The 7 inexcusable sins of writing, from a reader

Dear Authors, Writers, Novelists, Screenplays, Peoples who put words on pages for others: 

As a voracious Reader of books, please; there are some things you just should not do. This is my list of things authors do in fiction that drive me nuts. Detract from my enjoyment of reading – sometimes enough to put down a story in disgust, not to touch it again. Which is a real shame. So easily to avoid! The following maximizes reading enjoyment. Some are writing rules I have personally read about as a budding writer. (so shame on you for not following them, when they’re already out there!) [*of note – if these things annoy me, imagine the general population. I’m educated. [But not university writer diploma educated], intelligent, and language savvy. I pay attention and take notes.]

1. Use of identifiers in conversation quote writing. Stick to ‘said’. As much as possible. [I hear you – the siren song is strong to sprinkle in a healthy dose of  she moaned, she giggled, she whispered, he yelled, he choked, he gasped.] But don’t. It’s extremely distracting, and draws attention away from the story to the writing. Your writing ought to make clear exactly how it was meant. Using ‘said’ essentially is read like punctuation – it blends into the structural formatting, unnoticed. As it should. 

2. A multilingual story is not an enjoyable read. (Great for tv, where there are subtitles, but for all of the billions of us who don’t speak that second/third/fourth language you’re adding – it’s a nightmare.) And your book has no subtitles. I recently read a story that had so much ‘other’ language it it, I missed out of great chunk of the story. This book was not advertised or indicated in any way to be anything other than the primary language it was sold in. Even the use of a ‘common phrase’ or word – Please, don’t. What you may think is common and everyone must know – there will be people who do not. And you’re excluding them from the entirety of your book. One language only. [Unless you’re planning to add a complete translation in brackets, after every time [which would be ugly and annoying also] don’t do it.] If you do this, I’m probably not the only reader you’ll alienate, and who will never purchase another of your books. 

3. Worldbuilding. Yes, you must. In many stories. And I appreciate your inventiveness for naming beings, planetary systems, languages, technologies, etc. But keep it simple! Every time you use complicated nonsense words [naturally that can not be pronounced, remembered, or linked to the item/person/place/etc] I personally want to throttle the life out of you  [and your editor] and loudly vow to never buy another of your books. Yes, your made up beings on another planet, in another multiverse, need to seem ‘alien’, we understand. But I cannot enjoy a book that is crammed with words I can not pronounce. Words that are made up, so I can not mentally link them to X item/place/character. I suggest you keep them simple – and easily pronounceable – IF YOU MUST!  (and also be prepared to employ the stupid-english-people-language-rules as noted above. (Translate it in brackets . Every time.) You’re characters are getting stupid from drinking some prohibited liquid? (getting drunk on alcohol) and you want to call it mshka. (DON’T.)  If you must use some nonsense word, do us all the favor as forever calling it Mshka-alcohol. A book I recently read had a made up time system, with made up words for days, weeks, months, years, orbital cycles, etc. (I think??) but it was never really clear what meant what. So at one there was a ‘300 xxx’s”, which was integral to the story. Was it meant to be days, weeks, years? I could not tell. This is a disservice to your readers. There is no enjoyment in this, at all. Is your World building  worth losing story details over? As a reader – I’m telling you; please, call it something we recognize. And again, if you must – if your space station is named ANDAVAN. call them ‘andavan days’. (Notice I chose a pronounceable made-up name?)

As a side note, when you insist on filling your book with gibberish words, if I haven’t discarded it in disgust, vowing to never read another word of your book; then I employ a coping mechanism where I substitute out the nonsense word, for one I recognize. (Which is tiring, and annoying, but makes it better.) Your character is named Dgrumln? I’m now ‘reading’ Trueman. It’d be much nicer if a person didn’t have to resort to such lengths in order to try and enjoy your book. 

4. First person active Point Of View. Again, I understand the siren song of wanting to write in the real time first person. But it’s very hard to do, well. Let’s say I read 25 books as such. Maybe one would be enjoyable reading, getting it right. I have no advice on how to get it right. Only to think long and hard before you send out your hard wrung story into the world from this POV. It’s fantastic, when it’s right. But it very seldom is. I read one book recently that made me want to drink [heavily], it was so awful. Every thought. Every action. Every single thing. The character was pathetic, and filled with self doubt, and did not trust her own mind, so the thoughts were not only poorly written, but over and over and over and over. Just shoot me now, please. Reading that book was hours of my life I will never get back. And I resent the author for it. [But more so the editor, for letting such a terrible piece of writing get published.] (*bonus notes: Great first person writing POV read The Murderbot Diaries. Martha’s writing is brilliant. and perfection in every sense. )

5. Endings. If you end your book in any way remotely with a cliff-hanging ‘want to know what happens next? Buy the next book in the series.’ I will personally wish you a slow, painful, death where you are tortured by not being allowed to sleep, only to read hundreds of such books – and never the book with the completion of the story, until your cry in anguish, until you die of dehydration.  To be clear, this is about not finishing your story. Closing the circle. If you’ve completed the story, all the loose ends are tied, and the readers will be Completely satisfied with the ending; You’re golden. And you have threads that lead into another ‘chapter’ in your series? Great. I’m on board with that. But your book, must be a full , complete, satisfying story. Without a doubt, if I invest dozens of hours reading one of these cliff hangers – where the story is left un-done? Guaranteed, I WILL ABSOLUTELY NOT BE BUYING YOUR NEXT BOOK. Or anything else you write, ever. You’ve betrayed me, and my trust. You’re a cruel, heartless, money grabbing, asshole; with no common decency or compassion. And your editor is also to blame. Shame on them. 

6. You made your Thing ‘inclusive’ only to check boxes. Colored people: Check. Gay people? Check. Disabled people? Check. Check, check check! I’ll also turn off tv shows as such. Yes, I support equal opportunity. (I am those people.) But more importantly – putting the right character in the right place, at the right time. Not every story makes sense to check boxes just because. Doing so is a disservice to your story, in my opinion. 

[What drives me even more crazy is the one direction nature of this beast. Maybe you’ve noticed this too? If a tv drama is generally anything, then it ‘must’ have all the boxes checked, regardless of the story theme. (Your pirate movie must have a trans person, a disabled person, a mentally challenged person, an overweight woman, an Asian, an African American, a Native American, etc etc etc – regardless of how improbable the reality is that they fit in this specific story.) Gotta check those boxes! However, go ahead and watch a movie like Mulan. The rules don’t apply, apparently, if you’re a minority. In this Asian-centric story… all the cast – are Asian. Where is the diversity! Why aren’t the boxes checked?!?!?!  This is my point. It is perfectly resonable for an Asian story to have all Asian actors. Diversity would only make it look rediculous. So… they don’t need to check all the boxes. (?) As would seem Logical. But your pirate story, does. That’s the singular direction. The rule is only applicable to some. And this annoys me beyond measure. Use Diversity – as is appropriate, not for checking fucking boxes. The fact that this is the way the industry is driven right now – where it’s applied in an non-logical manner, is disheartening. What is the world of writing coming to, that we must put Checking Fucking Boxes, before the integrity of our stories? That our stories get attacked for not checking boxes? That movie was not diverse enough. ]

7. If you use the phrase ‘take a beat’; or any variation use of ‘beat’; I will personally hunt you down and slap you silly.  [I have come across the use of this specific language, with increased regularity lately.]  A ‘Beat’, is a word used in screenplays, for actors, as a cue, for pausing. If you’re not a screenplay writer, or actor; chances are good you do not know this. [I googled it, after much usage was crossed, because I hate not understanding what is meant when I am reading something.] From wikipedia: “A beat is the timing and movement of a film or play. In the context of a screenplay, it usually represents a pause in dialogue.”  Additionally, to complicate things-  a ‘beat’, can be a reference to an event, decision, or discovery that alters the way the protagonist pursues his or her goal. 

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