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By Shelah Miner

While it’s the time of year to write about families, Christmas presents, travel, and (oh yeah) the birth of Jesus, I’ve been up to my elbows in wrapping presents all weekend, so I need a break from talking or even thinking about Christmas. Instead, perhaps inspired by my weekend of wrapping while listening to books on my iPod, I want to talk about books. Specifically, I want to know what plot device or element of character development or other trapping of fiction that turns you off so much that it makes you want to put the book back on the shelf or throw it across the room.

For me, the plot device I hate the most is the “not-quite-immaculate” conception. It seems that women in fiction get pregnant after one sexual encounter way, way, way more often than they do in real life. I’ve read at least three books in the last six months where this happened, and it always ruins the book for me. In one of the books (I won’t spoil it by telling you the name), the ending was a little bit ambiguous (although it strongly hinted at pregnancy) and I chose not to read it that way because it would have ruined the previous 360 delightful pages if I did.

While the fertility of fiction gets to me, I want to know what gets to you– what are your dealbreakers in fiction?

About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

34 thoughts on “Dealbreakers”

  1. Romance. I really really really dislike romance. I know, that must make me a crazy person and completely un-feminine, but there you have it.

  2. When I'm reading a book and I'm over a third of the way through it (or more) and suddenly it changes from being a straight-forward plausible story, to being a fantasy or science fiction tale. If the normal rules of this world are being followed, and you expect there to be a logical explanation for whatever is happening, (murders, etc), but then suddenly there are monsters behind it…it's a total deal breaker for me.

    Also, I have noticed that in general, I don't like piles and piles of setting details. I know that the author can see every detail of grandma's parlor, and all the knick knacks and lace doilies on the end tables, but I just want to know about people. I dig relationship development over frilly settings. If it's not adding to the story, I want to skip it. Because I'm a slow reader, so going on about stuff that doesn't matter to the tale is just keeping me from getting more tales in my head.

  3. I have to comment on your pet peeve because…well…I became pregnant instantaneously after getting married (in the temple, worthily). After a tough pregnancy that included some time on bed rest, baby was born 8 months, one week after the wedding. So it does happen, and it's not always a plot device πŸ™‚

  4. -Too many verbal tics. I know this is a writing thing and not a verbal thing, and I do this myself all the time, but when there's an oft-repeated phrase I just can't keep reading.
    -A love triangle in which there's no possible way to cheer for one of the characters, so that the ending is too obvious.

    Those are the first ones that come to mind, but I'm sure there are more.

  5. Too many verbal tics gets me also, but the biggest pet peeve I have is poor editing. I can't see past misspelled words to the story. At the third blatant mistake, I'm done.

  6. Poor editing turns me off. I'm also not really liking the recent trend towards sequels and series, especially when it's done poorly. I hate having to spend half a book trying to figure out who various people are because the author assumes I know them already. I also hate it when authors stop a book so suddenly that it's obvious there should be a sequel. There is a graceful way to write a series and a not-so-graceful way to write one.

  7. Steamy scenes inserted every 20 pages! Or any supposed "hook" every twenty pages, like the cliffhanger at the end of a chapter (Hello Dean Koontz!). The worst offender, the one that still gets my ire up is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. I didn't just put the book down, I slammed it down and then threw it in the trash! Ugh, I don't think I'm a prude, but that one seemed so obvious it made me mad!

    Authors please give me the compliment of realizing that I'm ntelligent enough to have an attention span without "hooks".

  8. Sex just for the heck of it (you know when it's obviously just thrown in in all it's descriptive glory?). And adultery. Especially teen sex and teens committing adultery. I also can't stand graphic sexual encounters. So, they had sex. Do I need to know how it went down?? I'm not an idiot –I know how it works! Please stop trying to describe it! If I wanted that, I'd pick up some porn! *sigh

    I also hate sloppy writing; bad editing or massively gaping plot holes.

    Side note: I got pregnant on the first try three times (my first three children). Granted, it was a lot harder to get my last three! And we had been married for a while before we started "trying" for that first one…so, you know… it wasn't our first "encounter"… πŸ˜‰

  9. I get really irked when babies or children are compromised (or sacrificed) just for the sake of emotional or plot manipulation. They figured out a while ago (Blackmail 1929) that we won't tolerate that in films, why do I keep running across it in fictional narratives? STOP KILLING BABIES PEOPLE.

  10. It really bugs me when the title of the book (or a movie) is an "important" quote in the book/movie. I don't know why. It just bugs me.

  11. I don't think I have ever had unprotected sex without getting pregnant–two of ours were not planned. So if the authors are like me, it may not seem unrealistic to them.

    Statistically speaking, you are probably correct. But if they are writing what they know, well….

  12. Dealbreaker: When a couple falls passionately in love with each other, but there is no actual basis for their attraction(i.e., all books by Nicholas Spark). I'm okay with romance, it just has to be somewhat realistic.

  13. Gratuitous sex. The F-bomb for no real reason over and over.

    Unlikable characters. I couldn't get through Corrections for that–couldn't stand the main character.

    Vampires, not interesting.I guess they could be if the character was interesting but just happened to be a vampire–so I guess any story that revolves around things that should be incidental rather than character driven.

    Boring characters–if the character is so one-dimensional that I don't care what happens to him or her–not going to finish it.

    Also, what Emily said. When I think repeatedly, "How did the editor miss this?" I'll often put it aside.

    So I'm a cliffhanger girl though. I like to want to read more at the end of chapter. But I haven't read the above faulted author, so maybe it's different with that guy.

  14. Marinda– I felt exactly the same way about The Corrections. I made it through it and wished I hadn't. I didn't like a single person in that book.

    And while I do know that it is possible to get pregnant from just one time (we have a surprise baby here at our house too) I also think it happens in real life less often than it happens, conveniently, among people who have no business being together, on the pages of contemporary fiction.

    Eliana– so no Watership Down for you, eh? I'm totally with you on that. The Art of Racing in the Rain– from a dog's perspective? Really?

  15. Bad dialogue. Ew, ew, ew. Bad dialogue can wreck an otherwise great book. My 14-year-old self loved Jack Weyland, but now that I'm all grown up I can't bear to read him because of his poor dialogue.

    You just can't write the way people talk in real life. Meaning gets changed, phrases sound jilted.

    "So do you want, like, four pancakes, or what?"

    "Nah. I was all hungry before but now I'm good. Whatever. Maybe one."

    This conversation happened word for word today and it sounded completely normal as it was being said but written, it makes us sound like idiots.

    Dialogue is hard. Easy to mess up, and in doing so, mess up the entire story.

  16. Almost every book written in the last ten years mentions someone padding. He padded into the kitchen. I remember when it started and I hate it. Also the little trick, if I can explain it, such as, "We were happy, then, Bill and I.". I know who "we" is without that little device.

  17. My pet peeve is when an author imposes modern society values on past generations as if that is the way it was back then! If it is a modern book that is fine, but if it is the 50's, please write it with the perspective of 50's values.

  18. β€œSo do you want, like, four pancakes, or what?”

    β€œNah. I was all hungry before but now I’m good. Whatever. Maybe one.”

    Whether this conversation is interesting or not depends on everything that happened around it.

    This conversation happened word for word today and it sounded completely normal as it was being said but written, it makes us sound like idiots.

    Not to me. You may think so because you know the context, but when I look at that exchange, I can think of three or four scenarios where that might be not only interesting but pertinent to the story.

    I pay very close attention to how people talk, the rhythm of the words, the ebb and flow of thought, how those thoughts are expressed, what people might be hiding, what they might say that's unintentionally revealing, what they might NOT say that's unintentionally revealing.

    @Larissa Cherpeski #22:

    Yes. A thousand times yes.

  19. Poor editing, gratuitous (or even non gratuitous described in detail) sex (I'm with someone from up above–if I really wanted to read about it I'd get porn), loopholes in the plot that the reader is expected to fill in for themselves. I am big a science fiction fan–but only if the author follows their own rules and I could see myself entering their world. J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien all did well in this area. Bad dialogue. Good characterization goes a LONG way with me. (And the reverse is true–if the author can't "see" the characters, then neither can I. Again, J.K. Rowling SHINES in this area. And Watership Down is one of my favorites–largely for this reason.) I'm also not a fan of depressing, hopeless books. There is enough sadness in real life–I want to have hope that things will (eventually) turn out. I am SO not interested in reading that everything is a total bomb.

    Oh, and spontaneous pregnancy? I have LOTS of experience with that! πŸ˜‰

  20. I hate reading historical fiction where the dialogue sounds completely contemporary.It's so jarring. I also hate historical fiction where people act just like they do now, but it's supposed to be three hundred years ago (or whenever).

  21. I should say that as a general rule I hate historical fiction. Almost no exceptions. I guess I just don't like my history and my fiction mixed–kind of like how some people don't like their fruit and chocolate mixed, you know?

  22. I have to say after switching to reading mostly non-fiction about 12 years ago, it is extremely hard for me to read (most) fiction now. It just seems so faked sometimes and I hate it when all the plot ties are all wrapped up neatly with a bow at the end — real life is a lot more messy than that! Unrealistic and flat characters also bother me a ton.

    I also hate when the author tries to insert their own political views or political correctness into their novels. I've read a some of the really popular stuff in the past few years because of my book club and I hate how everything nowadays has to have a token "gay" character in it — even "The Help" had a passage where the black nanny supposedly in the 1960s (correct me if I get the decade wrong) talked about a former employer who was so hard on his gay son and she said something like "he just can't help it if he prefers boys to girls" . . . I wanted to throw the book across the room because I'm sorry, but #1, there was no real purpose for that line in the book other than to have the author show how enlightened she personally was and #2, really? I'm supposed to believe that this character really thought that in that age and time? The Guernsey Literary Society book bugged me for similar reasons, but even more so because I've read so many non-fiction books about the World War 2 time period and the characters and situations in that book were SO far from being true to the historical time period. The mere fact that the main character was in a promiscuous relationship that produced a child and no one raised a single eyebrow or had a problem with it?

  23. I'm totally cracking up at the how candid some of these comments above have been. I've been nodding my head to most of them, particularly the comment about authors trying to sound more enlightened by throwing in all sorts of PC garbage that they think is somehow "original"–ironic.

    The biggest dealbreaker for me, however, is any book that contains scenes with child molestation/abuse in them. For as much as people have praised "The Kiterunner," or the "The Glass Castle," I know myself well enough that nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth how upset this subject makes me for days afterwards. Believe me, I'm not one to hide my head in the sand on this subject. I'm more than fully aware that it exists, but there's something about using something so horrific to increase interest in a plot. Like sexual promiscuity, its repeated appearance in various media can almost seem to "normalize" the behavior, which is abhorrent. If necessary, I think it can be alluded to tactfully, but to go into it in any sort of detail is beyond distasteful.

  24. So-called action adventure books a la Deseret Book are not plausible. They are toooooo nice. When the focus is on the quaint bed & breakfast with pseudo french cuisine, and not on the villain who is ready to cut your head off, etc., I become disenchanted with some Mormon authors. Is it anti-cultural to write a story with grit and real life trauma?

  25. I hate it when characters in historical fiction have modern sensibilites/morality. That was my big problem with The Guernsey Literary Society. I didn't think the characters were true to the time period at all. If an author wants to explore modern sensibilities/morality in historical fiction, they have to fully explore the consequences of that type of behavior within context. If they don't–it is dishonest storytelling in my opinion.

    I am tired of reading memoirs where an author whines and then justifies his/her behavior even though you get a sense that they realize they were wrong. Couldn't stand "Eat, Pray, Love" for that reason. The author was so WHINY and tried so hard to convince us that she was really right–even though she felt so guilty for her moral failures–but they weren't moral failures because she wasn't happy or fulfilled with her life. Bleh!

  26. Spoilers in the prologue/ introduction. Prologues are often so important to the story, and you can miss something you need to know. But every once in a while, it hints at something I would rather not know until I get to that point in the story. Going back in time as the book progresses to give background is one thing. Knowing the whole book that someone was going to die at the very end because of the prologue, quite another.

    I also struggle when a phrase is repeated too much.

    I have a sometimes-unfortunate tendency to finish books. I obsessed with doing so. Unless it is inappropriate and offensive, I finish it. So it's a major bummer if I get a boring (or otherwise unpleasant but inoffensive) one.

    But the worst for me – in books and movies – is when the love story involves breaking up relationships to get two people together. Like the main characters start out both engaged and then find each other. It happens a lot. I mostly hate it.

    Glenn Smith reminded me that I think some books just should not be LDS. Especially they should not make a big deal of being LDS. If the characters happen to be LDS and that comes up for an important reason, that's fine. But if it's an adventure book that is trying to teach someone the gospel, that doesn't work for me.

  27. As a couple people mentioned, I hate it when I find grammar and spelling mistakes. I also hate having to slog through excessive description. Doing that really slows down the pace of the story, and forces me to start trying to build a picture of it in my head in a way that's sort of overkill. I also hate when the plot just drags on about something that isn't really relevant to the main story. (Although, sometimes, the side story is more interesting than the main story, but I suppose that is just a different problem altogether!)


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