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I am a writer, editor and reviewer based in Perth, Western Australia.

My books

My first novel, The Dagger of Dresnia (Book 1 of The Talismans) is published by Satalyte - it's available from their website as well as from Amazon.com and other online outlets. Book 2, The Cloak of Challiver, is in preparation. I also have a short story, La Belle Dame, in print - see Mythic Resonance below.

The Dagger of Dresnia

Buy The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia, Book 1 of The Talismans Trilogy, is available in paperback and e-book from the publisher, Satalyte Publications - click on the cover to visit their online shop. You can also purchase it from Amazon.com and other online retailers. The paperback can also be found in selected bookstores in Australia.

Mythic Resonance

Buy Mythic Resonance

Mythic Resonance is an excellent anthology that includes my short story 'La Belle Dame', together with great stories from Alan Baxter, Donna Maree Hanson, Sue Burstynski, Nike Sulway and nine more fantastic authors! Just $US3.99 from Amazon. Got a Kindle? Check out Mythic Resonance.

Prefer hard copy?

There are still a few paperback copies of Mythic Resonance available, too. Contact me (there's a contact form on my website) if you'd like a copy - $20 including postage within Australia.

Your books and theses!

As both writer and editor, I specialise in historical and high or epic fantasy. If you have a fantasy manuscript in preparation, don't waste money on editing too early. Instead, let me help with a mini-assessment of your work, based on careful reading of your synopsis and first 20 pages. Then, when you've worked on the manuscript in line with our discussions, I will be happy to do a full edit before you send it off into the big wide world. I am also an experienced academic editor, and am available to edit theses, journal submissions and other academic papers. For more about my editing work, CLICK HERE

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Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

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Sunday, 22 March 2009

Readers' pet hates

I know, long time no blog - but I've had internet and computer problems as well as being busy catching up with friends now I'm back in Perth for a few months! Today I'll post about something I've had an ongoing interest in for some years: things that turn readers off a book.

I've actually researched this, both on the internet (by reading forums, mailing lists etc) and by questioning friends who are readers rather than writers. Writers tend to read rather differently from others because it's almost impossible to turn off the editorial voice that says things like "Hmph - badly researched" and "How stupid to drag up that old trope" and "Oh no, not another vampire story..."

A reader who does not write, however, generally wants two things: an enthralling story and at least one character to identify with. Of course, ideas of what constitute an enthralling story and a likeable character are as varied as readers, which is why one reader's soul food is another's Bali belly material. It also means that the most unlikely book can attract at least some readers.

When we look at what turns readers off, however, there are several things that a wide range of readers will dislike. One is a waffly or confusing story. There are various factors that can contribute to this. The main one is lack of action. Many readers, and especially genre readers, want to see action on page one and want to see the action kept up throughout the book. Gone are the days when writers could spend a chapter or more setting the scene and introducing the characters. Modern readers want to become involved in an adventure of some kind right away. They also want plenty of sensory detail: first-hand experience of the sights, sounds, smells, textures and even tastes that the characters encounter. So boring writing that goes nowhere slowly or engages in lengthy description without a definite point of view doesn't cut it. Too many point-of-view characters - some readers will not tolerate more than three or four - can also confuse and annoy readers.

In fact, point of view is probably the next thing on which most readers have a firm opinion. Unless the story is a real stand-out, most readers dislike the old-fashioned head-hopping or fly-on-the-wall omniscient styles. Most people relate well to the "close third", which puts the reader right inside the character's head, experiencing the character's thoughts and physical sensations as closely as possible. Yet some of these same readers dislike the first person point of view, and I've been given two reasons for this. One is that although most readers love close third and its immediacy, some find first person, which is even closer and more immediate, somewhat threatening, as if they were being made to think another person's thoughts and must lose their own. Another reason given for disliking the first person POV is that it's obvious the character survives the trials and tribulations of the plot, since s/he couldn't be recounting the story otherwise. Seeing as the main character almost always does survive, no matter what the point-of-view, I can't really fathom this objection, but it has been given to me more than once as a reason for disliking first person narratives.

Which brings me to another widely held pet hate: the killing off of a favourite character. I've even heard readers say they will not read a particular author any more. "She killed off the man I really liked; the one I hoped the heroine would end up with," one of my informants said of a well-known fantasy author. Readers can be very unforgiving sometimes!

Most readers dislike long, unpronounceable names. Names with lots of x's, k's, y's, z's and funny symbols supposed to represent sounds not found in English generally annoy readers. Solid text - long paragraphs that take up more than a quarter of a page - are another pet hate, as are long internal monologues and long stretches without dialogue. Excessive use of italics is unpopular, although readers' tolerance for this varies widely: speculative fiction readers will put up with it if it represents telepathic communication, for example.

The final hate is of mucking about with time - flashbacks, flashforwards and big time jumps upset a lot of readers. Persons of a more literary bent tend to accept these more readily than genre readers, however.

What is your pet hate? What turns you off a book? I'd love to hear about it, especially if it's something I haven't covered above. So do leave a comment and let me know!

17 comments:

Jo said...

I so rarely get turned off a book these days that I can't think of anything to add. I did recently stop reading one book because I just found it boring, why did I find it boring, I don't remember. I do agree on too much use of foreign language, be it Elvish or anything else. I read an author who borrowed from other languages for all the different races and it got very irritating. The stories were good, so I persevered. However, I must not have been the only one to complain as she is not going to write any more fantasy. Pity.

One thing I do hate, which is not the author's fault, is misspellings and typos. I so wish I could be in on the editing process to help catch these errors. Some books are absolutely loaded with them.

Satima Flavell said...

Yes, I agree, Jo - the standard of editing ain't what it used to be. Or what it should be:-(

Jo said...

I am not perfectly sure what a trope is although Glenda did explain it. I am assuming that when I put a book down in occasional exasperation because the hero has just been trapped by the villains, you know he is going to get beaten up and frequently get blamed for a situation he had nothing to do with and of course make a miraculous escape, that that is a trope - in other words when you know exactly how the next section will play out. Is that a trope? If so, you can count that in as a pet hate. Some of these are OK but there are authors who litter their books with them.

gynie said...

Why could i turn off a book :

- because i'm bored (no surprise),
- or because i totally disagree whith what is written, just like every sentences might be felt like nonsense and give me the impression i'm walking in a locked sphere.
- I would turn off a book bringing me more negatives than positives thoughts.

I turned off a houellebeck book, les particules élémentaires. I thought it was stupid to write in a dark way, as if it was enough to make believe he was a rebel: i thought he was not sincere, just bringing up his style to the dead line, nonsense to me.

I was not able to finish a Terry pratchet book, Mortimer, loss of interest in the middle of the story, too many things, too chaotic in the story even though i liked the way it is written, and i did enjoy the story.

I cannot read anymore theoretic books about art or philosophy: allergic ^^

As i said already on Glenda Larke's blog i need to find something in the end, to learn something, i need some meaning ^^

Satima Flavell said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head there, Gynie. If a book doesn't talk about what it means to be human, however indirectly, it is just not worth reading. Of course, meaning is very often in the mind of the reader so a book that appeals to one person and teaches them something might not appeal to another. That's good. It means there's room for all sorts of readers and all sorts of writers, I reckon.

Yes, Jo, that's a typical trope. Mind you, the use of the term in genre fiction is different from the one given in the dictionary, but it's a handy word to describe a situation that's been used so often it's just about become a cliché. And there's nothing wrong with tropes, really; it's just that we tire of seeing them littered throughout a book, as you so aptly put it, without a single original twist. I love it when an author takes an old trope and adds a dash of paprika:-)

Graham Clements said...

A book with too many big words that has me constantly refering to a dictionary, for example, Stephen Donaldson went overboard in his last book, the story's flow was slow enough without me having to refer to the dictionary every few pages. It is more a bad habit of beginner writers with PHD's and Master degrees, as I've noticed in most of the recently printed prize winning books that I've read that I rarely need to consult a dictionary.

Sexist writing annoys me, ie, Gabrielle Lord's Salt in which nearly every male character was a moron. It is one reason why I think Salt is the worst book I have read.

I get annoyed when a character has perfect taste in clothes, an extensive knowledge of wine, listens to jazz/opera, and who is generally protrayed as being oh so sophisticated. Give me Stephen King's Target shopping, footy watching, Big Mac munching hero any time. Or at least someone who has some flaws. I remember hating Ben Bova's Moonrise because of the flawless all-American main character. It was just as well he killed him off halfway through the book.

I also instantly forget stories that have simple themes not more complex than good versus
evil.

I've noticed that just about all fantasy is written in third person, in fact I don't think I've read one that wasn't. This is perhaps due to the fact that in high fantasy the story usually splits off into different groups of characters doing their thing, which I think would be a bit hard to do in first person. Fantasy readers just don't read first person. Whereas a lot of literature is being written in first person, for example Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake. It was very suspensful as the main character searched for the fake.

Graham.

Satima Flavell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Satima Flavell said...

Interesting comments, Graham, and nice to get a male perspective. Karen Miller writes men better than most women and many men, and Robin Hobb isn't bad, either. This is one of Glenda Larke's strengths as well. Funny you didn't like Salt as I know at least one male writer who loves it: not having read it, I can't pass comment. But yes, the Sherri Tepper-style anti-male writing is downright embarrassing and I really dislike it.

There is some very good first person fantasy around. Juliet Marillier writes in first at least half the time. Deborah Kalin's recent release "The Shadow Queen" is in first and so are the works of Jacqueline Carey and (I think) Stephanie Meyer. Going back a few years, Mary Stewart's Arthurian stuff is in first as was Roger Zelazny's Amber series. Lian Hearn's Otori books are in a mixed third and first that works surprisingly well. Sylvia Kelso's Amberlight and Riversend are in a three-way first.

But yes, GRRM would be hard put to write in first with his cast of thousands:-)

As for big fancy words, I have a maxim - never use a Latinate word when a Saxon one will do, unless you're either going for a special effect or you seriously want to alienate your readers. Going back to Lian Hearn: she set off to write the Ortori books without a single Latinate word in order to give them an archaic feel - and it worked.

Graham Clements said...

I don't go out of my way to read humour, preferring books that take a serious approach to an interesting theme or themes, but I am glad to hear that there are some genre novels being written in the first person.

With Stephannie Meyer's massive sales - I've read that she may eventually outsell Rowling (and her sales have only had the extra marketing of one movie so far) - in the future we might be hearing more and more readers say that they can't stand books written in the third person.

Satima Flavell said...

It really does seem as if 1st person POV is making a comeback. I like it, myself, as long as it's an author whose work I admire. Meyer is not one of them. However, she must have something going for her because as you say, Graham, her popularity is enormous.

Marilyn Z. Tomlins said...

I read little fiction these days, but what turns me off non-fiction (biography and autobiography) is when a writer starts off telling about the subject's great-grandparents, even great-great-grandparents, great-great aunts and uncles.

Jo said...

I thought up some more dislikes and listed them in my blog today - March 30.

Satima Flavell said...

Heh heh - funny, Marilyn: as a family historian I really love that stuff. After all, we are made of what our ancestors ate:-) And we are conditioned by generations of varied experiences as well as our genetic make-up. But it's interesting only if it's relevant, and not all writers manage to make it so. It's up to the writer to discover and demonstrate how the subject's family background helped to create the person in question, and some don't even seem to try to do that.

Jo, I'll go at once and check your blog.

Jeff Hargett said...

Not only was this post informative and illuminating, the comments were as well. (Glad to see Robin Hobb get a nod. I initially thought Robin was a guy. That's how well she did a male 1st person POV.) It's always reassuring to hear that there is room for all types of writers and styles. It's something most writers know, but something we often come to doubt at times.

Satima Flavell said...

I heard Robin Hobb speak at a convention back in 2005, Jeff. Apparently she chose that name deliberately so as to appear androgynous. It's sad but true that many men will not read books by women.

She also gave some great advice - 'Just write Don't put it off until your life is less busy. You will never have any more time than you have now'. She went on to describe how, as a mother of young children, she vowed to get up an hour earlier to write before the children woke up. It obviously paid off for her!

Jo said...

Just finished Robin Hobb's last book in The Rain Wild Chronicles, good book again, sorry to finish it. I assume she has some more irons in the fire. Glad Glenda has finally got something moving with publishing her latest too, I was getting worried, LOL.

One point I was going to make, I read one book, don't remember which now, where the POV was first person til near the end when he did get killed and someone else finished the story. Good twist I thought.

Satima Flavell said...

I'm ashamed to say that I've lost track of Hobb's recent work, Jo. I had books one and two of Rainwilds but I've lost book one. I think I'd better start all over again on Kindle!

Yup, I'm dying to read Glenda's new book, The Lascar's Dagger. Can't wait!

I've seen that device of having someone else take over the story, too. One I found especially poignant was one of H Rider Haggard's where we learn in the end that the writer is a condemned man and the story breaks off as the executioners come to get him, and the person who 'found' the MS explains what happened.

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