister kills a cat slowly and makes her watch). Though she hasn’t remembered everything, any person with one eye and half sense, might at least come to the reasonable conclusion that perhaps the sister murdered this loved one and is now framing her.
Everyone but the protagonist apparently.
What does she do? She decides to return back to the isolated farm unarmed without telling anyone (even the cops) to confront her sister about her memories.
I get that characters should not be predictable. But they should NOT do stupid stuff simply because we need to move them to a certain “place.” Because devoid of any threat (I’m holding your best friend hostage and you better come alone. No guns and no cops) it just made this character a Class A Moron.
If her sister didn’t kill her, I wanted to.
Mistake #2—Protagonist is Passive
The protagonists needs to be proactive, meaning actively going after a goal. This is one of the reasons passive goals really don’t work in fiction. It also needs to be something the character earns. Frankly, I knew better than to pick up an amnesia book, but in light of the rave reviews I second-guessed myself.
The protagonist needed to solve the mystery using outside clues that had nothing to do with the missing memories. But the entire book was really just her getting snippets or memory back then reacting…until she got enough memories back and then it all was clear.
That’s cheating. She didn’t earn any kind of a victory. It was all a matter of “remembering” of regaining something she already possessed.
Passive goals will make fiction fizzle. It’s like “containing communism.” Didn’t work in Vietnam or Korea and won’t work in our story.
Any plot that involves “protecting,” “evading,” “avoiding” or “remembering” is usually at the very least half-baked. These are all passive goals. “Maintaining” is not a story-worthy verb.
Mistake #3—Cheating at the End (Twisting is NOT Cheating)
We all love a good twist. Part of why I LOVE the Bosch books is they are tough to figure out and always serve up excellent surprises. Same with Dean Koontz. Twists are wonderful and we need to work to get good at writing them. No reader likes a book she can accurately (and easily) predict.
This does NOT mean we get weird.
There was another book I read recently form a MAJOR author who is a household name. This author did a fantastic job of creating a serial killer that I found truly terrifying, which is a tough thing to do since I’ve been rather desensitized over the years. I recall even telling my mother how AMAZING this villain was.
So I’m cooking along and this killer is always, I MEAN ALWAYS ahead of the FBI. Then we get to the ending and the author serves up the
twist total BS bait and switch…
“ARE YOU FRIGGING KIDDING ME?”
See, thing was, this author gave no clues to the “twist” (meaning it doesn’t count as a twist). We need clues and hints along the way. We as readers need some slim chance we might figure it out.
The author just suddenly banking hard left? I call foul.
We can’t have a novel end with a twist that absolves us of writing a great ending. “And just as the dragon closed in, she woke up. It was all a DREAM!” It’s a variation of deus ex machina and it pisses us off.
Real twists, great twists evolve organically from the plot and the facts given along the way. There is no strange deviation no one could have seen.
Real twists? The good ones? The reason they kind of sucker punch us is we go, “Ah, hell! I thought that was weird then blew it off,” “Oh, why didn’t I see that?,” “It was right there all along.”
Endings are tough to write well, but so are beginnings and middles 😛 . We should strive for a twist, but if we can’t make it work with what we’ve already supplied to the reader? HUGE RISK.
Twists are like plants. They only grow from seeds we already planted.
Anyway, there are other bugaboos that might make a reader want to punch a story in the face, but if we can avoid these big no-nos then were are going to be doing pretty well.
What are your thoughts? What are some things that make you stop reading? What characters make you just want to scream? Do you feel the same about twist cheating?
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
This was such an amazing, witty post to read! I completely agree with all your points, but it’s a shame you couldn’t name the books you read… I might unknowingly stumble across them and become as equally infuriated! Very sassy post – I enjoyed thoroughly! 😛 https://readandreview2016.wordpress.com
> Hi Kristen, I really enjoyed and learned a lot from the branding course last night. Thank you. > > In March I finished my first novel titled The Yeshiva Student and the Magic Scroll, have sent query letters to 7 agents and have received one Declined. I am about to send more queries out. At the beginning of the course last night you mentioned that if any of us were going traditional, which I think referred to publishing, be prepared to be mopped. I look forward to hearing more about this. > > I wanted to sign up for your May 14th class, The First 5 Pages but was not able to attend that day. Would you be able to help me, 1. Make sure my query letter to the agents is compelling and that I am not making any blunders in the format or presentation. 2. Help me launch my social media programs? I have a web site but besides a title page it is empty, http://www.larrychroman.com ? > > Look forward to working with you, if its possible. > > Larry Chroman
Yes, I meant to e-mail you back. On it now 😀 .
Lol. TSTL will make me throw a book, but twists that aren’t twists are the worst.
It makes me sad to think that the horrible book you described received a thousand 4 and 5 star reviews. What’s going on here?
Seriously no idea. I couldn’t find other redeemable features that would sway the reviews, like “The characters were awesome but the plot? Meh.” Nope.
Things that make you go hmmm…
Indeed! Things that make you go hmmmm….. I’m pretty upset with the industry because bad writers with a good “back-up” get fabricated hype to promote them. While the others are given endless advice on how to become better and better, do more marketing, do more social media, do more editing, do more cover, do more plot, do more blog tours, do more reveals, do more articles, do more etc. When in truth it’s all about something completely different …
Art is subjective (even writing that we pour and agonize over), once it’s released into the world people will like what they will no matter if the minority screams in unison…YOU GOTTA BE FREAKIN KIDDIN ME
Well written and witty?
Reblogged this on Amy Reece and commented:
Such a great post! It’s making me do some HARD thinking about my work-in-progress. Thanks, Kristen!
Thanks so much for this post! As a suspense writer, I need to be sure I don’t make these mistakes!
Great advice! You had me cracking up in tears when I saw the photo under #2 Protagonist Is Passive.
I’m never disappointed when I read your posts!
Love this blog – and enjoyed this one in particular – now fervently hoping that my ‘twist’ isn’t a cheat! thanks Kristen <3
This post is so funny … made funnier because it’s also true.
These pictures made my day… especially the cat. one. 😛
I’ve definitely chucked a book or two across the room, especially when the one female character is all batted eyelashes and no balls. Light a fire under that thing!
Another wonderful post! 🙂
Reblogged this on https://writinginthewoodsblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/23/3-mistakes-that-will-make-readers-want-to-punch-a-book-in-the-face-kristen-lambs-blog/. Excellent post. I have a tendency to make my protagonists a little wishy washy in my first drafts but I improve on their attitudes and motivations in the following drafts. I will admit that when I do anti-heroes I tend to forget to make them somewhat respectable and this annoys my beta readers.
Really great advice! Regarding the many good reviews for the bad book, why do you think people gave the book so many stars? I’m guessing the story was pretty cohesive, simple and smooth, which is rare these days, but other than that, oh yeah, you’re totally right! Now Ok, something I never wanted to let out because I didn’t want to spoil the joy of TWILIGHT for readers, but it’s been a while, so I guess the author made her money and I can go ahead and say it:
How did Bella make love to Edward without getting THE UGLIEST CYSTITIS EVER? The guy’s body is supposed to be ice cold… So I guess some bad “details” aren’t a deal breaker, especially if the story is cohesive and simple. Simple is elegant.
Lack of psychological consequences is a huge one for me. Oh, you just watched your best friend get brutally mugged and now the police are doing nothing about it? That’s okay, I’ll just have tea and water my flowers. No big deal. Or unrealistic relationships. Girl wakes up to see guy in bedroom watching her sleep. She feels romanced instead of violated? Creepy. Guy controls her every move? Abusive, not romantic. All really good ways to get me into the mood to punch your book in the face.
Huh. Wonder what book you might be referencing…
I basically stopped reading the romance genre because WTF people? Picked up a new author the other day, and find “We belong together, everyone knows it but you.” Really? This is romance? In what bloody world?
Isn’t that something a class 1 or 2 stalker would say? Or is it just me?
Good post otherwise.
Fixed it 😀 . I reordered them and forgot to change the numbering.
That was the extra credit mistake.
That’s why I read back through these comments more closely. I knew someone would have seen it before I did. Thanks, Jess!
I love reading your posts. When I’ve had to rethink/rewrite characters it’s because they’re too flat, which could fall into this passive category.
I remember reading The Pit and the Pendulum. It was excellent writing… until in the last sentence some unknown person snatches him away – unknown to the point that a footnote had to fill me in on what the Poe was even thinking. I remember feeling slightly cheated, but I was young and Poe is an icon and I who was I to criticise?
I love it. Your teaching about passive protagonists always rings true with me, because I did it once. The guy was in mourning, and things happened to him. Best lesson ever was the sales data. This was before I found you, and it’s all crystal clear these days.
Kristen, I totally agree with, “I have a personal rule. If I can’t give a book 4 stars or more I just shut up. Three would be the minimum. Since this one was a solid TWO? Yeah, just shutting up.” Unfortunately, I’ve given up on many books that yanked the natural progression of choice from the protagonist, so the author could impose their plan…. a 3 would be very kind for that sort of situation.
Geez, now you have me searching online for a book with a similar plot & inflated ratings 🙂
Nice list. If a book annoys/bores me, then I’ll snap it shut anyway so we wouldn’t even get to the reviewing part. I’m currently working on a murder mystery and think of a timeline to keep progress of all the clues and twists I want to add along the way.
(Communism didn’t work, but neither did the war allegedly designed to stop it. Just saying.)
Because the war was to “contain” it 😉 .
I can enjoy a book throughout and totally want to “punch” it due to the ending being one of those that makes me feel like the author totally lost interest in their subject and just wanted to get it to the publisher. This type of unfinished business brings down my “star review” by at least one.
The cat pic! OMG, too funny.
ahhh! thanks for getting me laughing/cackling — my fav to-hate character is the too-dumb as well, which is only barely above the MC that appears to be cursed with multiple personalities, as the author cannot decide who they are…tough one time, scared the next, etc.
Was watching my daily forced feeding of CNN (to track what insanity is going on), so you saved a few brain cells from fusing together permanently…
Keep it up!!
I don’t like naming names of authors of books that are absolutely atrocious – at least in my opinion. I’m reading a book right now that I’m slogging through, but only because I want to know, “does the protagonist make it to the end, or does he get caught?” He is, in a way, his own antagonist.
A pet peeve of mine – completely helpless main characters. Give your characters some strength, or some strength in their redeeming qualities.
You didn’t address the question burning a hole in my mind, Kristen. Namely, how the ^@!% did this author get a thousand glowing reviews?
Or published in the first place. It’s so hard to get traditionally pubbed these days, how are there horrible books with these guys?
Once again, you made me laugh so hard my husband asked “What now?”
“I’m reading Kristen’s blog again.”
“What’s she saying?”
And I go into reading the entire blog entry aloud and we keep stopping and discussing and laughing and speculating about the famous author and work (he thinks he knows which book…).
Your work always makes us have great discussions. I love that about you.
Now, if I could convince him to get busy writing, he’s awesome when he does it.
Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
Kristen Lamb has published an excellent post about three mistakes that might upset your reader. Very informative. Thank you Kristen.
I agree with all of yours but would shallow and unbelievable characters, no one should be all good or all bad.
I reviewed a book recently that was guilty of number 3, and it just about killed me because the suspense was great up until then. Some of the story elements made me sit up and take notice, I was staying up waaay past my bedtime to keep reading…and then the end came. The guilty party wasn’t even in the book! The perpetrator had been mentioned only in passing!
I was so disappointed. Talk about a crushing feeling. Ugh.
Thanks for the reminder, Kristen, that we should expect more from ourselves as writers because audience members expect more from us as readers.
Uh-oh. My WIP has a murder but it wasn’t meant to be a murder mystery, per se. . .and yet I can still see how it might be pretty annoying, the perp doesn’t appear at all in my story! I’ll have to ask my beta how she feels about that, when she gets there. . .
I would definitely direct you back to Kristen’s advice on this. Every element in the story that moves the plot forward has to have a reason behind it and that reason had to feel organic and natural. It can’t be dropped in for the sake of convenience. What could possibly make sense as a cool plot twist in the planning stages would come across to the reader as a desperate attempt to pull a fast one. Don’t give your readers a reason to doubt your story!
I loved this post. I’m seeing these mistakes in some TV shows and movies too. I do wonder about the 4-5 star ratings on such a book. I guess different strokes for different folks!
I remember reading a David Lindsey novel (I’m pretty sure it was Mercy) and having the killer pegged, but then Lindsey gave him an airtight alibi. Only I was right about the killer and Lindsey never explained the alibi. It really irritated me. I love figuring out twists but I despise writers who drop hammers from heaven, or worse, prove the hammer can’t drop and then drop it anyway. When I set up the final twist for Cigerets, Guns & Beer I made sure to leave two or three bread crumbs so that readers could see it coming.
Yes dammit! My main character is being too passive – because he’s just had the most enormous shock, has run away and is now just trying to hide (that obviously doesn’t work out or I wouldn’t have a plot in the first place) but he’s boring the heck out of me at present – let alone any reader I might have. Advice? Slog through the first draft then go back and make him slightly less “cat not going for a walk” (btw fab pic – that)? Pop a scene in where the villain is planning to come after him? Get him to do something obviously heroic (he’s just fallen on his face chasing escaped cattle and has a face full of dung – hardly heroic). Blast it – this one was supposed to be my coming of age book; much better and more developed than the first two and now I’m tearing my hair out. Bless you and your blogs Kristen; you give me strategies and hope! Oh – and do you have a masterclass on making your hero man up?
Someone on this blog said once, “Your MC should never be folding laundry unless there is a killer hiding behind the door.” or something like that. What great advice!
Thank you! great reminders 🙂
I had an English teacher in high school who taught a senior “throwaway” elective called “Science Fiction and Detective Stories.” I don’t remember what stories we read or even the teacher’s name, but I remember him telling us that a good ending needed to be surprising but inevitable. It’s one of the few things I remember learning in high school, and it’s served me very well as a writer.
Reblogged this on Paula Leigh and commented:
Please enjoy this honest and hilarious blog post from Kristen Lamb 🙂
Reblogged this on Swamp Sass and commented:
I have a special category on my Kindle… TSTL. Too stupid to live. I don’t buy anything by those authors again. It may not be fair as they may get better, but there are so many books to read and so little time…
I agree! I actually have a category in my kindle TSTL (too stupid to live). I don’t buy anything by those authors again.
The little hidden things leading up to the twist… that’s an Easter egg, right? I tell you, there is a LOT involved in crafting a good story.
You’re helping me! Appreciate you.
Ted Dekker’s Thr3e is a good example of a proper twist ending. You pick up the clues, and you think ha! I bet I know what the twist is! And then Wham! he double-twists back on you and you never saw it coming. It’s not even a genre I’m that keen on, but it was a great read.
I agree! Thr3e has one of the best twists I’ve ever read.
I agree entirely – about “too stupid to live” heroes or heroines. Especially the ones who go where the killer is known to be and she goes there alone, no weapons, nothing. Who, in real life, would do that? Take a cop, or two or three, with you, for God’s sake. They do that in Lifetime movies all the time and I curse at them! 🙂 As for plot twists, I love ’em! The good ones that we don’t see coming, except maybe in the back of our minds.This was a very good article. You have a way of saying things that we all think…
Lila L Pinord
author of four novels
and reader of many.
i think you have a good rule about not reviewing a book you couldn’t give higher than 3 stars. I did once and regret doing so. I think I may adopt your rule.
Another great post Kristen.
In comedy, #1 Too Dumb To Live, is o.k. and very do-able. I believe the reader/viewer goes into the experience of a comedy (book/film) with a “Get Out Of Dumb Jail Free” card in hand for the author.
I completely empathize with any negative feelings you have toward 5 star reviews. Now I understand things that may seem “ho-hum” to me can have vast appeal for another, so that rolls off my back. However, when I see 5 star reviews for work that I classify as “unreadable bilge,” I can go off the deep end. By “unreadable” I mean rotten punctuation, improper verb tenses, incoherent sentences, et al. Yes, I sounded-off in a blog post last week. 🙁 —But I didn’t name any names.
P.S. Really enjoyed your class on the first 5 pages. Looking forward to another one.
So my thoughts are exactly like yours. Great post. I am curious though, how do you feel about unreliable narrator books? I remember reading the Murder of Roger Ackroyd and just being super pissed at the ending. I was equally annoyed from watching “Gone, Girl” and didn’t have a desire to read the book after watching the movie. I can acknowledge though how the concept behind both were well done, but I am not a fan of that storytelling style.
I enjoyed Roger Ackroyd, but taken in context. It was one of her earlier works at the height of the murder mystery heyday. I remember thinking that it was definitely something that couldn’t be repeated. (I haven’t read Gone Girl, so please don’t spoil it for me. ? )
Unreliable narrator should also have Easter Eggs (clues). “Fight Club” is a great example of it being done well, both in the book and the film.
You’re right, I actually like both of those (book & movie).
I don’t know what it is, but lately I have been reading books with characters so dumb I have actually been taking screen shots and sending them to friends to commiserate with. I am at a point where I have given so much energy in anger I feel like I have to finish. I’m working on a third attempt at one of them.
We don’t want to hang out with our dumb friends, what makes you think I want to spend some hours with your dumb characters?
Those are pretty good rules for life. Don’t be dumb, don’t be passive and don’t cheat. Wish I had learned all of that in Kindergarten, I might be farther ahead on this thing called life.
Great advice, as always. The plot twists are why I love Brandon Sanderson so much – one reason anyway. I feel like the last point is kind of like why people don’t like the Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey Jr as much -well, the people who complain they couldn’t have possibly have solved the mystery. Obviously they’re still adventure movies and other people still like them. But it’s kind of exactly that sort of play out, isn’t it? You get to the end, the character solves all the things with all the clues that…the reader never had access to.
I think I’m a savvy reader (yeah, yeah, don’t we all?), so when I read a rave-reviewed story that I think is so poorly written it deserves to be printed in invisible ink, I’m convinced the author either bought those reviews as a marketing ploy, or has an online following of easily impressed, agreeable groupies who think it’s a good idea to lavish their idol’s work with five star reviews whether or not they’ve read the book. Maybe the author has encouraged that behavior with contests and giveaways.
I wonder, Kristen, how it serves potential readers if you don’t post reviews for books you would award fewer than 3 stars. If you presented your critique objectively, and supported your opinion with your knowledge of good writing, wouldn’t that be helpful for both the reader and the author?
Your instructions say: “… for the month of MAY … I will pick a winner once a month …” Does this mean there will be a new drawing each month, but the requirements will change?
Those things drive me crazy too, but it constantly amazes me what people will give 5 stars to.
Thank you! I joined a small writing group to 1. make myself produce more regularly and 2. Get insight from more successful writers (two of them have been traditionally published). The insight so far? They all insist that I cant have my protagonist do something ‘unkind’ (to someone who richly deserves unkindness) until he has done enough kind things that the reader will already like him. I told them that I don’t care if readers like him; I want them to understand and respect him, and want to see what he’ll do next. The response was silent, clueless blinking. And BTW we’re talking Ajax here, the one guy in the Iliad who never asked the gods for help, but took care of business all by himself.
I told Ajax what they said. He stared in disbelief, made a rude snorting noise, and went out to sharpen his sword.
Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
Here is a great post on things that can make a reader react negatively to a book. Have you read any books by famous authors that have made any of these mistakes?
I hate weak characters that are not self motivated when push comes to shove as it must.Ok to hedge at first, that builds tension, but a protagonist stumbling though plot is unreadable. Intelligent proactive plots and players keep me reading.
Reblogged this on Author P.S. Bartlett.
I hate the the passive protagonist. Ugh. Just ugh.
There’s something I dubbed the ‘series cheat.” I even did a blog on it because I see it too often. https://nonfictionnovelist.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/how-to-screw-up-your-novel-the-drop-in-character/ When I reached the end, the protagonist was left hanging in the middle of a predicament. Why? Because the author has a second book where she takes up where the first book lets off. Unfair. Each book, even in a series, should stand on its own. For shame.
Bought the book and LOVE it!
I laughed until I was sick, especially because I just finished a book where the protagonist is dumber than a rock (my apologies to all rocks for the comparison).
To setup the story at the First Plot Point the author has the protagonist ignore FOUR explicit warnings so obvious the dead would have taken heed (is knowing without a doubt someone has framed you for murder an ample warning?). Despite all that (she beat the murder charge), when the trap is finally sprung, it’s all okay because she has her brother with her and to that point he’s been dead on when interpreting the warnings she ignored. Whew! I was so worried.
Whoops, not so fast. Despite everything (sorry, but you can’t be ready for this) at the crucial moment the brother leaves his brain at home and embraces a level of stupidity exceeding her own AND she’s framed for murder again by the same person whose house she has dared to enter again (because, you know, if someone does that too you once they wouldn’t think of doing it again). I could feel brain cells committing suicide and had to perform CPR on myself.
I now treasure each and every day having survived the experience, but face years of therapy.
Hahaha! I know the book, but I’ll be mum, as well, as I really do agree with you and I have the same review practice. If I can’t leave three or more stars, I’ll just back away slowly. We’re all in this together. You do have me rethinking my twist though in my book that’s currently with my editor! I guess I’ll wait and see if she hates it. I know I didn’t hang a hard left, but…
One advantage of reviewing books on a blog is not having to give star ratings 🙂
#1 and #3 get me every time. I’m less fussed by #2, but it’s usually a signal of other problems. Like an inability to plot.
I totally agree with you on so many levels. I read a book recently where a disagreement about who owned something was a major plot point keeping the two leads from falling in love. Then someone just gave it to one the characters because they looked nice. I went WTH. It had lots of great reviews and you start to doubt yourself as a reader. Thankfully some people saw my point as well. Sanity returned. Would not read any more of that persons books though.
I really agree with this one–a lead character can’t be a total wimp, right? It’s a deal breaker and a half. Maybe they can be quiet, shy whatever, but they have to have some sort of inner strength that comes out or something–
Loved the post and the pix! Okay, there are two books I could punch in the face. One I had to read for book club. The other I’m reading now. The book club one was a best seller, and it divided humanity into those who loved it and those who loathed it. I loathed it and could NOT understand why other people loved it. Vice versa for them. The MC was the problem for both camps. She was viewed as either a victim who just needed to be understood, or a selfish bitch who needed a punch in the face. The book I’m reading now is beautifully, wonderfully written. It’s a love story set in a foreign country. The kind of love story like, oh … The Princess Bride or something like that. Okay, so I’m halfway through, anticipating the glorious moment near the end when these two lovers who love each other way more, even, than Westley loved Buttercup if you can imagine that, will finally, sweetly, be miraculously brought together again at long last. But no. The author tells me, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BOOK, these two characters that I now love with all my heart will NEVER see each other again. I’m so devastated that I don’t know if I can keep reading this book or punch it in the face. I need rehab or something first.
Yes to all of this! I also want to punch books that have the protagonist get “saved” in the end. WTF? NO!!! One of the joys of a good story is seeing the protagonist grow into the kind of person who solves the big problem! I feel cheated if somebody else swoops in to save him/her.
I agree with you on all three points. I also hate it when secondary characters are too dumb to breathe. They may not be the protagonist, but they should still be “real”.
I also hate it when characters do something completely out of character, for no discernible reason, other than the plot demanded it.
Oh, he’s a wealthy, powerful, titled lord who prides himself on his honesty and upstanding reputation. So, clearly, he’s going to marry some girl he’s met a few times and shared a few kisses with to save her from the justice demanded after she commit armed robbery… Um, yup.
I really enjoyed reading your piece, and, as usual, learned a lot. Specifically…Oh no, I didn’t just read what I read. – It was all a dream!
As a freelance editor, I have face-palmed many times when reading an author’s manuscript. I have even gone so far as to stop editing; suggesting a return to developmental editing while I drive a few Mack trucks through the plot holes – sideways. If there are too many WTF? moments in the plot, I kick it back to the author with a bunch of notes for rewrite.
Another pet peeve of mine is “too perfect” characters. If a character is stunningly gorgeous, has a perfect body, brilliant, savvy, rich, generous, and is (of course) completely humble–I’m done! I’ve thrown books across the room & then in the trash (unfinished) over unrealistic people. I don’t care *what* happens to them, good or bad. That also applies when the villain is all pure evil, hideous looking, utterly vicious…basically a total caricature. Another one going right into the trash. Give me characters with a complex mix of admirable traits, realistic flaws, and emotional depth–I’m in.
An engaging post because you present specific examples to highlight your ideas, and you manage to be funny as well. I think my personal favorite dislike is the totally fabricated twist ending that might fit well – in some other story.
omg yes, i recognize the errors you are talking about. I will not name any authors either but just recently I was reading a book that was made into a film. I couldn`t relate to the characters at all, the main one was dumber than, well dumber than.
Reblogged this on firefly465 and commented:
A great article about what not to do, please, from warriorwriters.wordpress.com
That Dallas moment, I wanted to explode! A twist isn’t a twist unless a seed is planted. Liked your post very much, thank you.
A SUPER POST Kristen, i keep the following as a strong reminder “Any plot that involves “protecting,” “evading,” “avoiding” or “remembering” is usually at the very least half-baked. These are all passive goals. “Maintaining” is not a story-worthy verb.
Thanks for the Mistakes to avoid, that twist thing really needs a sequel of events to have THE twist there! Greetings to you from Greece!
Hi Kristen – this was a great post. As I read it, I reviewed my own manuscript in my head and ticked off the boxes of what I covered and what I might need to change. Thanks!
Getting ready to edit Vol. III ms in my current series and finding your advice spot on. My Vol. I started off with a woman with “lost memories” – what was I thinking??! But I pulled it off (with prodding from an editor) via a subtext of insistent revolutionary ardor. Your advice here will help me get protagonist #3 through the devastating loss of a post-apocalyptic world…
Hate to be a hater, but the “glitter” girl whose pic you used has really struggled ever since that video went viral. She even considered suicide. She just made a mistake. Can you use a different picture? Let’s be kind (something you’re good at) and not persecute her in the media anymore.
I had no idea about a video. Changed it out 😉 .
Thank you ??
This post cracked me up. So true! These are book killers. I love the images, especially the one of the dragged cat. Perfect.
Amazing and hilarious advice as usual Kristen. Thank you.
Would love to reblog, but WP won’t allow me… Boooo!!
Have you read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy? This talk of plot twists made me think of it. He is a master at foreshadowing and plot twists. The entire third book was basically a count down to the big plot twist. I knew there was one coming, I was looking for it, coming up with lots of guesses, and it STILL shocked the heck out of me and blew me away.
You know? I’ve just finished a book just like this. I was counting the pages…
And all the way, I was thinking, is it possible that this author has never heard about not having a passive MC? Never heard of the MC needing to be proactive? It’s all over the place. Read any post about writing and you can’t avoid stumbling into this kind of advice. How is it ever possible that this author never stumbled into it????
#1 is so true. I was just reading a mystery and figured out the killer’s identity, but the protagonist was still wondering and guessing who tried to off her. It made me want to kill her, myself. Also #2 is exactly what my cat did when I tried to walk her on a leash, as did my two-year-old in Walmart. 🙁
I hate head hopping within a scene and also a story that jumps from present to past to present to past and on and on- though I read one recently that I enjoyed, it was distracting trying to remember which time period I was currently reading about
Can we add: “Ending that suddenly folds up like a paper hat in the last five pages”? I particularly remember reading one that made me think “Your publisher was on your back about your sixth missed deadline, wasn’t s/he?” It ended so fast I think it gave my mind whiplash, and up until then it had been really good.
There’s a pace to these things – too fast or too slow, and it either looks like you’ve been given an ultimatum (or got bored), or you can’t figure out how it ends and you’re wandering around looking under things to see if anyone left an idea there…
I agree totally, Theophania, but my favourite Shakespearean play also does that! Go back and reread Twelfth Night. You can just see the senior actor leaning over his shoulder and saying “Come on, Will: we’re on stage in three hours! You’ve got to wrap this thing up, I’m telling you!” If Shakespeare did it…. but I agree – it makes for an unsatisfactory taste in the mouth – as if you’ve gone for that last bite of creamy tiramisu, only to find that the waiter has whipped your bowl away before you had finished it.
Just because Shakespeare did it, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. 🙂 One could say, how much better would “Twelfth Night” been, if he hadn’t had the senior actor leaning over his shoulder, and could have taken more time over the ending?
Indeed. In fact, I do that every time I re-read it or see it performed. Damn that actor and opening night!
enjoyed your new post! when I see all these mems and pictures to the post… I think only: “OMG, they’re so awesome!”
P.S.Hope, no cats were harmed in the making of this picture
This is amnesia book. This is amnesia book on drugs. Don’t be amnesia book. Okay, got it!
I want to punch lots of books in the face, but I go for the throat to make a bigger impact. I hate when the protag can’t figure out if the boy likes her. Come on! I guess that goes with the ‘too dumb to live’ problem.
Good thinking points for my own writing- and for the reading of others! Thank you!
Sometimes a punch in the face is exactly what I need to fill those plot holes. Thanks much! 😉
I think I read this after seeing 5.2k reviews on Goodreads. BG by ECD? Protagonist is thick as a brick, Even on Amazon there is only 1 one star review! Total cheat of a story ending. Poirot did this in a couple of the last story lines, but not as bad. Not a fan of Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. Narrator needs to be somewhat trustworthy. Great blog post.
As I read the article, I couldn’t help but think of all those authors not traditionally published who enlist the services of an editor to help with setup, plot, etc. Thousands of dollars spent and the book may wind up not much better than if you did it with good advice from bloggers like Kristen. I don’t want to punch novels in the face, but I’ve been disappointed many times and just try to get the best out of what the author was trying to achieve. Some great writers lean heavily on character description and development in life situations, not so much plot development. I have run across the four and five-star reviewed books and shake my head in wonder when I can’t even force myself to slog through them and I don’t. Too much out there is excellent by writers who are gifted, constantly learn and practice their craft, and listen to readers. Great post, Kristen.
Just so you know, I love the phrase “Punch a book in the face”. I have totally been there with some books I’ve read. Fortunately, not too many. But I’ve had a couple that made me say, “Huh? But what happened to that other character? And…Huh??” 🙂
LOL whilst reading this ?. Could name two books I recently read that fit your descriptions perfectly. Don’t put my name in the hat though, I’m re-editing my books still (because of the ‘readers want emotion, not information’ rule I recently learned)…
Rotten research or total lack thereof, where the author makes things up. Something as trivial as having lilacs blooming in Connecticut in July will make me never buy another book by that author. I get too irritated by things like this.