What annoys me in a novel?

With my obsession to tell a better story, I keep running across the same old things that frustate the hell out of me.

I read a lot. In fact, I read a lot more than I used to.

I wish I could read for pleasure.

But I can’t.

Those times have passed me by.

Novels have become my textbooks.

I read to learn.

Why did an author say that?

And why did he say it that way?

How is he building his characters?

Does the dialogue work?

Does the conversation sound real?

Where does the plot go from here?

Why didn’t he fill that hole in the story?

And I wish I could write that way.

I pay attention to the way an author slams his nouns and adjectives together.

They should sound like a clap of thunder.

When they don’t. I begin to worry about the writing. If an author is strong with one paragraph, he should never be weak with the others.

With all of this reading, with my obsession to tell a better story, I keep running across the same old things that annoy the hell out of me.

One: Beginning the novel with the weather: The day broke clear and sunny with only a few wisps of clouds overhead, and he smiled at the beautiful young girl walking past his driveway.

Tells me nothing.

I’m disappointed.

Should I keep reading?

I’m bored already.

He could keep the weather if he had only written: The day broke clear and sunny with only a few wisps of clouds overhead, and he was still smiling at the beautiful young girl walking past his driveway when she paused a moment, smiled back, removed a 9mm pistol from her purse and shot him twice, the second time pressed against the back of his head.

Now I’m hooked.

Why would a beautiful girl on a sunny day do such a dastardly deed?

Two: When two lovers say goodbye, probably forever.

“Goodbye,” she whispered.

“Goodbye,” he answered.

“Is this forever?”

“I have a job in another town.”

“Can I go with you.”

“You have a good job here.”

“I will always miss you,” she said.

“Just think about me sometime.” He smiled. “I’ll be thinking of you.”

Not bad.

But where’s the ache?

Where is the suspense and angst of separation?

In Secrets of the dead, I let two lovers depart this way.

“Someone has to die.” Herschel had said it once. He said it again. He turned and walked away, leaving Corinne struggling for words.

“I will never see you again?” she whispered.

Only her own ears heard the question.

Herschel Grynszpan had walked into the night.

It was as though he had crawled into a grave and pulled the dirt down on top of him.

Corinne wanted to run after him.

But the German was out there.

Waiting for him.

Waiting for her.

She let him leave alone.

Corinne was not ready to die.

Three:  In the same vein, I am annoyed by introductions.

“Tom, I’d like you to meet Gerald, my attorney.”

“Glad to meet you, Gerald,” Tom said.

“Gerald, this is Tom. He and worked together in El Paso years ago.”

“My pleasure, Tom. And who is the young lady?”

“Tom, I would like for you and Gerald to meet Sophie. She and I are already planning our wedding.”

“Glad to meet you, dear,” Tom said.

“Likewise,” Gerald said.

“I’m so pleased to meet you both,” Sophie said. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

Wasted days.

Wasted nights.

Wasted words.

Wasted my time.

As a reader, I’m sorry I met any of them, and I’m already looking for another novel where the characters know each other, or the author can write: By the time they reached the restaurant, Gerald and Tom felt as though they were old friends and quite smitten with the young girl Frederick intended to marry.

Four: Prolonged fights. Jefferson hit him first as he came around the corner, and David went down to his knees. Jefferson hit him again, and David rolled against the brick wall of the pool hall. David rose slowly to his feet and slammed Jefferson in the stomach. The big man wheezed and staggered back. David drove his shoulder into Jefferson’s chest and both men tumbled to the ground.

At this point, I fear that the fight may go on forever.

I’m ready to walk off and let them fight as long as they want.

I’d rather the author write: Jefferson’s first blow knocked David to the ground. It was the only punch he landed. David came up amidst the garbage cans with a shovel in his hand. One swing to the back of Jefferson’s head, and David walked out of the alley bruised and alone.

Long drawn-out fights work in a movie, perhaps, but not in a novel, at least not in a novel I’m reading or about to quit reading.

In a good story, every word counts.

Never use more than you need.

And don’t throw the good ones away.

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  • Great points.

    I learned to write a fight scene for PC1, and, as I’m writing a current scene with some violence, realized I should go reread that one.

    It is now obvious, but the key part of the fight scene in PC1 is a SINGLE sentence.

    I did the same thing for PC2 (in a quite different context), and I think it really works.

    Setup is critical, and aftermath gets the time it needs, but there is no time DURING violence to do more than the obvious.

    But if I hadn’t taken it apart, I wouldn’t have known what I did – by instinct. Twice now. Huh.

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