Worst Pet Peeves
By Jamais Jochim
There are many things that I look for in a book, and I’m generally flexible. However, there are a few things that drive me crazy as a reviewer. My personal five worst peeves are pretty specific:
Mary Sues: I want to see the main character suffer, and I want to know that the challenge may not be overcome. Because of this I hate characters that are consistently well-prepared for everything, have skills and other abilities to deal with everything, and basically over-power the competition. A character without weaknesses is boring and means that I will get bored quickly with that character’s story. If the worst thing your character has to deal with is a traumatic past, it had better cause some actual problems.
The Bar Test: The best test of a character is this: If the person was at a bar, an English pub if you need specifics, could this person handle himself with others? Even a total misanthrope needs the company of others. The problem is that too many characters take misanthropy to new levels, either by separating themselves from humanity, ticking everyone off, or just being a major jerk. If the main character isn’t interested in others, it is going to be a book that’s not going to be interesting to read for very long. I’m obviously not saying that all characters need to be rainbows and unicorns, but there needs to be some reason to read about this character.
The Abstract Symbolism of Amphibian Rocks: I hate artistic books. The problem is that too many authors are more interested in writing an abstract painting than they are in writing a good book. I can track non-linear storytelling; I’m a sci-fi fan who loves time travel stories. I can appreciate a good metaphor and a recurring theme. But your book needs to tell a story first and foremost, and do that well. If you can’t do that, then all of the symbolism in the world will not save your book, and I’ve seen authors try. It’s not pretty. Just remember that the story comes first and the decorations second and you’ll do well.
Non-fiction Issues: Online I like a good discussion. This means that I like tearing apart arguments for fun. When it comes to non-fiction non-reference works, such as management books, I’m not looking so much for something that is the same as what everyone else thinks as I’m looking for something I don’t need to quibble with every few paragraphs. You as an author have an opinion, and odds are that you wrote the book in order to back that opinion by showing that you are an expert. Nothing kills that expert status quicker than forcing the reader to look things up. Never preach to the choir; write to convince a non-believer that you have a valid point, and back that point up with facts, not opinion. Win me over or you will hate the review.
Writer Condescension: Above all, never talk down to your audience. Too many writers forget that readers tend to be a smart crowd and that we can quickly tell if someone actually likes to write or not. The biggest clue is that the author is talking down to his audience or, even worse, using the biggest words that he can find in order to somehow eliminate the rubes that shouldn’t be reading his book. Do that and I will call you on it. I’m an ex-theoretical physics major whose read a few books on philosophy, and I didn’t score too badly on my SAT’s; condescend to me and likely you will get a bad review.
Remember those tips, and I may give you a good review. I love books, and I’ll at least give you a fair shake. Give me one and we’ll at least get along!
Jamais Jochim is a hyperkinetic freelance writer with a few books and a webcomic under his belt. He has a two blogs (one about writing comics and one about how to survive puberty), as well as a podcast about webcomics (wcri.info). Hoping to get into scriptwriting, he is also an avid table-top gamer. He likes reading science fiction, sequential art, and business books as well as the occasional bit of science, philosophy and art. Otherwise, he just likes to watch television…