Sunday List: Five things I hate in fiction.

Due to circumstances not beyond my control but too late to do anything about, I’m not going to be able to publish a book review this week. However, in order to have something literature-related I’ll make today’s Sunday List themed along those lines. I like griping, I like reading, so why not gripe about things I dislike in reading? Today I present to you my list of five things that I hate to see in something I read. Some of the items on this list may apply to other forms of storytelling as well, but let’s just stick to books for ease of use.

  1. There are too many sentence fragments. I’m not referring to too many sentence fragments in one story. I’m all in favor of breaking grammar rules when it works. There are times in which an author can employ a sequence of sentence fragments in order to construct a sense of despair or urgency. However, there are just too many sentence fragments in fiction these days. This is something one sees often in mass market science fiction books, like Star Wars novels. I made it through a book that focused on Darth Maul that featured a section that, for supposed dramatic effect, had one-word paragraphs to try to emulate grandeur. It became really annoying instead.
  2. Dramatic irony. There are rare exceptions to this rule but I generally just don’t like dramatic irony. That’s why I could never make it through a Three’s Company marathon. You know when podcasters joke that when they can’t think of a name of something the listeners are screaming at their iPods/phones/computers/whatever? That’s what I’m doing at a book in which the main character is doing something stupid when I know information that could help them. This is not a problem with bad writing. But it’s still something that annoys me.
  3. Shifting between first and third person in the narrative. I have no problem when a story that’s written in first person shifts between characters. This happens in third person all of the time. But when you go from one type to the other it’s jarring. You end up with a disjointed book that looks like it was written by two different people. You have one story, stick with one narrative. Again, I suppose that there may be exceptions to this rule, such as if the book is avant-garde and the narrative shift is the actual point of the artistic meaning of the piece. But in a “normal” form of storytelling, let me follow the action without the change.
  4. Too many details as padding. Okay, so I’ll read escapist fiction from time to time. I’m not a literature-snob. Still, I just read a series of Star Trek novels earlier this year that I got as a gift, and I have to say that they’re not as good as the older books from the eighties. One of the biggest problems that I had with the books was that in order to make them longer (when they really didn’t need to be in the first place), there was just too much detail distracting from the plot. I could have developed a drinking game for the number of times that a character took a drink of something, and it was described as “sliding down his/her throat.” Just get on with the story.
  5. Lack of quotation marks indicating dialogue. Cormac McCarthy can do it. Some short stories have pulled it off. But that’s about it. I need to be able to follow who’s saying what to whom. When done well, the lack of quotation marks melds the dialogue with the narrative, giving it a dreamlike quality that can be used to great effect. A good deal of the time, though, it’s not. I’m not as strict on this one as the other things on this list but when it annoys me, it really annoys me.

I’m still planning on some sort of post tomorrow, although that’s only if I can get what I’m planning to work. I know that sounds cryptic but I don’t want to say too much if what I’m planning won’t turn out the way I had intended. Anyway, by next weekend my life should return to normal and I would be able to read the book I’m borrowing from the library then. I should have my next review on September 5th.


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