Writing Pet Peeves
You may be wondering why there’s a psychotic-looking cat biting someone’s toes as the photo for a post about writing pet peeves. Well, I’m about to tell you. This cat is named Peeve. He’s a literal pet peeve. He belongs to my dear friend, Roxanne, and I can tell you, this cat? He’s a total asshole. He’s utterly hilarious, but oh my god, he’s a jerk. I blame her husband. He’s always wanted a pet named, Peeve. I feel like he brought this curse upon their family. However, I’m also kind of delighted because Peeve, while being unbelievably awful, is also unbelievably delightful. Though, Roxanne may beg to differ.
Unlike, the literal pet, Peeve, writing pet peeves don’t have much to recommend them. They’re just there. And they’re irksome. They don’t even purr and look cute. They just chew on my patience like Peeve chews on…well, everything.
In no particular order, here are a few of my writing pet peeves:
Head hopping: You know the one – where the POV bounces back and forth like a drunken game of ping pong in a smelly, frat house basement.
I think a good rule of thumb is if there are alternating points of view, stick to one character per scene. Or, one POV per chapter. This is fairly easy for me because I tend toward shorter chapters. But whatever you do, the reader doesn’t need to be in the heads of the taxi-driver, mother-in-law, cashier, best friend, or pizza delivery person. See also: the POVs of every member of the rock band, members of the audience and the formerly non-sentient teddybear on the shelf. (Yes, these are all things I’ve come across in published books.) If what those people are thinking is somehow crucial to the plot, it can be shown through dialogue and action. Except for the teddybear. Fuck that little stuffie.
POV changes mid-story: This is less head hopping and more straight up changes. For instance, if, in the middle of a third person narrative, the story suddenly jumps to second person, that’s super annoying.
Here’s an example:
Ivy hadn’t seen him since Caleb and Charlotte’s wedding reception, and she prayed to the deity of drunken hook-ups that Phoebe’s uncle didn’t remember her. It had been twelve years and zero contact. Chances were good that she might look vaguely familiar to him, but he’d never make the connection. At least, that was her fervent hope. Other than the fact he was the bride’s bother, she didn’t really have any regrets. You know how these things go…you get dumped the night before your friends’ wedding, drink entirely too much, and you find yourself in the janitor’s closet, attempting to fuck your ex out of your system. It happens.
This sudden switch into second person POV is jarring and unnecessary. Now, if you’re writing a first person narrative, you can get away with the occasional jump into second person. Here’s that same section from a first person POV with the jump to second. It’s a lot less jarring, I think , because a first person narrative is already telling the story directly to the reader, and that jump feels less like the author is breaking the fourth wall.
I hadn’t seen him since Caleb and Charlotte’s wedding reception, and I prayed to the deity of drunken hook-ups that Phoebe’s uncle didn’t remember me. It had been twelve years and zero contact. Chances were good that I might look vaguely familiar to him, but he’d never make the connection. At least, that was my fervent hope. Other than the fact he was the bride’s bother, I didn’t really have any regrets. You know how these things go…you get dumped the night before your friends’ wedding, drink entirely too much, and you find yourself in the janitor’s closet, attempting to fuck your ex out of your system. It happens.
Another kind of annoying POV insertion often happens in third person narrative. It’s the jump into an omniscient POV.
Here’s an example:
She slumped against the back of the chair, able to relax knowing Jonah was safe–at least for a little while. But that was all about to change…in ways she never expected.
You see it a lot as a chapter hook. I think it’s often used that way because the author wants the reader to keep reading and thinks that this tantalizing bit of info is going to keep them turning the pages and that it’ll also build tension. But all a jump into omniscient POV does is lessens the actual impact of your plot whenever whatever terrible thing you alluded to actually happens, because the readers knew it was coming. They might not have known what, exactly. But they were on the lookout. It’s more effective to let the plot wind tighter naturally than to try to engender artificial fear in your reader.
Using apostrophes to pluralize words: There’s a sign I see every year, starting around the beginning of Lent: All you can eat fish fry’s every Friday evening.
No…just no. It’s fish fries.
Fish fry’s indicates a possessive. It means that something belongs to the fish fry. What is it? The fish fry’s excessive use of vegetable oil? The fish fry’s extra large napkin order? The fish fry’s pungent odor that clings to the hair and clothing of everyone present? What?
It’s not book’s, rug’s, fan’s, machine’s, or dresser’s. It’s books, rugs, fans, machines, and dressers. Unless something specifically belongs to any of these things, you don’t use an apostrophe.
And if you’re sending out holiday cards or invitations to an entire family, they don’t go to the Jones’s, the De La Rosa’s, the St. James’s, the Jarman’s, the Norris’s, the Cease’s, the Prince’s, the Trout’s, or the Green’s. They go to the Joneses, the De La Rosas, the St. Jameses, the Jarmans, the Norrises, the Ceases, the Princes, the Trouts, and the Greens.
Incorrect use of I and me: This is one of those things that is constantly misused, mostly because a lot of people think that using me sounds wrong, and often childish or uneducated. Here’s a trick that my 10th grade English teacher taught me, because this was one of his biggest pet peeves.
Use “I” if you’re the subject of the sentence. Use “me” if you’re the object.
Here are some examples:
The teacher gave Sally and me good grades. This is correct usage. You can tell because if you swapped out “I” for “me” and took Sally out of the equation, you’d have The teacher gave I good grades. And if the teacher is giving me good grades for this kind of sentence construction, the teacher and I have bigger problems than using “me” and “I” correctly.
The trick is to remove the other person from the sentence. If “I” still works, you’re golden. If not, switch to “me”.
Telling about a character’s emotions rather than showing them: This falls into the “drives me batty” category. Don’t tell me he was mad or sad or terrified or depressed. Show me. Show me his tightening fists and narrowed eyes. Show me a lump rising in his throat and tears burning his eyes. Show me his rapid breathing, his cold sweat, his inability to move. Show me how he plays one game of solitaire after another so he doesn’t have to think or how he shovels one handful of chips in his mouth after the other so the crunching will drown out the sound of his own thoughts.
Telling about a character’s traits rather than showing them: This involves one character waxing poetic about another character but never seeing anything in the story that backs up the description. (Looking at you, E.L. James.) For instance, Christian goes on at length about how brilliant and amazing and remarkable Ana is. There is nothing in the text to back up these assertions. In fact, if one were to make inferences about her intelligence based on her behavior, one would be forced to admit that she basically falls into the “too stupid to live” category. And there’s nothing remarkable about Ana either, other than she somehow managed to graduate from college without a working email address. So words mean things. By all means, have your characters think what they want about their fellow characters, but back it up. You can’t just run around having people talk about how smarty-smart your character is and have him behave like he’s the village idiot.
Doubling up on the action (no, not that kind): I see this on a fairly regular basis. Character thinks or talks about what action has to be done. Said thought or dialogue is immediately followed by character doing that very thing. No. Just…no.
Here’s an example:
Louloufifibelle sighed and muttered to herself, “Damnation. I have to get the mail.” Louloufifibelle walked outside and got the mail.
That is…just annoying. Not to mention super unnecessary.
Thesaurus misuse: Okay, I’m all about avoiding word reps. They’re annoying to read and when you start noticing a lot of them in the prose, it begins to feel like they’re dumbing down the narrative. Now, I’m sure you’re reading this and thinking, well the thesaurus is the best friend of people who hate word reps. It is…and it isn’t. You have to be careful when you’re choosing synonyms that you have the right one in the right form. Often times, I’ll be reading, and a fairly mundane word will just stop me dead in the middle of a sentence because it reads as so out of place that it jolted me from the story. When you’re searching for synonyms, the thing to keep in mind is that words have nuances. And you need to make sure that those nuances apply to your sentence.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you write the sentence: He made a good point.
But then you realized that you just used the word “made” three lines above. So you get out your handy dandy thesaurus and you look for synonyms for made.
And you write this: He contrived a good point.
No. No, he didn’t. Just because contrived is listed as a synonym for made doesn’t make those two words interchangeable. Be aware of the word’s nuances before you haphazardly try to swap it out.
Mary Sue as heroine: I’m sure you’ve all seen that character – the heroine who’s clearly a stand in for the author’s idealized self. (Looking at you, Laurel K. Hamilton/Anita Blake/Merry Gentry.) A Mary Sue tends to be pretty easy to pick out. She’s perfect, everyone loves her (except those mean girls who obviously just want to be her), she always saves the day, gets the guy, and she’s boring AF. The corresponding male character is Gary Stu. He’s equally irksome.
Sexist, misogynistic dickbags who are being lauded as heroes: I am so sick of a certain class of dude being portrayed as a romance hero. He tends to be aggressive sexually and otherwise. I’m not talking sexually aggressive in a fun way where both parties are into it – I’m talking the predatory sort of aggression that wears the victim heroine down to the point where she gives in. On pretty much everything. And outwardly, it doesn’t even have to appear sexual in nature. It can be that he’s forcing her to accept a new car, protection from his super secret-y security team, a better job, etc. He’s constantly ignoring the wishes/feelings/autonomy of the heroine because he knows better, and he’s going to prove it. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this dude is ridiculously wealthy gazillionaire but he moonlights as an MMA fighter, the president of a motorcycle club, a former Navy SEAL, or a cowboy – sometimes all. at. once. Is it supposed to make him extra appealing that during the day he crushes his competitors in his super upscale job as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and at night he beats the shit out of his opponents in the seedy underworld of mixed martial arts? Oh, and he fits in some Daddy-Domming on the side in some high-end, yet still skeezy leather club? No. It makes him a douche.
If you, like me, now have this awesome song in your head…you’re welcome.
I think that’s about it from me. But be sure to share some of your writing/reading pet peeves and don’t forget to check out the other bloggers’ pet peeves, too!