I have many pet peeves. It isn’t healthy how many things annoy me. Not superficial annoyance, mind you, but deep abhorrence. The subject of this post will center on my literary pet peeves.
In order of most annoying:
- “Than ever” (and every variant therein)
How lazy is this literary device? Some authors cannot help themselves, it seems. Here is an example (of a possible 29—ridiculous!) from the final book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series:
Once the Crimson King called more coaxingly than ever to Roland, asking if he would not come to the Tower and palaver, after all.
Side note: I think Stephen King is a wonderful storyteller, but he is one of the worst culprits of “than ever’s.” J.K. Rowling is the only author worse, in my experience. However, almost every author I’ve read uses it. And it’s like cocaine, they use it once and then it all goes downhill from there.
Now, let’s address this sentence. *Looks around nervously*
Where to start?
Let’s begin with the more insidious components behind “than ever.” I’ve taken several writing classes and read several books about writing by renowned authors (including Stephen King’s book On Writing, so he knows better), and over and over again, I have been taught that adverbs are taboo.
An adverb often precedes “than ever.” In this sentence it’s coaxingly, which, to be frank, is a horrible adverb to use. It’s clunky.
Since “than ever” is used in comparisons, it is always used in conjunction with an adjective like more or less. (Adjectives are more acceptable than adverbs, but not by much.)
I also think there are some completely unnecessary words in this sentence. Here is how I would rewrite it:
The Crimson King tried desperately to beguile Roland, asking if he would not come to the Tower and palaver.
First, my sentence is five words shorter than King’s (winning!). Is it the best sentence ever written? No, of course not. But, to me, it fixes the problems while still conveying the Crimson’s King attempts to get Roland to do his bidding.
I used an adverb, but I paired it with a verb, which to me, is stronger than using an adverb and writing “than ever.” In most cases, you can omit “than ever” and still have a completely coherent sentence.
I have context for this sentence within the rest of the book, so I am at a slight advantage, but King had context, too, obviously. Over and over again, King used “than ever” and it drove me bonkers. *eye roll*
- “Had had”
Cringeworthy. Awful. And once again, lazy. There are ways to rework sentences to completely avoid “had had.” Usually, you can eliminate one of the had’s and still have a sentence that makes sense (it doesn’t matter if you eliminate the first or second had).
J.K. Rowling was guilty of several “had had’s” in her book The Casual Vacancy. (Fun fact: that book had most of these pet peeves in excess). Click here for my review.
- No redeemable characters and the absence of justice.
Once again, J.K. Rowling was guilty of this is The Casual Vacancy. Gillian Flynn was similarly guilty of this in her book Gone Girl.
Some people may not mind the characters not having any morals, but I cannot stand it. Obviously, not every character can be righteous, but having characters with redeemable qualities is a must for me.
Also, I need a sense of resolution and justice at the end of books. Neither book mentioned above accomplished this for me. Evil people literally got away with murder, and no one was held responsible for their reprehensible actions.
- “That” in excess (and other unnecessary words)
Some authors—though, typically not good ones—use words like “that,” “just,” and “like” with abandon. Again, the writing classes I’ve taken have made me aware of this literary faux pa. It’s natural to write unnecessary words; it’s almost inevitable. But, an author editing his or her own work (which is 100% necessary) should be able to catch most of the unnecessary words. Ever heard of the find feature in Word?
- Overuse of similes and metaphors
The book responsible for creating this particular pet peeve is A Man Called Ove. The author wrote some pretty ingenious similes and metaphors, but it became distracting when there were two or three per page. Per page, people.
Using plain language to describe something is as valuable as using similes, and the plain language needs to be the default.
- Off-the-wall sentence structures as the norm
There is nothing wrong with scattering some unique sentence structures into a book or other published work, but when it is the default, it makes a book very difficult to read.
Great, the author is a master of the English language and different grammar devices; in moderation, this can add a lot of color to the book. But like anything done in excess, it gets old after a while.
- Full paragraphs inside parenthesis
J.K. Rowling did this in The Casual Vacancy. *eye roll* She would start a parenthesis at the beginning of a paragraph, and then not end it until the very end, or even well into the next paragraph.
Dumb. On more than one occasion, I had to go back and make sure I didn’t miss where she ended it. I haven’t really seen this in other books, and I cannot bash The Casual Vacancy enough. *giggles*
That book was a chore to read, mostly because of the terrible style and syntax.
This is not an exhaustive list of literary pet peeves, but these are the Big Seven in my book. Severe judgment takes place when an author makes a habit of using one or more of these pet peeves of mine.
2 Replies to “Literary pet peeves”
I know this is an old post, however I was drawn to read it. I can’t believe I asked you to edit my work. I’m nervous now, I’m confident in your work, but nervous and felling a bit vulnerable.
Don’t be nervous!! Most of those pet peeves come from very accomplished fiction authors who should know better. I want to help you take your stuff to the next level; I’m not out to crucify it. I’m excited to work with you. 🤗🤗