There is nothing worse than reading a book or a screenplay that is obviously subpar. They seem like amateur mistakes, but even professional authors and playwrights are guilty of lethargy in their writing. Signs of a lazy author come through in narration, format, and theme, sometimes late in careers and sometimes from the start, but regardless, they are huge turn offs for readers and critics. Low ratings on my GoodReads are likely due to these pet peeves of mine that all writers – novice and established – should avoid at all costs:
Especially in romance novels, it irks me when an author is unable to successfully convey their message without switching between the first person viewpoints of two main characters.
When one chapter is narrated by Character One, and the next by Character Two, it is easy for the reader to get confused or distracted. Moreover, the switch between characters is a great point for the reader to put your book down – and although it’s inevitable, you never want that to happen!
Switching point of view overcomplicates and slows down the story, and the problem is easily solved if the author simply writes in an omniscient third person voice.
Take, for example, Libba Bray’s 2011 hit, Beauty Queens. In this novel, Bray is able to navigate between narration from the viewpoint of half a dozen characters, without confusing over-complication, because she writes in third person. A surprise to young adult authors everywhere: not all YA novels need to be written in first person.
Never breaking from the status quo.
There are certain tendencies of contemporary young adult novels: first person POV, female main characters, includes romance, relatable on a personal level, but includes some sort of supernatural/dystopian aspect.
It seems easier to write what is already successful with tweens and teens, but emerging writers need to slip away from the status quo, and get creative. Write in third person, omit the romantic aspect, or use a male main character.
We haven’t seen a bestselling YA novel that beats these stereotypes since J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. All the big names follow the same structure: John Green, Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, Meg Cabot… the list goes on and on.
Readers want to see something different! Following the same story line gets old, and, frankly, most of the readers of those popular authors have grown at this point. It’s time to set the standard for a new generation of YA novels – switch it up!
Extensive narration in book-based screenplays.
An example that sticks out in my head for this is the film, Twilight. The original film faced huge amounts of criticism for a wide variety of issues, but even in my young age when it came out, the first thing I noticed was lazy screenwriting.
Every writer has been told to show the reader who characters are and what they are thinking, not tell them – but the screenwriters of Twilight didn’t seem to get the memo.
The film features extensive voice-over narration by Bella (Kristen Stewart) that seems to be copied-and-pasted from the original novel.
The beauty of novels is that you can describe what’s going on in a character’s head: you have more than just dialogue to work with. Contrastingly, in plays and films, writers don’t have that luxury. They are forced to show the audience what’s going on through action and speaking. But in Twilight, that didn’t happen.
Screenwriting is an art that involves transferring an already-loved story into one that is interesting to watch. This involves the transformation of strict narrative into setting, dialogue, and action – but with extensive narration, there is no creativity in this sense. Instead of coming up with a method of showing the narrative to the audience, the main character simply speaks the already-written narration. It is clearly a lazy way for a screenwriter to pass off a change of media as true innovation.
Ridiculous amounts of irrelevant description.
Lord of the Rings fans go easy on me: the best example of this for me is Tolkien’s pre-series novel, The Hobbit. I hated it. It was on the summer reading list for school, along with the equally-boring Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by the infamous Mark Twain, and I dreaded every minute of reading it.
There was far too much description, and, in the beginning, I took notes on it. I figured, since the author was taking the time to describe each setting in great detail, that what he was writing would be important.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.
The entire novel could be comprised in about 20 pages of actual action, and that really irked me. I felt like I wasted my time and gained nothing from the story except that Tolkien is a stellar world-builder and this seemed to be his way of living out his fantasy. The descriptions took every bit of substance away from the novel for me, and many of classmates felt similarly.
In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Don’t say it was delightful; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only saying to your readers, ‘Please will you do the job for me?’”
My advice to writers: stick to action. If it’s not moving the story forward, or you’re telling it to them and not showing your readers, it doesn’t need to be in there.
Too little dialogue, too much dialogue, or unconvincing dialogue.
This applies to plays and screenplays as well as novels, but I find that novelists are the most prone to make this mistake.
A story can be riveting and compelling, but without dialogue, it is hard for readers to keep turning the page (think Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions).
Contrastingly, with too much dialogue, the story can run flat. It is hard for readers to form relationships with key characters if all they have is their interactions with other characters. Let the readers into your characters’ minds with narration – include dialogue only if it truly moves the story forward.
Finally, unconvincing dialogue is the end of novelists even before publication. Time and time again, I see literary agents and publishing companies complain that their submissions are good, but the dialogue is lacking: it all sounds the same. Each character deserves their own unique voice, and that is not the author’s voice! How does your character talk? What dialects do they have? Make them believable by adding these intricacies: it will help readers connect to your characters and keep them convinced that your story is real.
This information is valuable for writers of all experience levels. At risk of sounding unprofessional and unskilled, aspiring authors, playwrights, and literary critics must consider these aspects and avoid them. Instead, show your creativity and skills to get your ratings up and improve your writing by a mile.
What are your literary pet peeves? Share in the comments!