Thursday, October 1, 2020

Reader Pet Peeves

Posted by: PG Forte

 I heard it said recently that authors make the worst book reviewers. My immediate reaction was that this couldn't possibly be true. We authors love books. We love reading them, obsessing over them, fangirling over other authors. We discuss them to death...and, occasionally, we even love writing them.  Whenever a group of authors get together, the books we've read or the ones we're writing form our main topics of conversation...followed closely, of course, by discussions of food, wine, shoes, and sometimes business. 

Who knows better how difficult writing can be? Why wouldn't we be the best, most forgiving, people to review books? Well, I've given the matter a lot of thought, and I think I've figured out why. 

I think the problem is that we're too serious about writing.  We're too invested--in both the process and the end results--we take it too personally. Also, there's our inner critic. We have to ruthlessly squash the tendency to critique in order to get any words at all down on paper. So I guess it's not that surprising, after all, that the instinct to pick things apart would explode out of the gate when we finally unleash it on someone else's book.  

Here's a list, in no particular order, of things that have annoyed me as a reader--things that, not always, but for the most part, I'm reasonably certain wouldn't have bothered me one iota before I started publishing. 

1. Continuity problems. This has always bothered me to some extent, although not as much as it does now. I like to think the reason me is that I pay attention, and it bugs me that others (other authors, that is) don't. But I suspect the real reason is that it's an issue is that I obsess over and struggle with so much in my own work. But books where the author seemingly can't recall details from one book to the next (or worse, within a single book) make me furious. We've all changed characters' names, and find-and-replace doesn't always get the job done--mostly, I think, because there's always some part of our brains that continues to think of that character by his or her former name. So I give gratuitous name changes a pass. But things like eye color, age, height, and all those little quirks we lavish on our characters to make them stand out--those shouldn't change. If they do, it's a problem for me. I feel like I shouldn't know your characters better than you do. 

2. Location, location, location. I love fictional locations that are based on real locations that I'm familiar with. I love being able to pick out the actual places that inspired the author, as well as seeing where imagination took over. BUT, if you're going to set your story in the real world, in a place I feel a personal connection to, I'm going to hate absolutely everything you write that departs, in any way, from my experience of the place. 

Case in point: I spent hours, recently, ranting about a series set in the Oakland Hills; wondering why the characters, on a trip from Tilden Park to the Berkeley Marina would head right toward Albany, when they hit San Pablo, rather than left toward Emeryville. And I felt unreasonably cheated when they ended up not going to the marina after all (even though it shouldn't have been surprising, I guess, since they clearly would have gotten lost, the way they were going!) since I'd volunteered at the Nature Center there for nearly ten years. 

3. What's on your menu?  In my first series, it often seemed to me that everyone was always eating or drinking or cooking. And I was good with that. I enjoyed testing or inventing recipes that matched my characters' individual tastes. Then I began writing about things like vampires and angels, automatons  and demi-god tree-shifters and, over time, food began to disappear from my books. Other than cookies, of course. Apparently all my characters enjoy those. 

So, I guess it was only natural that I'd begin to critique dishes (or vintages) that I was reading about.  Occasionally, I've tried to recreate the dishes I've read about (that's not new. I still recall, when I first read Pippi Longstocking as a child, pestering my mother for open-faced, flatbread sandwiches like Tommy and Anika ate.  Recently, I tried my hand at buckwheat scones--because they sounded amazing when I read about them. FYI: a little buckwheat goes a loooong way. Too much, and you get very dry scones. 

More and more often, I  find myself complaining when an author (or a character's) tastes differ too much from my own. Which I freely admit is absolutely ridiculous, and I suspect might have more to do with this being 2020 than anything else.

4. Paranormal details. Going back to those aforementioned vampires, I only started writing them because I was so critical of various vampire quirks that my daughter basically challenged me to write my own version if I did didn't like what I was reading. This is one area where I've actually become less critical. Yes, I still have very strong opinions on what the rules should be governing the ways in which vampires, shifters, ghosts, the Fae, etc should behave, but apparently writing my own was exactly the antidote I needed. 

5. Careers, hobbies and assorted interests.  This takes us into "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" territory.  If I've done it, known someone who's done it, researched it for a book, or always wanted to do it, I'm going to be hyper-aware of tiniest discrepancy between what I've experienced, and what you're showing me. It's an obnoxious trait. I annoy myself with it. But there it is.  

As I've been compiling this list, it's occured to me that part of the reason I've been so critical lately could have to do with fact that I'm not writing as much as I used (because reasons). It's sort of a: "those who can do, those who can't critique," scenario. 

Of course, it could also be because I simply have more time to read now, but I don't think so. I think I just really am much happier, overall, when I'm actively working on my own books. Which is good to know, honestly, because I've 've been so sporadic lately, that I've really started wondering if there was any reason to continue.

Getting my inner critic to chill TF out once in awhile? That's definitely a reason.  

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