Saturday, December 8, 2007

My Reading Checklist

I recently finished reading a book that I really, really wanted to like. It was the first novel for this author but he is involved in the composing and production side of the music industry here in Nashville and since I'm a fan of his creativity there, I figured I'd be a fan of his written creativity too.

My problem was that he "pinged" every item on my reading checklist - a sort of mental standard of what I can't stand in a novel. He made me laugh outloud on page three and again on page four and it wasn't because he was trying to be funny - it was me laughing in disbelief that his editor let him get away with this stuff.

Here are a few of my pet peeves while reading:

1. Starting a paragraph by clearly denoting which character is speaking or doing and then feeling the need to remind me halfway through the paragraph of that character's name again. i.e. "Ashley raced to pick up the phone. It was a wrong number. She put the phone back into its cradle. Ashley wondered why someone kept calling her and hanging up."

See? I know it's Ashley, right from the start. I don't need a reminder halfway through that "she" refers back to Ashley because since I'm still young enough to have most of my mental capabilities roaring along at full capacity, I'm unlikely to forget what I've just read. Whenever I see this in a novel, it screams "Amateur" to me and I wonder how their editor missed it.

2. Giving a character technical information they wouldn't logically own. In the book I just read, the main character starts out on an airplane. Extreme turbulence causes an overhead bin to fly open and an older man is injured. The main character rushes to his aid and when a flight attendant asks why he needs a flashlight to check for a concussion (perhaps because she's been living in a cave up until now and doesn't possess the knowledge the rest of the population has about dialated pupils and head injuries?), the character gives this long and involved explanation about brain tissue swelling and uses several technical medical terms.

Okay, I'm thinking, our MC must be a dr, right? The flight attendant is in agreement with me and asks our MC the same thing. He says, "No" and I'm waited for the "But I play one on tv" punchline that never comes. At this point, the author gets an eye roll from me and it's only page three. Not good.

3. Making a character do something so completely unrealistic that it yanks me out of the flow of the book. In this book, when our MC rushes to the aid of the gentleman two rows up who's been struck by a suitcase (and I was already sitting there wondering if plain old turbulence could really fling a suitcase out of an overhead compartment...), he does it by crawling over the seat in front of him, stepping on the man hunkered down with his head between his knees, and then leaping into the aisle. Who does that?? Answer - nobody. It's just plain unrealistic. He could have slipped past the slender, attractive woman seated next to him and gone down the aisle like any sane, normal person would have done.

4. Using unrealistic dialogue. This was the kicker. I'd already had Superman leaping over airplane chairs, an MC with no medical training but who somehow managed to sound like a medical textbook, turbulence and injuries that, upon further reading, added nothing more to the plot than the opportunity for said MC to demonstrate his remarkable chair leaping skills, and now I had dialoge ripped straight from an early days Harlequin and somehow coming out of the mouth of a professional woman.

Here's what set me off: Our MC returns to his seat, quite the airline hero, and the woman next to him strikes up a conversation. She immediately gains the knowledge that he has a son and she says (and I'm quoting here), "I bet he gets his casual good looks from you."

I nearly choked, I laughed so hard. He gets his casual good looks from you??? No one, and I do mean no one, talks like that in real life.

5. Using cliched ideas or mimicking a popular literary work too closely. This book, despite the above mentioned amateur blunders, had a very interesting premise...sort of like National Treasure and the Da Vinci Code combined. Except the more I read, the further toward Da Vinci Code it leaned until near the end, the characters are speculating that the huge secret hidden in the illustrations of priceless old Bibles is that the God of the Jews was a woman. Even though it turned out they were wrong and the secret was something totally different, I was very turned off by this because it so strongly echoed the premise in DVC. I'm a big fan of taking an idea and pushing it until it looks like nothing else you've read. =)

So, yes, I was disappointed in this book overall and most authors who pinged all five of my pet peeves would have had their book given to Goodwill unfinished by me. =)


  1. Yes, all those and also (and I think you've said this before on the blog) when an author takes three pages to say what could be deftly handled in one well-written paragraph.

    I hate filler.

  2. Ha, yes! Don't beat me over the head with exposition when you could be giving me action instead.

    And also, don't "try" to be funny. As the wise Yoda once said, "Do or do not. There is no try."


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