Mechanisms in books you hate

Note: This thread is solely for books. Maybe we can start one for TV or movies, but I’d like to keep this one just for books in any format.

One of the things that always, always makes me want to throw a book out the window is the abrupt change in the focal character. I HATE reading 100+ pages on an interesting character, getting thoroughly wrapped up in his/her plot, anxious to find out what happens, we get to a critical point, and BAM! End of chapter. When you turn the next page it’s like Part II and it’s some other totally different character you now have to get invested in.

I find it very difficult to get invested in this new character. Occasionally the author can write a good enough yarn to get me back in, but 90% of the time I’m just reading to find out what happened to the first character. Which usually gets resolved in backstory or some such, or maybe the second character meets the first character.

What else?

I’m with you on the 100+ pages of one person’s perspective then BANG! that person is gone and you have to get into someone else’s head. It’s like you’re reading a different book all of a sudden.

That said, I do like it when authors jump from one person’s perspective to another, if it’s short, like chapter-by-chapter. George RR Martin does that in his books, and though I sometimes just wish he’d get back to whatever character I’m most into, it also makes for a great re-read because there’s always some little nuance that I missed.

My peeve: nonstandard punctuation, capitalization, or general page layout. I hate hate hate that style where they leave off the quotation marks or try to get clever with different fonts and styles. I don’t care if it’s the best book in the world, if the author decided to write it without commas because of some point he/she is trying to make, I ain’t reading it.

I concur. I stopped after the first page of The Road for this very reason.

You made me think of another one - dialect. I could not read Tai-Pan because of the awful Chinee dialect in the mouth of the Chinese guy…I can’t remember the exact words, but I posted a passage here before. It was unreadable. Dialect should be judiciously used - there were entire, deathly important conversations, page-long, all held in pigdin. Ugh!

That is annoying, and I’ve seen it several times in new books lately. I don’t know if it’s getting more common or if it’s just a coincidence.

What I really hate is when they intentionally won’t tell you the name of a main character.

This is a brilliant device in a short story…it allows you to add a lot of suspense, and disguise the gender or even the species of the writer.

It’s not so good in a novel, though occasionally I have seen it done right.

In biographies: background digressions-within-digressions that add nothing to your understanding of the person, but are there because the author wants to justify the trouble spent getting it. I’d like the first chapter of a biography to be a little more compelling than where the character’s grandparents were born and then 5 pages on the history of midwifery and donkey-based transport in the rural villages of Leicestershire or some tangential crap that seems to have wandered in from your doctoral thesis.

Oh god…don’t ever read Hunchback of Notre Dame. The whole Esmeralda/Quasimodo plot is regularly hijacked for discussions of the Cathedral, and architecture, and ugh! I can only think that was his plot and his editor said, “You better put some sex and romance and violence in here; no one’s going to read this shit.”

Unattributed dialogue, where you have to count back through two dozen lines of conversation to figure out which character is talking.

I can’t stand novels written in the present tense. Just so so annoying. I will jist put any book back on the shelf if it’s written this way.
This is more and more common lately, ESP in YA literature. I struggled through Hunger Games partly for this reason. Wasn’t worth the effort ( just my opinion). I’ve been told that the YA audience likes the present tense writing better, that it fits closer with how they think . That seems ridiculous to me.

Victor Hugo in general, really. I know more about Victorian-era jet jewelry manufacture from reading Les Miserables than I have any right or desire to know.

Moby Dick famously has about ten times more text on Melville’s description of the whaling industry then about Ahab and Ishmael. Seems to be a common structure for mid-19th century novels. I kinda like it, but mileage obviously varies.

Neal Stephenson does this to varying degrees in most of his recent books. Does any other modern author?

Heh. If this bothers you, don’t ever watch Terence Malick’s movie, The Thin Red Line.

Actually, that could be functionally shortened to “Don’t ever watch Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.”

Back to books – one mechanism that annoys me is the use of fragmented stream-of-consciousness. It’s okay as one (normal-sized) sentence or at most a few lines, to indicate some unusual mental or emotional state. But when that use stretches to a large block paragraph or more of

…and mind is pushed up and out of the book like a flotation device rising rapidly through deep water (and for much the same reason: to protect me!)

I’m not a big fan of this.

In particular, I don’t like it when the author does a lot of jumping around from character to character or setting to setting at the beginning of the book. It makes it hard for me to get into the book—hard to get oriented, hard to get into, hard to settle in and get my bearings, hard to identify with any one character.

I also find that one characteristic of the inexperienced or anateurish novelist is a carelessness with point of view. First they’ll tell me what one character knows or is feeling or how something looks from that character’s point of view, then a couple of paragraphs later I’ll be inside the head of a different character. It’s off-putting and doesn’t inspire confidence in the author.

I’d have agreed that present tense just seems gimmicky and distracting, but I was surprised at how natural it seemed and how little it bothered me in The Hunger Games.

I, and other Dopers, have spoken elsewhere of our disdain for dream sequences. One particularly annoying form of this is when a chapter starts out with the viewpoint character seeing, doing, or experiencing something shocking or horrible or wonderful or weird, and then—they wake up, and realize they were dreaming. :rolleyes:

Two page chapters. If the author can’t keep his attention on a plot point long enough to write for more than a page and a half, I can’t keep my attention on the book long enough to finish it.

One of my least favourite things that Larry Niven does with his books: he’ll write a book that has some plot holes (like many books do), and then he’ll write a sequel that says “by the way, everyone in book #1 was lying or confused” so that he can patch up some plot holes from book #1, and then sometimes he’ll even write another sequel that says “by the way, everyone in book #2 was also lying or confused” to patch up some plot holes from book #2, etc.

:eek: You’re ruling out the whole Damon Runyon canon here! Not to mention Neal Stephenson!

I would note that it actually worked kind of well (in my opinion, anyway) in Harry Turtledove’s WorldWar and Timeline-191 series. One of the advantages of the multiple viewpoint, multiple narrator approach is that if a character gets killed, the story doesn’t automatically end.

Actually, that would get me to read it.
It didn’t bother me at all that Melville often departed from the regularly-scheduled programming of Ahab, Ishmael, and company to discourse on the mechanics of whaling, or the lore of whales, or the different types and meanings of “white”. When Melville stops to say that he has a piece of isinglass right there on his writing desk, that’s a nifty little aside.