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!