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Writing Habits that Annoy!! (Advice from One Author to Another)

Posted by hlinfield on June 24, 2013 at 1:05 PM

Very few writing tricks, habits, techniques or clichés bother me as a reader. I don’t mind flashbacks or the overly liberal use of adverbs (she wrote purposefully), and it baffles me when readers declare their “hatred” for certain tenses or voices. (It would never occur to me to care whether you write in first person present or third person omniscient past or even switch around from one section to another. I’ve even read a book in the second person before and thought it was rather inventive.)


There is, however, one thing that writers do that will make me roll my eyes and want to stop reading. (Unlike some people, I am not inclined to hurl books across the room, especially if I’m reading on my kindle.) It isn't the overly liberal use of parentheses (and hopefully that doesn't bother you either.)  It isn’t too much tell and not enough show. It’s not even too much setting description. I can always skip over the dull bits. I mean really, did anyone read the whopping sections of Gone with the Wind that detailed all the goings-on of Sherman’s army? (Actually I don’t know what was in those boring sections because I skipped over them in search of Scarlett and Rhett.)




What annoys me to no end is how you introduce your characters. This is the one area where show is a must: Please don’t tell me what your character’s personality is. Don’t tell me she’s smart or stupid or bubbly or morose or warm or bitchy. Show me this so I can decide for myself.


The next issue I have is rampant among certain genres (think murder mystery pulp fiction) and certainly among independently published authors: Please don’t describe any physical features to me unless it matters.


Does anyone know what colour Jane Eyre’s hair is? No, because it doesn’t matter.


Please note the only exception to this rule is Scarlett O’Hara. For some reason it is important that we all know she has green eyes and black hair. I don’t know why this is important, but apparently it is. Maybe it’s important because it was important to Scarlett. Whatever the reason, Margaret Mitchell gets a pass on this one.


(Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn what colour your hair is.)


Which brings me to the thing that annoys me more than anything else, and I think we have Scarlett to blame for it: it is the absolute plethora of green eyes that abound in books. If people from another planet had to learn about humanity only from fiction novels, they would assume that most of us had sparkling green eyes. In my entire life I have met one person with emerald green eyes. They were quite remarkable but I think she might have had coloured contacts and wouldn’t admit to it. I think most people who claim to have green eyes really have something much closer to dull hazel.


Green or hazel?


I don’t think I’m terribly unaware of my surroundings but eye colour is simply something I do not notice, and I most certainly do not notice it from across a darkened barroom. In my opinion, it only makes sense for an author to describe eye colour if the characters are gazing at each other from less than a couple of feet away.


It’s very possible that some readers love detailed physical description. Personally, I hate being told to imagine someone’s physical attributes a certain way. I suppose that’s why movies based on beloved books often do poorly – they just can’t get the casting right.


How could they, when the characters' faces only exist in my head? 

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2 Comments

Reply Hayley
6:08 PM on October 21, 2013 
Thank you Sam!
Sam Hendricks says...
Hayley,
Great post. The abundance of green eyes is truly amazing. I must admit I fell into the descriptive eye issue in my new book "Just One More..." which comes out in Jan 2014, but I will try and do better on the sequel. I can honestly say I did not have that problem with my first book (Non-fiction) Fantasy Football Guidebook.
Great blog please keep up the great work!
Sam Hendricks, author Fantasy Football Guidebook and the soon to be released Just One More...
Reply Sam Hendricks
4:38 AM on October 20, 2013 
Hayley,
Great post. The abundance of green eyes is truly amazing. I must admit I fell into the descriptive eye issue in my new book "Just One More..." which comes out in Jan 2014, but I will try and do better on the sequel. I can honestly say I did not have that problem with my first book (Non-fiction) Fantasy Football Guidebook.
Great blog please keep up the great work!
Sam Hendricks, author Fantasy Football Guidebook and the soon to be released Just One More...