Top Ten Tuesday—Top Ten Book Turn-Offs

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s theme is Top Ten Book Turn-Offs, the kinds of things that immediately put you off as you’re reading.

1. Alternating narrators or POV characters. If you have an ensemble cast or more than one protagonist, you should use third-person omniscient, NOT constantly bop back and forth between each and every main character, one chapter at a time. This is just sad evidence of the decline and unpopularity of my beloved third-person omniscient in the modern era.

2. The overuse and misuse of first-person present tense. This tense/POV combo can work very well to create a dramatic, tense, compelling mood. Say, a Shoah memoir, a book narrated by a very young child, a book about bullying or depression, a stream-of-consciousness-type narrative. NOT a contemporary novel set in a high school. When every other YA book, both published and aspiring to be published, in the last 5 or so years is FPPT, it really starts to feel like mindlessly following a trend instead of truly merited by the subject matter.

3. Too much needless cursing and/or vulgarity. I had way too much casual swearing in the Atlantic City books I wrote as a teen and in my very early twenties, and I now recognise they need a lot of pruning. It doesn’t even feel satirical as I read back on them, just embarrassing. A little goes a long way, like spices in food. Having several hundred f words and other curses in each book is overkill even for a spoof. (It also seems hilarious how they seriously use the silly, childish euphemism “make” instead of “piss,” given how many f words they’re constantly shooting off!)

4. If you’re writing romance or erotica, I kind of expect you to have at least a basic familiarity with sexual anatomy. I want to bang my head against a wall every time I come across some writer who thinks the hymen (now more accurately renamed the corona) is located several inches into the body. No. Just no.

5. Instalove. Enough said.

6. Over the top stereotyping. If it’s meant to be satirical and having fun with or reclaiming old stereotypes, a little goes a long way. Even if an African-American, Chinese-American, Native American, etc., might supposedly have the “authority” to write stereotypical characters, satirical or not, it just makes me really uncomfortable to read.

7. Historical characters who are too historically accurate. Part of the reason I love 20th century historical so much is because it gives me more leeway to depict feminist women who go against the social grain in certain ways, while still not writing them like completely modern women. But on the flip side, it’s a huge turnoff when characters are completely bought into all the status quo of their respective eras, don’t question anything, and even try to keep others “in line” and punish them for daring to not go along with the establishment. Annie and Carl of Joy in the Morning were a painful example of this.

8. Deus ex machina developments. It’s one thing for a miracle to happen. It’s entirely another if it’s more like a development that just comes out of nowhere for no reason, and feels more like lazy, cheap writing than an intentional miracle.

9. On a related note, stupid coincidences that feel really forced and unnecessary. There was a lot of this in Doctor Zhivago, frequently running into characters we last saw hundreds of pages ago, for no discernible reason.

10. Unless your character is supposed to be like a James Stenbeck or Roger Thorpe, I don’t want to see him or her constantly coming back from the dead! It’s one thing if a character dies off the pages, under questioned or suspicious circumstances, and later is revealed to have survived or never died, with a plausible explanation. But don’t show him/her getting shot point-blank in the head, driving over a cliff, or swallowing 50 cyanide capsules, only to emerge completely healthy and alive 100 pages later!


16 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday—Top Ten Book Turn-Offs

  1. I agree with you so.much on points #2 and #4. I want to high five you, but there’s a computer screen in the way and things just got awkward. I can’t believe I forgot to mention anything like #4– if you’re going to get naughty please know what you’re talking about. Drunk sex is another one. I’ve seen characters kill a fifth and be roaring and ready to go. Some men might be able to perform, but most won’t.

    Yeah, so great list. 🙂

    My TTT


  2. 1. Hahaha, I’m actually a really big fan of alternating first person POV, IF the author has the chops for it, which, honestly, most don’t. However, I’m cool with 3rd person omniscient, and it’s true that I don’t see it much anymore. Strange that.

    4. O_O WOWWWWW.

    6. YES. If the sole descriptor for a character is their ethnicity, that’s a problem. Being black or Chinese or whatever should just be one fact about a person, like the fact that they have curly hair. Same with being glbt. That doesn’t mean you ARE a certain way.

    7. I don’t like my historical heroines to be TOO much out of the period, but like you I prefer them to be strong feminists, at least for the era they’re living in. Just because they know that’s how things are, it doesn’t make subjugation any less trying.

    8. Yup.

    10. If you kill them, KEEP THEM THERE. There are only a handful of instances where I think this is acceptable. Just no.


  3. Ha! Your hymen/corona example made me laugh out loud! On a somewhat related note: I dislike when an erotica author goes into great detail about body positioning during sex. If it’s so intricate and complex that it reads like battle strategy then you might want to tone it down… Nice list:)


  4. I feel like with too much cursing it just becomes the focus of the story rather than the way someone talks. Or that some authors put it in to try to be titillating. And I agree about the anatomy in erotica (or really any stories) sometimes I read stuff and I just think no, that’s not right.


  5. I’m with you on almost all of these. I don’t mind alternating POV, even first-person, on occasion and if it’s well-done, but I’m not generally a fan of present-tense. It can work well in some authors’ hands, but I agree it has become too commonly used.


  6. Interesting list of pet peeves in writing. One of the worst books I’ve read for alternating every point of view possible was, “A Visit From The Goon Squad”. It didn’t work for me.


  7. Love this list – deux ex machina developments and ridiculous coincidences are definitely ones that annoy me. You also came up with a few I really hadn’t ever thought about, like characters who are too historically accurate. I don’t know if every one of these is a pet peeve of mine, but these are definitely things that I would probably think about while reading, so thanks for identifying them for me.

    Thanks for stopping by my TTT!


  8. Some food for thought . . . I think I stayed clear of your pet peeves in my novel 🙂 I should have my own middle school students write a list of their book pet peeves . . . thanks for the idea!


  9. Great list! The anatomical accuracy issue made me laugh. There have definitely been books where I’ve totally lost the mood after getting distracted by “wait, he put what… where?” issues. Same goes for fight scenes or other intricate action moments, I guess — if you’re going to include them, make sure you’re keeping track of all the body parts!


  10. I totally agree with all of these, what a great list! I didn’t think of the excessive swearing issue – but I have a problem with it as well. Your erotica/sexual/romance issue made me chuckle – I’ve started some books in the past with things like that in, and I’m thinking – REALLY?! Thanks for sharing and for stopping by my TTT post. ^.^
    Happy Reading! 😀

    Tiffa @ The British Book Nerd


  11. I appreciate how thoughtful your list is – I especially like your take on profanity and vulgarity in books. a little really does go a long way – you can get a lot of impact out of the word if you’re not throwing it around casually. Thanks for checking out my list this week 🙂


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