On Deal Breakers

I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to books. I have a large range of interest, and a high tolerance for crappy intros. This is not to say I don’t ever stop reading something and never come back to it. And this isn’t to say that I like everything I read. But it’s pretty hard to turn me off so much that I just flat out can’t even force myself through it.

I may have mentioned a few times that back in the day I had a 10% rule. I spent a lot of time at the libraryย and in bookstores so if the book was 300 pages long, it had 30 pages to get interesting or I’d dump it. That was my “policy.” I had too many books I wanted to read, I wasn’t going to spend time reading something terrible when I could be reading something awesome!

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice was over 1000 pages long. And this is where I’m glad I had that 10% policy and not a 10 page policy, because I LOVE that book, but it took me 55 pages to get into it. 55! I would have missed out on a wild ride if I had given up before then, but it was so hard to get through those first 30 especially because I had no idea what was going on. I half suspected it was because the book was too old for me at the time, but when has that stopped a bookworm?! Never, that’s when. ^_^

So here are my Reading Pet Peeves and pretty much the only things that will get me to give up on a book even when I actually might want to know what happens (10% rule or no 10% rule). This is how annoying these things are to me.

#1 POP CULTURE REFERENCES

I don’t know why, but these things stick out like red paint on a white house. I have a limit. If I lose count of the number of pop culture references in a chapter, I put the book down and the author goes on my “do not trust” list. It’s okay to mention some relevant music artist or a movie or if it’s an 80s themed novel and they want to mention Cyndi Lauper or some other 80s thingie-bob. But if there are so many I lose count? That just disgusts me. Without mentioning any names, I recently read a book where the author mentioned books, movies, musicians, brands, every single pop culture reference you could think of, and squeezed them all within a couple of pages. It made me sick. I said to myself, “If I see one more, I’m putting this book down.” And I did see one more, I saw five, so I quit. And I actually wanted to know what happened, but no bad enough to put up with that.

Here’s why I hate it: For one, I live in a box, so most of them go over my head, and if the person is using that many, they’re a crappy writer and probably didn’t even have the wherewithal to offer enough context clues to what they were talking about so that people who didn’t know wouldn’t be lost. For second, it’s freaking lazy. If you don’t know how to describe something or show me how old someone is without resorting to a bunch of pop culture references, then you have issues. Like I said, a few are fine. They can help place you in a certain decade or tell you something about the character, like saying your character’s little sister goes as Britney Spears for Halloween every year is funny. Saying the character is going to Evanescence concert tells me they like (awesome) rock music. But referencing Twilight or Hunger Games and in the same sentence they’re referencing Gossip Girl, American Idol, and iPhones? I’m throwing the book off a bridge, and I hope the piece of crap drowns.

#2 SHOCK VALUE FOR THE SAKE OF SHOCK VALUE

What is wrong with people? Is it necessary to violently rape a character when it has absolutely NOTHING to do with any part of the plot whatsoever? Is it necessary to blow up a random building on page one when nothing else is going to blow up in the ENTIRE rest of the book? Is it necessary to have a cliche teen party scene where absolutely NOTHING essential to the plot happens at all? Is it? NO, loser, it’s NOT!

#3 BORING AS CRAP

Now, boring is subjective. I may find a 5 page monologue on sea turtles boring as crap where someone else finds it horribly fascinating. Even if the book has a sea turtle theme, do I really need 5 pages on the proper care of injured sea turtles? No, I don’t think I do. Just tell me what I need to know to understand what’s going on later and shut up. I don’t need 5 pages when 3 sentences will do. I DO NOT CARE.

Has anyone seen the 90s movie SPEED? Of course you have because it’s awesome. Now this is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Firstly, nothing blew up in the first minute. But most importantly, the characters are going into an intense situation right away. Do you want to know why this is fine? Because there was a reason for this! Same bad guy for starters. The entire rest of the movie is intense for second. Plus it showed the kind of situations our man Keanu Reeves had to deal with on a regular basis. It had a point.

Another perfect example: In a book I recently read, there was a cliche teen party complete with spilled beer and vomiting, but hey guess what, it wasn’t for no reason, something that actually has something to do with the plot happened at this party!!

And my last example: Has anyone seen the movie DEEP BLUE SEA? It’s awesome. They have all this shark science going on and what not. Guess what? They don’t go into all this boring detail about sharks. They tell us only what we need to know to understand the complicated shark plot and then they WOW us.

It’s not that hard, people, it’s not hard. Stop doing crap for shock value. Stop going off on boring tangents. Stop dropping pop culture references to show me how “teenagery” your MC is. Are they a teenager or not? If they are, and you’re a good writer, you really shouldn’t have to work that hard. Abusing pop culture references is gross. Putting a party in your book just because “that’s what teens do” is gross. Attacking characters for no reason is gross. Talking about sea turtles for 5 pages just because you find them interesting is gross. STOP IT.

End Rant.

14 Responses to On Deal Breakers

  1. This is making my laugh like a maniac.

    #1: Pop culture references date your work so quickly. I happily rejected a proposal when I was a literary agent intern because it relied completely on Facebook/ Twitter references.

    #2: Can we please stop raping people?! Please?

    #3: Zzzzzzz.

    I just stopped reading a book I was about 15 pages into. It’s the first book I’ve thrown down this year, but I had no freakin’ idea what was going on. It was supposed to be all stream-of-consciousness and post-modern, but honestly? It was exhausting trying to figure out what was going on!

    • OMG, right?! It’s maddening! I beta’d a story drowning in pop culture references once. I couldn’t get past chapter 2, so often I had to stop because I was confused. Only time I had to turn someone down. Then I read this short story a few months ago where the MC was violently assaulted for NO reason. I wanted to slap the author. That’s another name for this post: things that make me want to slap an author.

      Yeah, seriously, I’m not going to hurt my brain trying to figure out what’s going on!

  2. Lol.
    I have a few pop culture references. Like…4 total, and they span the first 30 pgs of my book. But like in 2/3 scenes, where she is trying to feel at home and getting to know a new friend. In all fairness, the most popular would be my mention of Ellen. I mention the band HIM and Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper. Of course Harry Potter is in there!
    I agree with Michelle, tho, about it dating your work. I’ve worked on some mss where people have mention of bands and songs that were popular 5-10 yrs ago, and you kinda pause and go “Huh…” I actually have thought about removing some. Maybe just Ellen, haha. Tho I love her, but I prefer my “dark” artists lol. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I don’t think 4 is a big deal. In HEXED, she mentioned Jay-Z a few times. I noticed, but it didn’t make me want to put the book down. The concert scene was weird because I couldn’t tell if the MC was legimately enjoying herself or not. But I’ve seen 4 on1 page. That’s when I scream. I also scream when I have no idea what they’re talking about but I have to in order to know what’s going on.

  3. Damn it, now I have to trash my awesome sea turtle discussion in chapter 2. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    But seriously, great list. Can I add one more thing? Let’s call it the “Mirror Mirror” phenomenon. I put a book down after THREE pages because the MC started describing her features in a mirror. And of course, she did the whole false-humility thing (i.e “As I gazed at my smooth face, slender body, and long locks of dark hair, I wondered why I couldn’t be pretty like so-and-so”). This is the author’s attempt to relay the MC’s hotness to the reader as casually as possible, and not only is it terribly cliche and obvious, but it makes the MC sound quite vain. I say let readers slowly deduce the appearance of the MC throughout the book (if at all) with quick references, such as “He saw a flash of red hair right before the blinds were closed…” The MC’s physical appearance doesn’t need to be spelled out for us. It’s okay if we have to use our imaginations to fill in those gaps.

    • Add away! I mean, I know I talk about myself like that in front of the mirror all the time, but I know most people don’t. Lol! If the way a character looks is important, I get it in there, and generally will have some identifying markers for the important people, but if it’s just a regular guy that I’m only going to mention once, I think “chubby guy” is description enough. Lol! I hate it so much when people give detailed character descriptions for people we never see again! And yeah, if the MC is hot (or not!), we really will pick up on that based on what other characters say and how they react to them.

  4. Oh, I’m so with you on #2. I have an acquaintance who’s like that, and it just makes me want to do the opposite of what he wants the reaction to be and yawn and say “Really? Is that all you’ve got?”

    One of my music professors once said something like “If you NEED a key change to make your song interesting, then it’s not a very good song.” Same thing goes for writing, I think. If you need something SHOCKING that doesn’t have much to do with anything to make your story more interesting, then it’s not a very good story.

    • OMG, that is the BEST quote! Going on my quote board. ^_^
      Right, like I feel like they’re trying to manipulate me, and I just refuse to be manipulated! Also, it’s so pointless, and I just don’t respond well to inane pointlessness.

  5. Haha! Great post. I stay away from books with pop culture references, but if it is done well, sprinkled here and there, I can handle reading that (and it can actually give me good vibes about the era!).

  6. Gratuitous violence for the sake of it, or any other ‘shock value’ would turn me off for sure. Language is a big one for me – too much swearing and I’m gone. Pop culture references are ok as long as you’re not being hit over the head with them. And I’d have to be pretty bored before I gave up on a book. Enjoyed your rant ๐Ÿ™‚

    • ^_^ I’m not a fan of gratuitous language either. I don’t care what kind of book it is, or even what kind of TV show I’m watching. I really don’t see how it’s necessary for it to be super excessive. Lol!

  7. I will admit that in an old draft, my MC was swearing a lot. I think I kept writing when I was in a bad mood, so my MC would be in a bad mood! Good thing it’s a draft though ๐Ÿ™‚

    But I agree with the general premise of your dealbreakers. Too much of anything really can be boring and turn off your readers.

    I also like your 10% policy. It’s really important to hook your readers in or else that book’s gonna get dusty lol

    • I’ll try to break that rule if I met them in person, but it’s usually not worth it. Lol! I had a character once that liked to swear a lot. I let her say whatever she wanted in the first draft, but when I edited I dialed it back. Lol! It’s good to get stuff out of your system, I think. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks for stopping by! ^_^

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