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…
There’s really a lot I don’t like.
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?