You know those moments when you’re reading a story and your skin crawls or your flow gets interrupted by that awful plot element, cringe-worthy dialogue, or character you wish you could erase from the pages? From typos to one-dimensional characters, we all have our reading pet peeves that make us want to jump on a soapbox. So let me step onto mine! Ahem!
1. OVERUSED CLICHES
Whether it’s a phrase the author uses constantly (y'all know, that breath the character didn't realize they were holding) or character dynamics, I hate when the story is made predictable by lack of originality. The ones that kill me the most are:
-“Boring” female leads- I absolutely cannot stand when a female lead goes on and on about how plain, unattractive, awkward, and “not special” she is. I don’t have a problem with a character being self-conscious; I get that we all have areas where we feel like we're lacking. But please do not give me a protagonist who constantly puts herself down and/or barely tries with her appearance, only to have other characters refer to her exceptional beauty. Give me someone who truly is plain, someone who doesn’t care about the way they look, or who is confident as hell (I’m looking at you, Celaena!).
-The Damsel in Distress- It’s 2020. Can our female characters NOT be saved by a man and/or his affections? Can we have more women who are attracted to women, asexual, or who are (dare I say it?) just not interested in love at this time? Can we have characters who feel whole and complete without needing an S.O. to help them through the story?
-Eyes changing colors- Y’all, our eyes are not mood rings! Eyes lighting up with excitement, dimming with poor health or mood, popping out with a certain makeup or clothing color, or even shifting shades with lighting changes and pupil dilation is one thing. It makes sense. Changing colors with some sort of transformation or glowing with supernatural power? I’m with ya. But if your character’s eye color goes from green to blue because they’re crying, my eyes are rolling!
I mean . . . just don’t.
3. LOVE TRIANGLES
These days I feel like it’s almost impossible to read a book, let alone a series, without at least one love triangle. And what really irks me is the triangle tends to be between brothers or best friends. I feel like a lot of these relationships are problematic and poorly executed, usually a fantasy where the woman can have two men without having to choose or being labeled a "slut." Very rarely do I come across a love triangle where I am left satisfied with the outcome.
4. “SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD SAVES THE UNIVERSE!”
I know, the stories are about teens and young adults. But does every character have to suddenly develop powers or discover a prophecy upon turning 16? I want to see a character struggle for a few years before the war is over. Give me a late-bloomer, or someone who wasn’t the first option for Savior. Show a kid failing because they’re so young and inexperienced. Anything different!
5. MOVIE ADAPTATION COVERS
I really hate seeing actors on a cover, which is usually what happens when a movie adaptation comes about. If I have yet to read the book, I have a hard time not seeing the actors when I read it. If I have read the book, I really hate seeing an actor who doesn't fit the way I personally saw the character in my mind. Sometimes it’s not even the actor’s appearance so much as their brand and what roles I associate him/her with. And maybe that's a me thing, but...
6. WEATHER CHANGING WITH CHARACTER’S MOOD
Weather can certainly affect or contribute to our moods. It makes for a great way to set the tone. But when a crack of lighting announces the villain, or the heavens open up to unleash a downpour right as our protagonist is dumped . . . it feels a bit cheesy to me. I think it would be much more powerful to contrast a clear spring day with the character’s inner storm, or to make the weather change an obstacle or nuisance for the character.
7. LACK OF DIVERSITY IN THE CAST
Do we really need every main character to be a sixteen-year-old straight white kid? Thankfully, this is becoming less of an issue these days.
8. BABY BABBLE
I often get annoyed with the way children are portrayed in books. I feel like they’re usually dumbed down, especially when it comes to dialogue. I am all for cute little quirks in their speech, but your six-year-old better not be saying, “I firsty!” or “Me hungry!”
9. GLAMORIZING POSSESSIVE BFS/GFS
I see a lot of grouchy, mean, possessive guys in YA books. They know everything, including what's best for the main character; they lash out when they're upset; they puff up when another character so much as glances at their partner; they boss the main character around . . . it goes on and on. I hate seeing women in these books think this behavior is proof of love when in reality it’s unhealthy and crosses boundaries. I also really hate the message that these characters can be saved by love and the protagonist can fix their partner by standing by them. NO THANK YOU! We should normalize healthy relationships in YA, as kids need better examples of what to accept and when to stand up for themselves.
10. EFFORTLESS PERFECTION
Part of what makes a book exciting is the struggle! Don’t write a character who effortlessly excels in everything they try, who can easily control their powers from the start, or who picks up on things quickly. I want to sympathize with them when they’re having to push their bodies, to get frustrated when they can’t figure out a problem, to find a character that complements the protagonist’s flaws. Beyond that, does everyone have to be hot, smart, The Chosen One, AND effortlessly talented? Unrealistic, and I think it's important for readers to truly connect with their favorite characters, which means they need to suck at things and get frustrated at times.
“He smelled like fresh frost on the ancient pines just as the sun begins to rise . . .” *facepalm* Give me a realistic scent for characters and settings. Is your character a chain-smoker? Okay, they're allowed to have tobacco clinging to their clothes. Do they own a bakery? Bread and frosting makes sense. Have they just gotten out of the shower? Describe their shampoo, soap, or cologne as they walk past. Kudos if your character recognizes the way someone smells different, like after they’ve showered, worked up a sweat, borrowed from someone else, or bought a new perfume.
That’s enough ranting for now. What are some of YOUR biggest pet peeves? Were they listed here, or is there something else that gets under your skin? Let me know in the comments!