Literary Pet Peeves

Obviously here at W&M, we love books. But all readers have certain things that just push their buttons in all the wrong way. We thought it would be fun to take a time out from the book-love to share our literary pet peeves.

Perfect children. They’re always respectful and obedient, their hair and clothes are always neat, and their good behavior often tips over into sanctimony. Let’s be honest– these kids are kind of annoying in real life, and they’re not any more appealing in books.

Precocious children. These children don’t have actual character flaws, either. But the author doesn’t want you to think they’re goody-goodies, so they’re always getting into mischief and making adults uncomfortable with their blunt honesty and uncanny observations. Often their childishness is emphasized by their use of bad grammar or phonetically-spelled baby talk.

As-Seen-On-the-Big-Screen book covers. The whole point of reading the book first is getting to have my own mental pictures of the character and setting! It also makes a book on the shelf feel like a moment in pop culture history instead of a timeless story.

Agenda-Pushing. You know that moment in RomComs when the protagonist realizes she’s fallen in love with someone who has been lying to her in some way? That is exactly how I feel when I realize that the story I’m into is just a ploy to make me think a certain way about an important issue. (I’m looking at you, Most Christian Fiction, and you, Me Before You!). This pet peeve is tricky, because many great novels have underlying moral messages that I may or may not agree with. (The Poisonwood Bible and Atlas Shrugged come immediately to mind.) It takes a true craftsman to pull this off successfully, and in the hands of the less-skilled, many stories just come off as clumsy propaganda.

SHOCKERS. This pet peeve happens when you’re reading along in a perfectly fascinating story and all of the sudden you’re jarred by an explicit sexual scene or grisly description of violence. This is mostly a pet peeve when it seems unnecessary or out of character from the rest of the book. (Pick up a book about the Holocaust, for example, and you expect to be horrified.) Anne Bogel discussed this phenomenon in her post about the “Eight-line edit,” and we completely agree!

“Would Have Made a Great Essay.” This is a particular danger for non-fiction. Often a writer has about thirty pages of really insightful content that is then turned into a 150-page published book. The result? Too much wasted time with anecdotes, repetition, and rabbit-trails that water down the message.


What are your literary pet peeves?


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