Writers annoy readers all the time.
Hasn’t it happened to you? You pick up a book, intrigued by its premise or cover art. You skim a few pages. And you put it back on the shelf, because something about it just doesn’t work for you. Or you bring the book home, read halfway through, and give up in disgust because the main character keeps making the same mistakes or missing the same clues or doing the same stupid things.
Or—perhaps worse—you make it through to the end of the book and, after several hundred pages of buildup, the author lets you down.
It’s easy to know when a writer annoys you, but not always so easy to avoid doing the same thing in your own writing.
Start with this checklist of sure-fire ways to irritate your audience—and avoid becoming one of those annoying writers!
Eleven Ways Writers Annoy Readers
- Use fancy dialog attributions: snarled, coughed, barked, growled, murmured, muttered, pestered, blathered, etc.
- Overuse adverbs: Use adverbs sparingly, carefully, and delicately. Strong verbs communicate more effectively—and more succinctly—than a string of modifiers.
- Head hop: Change point of view within a scene, so your reader is confused as to who thinks what.
- Wordiness: Are you writing to hear yourself speak, or do you actually have something to say? Cut the lengthy descriptions and lovely turns of phrase; aim for brevity and clarity as well as style.
- Preach: Unless you’re a minister, readers probably don’t want to hear your sermons. If you have a lesson to teach, be wary of the sledgehammer approach. Children and adults alike are happy to explore different points of view with your characters, but will drop a thinly-veiled morality play like a hot potato.
- Info dump: Maybe your readers need to know that your main character was born in Pennsylvania where she photographed deer, kissed her first boy, and discovered that he was a werewolf—but they probably don’t need to know all of that on the first page. Dole out information sparingly, always leaving your reader wanting more.
- Research dump: Similar to the info dump, the research dump refers specifically to the writer’s need to incorporate all the research he’s performed into the book itself. Yes, you have five hundred pages of research. No, no one else wants to know all of it. That’s why you’re the writer: you get to do the research and sort out the best pieces to share.
- Make your main character stupid: I’m not talking about honest-to-goodness mentally challenged characters. I’m talking about the character who makes stupid choices without good reasons. The co-ed who goes down into the dark basement to investigate the strange noises after the power goes out even though she knows there’s an escaped murderer in the neighborhood instead of, say, dialing 911. Or the character who can’t solve the mystery that your reader figured out on page 2. It’s harder to sympathize when a character when deep-down you’re pretty sure they got what they deserved.
- Break your promises: If you build up an event early in the story, don’t skip over it in chapter 20. Similarly, if your book promises a love story, don’t kill off the male lead halfway through. I’ve noticed that many books in which a major character dies begin by foreshadowing the event, and I think it’s for this reason. If something bad is going to happen, we want to prepare ourselves.
- Break your rules: Whatever genre you write, you spend a great deal of your book establishing ground rules, whether those are for characters, a magic system, or a dystopian government. If your character pulls out a longbow during the climax, you need to establish her archery skills earlier. If your wizard casts a spell to defeat the big bad guy on page 200, you need to establish that the spell exists—or at least that it could exist—in the pages preceding.
- Cheat the ending: When you build up an astonishing series of events, the absolute bomb to drop is “And then she woke up.” If your story resolves by the discover that it’s all been a dream, you’d darned well better prepare your reader for the possibility in advance. Another cheat ending is deus ex machina—the sort of ending when the parent swoops in to save the child or the destitute mother solves all her problems by winning the lottery. Just. Don’t.