Happy Friday, folks!
I would like to begin by extending a sincere thank you to new subscribers. Your support never goes unnoticed. I danced a jig this morning in celebration!
I love reading good stuff. So do you. After all, good stuff is…well…good!
But readers are intuitive creatures. Sometimes we pick up a book, read a couple of pages, and instantly determine that it isn’t for us. The range of reasons as for why we are sometimes quick to abandon a book is broad. Did we detect something off about the author’s writing style? Was the beginning of the story too confusing to grasp? Did the blatant vulgarity rub us the wrong way? Allow me to share what turns me off when it comes to books. Then, I’d love to hear what ruins your reading experience.
For me, poor dialogue is a deal-breaker. Take a gander at some of my favorite movies…
- In Bruges
- Django Unchained
- The Road to El Dorado (yes, the animated movie. I say that proudly).
- The Boondock Saints
- Good Will Hunting
- Casino Royale
- Reservoir Dogs
Throw in House M.D. and Freaks and Geeks on the TV side of things and you can probably guess that I love when characters talk. But more importantly, I love when characters talk well. I appreciate wit. I appreciate chemistry in conversation. I appreciate natural speech.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have no issue with dialogue that isn’t flashy. Neither Man of Steel nor Avatar, two films I have watched many times over, boast dialogue that is particularly profound or clever.
*cue transition to books*
But I cannot stomach dialogue that is wrong. If I read something and think, people don’t talk like that, I won’t bother reading on. Sorry. Flow in dialogue is essential for me. Directly addressing somebody by name in every line is a no-no. Shoehorning exposition into conversations where exposition does not belong is a no-no. Forced banter is a no-no. If I read a passage of dialogue aloud and it does not sound human, I can’t go on.
Fellow writers: Let’s be mindful of the words we put in our characters’ mouths. We owe it to the readers.
Ridiculous Character Names in Fantasy and Sci-Fi
After I publish my novel, somebody somewhere is going to find this post and call me out for being a hypocrite. Ladies and gents, you could hardly imagine what names I have given to some of my characters. And you could hardly imagine what names I have on a list waiting to be given to characters. I would give you a glimpse, but you would scoff. Scoff! *read as Josh Peck.*
If somebody were to find this post and call me out for attributing preposterous names to my characters, I would point them to the header, which reads “Ridiculous Character Names in Fantasy and Sci-Fi.”
“J.J., how could you discriminate against my genre?!”
Fear not, troubled voice. Fantasy is magnificent and sci-fi provides for great storytelling. But this particular qualm lies exclusively with these two types of story. Often times the names of the characters in these invented worlds are absurd, octo-syllabic derivatives of Latin inspired by Yiddish and rooted in Tolkien’s Elvish. I can’t bear it. My ability to connect with the world is diminished immediately. How could I possibly get on board with a story if every character has a name that hardly sounds human? If an antagonist’s name is riddled with ‘x’s and ‘q’s, I won’t be able to take the guy seriously.
Fantasy and sci-fi genres give a whole lot of mobility to the author. World-building is often involved. However, if the author goes overboard and abuses the mobility of crafting a world via absurd character names, there’s a good chance I won’t get into the story. If I can’t pronounce most names in a novel, the book has lost its shot with me.
A drill sergeant assigning stereotypical or otherwise demeaning nicknames to new recruits? That’s to be expected. A school bully deeming a nerd, “Booger Face?” No surprise there. The head of an elite shadowy rogue spec-ops team referring to his squad-members by cutthroat names such as “Grouch,” “Blitz,” and “Frosty?” It comes with the territory. But fantasy names that seem to come straight from the blender are just too cheesy for me to stomach.
Granted, my own western-novel-in-the-works contains a handful of monikers that will make you think twice. A man named Parsley? That is strange, no doubt about it. But it’s better than Paerzsleiyy, I think.
A Confusing Introduction
Discombobulating a reader is okay. I recall frantically flipping from page to page at a certain point during Robert Jordan’s Great Hunt when I caught myself reading a passage I had just read. I was so confused. I thought the repetition was a misprint! But then I read the thing through and, alas…it turns out that Rand was suffering from a recurring vision (Surprise!). Jordan literally copy-pasted an entire passage a couple times over. By the end of the sequence, I was highly intrigued.
Beginning a story with a stunt like that, however, would be unacceptable. I don’t mind if the first pages I read are laced with mystery or full of unanswered questions. I don’t think the beginning of a story should necessarily “be” any type of way. But I know that the start of a novel should not confuse me to the point where I can’t grasp anything.
I recall Incarceron by Catherine Fisher having a scrambled introduction. I put the book down for a year because I was lost from the start. Eventually, because the book was gifted to me, I returned to it, powered through the beginning, and found favor with the thing. Still, had that introduction been clearer, I wouldn’t have waited a year to pick it up again.
Confusion and intrigue are two very different things. Intrigue me first, confuse me later, if you fancy.
Those are just a handful of personal deal-breakers when it comes to reading. I’d like to hear your take. Do any of the offenses above pain you? What are some things that ruin your reading experience? Sound off in the comments below. I am genuinely interested in hearing what you brilliant people have to say.
As always, stay classy.