My Five Reading Pet Peeves

My Five Reading Pet Peeves

In a book I was reading recently, it got to the bit where the couple were in a clinch and things were hotting up. As they were kissing, she ‘felt his nature rising.’

Seriously? I’ve read a lot of coy phrases describing erections, but that was a first. It somehow reminded me of being in a forest watching the sun rise. I was enjoying the book up until this point, but the phrase jarred me completely out of my reading zone.

Awkward sex scenes in books is one of my pet peeves. As an author I fully appreciate how difficult it is to write original sex scenes, but coy terms and clichés used for bodily parts and having sex just end up making a farce of it.

Every year British literary magazine Literary Review bestows the Bad Sex in Fiction Award on the author voted to have written the worst sex scene in a book published that year. In 2015 singer Morrissey won it for the sex scene in his debut fiction novel List of the Lost, in which he referred to a ‘bulbous salutation.’

Beside that, ‘nature rising’ seems very tame. If the ‘bulbous salutation’ has whetted your appetite for more, you can read the entire winning scene here.

It got me thinking about other pet peeves I have as a reader. Here are some others:

Authors who describe their characters’ clothing in minute detail. One particular crime writer describes every bit of clothing, right down to their socks (colour and thickness), watch (size, colour and brand) and jaunty handkerchief sticking out of the pocket (plain or embroidered) of their shirt (colour, brand and material).

The other problem is that this author’s fashion sense leaves a lot to be desired, particularly when it comes to women, so by the time I’ve visualized the murder suspect in a floral blouse with a frill at the neck, mustard cardigan with an emerald brooch, and green tartan skirt with tan stockings and black court shoes, I’m ready to throw a Vogue magazine at her.

Dream scenes. Dreams are boring – whether they’re the dreams of real people or characters in a novel. I always skip the dream scenes, even if they’re supposed to reveal something deep and meaningful about the character. There are a couple of exceptions to this:

· If the dreams are funny. I’m compelled to say that as I have included the odd dream scene in a couple of my books (How Not To Commit Murder and Perfect Sex). But in my defence they’re short and amusing. And if you don’t like them, feel free to skip them too.

· My own dreams are fascinating. My partner can vouch for this – he has studied dream analysis and I always give him a blow by blow description of my dreams so he can interpret them for me. I know you’re dying to hear all about them, but there’s not enough room in this blog post, so another time perhaps.

You’re busy? Every day? Oh well.

Precocious kids. Six-year-olds who have an armoury of witty repartee, cute observations and disdainful comments directed at all adults to make them feel like prehistoric imbeciles. Admittedly they seem to be more prevalent in movies, but I have read the occasional book in which the kid is more knowledgeable and together than the adults, rescuing a kitten from a burning building, whipping up a batch of pancakes and cleaning up afterwards and giving his mother advice about her love life.

Whereas in reality, a six-year-old will be glued to the X-box while the building is burning, have no idea how to cook pancakes but will leave a trail of cereal and milk across the kitchen and as for love, they have one word – ‘Yuk!’

Lack of quotation marks around speech. I’m looking at you, Tim Winton and Richard Flanagan, amongst others. Why is that? Are the authors too lazy to bother with them? I agree that quotation marks are annoying to insert, especially when you’re in the flow of a piece of profound dialogue that’s going to change the world.

But in my opinion it makes reading so much more difficult when the dialogue is indistinguishable from the rest of the narrative, and you have to stop and think,’ Oh yes, now he’s speaking.’ And it’s also difficult to distinguish the characters’ thoughts from their speech.

I have noticed that it seems to be mainly the authors of literary fiction that do it, so maybe it’s a trope of that genre. Researching it on the internet, I found I’m not the only person annoyed by this, so I breathed a sigh of relief that I wasn’t turning into a GOW. (Grumpy Old Woman).

Whatever the reason, I refuse to read a book written without speech quotation marks, which according to some advocates of that style, marks me as a lazy reader. I’ll lie on the couch and drink to that!

What are your reading pet peeves? I’d love to hear them – please rant and rave in the comments box below.

About the Author Robin Storey

Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.

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David Vernon says March 7, 2016

I agree with you Robin about all these pet peeves (hey, do you want to judge the next Stringybark erotic fiction competition?) but I think it must be dreams sequences that really annoy me. They seem to be a licence to write whatever one wants without reference to motivation, characterisation or even the plot and the reader has to accept what is dished up to them. I teach young people (primary and secondary students) short story writing and it is quite normal for me to read an entire short story, grimacing at times, only to reach the last line which says, “And then I woke up.” I feel I have wasted my time.

David Vernon
Editor, Stringybark Publishing

    Robin Storey says March 8, 2016

    I agree David – dream sequences are the ultimate in cliches and cop-out endings.

Lydia says March 27, 2016

A dialog scene where one character repeats the name of the other character after every sentence.

Switching from past to present tense. This seriously annoys me, and unfortunately seems to be a fad right now. Hate it.

Kate Rauner says March 28, 2016

How about fight scenes as detailed as that mustard cardigan outfit description? I swear that some authors write their book, decide it’s too short, and calculate how many more words they must insert into the battles. But I must admit I usually skip fights unless they are quite short and believable – I can’t keep reading if the character is pummeled to near-death only to pop up in the next scene like nothing happened.

    Robin Storey says March 29, 2016

    Yes, Kate, I agree about fight scenes – they get boring very quickly. I find the same watching them in movies as well.

Bent Mathiesen says March 31, 2017

Hm. Pet Peeves ? Have changed over time. Can be anything really. If it is plat and boring in description. In short, when you read the same plot/scene, just from another writer, it’s hard to be excited about it.

    Robin Storey says April 1, 2017

    I agree, Bent. Formulaic writing is boring. I think it’s all in the writing style. Some writers can make any plot/scene enthralling.

Bent Mathiesen says April 1, 2017

I guess I meant flat (plat), but to my defense it was the end of a long day. It is difficult for a writer not to be boring. Long sentence, to much information/redundancy, endless scenes that repeat themselves.
I find there is too long between books, with a story in the right speed, right consistency/plot that can keep me flip page after page.
For sure boring writing is a Peeves by me. You mention J. K. Rowling some places, well, she is one of my Peeves, boring. I know, others enjoy her books.

Peeves: Characters, if the person in the story have no identifiable personality, if there is no development of the character over time, where is the story?

    Robin Storey says April 2, 2017

    I agree. There has to be development of the main character; the best novels are character-based.

Cheryl Roewer says April 3, 2017

Whatever happened to the word an?

    Robin Storey says April 4, 2017

    Yes, there are many more peeves I didn’t mention. Don’t get me started on grammar!

Victoria Oplinger says April 20, 2017

My absolute biggest pet peeve about reading is grammar and/or spelling mistakes. I’m okay with the occasional grammar faux pas.. we all make mistakes, or if that’s the way the character talks. But when the spelling, grammar, or punctuation is confusing enough that I have to read the same sentence or paragraph multiple times to understand it, that makes me want to just put the book down and walk away.
This pet peeve flows into every single thing I read, but especially books and ads. If you want to sell me something, you better make sure your spelling is correct and that you’re using the correct versions of your/you’re, there/their/they’re, and to/too/two. One mistake and the ad goes right into the trash.
I’m sure that every author has spell check on their computer, but spell check doesn’t look for context. Do proof readers still exist? I think that would be a dream job for me!!!

    Robin Storey says April 20, 2017

    I’m with you, Victoria! I am a spelling and grammar Nazi too and the thing that annoys me most is apostrophes running amok. As in Banana’s For Sale. I am going to write my next blog post on it. And, yes, proofreaders are very much in demand – I use them for my novels, as do most authors I know, because no matter how good you are at spelling and grammar, there are always mistakes you miss, especially in a large body of work.

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