What things annoy me most in a novel?

If an author starts a novel with the weather, something bad, odd, or unusual better happen.
If an author starts a novel with the weather, something bad, odd, or unusual better happen.

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 in twice, the second time with the muzzle 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 everybody has to say good night or goodbye.

“Good night, mother,” the child said.

“Good night, dear.”

“Good night, daddy,” the child called across the hallway.

“Goodnight, sweetheart,” the daddy called back.

Wouldn’t it be better if the author simply wrote: They said their good nights, and the room went dark as mother switched off the light in the hall.

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 has the good sense to 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.


Please click the book cover image to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his books. In his novels, nobody ever says hello, goodbye, or good night. And the weather is usually one of the villains.


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  • Caleb Pirtle

    I like stories that race hell bent for leather toward a finish line. Please don’t waste my time with scenes and dialogue that don’t move the story along.

    • I totally agree with you, Caleb, and like you, I have zero tolerance for
      poorly put together books. Nowadays, with all the free books and
      giveaways, I have taken to deleting immediately as soon as something’s
      wrong and you’ve just given us a perfect rundown of everything that can
      go wrong!

      I wish more writers would pay attention to what you’ve
      just said here. I do have to say, though, that writing hasn’t meant for
      me that I enjoy reading less. I enjoy reading just as much as I have
      always done. It’s just that I’ve become a little more demanding in terms
      of quality. For example, one of the things I can’t stand is the habit
      of so many writers to use dialogue as an info-dump, an occasion to bring
      in backstory information. It doesn’t work, the dialogue sounds
      immediately stilted and unnatural and it makes me slam the book shut!

      Thanks for sharing your POV, as always, illuminating.

  • Lira Brannon

    You named so many of that things that annoy me too, but I think as writers we tend to have a more critical eye. Take A Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin–a whole chapter devoted to a horse loose in the snow but the tale is still grabbed me and pulled me in.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Lisa: A horse loose in the snow would have captivated me, too, unless of course he spent the chapter introducing himself to other horses or telling them all good night. The horse in the snow moved the plot forward and created the emotional response we needed to feel about the situation.

  • I have a hard time reading for pleasure, too – I am continually jerked out of the state of ‘suspension of disbelief’ necessary to read by typos, awkward constructs, and people being described from the top of their heads to their toes. Gimme a hint – move on.

    Tell me something I don’t know – and I’m your for the duration. Unless you then start dumping backstory in large lumps.

    I prefer to feel very smart as I assemble the story out of the author’s hints.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Too often, Alicia, I believe that writers become more enamored with their words than their stories. They quit telling the story and start to show off.

      • I think writers get lazy. It takes time and effort to slip the information the reader needs in painlessly in little chunks and hints here and there than to put ‘everything the reader needs to know’ into a large indigestible paragraph and move on.

        The thing is, since many readers skip these infodumps, they don’t get the information anyway. So it doesn’t even accomplish the shortcut the writer intended.

        And if waxing lyrical doesn’t contribute to the story, only the ‘atmosphere,’ it had better be much more entertaining than it usually is. Mostly I just stop reading. If it’s in the sample – I don’t buy.

    • Gae-Lynn Woods

      I have a hard time reading for pleasure, too, Alicia. That’s probably why I’m reluctant to step away from my tried and trusted authors. Like you, I love that feeling of putting the puzzle together as a great author leads me through the story.

      • If I’d known writing might ruin reading, I would have done a cost/benefit analysis first.

        I never knew how slow I would be, either (disability-caused), when I began writing.

        It’s too late now. I’m addicted.

        Fortunately, I can still read Travis McGee and the real Sherlock Holmes stories and… But new stuff? I’m having a very bad time justifying the time it takes and the loss of my focus.

        I wish I were one of those authors like King who write for a set period every day – and still have energy to read for a big chunk of time, too.

        I have to choose, with the additional problem that it takes me days to get back to making forward progress every time I have to skip a writing session. Hard choices.

        • Caleb Pirtle

          Time is the one tightrope we all have to walk. I used to read a lot and write a little. Now it is all reversed.

      • Caleb Pirtle

        Gae-Lynn: I love putting the pieces together. But more importantly for me, I love having to use the jigsaw every once in a while to re-create the pieces that didn’t fit.

  • I discard half of the books that I was excited about reading because: The first (or if I can get to two) chapter is a grammatical landmine, the author is trying to squeeze the character development into one chapter and boring me to tears with middle names and nicknames, and/ or there is no catchy start. I love reading. I hate reading poorly written NYT Bestsellers!
    I think writers have gotten a bit sassy – they think readers will read anything.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I love what you say: I love reading. I hate reading poorly written NYT bestsellers. They are usually made bestsellers by New York authors, publishers, and book reviewers who create their success at cocktail parties that linger into the night. Real authors write with the readers in mind. Give them the best you got then move on.

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