Eleven Ways Writers Annoy Readers

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.

Tambako the Jaguar Photo credit

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
  1. Use fancy dialog attributions: snarled, coughed, barked, growled, murmured, muttered, pestered, blathered, etc.
  2. Overuse adverbs: Use adverbs sparingly, carefully, and delicately. Strong verbs communicate more effectively—and more succinctly—than a string of modifiers.
  3. Head hop: Change point of view within a scene, so your reader is confused as to who thinks what.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

Brook Blander, Literary Coach

I’ve recently started with working with a writing coach

And I’ve found it so beneficial, I wanted to share the love.

If you’re like me, you may not know exactly what a writing coach does, how you would work with one, or how to tell if a coach is good fit. Join us Fridays for a series of interviews with writing coaches and their clients. Learn about the wide range of coaching styles, coaching goals, what a writing coach can do for your writing career—and what they can’t do. Who knows? Maybe you’ll decide it’s time to give yourself the gift of coaching, too!

For today’s guest, please offer a warm welcome to Brook Blander…

BB2011-5 - Version 2How can a writer decide if working with a coach would benefit them?

I suggest trying this simple exercise. Make two lists. First, make a list of your writing goals (i.e. complete your novel, run a successful blog, etc.). Then, list your writer needs that will aid in achieving the goals (discipline, establishing a writing schedule, generating ideas, etc.). Is this list dominated by your personal strengths or is it weighed down by challenges? If the latter, it’s time to consider bringing in a coach to help in reaching your writing goals.

Working with a coach can benefit any writer, regardless of their experience with writing. Goal setting, accountability, encouragement are all benefits that coaching has to offer. If you are at a point in your writing/journaling experience that you feel you could use a bit more help with any of these tools, along with the bonus of having a listening ear, a non-judgmental perspective, and a motivating companion in the journey, you’re ready for a writing coach.

What sort of goals or skills do you work on with a client? What lies outside the client/coach relationship? (For example, writing craft, providing critiques, organization, motivation, goals, psychology)

One of my top priorities with my clients is self-care. Although they may have come to me to write a book or learn to journal in new ways, taking care of themselves mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually are essential. From there, we work on writing life (creating/establishing a writing space, routine, rituals, etc). I work with my clients to developing a complete support system of people, journaling exercises, affirmations, and even eating and exercise tips, when needed, to ensure they are operating at their optimal level to bring forth their best writing.

Tell me about the mechanics of a coaching relationship: how often you meet, the format, etc.

The majority of my coaching clients meet with me weekly. Monthly, bi-weekly, and weekly coaching sessions are offered. We also utilize e-coaching (email coaching) between sessions.

I use various resources to conduct coaching sessions to accommodate the range of comfort for my clients. Coaching sessions are held via phone or online meeting services using webcams.

All sessions are recorded with the permission of the client. This frees the client to be completely present during their session, knowing they will be able to listen to the recording at a later time to take notes, jot their weekly assignments, etc.

How can a writer get the most out of a coaching relationship?

By being and remaining open throughout the entire coaching and writing/journaling process. When a writer is open to receiving coaching recommendations, receiving the lessons which accompany their successes and challenges, then they are able to ingest every bit of the coaching experience. Coaching is about discoveries and enlightenment, about finding what works and what maintains their motivation to move forward – and even knowing when to sit and simmer.

Do you have a particular area of expertise, or something you bring to the client/coach relationship that other writing coaches might not?

I place a strong emphasis on journaling and self-care. The process of writing is going to be what it is and it varies as our personalities vary, but the growth as a person, outside of writing, happens most in the journaling and during self-care which is nurtured throughout the process. While writing, we discover so many things about our characters, about the places we set our stories, and even about the relationships between our characters.  However,  through journaling, we find the gems harbored within which tell about who we are as a person, a human, a soul – these revelations push us to a new level in which we will continue to write book after book from this elevated plane of self-knowing.

Journaling has been a part of my life since I was five years old and, ironically, I began writing fiction at the same age. As an only child and enduring a difficult childhood, journaling became a refuge for me, and it still is. It was, also, a catalyst for my escapes into creativity. I soon learned one feeds the other (journaling and writing), and it has been my writing process throughout all of my works. I believe it is my knowledge and experiences as an avid journal keeper, published author, and a publisher offer a perspective to my coaching style that best serves my clients.

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Five time author and poet, Brook Blander has been coaching writers and journal lovers to find their voice and healing through the power of creative writing and journaling for over a decade. Visit her at her website or follow her on Twitter for more creative inspiration!

Her passion for writing and helping others led her to begin work as writing coach and publishing consultant. She is the founder and owner of ebonyLotus Literary Coaching and Publishing Services.

Blander facilitates workshops online and in person throughout the US. She devotes much of her time to raising awareness of domestic and sexual violence against women and holds journaling workshops for victims and their families.

Don’t forget to check out previous interviews:

Brook, it’s so cool that you work with writers on self-care. It’s not the first thing I think of when I think of a writing coach, and yet figuring out how to lead a (somewhat) balanced life seems to be critical to my own writing process. I’d love to hear more about that!

Friends and visitors, please chime in with questions and thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

Blog of the Week: Patrick Ross, The Artist’s Road

artists road

Patrick Ross’s blog is a delight. Stories of his personal journey to put creativity and art at the forefront of life inspire me to keep up my own efforts; his frequent round-ups to blog posts, links, and Tweets provide more resources than I can absorb. He’s connected me with a number of other inspiring writers and bloggers.

And he provides all this great content while pursuing his MFA and teaching and writing up a storm elsewhere! I’m not sure how he does it, but I’m glad he does.

Here’s a sample of last week’s round-up of creativity links from The Artist’s Road:

Creativity Tweets of the Week – 02/17/12

By Patrick Ross

I’ve got blogging on the brain, most likely because I’m conducting two different blogging workshops in the next few weeks leading up to the class I’m conducting in April and May. So this week’s list of links on creativity and writing I tweeted this week includes a blogging category, because I was tweeting those as well. So be it.

CREATIVITY

Read more here…

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Patrick Ross is a writer who has returned to an art-committed life. He brings readers insights he’s gathered on creativity and writing—including lessons from the creatives he video-interviewed on a six-week, cross-country trip across the United States. He is also an instructor with The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.