Writers and readers use the term all the time: bad writing.

But, what do we mean when we say “bad writing”?

I hate when people get basic facts about NYC wrong. I don’t like when they say an Avenue goes north, when it only goes south. I don’t like when they get the flavor of a neighborhood wrong. I don’t like it when it’s obvious the author has never stepped foot inside any of the five boroughs. The city is a living breathing thing- it’s practically a character. Make sure you understand NYC before you write about it.

I hate when authors say that someone got a scholarship to an Ivy League school. I get that the author is trying to say just how smart and special someone is. But the truth is, Ivies don’t give out athletic scholarships- it’s not their thing. And while these schools are need blind and will give you financial aid if you qualify, there really are almost no merit scholarships at these schools. Yes, there are grants and fellowships and other ways for a student to receive money for tuition. But to blindly say someone got a scholarship is a misnomer. Frankly, with acceptance rates below 5% for the Ivies, it’s enough to say that a kid got in.

I hate when numbers don’t add up. Like, you say someone got married in year Y, and then they talk about the age somewhere else, and the math is just wrong. I know. I can be a bit…ummm…what’s the word…anal about stuff like this.

Many of the things that take me out of a book are more about little niggling details. I figure if you are going to include these details, take the time to make sure that you are getting the facts straight. Some may not think this is bad writing, but it is for me.

Let’s see what else annoys me…

I hate when too many brand names are used to describe things. I get that sometimes saying a brand really puts you in a place. I just finished a book that talks about Hermes scarves. It’s really the only time that the author uses a specific brand, and she kinda sorta explains the cachet to someone who might not instantly understand the “importance” of a Hermes scarf. It’s a great way to use a brand to the advantage of the book. However, to say that someone was wearing Chanel, and Louboutin and drives a Mercedes and carried a Birkin… It just goes too far. I think after the first “name” is dropped, we get the idea that a character is flashy, or rich, or showy. We don’t need to list the name of every department from Saks…To me, to endlessly drop names is lazy writing. Lazy writing is bad writing.

But while we are on descriptions…

I hate over description. I hate when a paragraph is a laundry list of what a room looks like. I don’t need to “see” every piece of furniture in a room. I don’t need to have a complete 360 visual of the kitchen unless it’s totally germane to the plot, in say a mystery. Give me the details that matter. Leave out the fluff. Let the details come organically- it keeps with the flow of a passage. Don’t give me reason to daydream about something else when I am reading the book. Too much description takes me out of the story. I can switch on HGTV if I want to see a description of a house.

I hate when some detail is repeated too many times in a book. I recently read something that told about the kid’s phone four times. While this detail ended up being relevant to the conclusion, it got irritating to read it so many times. If a reader didn’t catch the reference after reading it once, then the author shouldn’t over explain it. Don’t treat the reader as if they are an idiot. More often than not, we get it.

Don’t include every societal issue out there in one book. I want to read books about all the social issues, but I don’t want to read them in the same book. Too many times lately authors have tried to force every single issue we face today into a 350 page novel. When you do this, you make each issue more trivial. Focus on one issue. Give justice to the one issue and do it well. Then write another book about another issue. Give that issue justice and write it well.

Try not to join the copycat bandwagon. After Gone Girl, it seemed that every book needed a “twist”. News flash, after the first one or two copy cat books, we all started to figure out the twist. Then we began not to care about the twist. Be original. Publishers- do you hear me? We like original…

Wow.

There’s really a lot I don’t like.

Shocking.

And maybe my peeves are not necessarily bad writing, but really bad storytelling.

But I really want to know, what irks you when you are reading a book? What are your bookish pet peeves?

116 thoughts on “Bad Writing

  1. I read a book recently that annoyed me because of the ‘bad writing’. It was light hearted and the idea for the story was good but the details were just not thought through. In one example a character was supposedly the youngest first lieutenant in his area at 34 but then his boss in his late fifties had been the commander in chief for 30 years. I know nothing about these rankings but even to me that didn’t make sense. Just reads as if no one has bothered to edit it.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. I once stopped reading a book because the author used the word irony constantly. I decided I was going to stop reading if I saw the word irony one more time. It only took one more page for that to happen.
    I stopped watching a TV show because they got the DC Metro system so wrong.
    I don’t generally have hard rules for what bothers me. I just kniw it when I see it.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I agree with all your assessments except for the details. I LOVE details. That isn’t lazy writing, or neglecting to edit properly and do the research. That is a matter of taste. If you love Dickens, Tolstoy, or Shakespeare, you’ll want the detail. I WANT to walk into a room and see everything. I’m visual. I wonder what type of flowers are on the wallpaper in the kitchen., especially if it’s a period novel. What kind of bone china Is the heroine drinking tea from. What paintings are on the walk? If I’m reading a Victorian novel I want to see the dim lit streets, hear the sound of heels on the cobblestone. And if I don’t read it I feel let down. To me then the writer was lazy. I think the style and detail of writing often depends on how contemporary the book.

    It’s like art. I’d rather see realism as opposed to splatters of paint strewn across a canvass. But that’s personal taste. I think stylized writing is just taste. In a futuristic novel I’d want to read about all the technology details. I like details. It’s Personal taste.

    I find many writers today are lazy. I think editing is haphazardly done. But publishing is different today.

    What irks me the most is bad grammar. I can’t stand a book I have to edit, with glaring mistakes! I hate that. It drives me nuts that I’ve downloaded and paid for a book only to discover it’s filled with incorrect grammar that any fourth grader should know. Ugh! Hate that.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. It’s funny, because I don’t think of Shakespeare as being overly detailed. True, the description are vivid, but they are organic to his writing. Same with Tolstoy and Dickens. They never listed things…they made these details a living breathing part of the story. Some writers today…they just don’t know how to describe

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Very true! That’s the brilliance of a great writer. It IS natural.
        And yes, Listing is the worst. I didn’t even think about listing just of enjoying details. It’s all how it’s written isn’t it? One of the reasons Austen has remained so relevant and popular is how natural her dialogue and characterizations are. There is an art to it. Some writers have it, others don’t. Readers certainly do pick up on what doesn’t work.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. So many pet peeves…..
    – when eyes are described as green/blue/brown orbs.
    – when a fantasy author makes up a magic system, and proceeds to describe it eleventy-million times. Like yes, sir, I got it the first five times. You’re probably just trying to make sure the reader knows what’s going on, but I am not stupid and it just sounds like you’re saying, “Look! Aren’t I clever!” after a while.
    – Inventories meant to serve as descriptions of a place. Knowing there is a clock on the north wall and five chairs in the room does nothing for me unless the clock and chairs are relevant to the story.
    – When Medieval weapons are used incorrectly in fantasy novels
    – When the “feminist” woman of historical or fantasy novels disdains feminine clothes/hobbies/occupations because she’s too good for sewing.
    – When the historical novel character just happens to meet all the famous people of their time
    – Bad writing in general. Like writing that looks like the author sat down with a thesaurus and decided they couldn’t use the word “said” because that’s passe. Or they don’t know how to form a clear sentence so each sentence wanders around aimlessly. Or they straight up don’t know the definitions of words.

    I have other bookish pet peeves, but I just woke up and haven’t had coffee yet….

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Inventories! That’s the perfect word for it!! Why do we need this!! And yes…I didn’t even begin to get into historical fiction and the complete inaccuracies that the writers toss around!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Exposition has to be handled carefully and parceled out sparingly. Character and story backgrounds are needed only five or at most ten percent of the story. In the other 90 to 95 percent, the story and characters must speak for themselves.

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  6. I agree with being overly descriptive. I like details to an extent but I don’t need to know every last detail of what someone looks like or everything in the room because honestly I will forget 99% of it right after reading it. Also bad grammar is a pet peeve of mine. I don’t expect a book to be perfect I know there will be some mistakes here and there and that doesn’t bother me but when it’s so bad that there’s a mistake on every single page that takes me out of the story. And repetitiveness gets on my nerves. Mention something once maybe twice beyond that it’s to much for me and becomes annoying.

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  7. Great post.
    Regarding the Ivies—I didn’t know everything you posted but sometimes I think authors go to far to make the character “special”.
    Social issues–not a book but I felt that TV series Downton Abbey went to far with tackling too many social issues.
    Descriptions–sometimes I like them—not sure I need to know over and over about a character’s lustrous ethereal platinum blonde hair but other descriptions help set a tone.
    Agree about things like Birkin bags etc.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That’s my thing…when authors go out of their way to show how special a character is. There needs to be better ways to do this. And why do we need to feel more for someone because they get good grades? Is that the sum total of a person? Pre pandemic, I saw the Broadway show Jagged little Pill. It literally tackled every social issue we face. But as nothing was actually explored or dealt with, the premise just seemed false and insignificant

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  8. Your note about over description made me smile — since I recently read this passage in a Haruki Murakami novel: “the room was like a room that Charles Dickens would’ve taken ten pages to describe” (that’s not verbatim, but close enough). I agree about that pet peeve. Another one of mine is repetition. Another novel I recently read included “It was” and “There were” very often, even multiple times in a single paragraph. That distracted me from the story, and the usage started seeming lazy to me.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I am reading a popular C.S. Lewis novel, Out of the Silent Planet. I fall asleep so fast! Too much description for me. I like twists, but I don’t read as many books as you do, so I can see how that would get old for you. I barely have time to read these days. Just trying to keep up with my favorite bloggers.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. The whole timeline mess is a big peeve of mine. If you are going to put ages and dates that need to line up in a book, then they need to be accurate. This coming from someone that sucks at and really dislikes math. If the math doesn’t add up, it is going to irritate me and yank me out of the story. I’m the same with character actions. If your character is doing something and it is noted specifically and then the author jumps to the character doing something else entirely, but there isn’t anything that shows how that character went from point A to point B, it trips me up. I don’t need step by step explicit details, but when you are walking through a scene in detail and then cut out the details in the middle of the scene, you can lose your reader.

    I’m a little torn on the over descriptive aspect of writing. I’ve read some where there isn’t nearly enough detail of things in a story and I don’t get a good feel of things. Other times, I’ve read stories that are so overburdened with detail that it’s frustrating. In most cases, you really don’t need to spend half a chapter on describing a room. I’m a very visual person when I read, so the details are important to me, but I do have my limits.

    I’d say a big portion of what we call bad writing is really bad editing. The writing itself isn’t that bad, but the attention to detail, the parts that the reader is going to be invested in, isn’t where it should be or gets missed. I know how easy it is to accidentally break a plot line, like putting a conversation that mentions a event that hasn’t happened in the story yet because it got moved around. But those are things that should be caught in the editing and review process before publishing. No book is ever going to be perfect, but some things simply shouldn’t get missed.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. You said authors are putting too many issues into one novel, I’m wondering if both writers and publishers have one eye on their artform, the other political correctness and fearful of what the Twittersphere will have to say, they have the power to kill a book film or TV drama stone dead…………over the pond many episodes from brilliantly funny 1970s British comedies have been removed from BBC streaming, works of art in themselves to be replaced by bland formulaic ‘rubbish’………..unfunny irrelevant and written in a way as to offend no one. Will be sad to see publishers and authors lose their nerve.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. 😦 Sadly………..depressingly…… PC is here to stay, a cancel culture is sweeping through British television, I could give you 25+ situation comedies that have been banned removed or censored, and two streamed programs I’ve watch this week have been proceeded with a ‘will cause offense’ warning AND I blame Twitter!!!!!!……………Sadly I’d guess ‘The Life Of Brian’ will one day be quietly removed 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Lately, I feel that a lot of the newer books are not well written. When I say that, I can’t tell if they were self published or if they were traditionally published, rushed to publish them so there is not a strong plot or story line, the voice is boring.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Fully agree to your list! 👏🏻
    One I’d like to add, (to name some really bad writing), is when they list things that happen like a child telling a story. Example : “I got up. I drank coffee. And then I got dressed. And then I walked to my car. And then I grabbed my bag and got out of the car. I walked up to the store. And I greeted the employee.”
    That’s such bad writing! I recently read a book that had that. Now I don’t know if the original in English was this bad as well, because mine was a translation. But it was awful 🙈

    Liked by 2 people

  14. My biggest pet peeve when reading a book, I would have to say, is when the author spends a lot of time developing the characters and the plot and then starts racing to the end in the last chapters. It feels unbalanced, I feel cheated and disgruntled.

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  15. Yes, I think this is bad storytelling, you’re talking about. I actually hate bad writing, where the author or editor didn’t know that a comma goes inside the quotation marks, or something like that. And as an editor, I can spot things quickly, and then I’m distracted the remainder of the novel. For example, the last fiction novel I read, I could tell it was indie, even though it was never stated, because they didn’t spell out the number 30. All numbers under 100 are spelled out in professional books, and this just drove me crazy. Then, I started actively looking for other errors.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s a great one! And so true! It’s like the author realizes they’re on page 250, and really want to finish up the story at 300, so they start throwing it together

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I agree with your list of “bad writing.” When I first began to write, I had a friend who read my manuscripts and gave me suggestions. He was a published novelist and had several movies, including the cult movie “To Live and Die in LA.” He said he had a sign, “Your reader is a genius,” and pinned it above his computer.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yeah…he went overboard trying to describe, was it Patrick Bateman? (Haven’t read that in a bunch of years) as being a wealthy investment banker. But that was the hallmark of those 80s brat pack writing clique

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  17. I can forgive a lot as long as it is entertaining.

    However, as a pedant and lover of good research, I’m now stuck with the problem of whether I should point out that Hermes is a Greek god. and that the producer of scarves is Hermès, with an accent over the second e.

    Do I want to look like a pedant, or do I want to impress you with my eagle eye and fearless pursuit of accuracy?

    Such a fine line . . . 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  18. I hate repetitive adjectives or words, if they are repeated within the same chapter, but am probably guilty as charged., as I tend to overuse “lovely.” One of the (best seller) British murder mysteries I read, described the protagonist as wearing “a waxed jacket” so many times that it got to be annoying, esp. as I didn’t know what one was and had to look it up. I guess it’s a necessity with English weather.

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  19. Over complicating language or the story for the sake of adding pages to the books total, or some other reason, which matters less to me than, I got it the first 5 times, stop writing about it now. That’s my biggest one…

    Liked by 3 people

  20. I’ve read some historical fiction lately that bugged me when something was historically inaccurate – even coming from a big-name author. Bad grammar and typos or misused words (like reading “phase” when they mean “faze”).

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  21. “Don’t give me reason to daydream about something else when I am reading the book.” So true.
    I dislike over description (the older authors did it, too, but somehow that doesn’t irritate me), bad grammar/proof reading, repetition and nowadays, the way some authors seem to ‘sell’ a character. Why not let the reader decide which character to like or not?
    Also, it really upsets me when wrong things are passed off as right. An example – I don’t mind reading about dishonest people succeeding. But to write about an unscrupulous person as the perfect human being!
    I’ve been labelled a cynic in my book club, but I can’t seem to change. I started reading when I was 5, never stopped, and am 59 now. Maybe that’s the reason I am somewhat sceptical of many new offerings. The only new(to me) author whose books I pick up without reservation is Ann Patchett.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sell a character! I know! I read a book recently where the author tried so hard to make the reader live a character, and I just didn’t. I know when we discuss it at book club people are going to wonder about me!

      Liked by 2 people

  22. I expect that when an author’s biography states they teach creative writing at tertiary level, they will do the research and get facts right. Just because a novel is fiction, doesn’t mean you get away with blatantly incorrect statements. I have ditched books that have irritated me with the minutiae that are wrong.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. I have sooo many pet peeves, but the one that stands out right now is in a book that I’m currently reading. The author seems to be British, and has apparently never been to Maine, where the story is set. No one in their right mind is going to rush off to Maine in February without a proper coat and footwear! Also, the characters use British words that Americans don’t typically use. I’ve never been to Maine, but I’m fairly sure I could have written this better.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I know! My author friend was writing about a place he’d never been. He contacted three different people who lived there to make sure he was getting the flavor right

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  24. Anything that takes me out of the story, is boring or makes me want to put the book down and, especially, a piss-poor ending. I don’t mind a grammatical error here or there; but when these errors start adding up, that’s annoying as hell. I’ll end up putting the book down and asking myself, “I paid good money for this s@$%?”

    Liked by 3 people

  25. I am right there with you. I hate it when the timeliness don’t add up or my personal favorite, when a narrator of an audiobook pronounces something wrong. I live in Michigan, Michigan city names are stupid hard and pronounced in crazy ways. I listened to a book that took place in Michigan and that narrator had me cringing the whole time. Do your research, it made me wonder about the author since the author obviously didn’t care about it. Isn’t there editors, quality control, something like that.

    Also, is it just me or does it seem like sometimes in a fast paced scene, something gets missed and you end up rather confused and having to reread it just to realize that it really doesn’t make sense. Like a fight scene where limbs are moving in ways/directions they physically can’t.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Good, here I am thinking I’m an idiot for not getting it. You would think the writer and publisher would be smart enough to pull this off. Goes to show that degree isn’t doing as much for you as everyone would like to think.

        Liked by 1 person

  26. Good subject! I think what annoys me the most with a book is when a 400 page story could have been 200 pages. When a story is drawn out. I can read long books, no problem. But don’t waste my time in dragging out a story for no real purpose!

    Liked by 3 people

  27. When I’m reading a good book, I want to be drawn into the story completely, to believe it and feel it. So I hate too many details that do nothing but annoy, or when an author inserts his or her political or religious views clumsily into the narrative, or when they get something seriously wrong. (We love toasted ravioli here in St. Louis. It comes breaded and fried, served with red sauce. I once read a book that was supposed to take place in St. Louis and the protagonist ordered some toasted ravioli which arrived “swimming in butter.” No, they don’t!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s those little details that the author didn’t bother to fact check! They drive me crazy. And the politely/religious opinion…..I don’t care. Unless I am reading a non fiction book about the subject, I don’t want to hear petty arguments in a fiction book I’m reading for pleasure

      Liked by 2 people

  28. 🤣 Oh my! Tell us how you REALL feel!! Books that ramble on with unnecessary details irritate me. If I can skip pages of paragraphs and still know what’s going on, that part of the storyline was irrelevant.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. I hate it when the author spends way too much time plotting and not much in the ending, I’ll read it with full interest and the end gets disappointing. And most of the times the jobs they describe and make the characters do is not accurate at all.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Nice post! I too dislike few parts in the books where woman are objectified way too much that she is projected as a centre of attention that guys go nuts. I mean, there is nothing wrong in it, but there’s nothing new as well. I like to read a story which is different, which does not talk about beauty but love, something of that sort. Well, I dislike when author tries to localize the character by giving a certain dialect to it in order to make him appear real. That’s fine, but sometimes it makes the character seem too fictious.

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  31. I am in total agreement on the number of social issues that should be included in a book. Choose one–and maybe one more if it is related to the first one. That’s enough. Do it well. Convince me. Make me want to agree and/or take action. I also don’t like the repetition of what the main character is eating. There may be occasions when it is important, but like the brand name dropping, the reader gets the idea pretty quickly. More than that feels like filling up the space to achieve a word count. That is insulting to the reader.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Completely agree on both of these. I read something recently that touched on 8 different social issues. You get to the point where you care about none of them because it’s like they’re just thrown in to make some sort of point

      Liked by 1 person

  32. AH THIS. i don’t really know what puts me off in a book, not yet. but i’ve noticed that YA books with a lot of american lingo and just old american-y/pop culture terms on every other page that i need to google- they put me offf! idk if that’s bad writing but i would rather not prefer those books.
    GREAT PIECE, BTW!

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Just like you mentioned, I don’t like it when authors over describe things. It gets quite boring to be honest. And I also don’t like it that much when there are one too many characters. I prefer books which revolve around one or say 4 people at most

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