Category Archives: Characters

Korean drama and plot bunnies, or my mind works in mysterious ways.

Image courtesy Badgirlzwrite.com
Image courtesy Badgirlzwrite.com

So I have been merrily editing my way through Chapter 18 of Broken Things when I decided to take an hour break and watch City Hunter, a Korean drama that several of my friends highly recommended. Plus, I had a valid reason to watch it, I swear! Just like my novel Of Broken Things, it deals with revenge and how it alters people. It raises some important questions. How far would you go to get your revenge and still be able to live with yourself afterwards? Where is the line after which you lose your humanity? How can you survive when your quest backfires and hurts your loved ones? Does the goal really justify the means?

 

Anyway, I had just intended to watch the first episode before going back to editing, but it was just so gosh darn good that I decided to watch episode 2 as well… There went my three day weekend, my sleep and my sanity.

 

This show rocks, people! The story is solid and fast-paced. The characters are fully developed and believable (and lovable). The actors who play them did a wonderful job of showing us the tragedy of the situation without falling into cheap pathos. I rooted for them I was scared for them, and I cried when one of them died. I hadn’t been this engaged with the characters of a series since Buffy or Firefly, so that’s saying something. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the main male lead, Lee Min-ho should officially change his name to Lee Min-HOT. And boy, can he act.

 

But I digress. After watching 20 one hour episodes in less than three days, I woke up on Sunday morning with a rabid plot bunny gnawing on my brain. You would think that after City Hunter, the story idea would be about revenge… and you would be wrong. No revenge at all. Zilch. Nada. And it’s not even set up in our modern world. The only thing it took from the Korean drama is the Asian-inspired setting. Even then, the spirits in this new story have more similarity with Japanese mythology than Korean.

 light-bulb-idea-vector

And the biggest surprise is that this plot bunny jumped into my brain already half-grown and well-fed. Usually, I just get a scene, or a glimpse of a character or two, maybe a vague idea of the world. This time, I already have a pretty good grasp on the world structure, mythology and topography, and even a bit of historical background. I have two fully formed protagonists, each one with their own backstories already.

 

More importantly, I KNOW exactly what this story will be about. No, I don’t have a fully-formed plot just yet, though I do have a scene that I know will be pivotal in the story. But I know the MESSAGE this story will tell. This is a first for me. Usually, the actual message emerges somewhere in the last quarter of the first draft or even during editing. Here, I already know the message and I haven’t even started planning or outlining yet!

 

And another big surprise: it’s a Young Adult story. I’m floored. I don’t usually read YA, and I certainly don’t write it, at least not intentionally, because Mists of the Crossworlds turned out YA in the end, but was certainly not planned like that.

 

This new story starts YA from the beginning. It’s a coming of age story. A story of self-discovery, self-improvement and even self-sacrifice. Oh, and it’s definitely a love story…

 

So after watching 20 hours of contemporary drama about revenge, my brain came up with an idea set up in a magical / steampunky world with not a single revenge plot in sight. Inspiration, you sure work in mysterious ways. Maybe I should cast Lee Min-ho as the male protagonist, just to pay tribute to the series that jolted my brain into overdrive?

 

Anyway, I spent most of my Sunday frantically typing all my shiny new ideas into Scrivener. Good news – I think I have my NaNoWriMo 2015 project pretty much locked down. Bad news – I haven’t done any editing at all this weekend.

 

What I mostly wanted to show with this story is that it’s good to expand your horizons sometimes, to venture out of your comfort zone. That’s where the best ideas lie in waiting. I was unfamiliar with Korean dramas and rather skeptical when I started watching City Hunter, yet it gave me a precious gift: the makings of what will become a wonderful story.

Image by Van Assche -Embarcadero
Image by Van Assche -Embarcadero

Favorite Protagonists – Yuna from Final Fantasy X.

It’s been a while, but I’ve decided to continue the series of posts about my favorite protagonists. You can read my post about Severus Snape, The Doctor, Sephiroth and Raymond Reddington.

Today, I want to talk about another protagonist I love dearly – Yuna from Final Fantasy X. And no, I will not mention Final Fantasy X-2, even  though I played it. For me, the story was finished with the ending of Final Fantasy X, and that’s how it will stay.

Yuna from Final Fantasy X (property of Square Enix)
Yuna from Final Fantasy X (property of Square Enix)

Now, those of you who played this game might object and say that Tidus is the real protagonist of FFX, not Yuna. I beg to differ. Yes, it’s very much Tidus’s story and we discover the world of Spira through his eyes. But it’s also Yuna’s story, because everything Tidus does revolves around her quest to defeat Sin and bring the much needed Calm to Spira. Everywhere she goes, he follows. She calls the shots in this journey.

I must admit that Yuna is one of my favorite characters, because she is so unlike what is usually considered a kickass heroine. She is not a fighter, for one. She specializes on healing and support magic, letting her stronger companions do the attacking. And if they need additional fire power, she can ask one of her Summons for help. She is not a bubbly happy silly girl like Rikku either. In fact, she is the most subdued and level-headed from all the women in the party.

In fact, she comes across as kind of bland and boring at the beginning of the game. When I saw her during my first playthrough, I thought, “Oh great, another damsel in distress that Tidus will have to constantly save throughout the game.” Oh boy was I wrong.

Under that shy and non-conflictual exterior hides a will of steel, an endless well of courage and an unwavering moral compass.  Yuna is the glue that keeps the group of ragtag adventurers together. And she doesn’t need saving, even when Tidus thinks otherwise, like during that famous wedding scene, when they rush to her rescue all guns blazing only to discover that she already had a backup plan. I laughed so hard at Tidus’s face when she told him, “Don’t worry, I have wings.” and just jumped off the tower.

I also loved her whole backstory and her motivation. She is a Summoner. Summoners are respected and worshiped in Spira, and for good reason. During the Calm, their duty is to perform the ritual sending of souls to the Farplane. It’s an important duty, because without that souls will linger on Spira and eventually come to resent the living and turn into monsters.

Sin from Final Fantasy X (property of Square Enix)
Sin from Final Fantasy X (property of Square Enix)

But this is not why the Summoners are so revered. When the Calm ends and Sin comes to terrorize Spira again, they are the only ones who can defeat him and bring another Calm. A Summoner wishing to challenge Sin has to undertake a pilgrimage through all the temples of Spira to gain the support of all the Aeons. Once they accomplish that, their journey lays into the ruined city of Zanarkand to obtain the Final Aeon and be able to defeat Sin and gain the title of Grand Summoner.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just a sight-seeing journey through the beautiful land of Spira with an epic battle at the end. That’s what Tidus thinks at first too… Only there is a reason why the title of Grand Summoner can only be awarded posthumously. Only the Final Aeon can defeat Sin, but it kills the Summoner in the process as well.

This little revelation shines a whole new light on Yuna’s character. She knows that her journey is one way only. She is well aware that death awaits her at the end. But she chooses to step on this path and see it through no matter what. Not for glory, not for fame, not for respect, but for the people of Spira. Yuna chooses to sacrifice her own life to grant her world another 10-20 years of Calm. Even when she is declared a heretic and excommunicated by the Temples, when she loses the support of the people she wants to save, she still presses on…

I fight for Spira. The people long for the Calm. I can give it to them. It’s all I can give. Defeating Sin, ending pain… this I can do.  

Yuna from Final Fantasy X.

And she never feels sorry for herself or cries about her life. In fact, she goes out of her way to help others and cheer her companions up when they feel down, even though for her this journey is one big farewell to the world she loves so much.

For me, Yuna is the perfect example of inner strength. She might not carry a kickass sword or unleash waves of fire upon enemies, but she never breaks, no matter how hard her life gets. She is also the perfect example of a female character who has agency. She doesn’t just let the current carry her through the story, she swims with it (and even against it in the end) instead. She makes her own decisions and chooses her own path.

The Sending Ritual.
The Sending Ritual.

I would really like to see more characters like Yuna in books and movies, but for some reason her type is extremely rare.

Authors who changed my life – Sir Terry Pratchett.

I have decided to start a new series of blog post where I would try to share with you some of the authors who had a significant impact on how I perceive the world. Some of them you will probably have heard of or even read, but others might be a discovery.

 

I want to do this because as authors, we don’t just read books for fun – we usually try to learn something from each and every one of them, even if it is not to make the mistakes that particular author made. But some authors go even further than that. Some authors touch something deep inside us. Their work resonates with something in our hearts and minds and ends up changing us.

Sir Terry Pratchett
Sir Terry Pratchett

For me, Terry Pratchett is one such author. I stumbled into his books during a rather bleak period of my life and I can say with absolute certainty that his dry humor pulled me out of some dark places. There were days when reading about the fantastical world of Discworld was the only bright spot in my day.

 

But this is not the only reason I love Terry Pratchett books so much. Yes, they made me laugh out loud sometimes and just chuckle most of the time, but underneath all that humor and sometimes ridiculous premises, they imparted some very insightful grains of wisdom that made me pause and think… then change the way I see the world.

 

So now I want to introduce my readers to this wonderful author who, sadly, has left us in March.  He has led a long and interesting life, as his Wiki page would tell you, and left a legacy of over 60 books. All of them are good and all will make you laugh or cry, but always teach you something. You can look at his Amazon page for the list.

quote-Terry-Pratchett-light-thinks-it-travels-faster-than-anything-44296

Most of Terry Pratchett books take place on Discworld – a world that is literally a flat disk riding on four elephants standing on a great turtle who travels through space in search of a mate. Legends say that when that happens, the world will end, though debates abound on that subject, the main point of contention being whether the turtle is male or female. So of course, the rules of physics don’t really apply in this weird world. Rules of magic do instead, when they feel like it, that is…

 

And this is the first lesson Sir Terry Pratchett taught me as a writer – no matter how fantastical your world is or how ridiculous the rules are, once you have explained them, you have to STICK with them  till the end. Because everything that happens on Discworld makes perfect sense in the limits of that world’s logic. Always.

 

Another big lesson I learned is that characters are paramount, and creating memorable characters is essential to a good story. Now my immersion into the universe of Discworld didn’t start with book one (though I came back and read it eventually). The very first book I read was Guards! Guards! And to me the series about the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork will always remain my favorite. Because it introduced me to some wonderfully broken, twisted, but also noble characters, one of which is a 6 foot tall adopted dwarf named Carrot, who might or might not be the long lost Heir of Ankh-Morpork defunct ruling dynasty.  It also introduced me to Captain Sam Vimes, a jaded, bitter, tired guard who had seen everything bad and dark that his city can throw at him but who still LOVES it and will do anything to protect it and its citizens.

RIP Sir Terry, you will be missed.
RIP Sir Terry, you will be missed.

This is also the series that gave us Men at Arms, in which the city of Ankh-Morpork introduced the Equal Species Act and wonderful characters like Angua the werewolf, Detritus the Troll and Cuddy the Dwarf joined the motley crew.

 

And if following a bunch of guards who try to fight crime in the most dangerous city of the world is not really your cup of tea, I would recommend reading The Wee Free Men. This book shows us that becoming a witch doesn’t involved going to a fancy magical school and waving a wand around for 7 years. A real witch has to have the common sense to see that something is wrong and the courage to do something about it. A real witch says, “This is my town, those are my people, and I will NOT let you harm them.”

 

No matter where you start your acquaintance with Discworld, Terry Pratchett books are guaranteed to make you laugh, make you feel better about your life and your day and teach you a thing or two in the process.

The new Avengers or the importance of laughter even in dire situations.

Laughter can keep darkness at bay, even if you are laughing through tears.
Laughter can keep darkness at bay, even if you are laughing through tears.

I went to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron this weekend and I absolutely loved it! But this blog post is not a movie review, even though I would love to write one of those. No, this movie made me remember why I love Joss Whedon’s work so much. It’s because no matter how grim things get, or how uneven the odds the protagonists face, they never lose their sense of humor.

 

So that is what I would like to talk about today – the importance of laughter when writing stories, even the dark and dreary ones… especially the dark and dreary ones. Because laughter provides much needed respite and a ray of light in the otherwise total darkness. It also often serves to amplify the impact of that darkness much better than bucket-loads of angst would.

 

Now, I need to point out that by laughter I don’t mean below the belt jokes, fart noises and other “comic relief” efforts like the introduction of Jar Jar Binks to the Star Wars universe (shudders, Jar Jar deserves a long and painful death). I’m not saying that this kind of humor doesn’t have its place, but I’m not a fan or the intended audience it seems.

 

However, Buffy the Vampire Slayer still remains one of my favorite TV Series of all times, because it addressed so many difficult, dark and sometimes controversial issues, and it did that with respect, finesse and yes, humor. Did the humor diminish the show somehow? Lessen the impact of the often horrible things that followed? Not in the least. Yes, Buffy can joke and say, “Apocalypse? We’ve all been there,” but that doesn’t lessen her sacrifice at the end of Season 5, or the depth of her despair after she is brought back to life in Season 6. The fact that all those characters can still joke about their life and smile after the horrible things all of them went through in this show actually makes them seem much more human and endearing.

Spike and his dry humor.
Spike and his dry humor.

 

And I think that’s the trend in all of Joss Whedon projects: his characters try to cheer each other up and joke about their circumstances no matter how bleak they are, because it beats curling up in a ball and weeping. Joss Whedon creates strong and memorable characters. They face danger square on, they fight it, they get bruised and bent out of shape, but they never ever break. And humor has a big part in that.

 

The Firefly episode when Mal and Wash are tortured and Mal tries to keep Wash’s mind off the pain by making him jealous of his relationship with Zoe is still one of my favorites (though I love all of them dearly). Yes, the banter between the two of them is hilarious, but it also serves to underline the horror they are going through, as well as showing us exactly how far Mal would go to protect his people. Do I love Mal less for joking about something like this? No, I love him even more for ignoring his pain and trying to make sure Wash pulls through the ordeal.

mal and wash

This is also why the scene in the new Avengers where Tony Stark cracks jokes while trying to pound the Hulk unconscious before he levels a city resonated more with me than most of the scenes with Katniss in Mokingjay. And I still remember Loki’s speech just before the Hulk pounds him into the floor in the first Avengers, but I forgot most of what happened in the Hunger Games…

 

Maybe I’m just wired that way, but humor works much better for me than all the doom and gloom in the world ever could. Not to mention that even “humorous” books can address some pretty darn important themes and dark problems. Just read most of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books if you don’t believe me.

 

So, what does this loooooong love letter to Joss Whedon has to do with writing better stories, you might ask? The lesson I learned from Whedon’s work is that laughter can help get even the most serious message across much easier than angst. Unfortunately, it’s also so very hard to do just right, without falling into cheap laughs and fart jokes. It’s also a skill that today’s TV series, movies and books sorely miss, so when I find someone who can wield laughter like a surgical scalpel, I cherish every single thing they create like so many gems.

Protagonists I don’t want to read about – Part 2.

This is a continuation of last week’s post where I talked about some of the protagonists I don’t want to read about. After that post, I had an interesting discussion both on Twitter and Facebook about the different tropes that rub the readers the wrong way, so I decided to continue the series.

 

  1. Miss Perfection.

 

This protagonist is absolutely perfect. She has the perfect looks, and usually through no particular effort of her own. She has the perfect family. She has the perfect job, which she is very good at (even it this job is just being an administrative assistant). She has no flaws, of the author gives her a quirky but rather endearing flaw.

 

For example, I read a book a few years ago about one of those perfect heroines. I think the author realized that she had made her protagonist a bit too perfect and decided to compensate this by making her clumsy. It would have worked too, except her clumsiness never manifested itself during moments where it could become a handicap or add tension to the story. She could trip and fall walking down the stairs every time she was with her love interest and the poor guy had no choice but to dive and catch her, but God forbid her fumbling with her gun or tripping an alarm during a critical action scene. This made her clumsiness seem very tacky and unnecessary.

shut-up-miss-perfect-and-get-over-yourself

My problem with perfect protagonists is that they are extremely boring to read about. Perfection leaves no room for character growth. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely difficult to relate to perfect people. Not mention that they just don’t feel “real,” because perfection doesn’t exist in the real world.

 

I much rather read about flawed and broken characters that feel like real people than perfect cutouts from the glamor magazine covers.

 

  1. The Chosen One.

 

There is a legend, or a prophecy, or the ravings of a mad fool foretelling the coming of the Chosen One and our protagonist fits the bill. Or everyone around her thinks that she fits the bill.

 

Now I have no problem with the concept of the Chosen One per se, but I do have a problem with the execution. Most authors feel like if their protagonist is the Chosen One, they don’t need to work that hard to make her a unique and fleshed out character anymore, because hey, she will still save the world (prevent a war, marry the prince, bring peace and prosperity, underline whatever fits the current story).

Chosen_One

Often it leaves the reader with a very boring protagonist who just floats with the current towards their inevitable fate, and we don’t understand why all the supporting characters fawn over this non-entity. The protagonist makes no decisions or mistakes, doesn’t grow as a character, but relies on everyone else to get her where she is supposed to go.

 

Ironically enough, these books have a lot of secondary characters that are much more interesting and fleshed out than the protagonist, probably because the author actually had to think about their backstory and behavior since they weren’t the Chosen Ones. Those characters I wouldn’t mind reading a book about.

 

  1. Mature professionals behaving like hormonal teenagers.

 

You see these protagonists a lot in fanfiction, but I’ve encountered a few specimens in actual published book as well, much to my amazement.

 

These protagonists are positioned as thirty-something professionals who are very good at their job and who have seen and done everything under the sun, and are supposed to be hardened if not jaded. Yet their behavior does not add up. They throw tantrums like a five year old that had been sent to bed without ice cream. They go into full blown hysterics or spend a good part of the story moaning about the horrors they saw or did, the unfairness of life, their scared past and other angsty stuff.

 

In some extreme cases they lash out without thinking or get extremely jealous or disparaging of other female characters, especially if they dare even look at their love interest. And my absolute “favorite” – start suddenly admiring the masculine physique or their companions / antagonists right in the middle of the action. Really? If you are in the middle of sword fight and your brain is busy undressing your opponent, chances are very good that you’re gonna end up with a sword in your stomach.  In other words, they behave like hormonal teenagers, not mature women.

P_temper-tantrums1

Now I am usually more tolerant of that in fanfiction because most authors are teenagers, so that’s how they think and how their peers behave. They simply don’t know any better yet. But to see this in a professionally published book? Even if it’s targeted for the young adult market, the author does her audience a great disservice by presenting them with such protagonists as role models.

 

So there are some more of the protagonists that drive me up the wall. What are your thoughts about this? Do you agree or disagree? Any other particular tropes set your teeth on edge? I want to  hear from you.

Protagonists I don’t want to read about – Part 1.

onceuponatime

 

The idea for this post (or what more likely be a series of posts) was born after I posted this book review, probably because the heroine in this book was a perfect example of a protagonist I don’t want to read about. So I thought about writing a series of posts about the different types of protagonists that drive me up the wall, make me want to throw the book at the wall, or just make me yawn and go, “Yeah, whatever.”

 

I think that it’s very important for me as a writer to be aware of what kind of protagonist makes me put a book down as a reader. So I thought I would share my personal pet peeves and ask my readers about theirs.

 

So without further ado, let’s start at number 1.

 

1. Too stupid to live.

 

This one that makes me grind my teeth in frustration and gives me the desire to whack the protagonist on the head with something heavy to put him or her out of their misery. All this protagonist does is make one stupid mistake after another during the whole book. Mistakes that land her in very dangerous situations, I must add. Amazingly enough, not only does she survive those situations, but she also refuses to learn anything from it. Special mention if those stupid mistakes are the ONLY thing that drives the story forward.

 

This one is just… GRRRR!!! I understand that a good story derives from characters making mistakes. But I’m a firm believer that there needs to be a logic behind those mistakes, and they must not seem like mistakes at the time. And no, rushing into the den of the enemy all alone and without telling anyone where you went (when your allies warned you about staying away, I might add) is never a good idea. There is no logic that can explain that apart from the idea that the character probably has a death wish.

 

Now I need to point out that I am not against the character making mistakes. By all means, let them get burned, let them do something and get smacked in the face by the consequences. But the characters need to LEARN from those mistakes, they need to EVOLVE. Those mistakes need to fuel the character progression. Otherwise it feels like this image here:

 

If you keep banging your head on the wall, chances are your head will crack first.
If you keep banging your head on the wall, chances are your head will crack first.

If all your character does is bang her head against the wall and doesn’t even pause to think that maybe finding a door or a window would be more productive… well, I don’t want to read about that.

Unfortunately, this trope usually goes hand to hand with another one of my pet peeves.

 

2. The “strong” female protagonist turns damsel in distress.

 

This is another cringe-worthy case where the protagonist is portrayed as a strong female protagonist, tough as nails, kicking butt and taking names all days of the week, doubly so on Sundays… Yet when push comes to shove and she finds herself in a dangerous situation (that might or might not have been of her own making due to stupid mistakes from point 1), she suddenly becomes completely useless. Queue the love interest / male side character(s) who ride on a shining steed to save the day.

 

I especially “love” the protagonists who can’t keep their mouths shut during the whole sad event and mouth off to their captors as well as their rescuers. If I was the antagonist, I would have gagged them, or just killed them outright rather than listen to that. If I was the love interest, I would probably rethink my priorities and the reason behind my affection toward this particular protagonist. Especially if she was kicking and screaming that she had everything under control and that I didn’t need to intervene while I dragged her from her imminent death… yet again.

 

Help, where is my knight in shining armor?
Help, where is my knight in shining armor?

This last trait of character brings me to the final point in today’s post.

 

3. Everybody loves her (usually for no reason at all).

 

We all have seen those protagonists. All the males in the vicinity seem to fall in love with them almost at first glance. They can do no wrong in their eyes, no matter how rude, pushy or disrespectful the protagonist are… or how many stupid mistakes they make throughout the book. Usually those books are also filled to the brim by handsome, strong men and the distinct lack of other female characters (at least positive ones). If there are other female characters, they usually hate the protagonist’s guts, are villains or sluts or both.

 

I think this distinct lack of positive female characters is due to the fact that they would paint our “perfect” protagonist in not a very flattering light, so instead of actually working on the character, some authors simply eliminate the competition. The Symphony of Ages books by Elizabeth Haydon are a perfect example of this – everybody loves Rhapsody, even those who say they hate her.

 

tumblr_m9iwllP8xJ1re6t5jo1_500

 

I’m always so sad when I stumble upon a book like that, especially if the characters show at least glimpses of personality from time to time. Imagine how more profound and tridimensional the protagonist could have been, if she had real female friends, was allowed to have flaws and didn’t have the whole male population fawning over her.

 

Pfew, so those are some of my least favorite character tropes, though definitely not all of them, because listing them all probably necessitates at least another post or two. Those particular characters drive me up the wall, but what about you? What kind of protagonists make you groan and roll your eyes or close the book and move on?

What makes you put a book down and never pick it back up?

This would be my living room if we didn't have ebooks.
This would be my living room if we didn’t have ebooks.

I’ve always read a lot of books, as you can probably see from the new book reviews coming up on my blog every Friday. Until I started writing myself, I’d never took time to analyze what makes me stop reading though. What makes me groan in frustration, shrug in indifference, or simply close the book and never bother opening it again.

Well, my reading list has skyrocketed since I started getting review requests from self-published authors, so a lot more books pass in front of my eyes. And I think I might have grown a bit less tolerant when it comes to sticking with a book or putting it down. I used to read the first 50 pages to give the book a chance before I decided whether I was going to finish it or toss it. Now I usually stop after Chapter 1. And in the case of several books, I couldn’t get past the first few paragraphs.

So it got me thinking, and I tried to differentiate the few things that will make me stop reading a book every single time. And once I was done with my list, I thought it would be interesting to share it with my readers, because isolating the problems helped me look at my own writing critically as well. Hopefully, you will also find this useful. So here we go. What makes me stop reading a book?

 

  1. The story takes too long to start.

Maybe I’m the product of this age when so many things clamor for my attention that unless a story grabs me from the get go, I will likely put it down and go look for something else. So when a story starts with a long prologue that usually doesn’t have anything to do with the story itself, it’s sure to dampen my enthusiasm. If Chapter 1 starts on a dream or the character reflecting about weather or some mundane things and nothing happens for the first 5 pages – chances are  I won’t bother reading any further.

And I came upon a few books that did exactly that – start with prologue, then a dream, then the character wakes up and makes coffee, reflecting about the nasty storm outside his window… for over 10 pages. I don’t know if the story picks up after that, because I yawned, closed to book and moved on to something else.

I tried to read a book by a fellow indie author who had requested a review, and I just couldn’t get into the story. I felt so bad about it that I stuck for five whole chapters. But during those chapters, absolutely nothing happened that had anything to do with the actual story. The character went to work in his book store, then went to his birthday party, had a weird dream and finally met with a friend for lunch. Yes, the character was doing things and moving around, but after 5 chapters I still had no idea what the story would be about. So I had to pass on that book, even if I felt extremely bad about it.

cropped-pen-and-paper_00043132.jpg

  1. The protagonist has no voice or all the narrators sound the same.

Voice is extremely important, because we see the world through the protagonist’s eyes, or through the perspective of several characters if the book is told in alternating POVs. If we are going to stick with this story, we need to like the character telling it, or at least be interested in what he or she has to say.

I can forgive a lot of things, like a slow dragging narrative, if I love the character’s voice. It’s like some real life friends who cannot tell a story without going on tangents all the time, but you can’t help laughing at their words, because of the way they go about telling the story.

But I have noticed that in most of the self-published books I came across the characters have no voice whatsoever. I don’t know if the authors rushed to publish their work without polishing it, or if they didn’t have a very good grasp on their characters, but the result is a dry and lifeless narrative from a protagonist that has less life in him or her than a cardboard cutout.

 

  1. Head hopping or messed up POV.

This one will make me drop the book like it’s on fire. I have no problem with alternating POVs, heck I read the Song of Ice and Fire and there are A LOT of different characters narrating several parallel stories. But for the love of God, the Maker, the Creators, Buddha or any other deity out there, please don’t switch POVs in the same scene. Don’t hop from head to head in the same damn dialogue. Just DON’T.

Head hopping is annoying. It’s confusing as s&^t and it makes my head hurt after a while. It also makes me want to throw my Kindle at the wall or set it on fire just not to have to put up with the story (I don’t do that, because it would get very expensive very fast). Heck, that’s one thing I can’t forgive even fanfiction authors, and I can forgive fanfiction authors a lot of things.

So pick the character who is narrating a particular scene and stick with him or her. If you need to give another character’s perspective on the same events, by all means start another scene for that. But don’t flutter from head to head like a humming bird on crack, unless you want to give your readers motion sickness.

Lost

  1. The book hasn’t been edited.

Notice how I put this point way at the bottom? That’s because if I love the story and the character’s voice, I can forgive poor grammar and some misplaced commas. I can even get over some wonky formatting problems. But if the book looks like the author hadn’t even bothered to run a basic spell check, yet alone hire an editor, chances are that I will quit reading, no matter how good the story is. Because I can’t keep myself immersed in a story if I stumble over misspelled words every other sentence, or if my fingers itch to pick up a red pen and start correcting everything. And I’m not even a native English speaker! I can’t even imagine how painful that would be for those who were born speaking English.

And it’s so sad because unlike the other three points in my list, this last one can easily be remediated if the author hadn’t rushed the publication and took time to find an editor. I know editing services are expensive, but some editors accept fair trade as well instead of money. And not going through this essential step and investing to get it done properly will hurt your book and your credibility in the long run.

 

 

Pfew, that turned out to be longer than I planned! Anyway, those are the four points that turn me off a book every time. What are your pet peeves? What makes you close a book and put it aside?