Writing styles we loathe

ArielAriel Shipmate
edited April 12 in Heaven
For me, it's novels written with first person present tense. I'll usually put it straight back on the shelf; it's going to be a plod to read, and it's like wading through someone's vicarious fantasy as they imagine themselves married to Henry VIII, or whatever. It has to be very good and absorbing for me to be able to get past this.

Anything written with copious amounts of what the author thinks is a faithful rendition of a character's pronunciation or dialect will also probably be returned promptly to the shelf.

As far as non-fiction goes, any textbook is immediately going to be annoying that says something like "In Chapter 2 we discussed..." - "we"? I don't recall discussing anything, and worse still, "we learnt/..." what, you too? and you're writing this book?

Anyway, over to you. What would make you put a book straight back on the library shelf or bookshop table?
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Comments

  • HarryCHHarryCH Shipmate
    I once started reading a Star Trek novel (yes, I'll admit it) and gave up after the author introduced about eight narrative threads in a few pages.
  • TwangistTwangist Shipmate
    Books that are meant to be serious theology but come across as badly written sermons complete with cringeworthy "illustrations" that don't work.
  • TurquoiseTasticTurquoiseTastic Kerygmania Host
    I find it very hard to take when some crashingly obvious old chestnut is presented as an author's amazing insight on which they are congratulating themselves. I seem to remember "Knowledge of Angels" by Jill Paton Walsh as a prime offender in this regard.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Most late 18th-19th C writing styles. Dickens, Austen, Brontes, that crowd.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    I stopped reading The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie after a few pages, because the writer seemed to be jumping back and forth between time periods unannounced. I later found out that's a deliberate effect, but it was too cumbersome for me to keep track of.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    I ate second person present tense in both fiction and non-fiction.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    edited April 12
    I find it very hard to take when some crashingly obvious old chestnut is presented as an author's amazing insight on which they are congratulating themselves. I seem to remember "Knowledge of Angels" by Jill Paton Walsh as a prime offender in this regard.

    The film critic Pauline Kael, who detested Stanley Kubrick, wrote about the elevator scene in The Shining...

    Does Kubrick really mean something as banal as rivers of blood running through history?

    Which may very well have been the symbolism, but if it IS banal, I'd say no moreso than Young Goodman Brown, Lord Of The Flies, or a few dozen other staples of high-school English curricula preaching roughly the same message.
  • LeafLeaf Shipmate
    Ariel wrote: »
    For me, it's novels written with first person present tense. I'll usually put it straight back on the shelf

    Same here. I either get too invested in what is happening to "me", and I find it hard to go to sleep if "I've" experienced some traumatic event, or the character is so alien that I can't understand it as first person present tense.

  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    edited April 12
    By the way, @TurquoiseTastic, may I ask what Knowledge of Angels is about, and what the hackneyed messages were?
  • Hemmingway. Single clause short sentences. Like being shot by a machine gun. I'll take the ones @KarlLB hates. Though you can keep Dickens's attempts at humour, which all cause instant emesis, other than the satire of Bleak House.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Leaf wrote: »
    Ariel wrote: »
    For me, it's novels written with first person present tense. I'll usually put it straight back on the shelf

    Same here. I either get too invested in what is happening to "me", and I find it hard to go to sleep if "I've" experienced some traumatic event, or the character is so alien that I can't understand it as first person present tense.

    As a kid, I stopped reading One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest because the FPPT was off-putting. But I now wouldn't mind going back to it. The narrator is Chief Bromden, an indigenous patient at a psychiatric hospital, so Ken Kesey was probably not vulnerable to any "living vicariously as Ann Boleyn"-type suspicions.

    (Though maybe the reverse, sociologically speaking?)
  • NenyaNenya All Saints Host, Ecclesiantics & MW Host
    Ariel wrote: »
    What would make you put a book straight back on the library shelf or bookshop table?
    Anything written in the present tense, although I'm going to have to try and overcome that for my next real life book group - Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet.

    Anything by Jane Austen, although I'm going to try and overcome that with Northanger Abbey for the Ship's book group later in the year.

    Novels that flip-flop between two timeframes. The first couple I read I thought it was quite interesting but it's so hackneyed now.

    Anything that isn't punctuated properly, doesn't use speech marks for example.
  • TwangistTwangist Shipmate
    Possibly a tangent but music books which haven't been proof read properly or have very strange guitar tab suggestions do my head in....
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    I usually prefer non-fiction anyway, but any novel where I realise that I don't like the main character(s) or don't care enough to want to find out what happened to him/her/them.

    In non-fiction, I don't care much for books that are more interested in the writer and his/her responses to the subject matter than the subject matter itself.

  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Though you can keep Dickens's attempts at humour, which all cause instant emesis, other than the satire of Bleak House.

    Whatis splendidly, absurdly funny is the speech patterns of certain characters, like Flora Finching - 'one more explanation I wish to offer, for five days I had a cold in the head from crying which I passed entirely in the back drawing-room—there is the back drawing-room still on the first floor and still at the back of the house to confirm my words' or Mrs Gamp - 'But the words she spoke of Mrs Harris, lambs could not forgive... nor worms forget.'

    But yes, present tense and splitting time frames. Over investment in world building to the point leaving characters too shallow to care about. Or Pelion and Ossa plot building - characters must do X wildly important thing; they do, and oh no, there's another WIT.
  • TelfordTelford Deckhand, Styx
    Local history books which are full of obvious inaccuracies about matters I know about. It makes me distrust anything which I don't know about.
  • ArielAriel Shipmate
    I finished reading a book yesterday which was mostly narrated in the first person, which was fine, but erratically switched now and again to the third person.

    "I entered the room and she looked up, startled, and exclaimed 'Daniel!'"
    Chapter whatever
    "Daniel looked back at her..."

    I don't think I've come across this kind of thing before, or not for quite a long time, but it was jarring.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    I’m with others who dislike present-tense narration.

    I’m also generally not a fan of shifting narrators, especially when more than two narrators are involved.

  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Nenya wrote: »
    Novels that flip-flop between two timeframes. The first couple I read I thought it was quite interesting but it's so hackneyed now.

    For a while, that was REALLY overused in movies, and I eventually came to the conclusion that the purpose was to distract from the otherwise unremarkable nature of the plotlines.

    Also, stories that supposedly play with our concept of reality, eg. "Is it all just happening in some character's mind??" That's okay once or twice as a novelty, but gets really tiresome after a while.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    edited April 12
    Enoch wrote: »
    In non-fiction, I don't care much for books that are more interested in the writer and his/her responses to the subject matter than the subject matter itself.

    I agree. Especially those books where the writer actually describes himself going around and interviewing various people, the details of the surrounding etc. That works in a newspaper profile about someone, but not in a book purporting to convey serious information about the subject matter.
  • My guilty pleasure is western novels and I have recently broadened my literary horizons beyond Louis Lamour and Zane Grey. Modern westerns bore me by their writing style, if you took the horses out and set them in Manchester they would be acceptable moody gangster novels. I want rootin tootin varmint shootin, not long drawn out pages of depression.
  • DafydDafyd Hell Host
    Having read various books for young to youngish children:
    Writers who have no knowledge of the word "said" except that it is a keyword in a thesaurus. (Actually any writer who thinks the words in a thesaurus as are exact synonyms.)

    Writers who think they should write in verse, and do so by seemingly chopping up their prose at semi-regular intervals and adding random phrases or bending the sense to get a rhyme. I know not everyone can be Julia Donaldson - but if they're going to end up on the same shelf they could try not to completely embarrass themselves. (I'll add any modern poet for adults that won't write free verse but can't be bothered with keeping a meter. One or the other, but not a weak compromise.)
  • TwangistTwangist Shipmate
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Writers who think they should write in verse, and do so by seemingly chopping up their prose at semi-regular intervals and adding random phrases or bending the sense to get a rhyme.
    This!!!
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    edited April 12
    Dafyd wrote: »
    ...bending the sense to get a rhyme.

    Yeah, that's one of my literary pet peeves. For example, in the Smash Mouth song Walkin' On The Sun, ridiculing aging hipsters who can't let go of their irresponsible youth...

    Put away the crack
    before the crack
    puts you away
    You'll need to be there when your baby's old enough to relate

    Using "relate" to mean something like "interact with others", which isn't quite right.

    Lots of other examples, but that's the one that comes to mind.
  • Books without paragraphs, just solid text. Unreadable (and I'm thinking of fiction here!)
  • Ariel wrote: »
    As far as non-fiction goes, any textbook is immediately going to be annoying that says something like "In Chapter 2 we discussed..." - "we"? I don't recall discussing anything, and worse still, "we learnt/..." what, you too? and you're writing this book?

    I quite like that. It reads to me as though the author is lecturing, and I'm in the class. The "we" is the collective assembly of students who are reading the textbook, distributed over time and space.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    I don't mind past or present tense; I'm OK with first, third, or even second-person narration. If I can get to care about the characters and get absorbed in the story, then the writing style becomes transparent to me. I've read and enjoyed books that soon afterwards I wouldn't have been able to tell you if it was written in first or third person -- I just remember the characters and what happened to them and how it all felt.'

    However, the current stylistic trend in literary fiction to write dialogue without quotation marks really irks me. There are books I've enjoyed that do this, but it is a hurdle for me to overcome. First, because it removes a useful tool for understanding what's written -- without quotation marks it's hard to tell whether a character is saying something aloud, or just thinking it. Second, because I feel like it's something writers do to make their writing seem more "literary" (and thus more likely to be nominated for awards) -- a kind of style marker that not only adds nothing to the quality of the writing, but actually takes something away.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    edited April 12
    Trudy wrote: »
    However, the current stylistic trend in literary fiction to write dialogue without quotation marks really irks me. There are books I've enjoyed that do this, but it is a hurdle for me to overcome. First, because it removes a useful tool for understanding what's written -- without quotation marks it's hard to tell whether a character is saying something aloud, or just thinking it. Second, because I feel like it's something writers do to make their writing seem more "literary" (and thus more likely to be nominated for awards) -- a kind of style marker that not only adds nothing to the quality of the writing, but actually takes something away.

    Have you read The Grapes Of Wrath? In most of the chapters, Steinbeck has the named characters' dialogue in quotation marks, but in some of the chapters, meant to portray the overall situation of America during the Depression, he switches to non-quotation marks, with the dialogue presumably representing a collective voice. My own composite...

    The farmers didn't understand why their land was being taken away. They argued with the bank men. You can't take this land, my family had this land since before my granddaddy was born. My wife and kids can't eat if I don't have this land. But the bank men were unmoved.

    I think it's an effective strategy, though probably helps that the narrator speaks in standard English, while the characters speak mostly in dialect.
  • MiliMili Shipmate
    I don't like kids series where the first book was successful so they publish numerous almost identical books on different topics. For example the That's not my... series, or a whole series based on the old lady who ate a fly but now she's eating Australian animals or Christmas themed objects. My youngest nieces love that series though.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    I'm all for lucid dialogue and readability but the style chosen by the writer should reflect what is being depicted.

    If for example, an author has a contemporary realist fiction that features a troubled politician given to rambling malevolent speeches or rants filled with non sequiturs, slurs and threats, you'd need to render that incoherence without editing for sense. It might annoy the reader at first but it would resonate.

    "And you know, when he was in the sand and he was having a hard time lifting his feet through the sand, because you know sand is heavy, they figured three solid ounces per foot, but sand is a little heavy, and he’s sitting in a bathing suit. Look, at 81, do you remember Cary Grant? How good was Cary Grant, right? I don’t think Cary Grant, he was good. I don’t know what happened to movie stars today. We used to have Cary Grant and Clark Gable and all these people. Today we have, I won’t say names, because I don’t need enemies. I don’t need enemies. I got enough enemies. But Cary Grant was, like – Michael Jackson once told me, ‘The most handsome man, in the world.’ "

    My expectations as a reader vary depending on whether I sit down with a cosy crime novel or romantic comedy or gritty dystopian sci-fi. Sometimes I read just for entertainment and escapism, at other times I want to be challenged or spend time with translated novels or short stories. Many newer realist fictions now have polylingual characters (refugees or rootless expats) who speak a fractured, ungrammatical but vivid English. It either works or it is unconvincing and tedious but I can understand why the author has broken the usual rules or conventions. If it's done well, I am intrigued by an unreliable narrator; I can identify with characters who aren't likeable so long as they are believable.

    First novels are often flawed (plot holes, characters given a limited point of view that would make it impossible for them to know what they know, weak endings) and that might be because few publishers have the time or money to spend on manuscript development. So you have a character who comes into a room blowing on a large mug of hot tea. A stranger jumps up from a chair, the man she has been avoiding all week: she spins on her heel and dashes back down the hallway and out through the front door into the street.

    I'm still wondering if she had time to put down that mug or scalded her mouth gulping tea as she ran.
  • Tolkien.

    There. I've said it.

    Even the most verbose 18th and 18th century writers were lucid compared to him.

    Some questing elves and hobbits take 500 pages to climb a mountain. Every rock, nook and cranny they pass is described in unnecessary detail. They reach the top, kill thousands of orcs without suffering a scratch then a wizard says something blandly banal that is supposed to be profound.

    Complete shite.

    Browning annoys me too.

    So can Dickens but he has flashes of genius. Tolkien can certainly create a vivid imaginary world but he's so bloody tedious with it.
  • Sorry. I'll revise that. It's too late to edit out 'Complete shite.'

    I was being unnecessarily crude.
    Besides, just because I don't like something myself doesn't mean it is shite.

    I enjoy the LoTR films but not the books. I don't know why. I got on with Gormenghast well enough and that trilogy can be turgid in places. 'Crepuscular.'

    I can understand people struggling with Jane Austen. But stylistically she was a genius. Emma Woodhouse. 'Handsome, clever and rich.'

    Nailed it in a few words.
    Tolkien couldn't do that. Flatulent prose that goes on and on and on and then on and on some more.

    Ok, they are doing different things. I get that.

    I may come back to poetry another time. The scene has been buoyant for a good while but the stuff Poetry Review is publishing these days is in danger of undoing all the good work of the last few decades. Confessional, stream-of-consciousness stuff with no form or rational layout, middle-class poets writing aggrieved poems about how someone looked at them nasty in the street one day and making it sound like assault and battery.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Breaking the conventions of representing speech and still retaining narrative takes some skill. I once bought an ebook which, by some technical error, was missing all the upper punctuation - so commas and full stops, but no apostrophes or quotation marks. It was unreadable.
  • Glad to know I’m not the only one to struggle with Austin. I think she is witty and was probably accessible at the time but I find her a bit verbose.

    I once read a book which was translated from German and I liked the style and found it readable but noticed that there are different conventions and someone told me that speech is written differently in German without speech marks.

    I don’t like JK Rowling’s writing style. World building was good but her characters are so flat (& I started reading the series in 1998 as a teenager).
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    Telford wrote: »
    Local history books which are full of obvious inaccuracies about matters I know about. It makes me distrust anything which I don't know about.

    Books when I can spot the inaccuracies drive me nuts for this reason. Particularly when someone has the credentials to know better.

  • DoublethinkDoublethink Admin, 8th Day Host
    Glad to know I’m not the only one to struggle with Austin. I think she is witty and was probably accessible at the time but I find her a bit verbose.

    I once read a book which was translated from German and I liked the style and found it readable but noticed that there are different conventions and someone told me that speech is written differently in German without speech marks.

    I don’t like JK Rowling’s writing style. World building was good but her characters are so flat (& I started reading the series in 1998 as a teenager).

    At the point in my life when I read her books, I found her dialogue convincing but her characters and plotting dodgy - both writing under her own name and that of Robert Galbraith.

    I would also note she sues people a lot, so we would tend to to encourage people to chooses other examples because we can’t afford the lawyers.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Glad to know I’m not the only one to struggle with Austin. I think she is witty and was probably accessible at the time but I find her a bit verbose.

    I once read a book which was translated from German and I liked the style and found it readable but noticed that there are different conventions and someone told me that speech is written differently in German without speech marks.

    I don’t like JK Rowling’s writing style. World building was good but her characters are so flat (& I started reading the series in 1998 as a teenager).

    Rowling's world building fails when you try to scale it beyond what she explicitly describes. I tend to spot this as a role-player. You'd break her world pretty quickly with a bunch of characters freely exploring it.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited April 13
    On Tolkien I'd counter I find his writing straightforward and simple. But then I find the Silmarillion an easy and straightforward read.

    Wish I could read other stuff with the same ease, stuff people who can't cope with the Silmarillion find readable.

    Why has no-one mentioned the game of word dissociation which is Ulysses yet?
  • DoublethinkDoublethink Admin, 8th Day Host
    And I know I prolonged this tangent - mea culpa - but for reasons of legal safety. Please can we all stop talking about JK Rowling,

    Thanks,

    Doublethink, Admin
  • HeavenlyannieHeavenlyannie Shipmate
    edited April 13
    Like Gamma Gamaliel, I don’t like lengthy overly verbose descriptions of landscapes - Hardy’s Tess comes to mind - and skip those pages. I have assumed this is because I have aphantasia and can’t visualise things, though I don’t generally like pictures of landscapes either.
    I like the straightforwardness of Austen’s prose and that it is very focused on social interaction.
  • North East QuineNorth East Quine Purgatory Host
    edited April 13
    Telford wrote: »
    Local history books which are full of obvious inaccuracies about matters I know about. It makes me distrust anything which I don't know about.

    I once gave up on a crime novel set locally in which the winter weather was so bad the schools were closed and there was a traffic jam at a roundabout.

    It should have been one or the other. While tailbacks at that roundabout are routine, without the school traffic there would have been no tailbacks at that roundabout at that time.

    @Telford will be pleased to hear that I was already exasperated with the book as it portrayed local police officers as dishonest. I just didn't believe it. The implausible roundabout tail-back was the final straw.
  • Most of the fiction I consume is via audiobooks. Apart from the convenience of this format for me (as a busy person who rarely sits still, it allows me to read while doing other activities, driving, gardening, cleaning, cooking etc) for the most part having the book read by a skilled narrator enhances my enjoyment of the novel. A good narrator will use appropriate voices for different characters for example, which adds richness and aids understanding (and means I don't have to even know whether books were written without speech marks!)

    But now and again I encounter an audiobook where rather than enhancing the experience, the narrator detracts from it. Mainly by mispronouncing words, or even worse by rendering sentences with incorrect intonation which obscures the meaning. It's hard to think of an example and even harder to convey the problem in text form, but in the English language we get a lot of grammar clues from the stresses placed on different words. Coupled with many words which can act as both adjectives and verbs (for instance) I think you will understand the sort of thing that annoys me. This reflects sloppy editing.
  • ArielAriel Shipmate
    Tolkien spent years creating a singularly detailed fantasy world, and he wrote, rewrote, edited, re-rewrote and went back over it again until his son persuaded him to stop. He was completely immersed in it to the point of even creating languages and alphabets for it. His stories are good but they are over-written. The Silmarillion is a case in point, and one of the dullest plods I've ever tried to read. I couldn't take it seriously. So much time and energy expended in inventing a completely mythical creation scheme and genealogies. I couldn't care less, but obviously some people like it.

    I will also say that I usually skip battle/fight scenes, sex scenes and romances. But having said that, I've enjoyed books set in wartime surroundings.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Another type of sloppy - when the cover artist has misinterpreted the brief. I'm thinking of a 'tec novel which featured a marble faun. And sure enough there was a statue of a young deer...

    More funny than annoying are covers which have nothing to do with the book. A man and a woman loosely dressed strolling barefoot and embracing along a beach? Austen's Sanditon of course.
  • KarlLB wrote: »
    Why has no-one mentioned the game of word dissociation which is Ulysses yet?

    I failed a semester of English literature due to a one page essay I submitted explaining the reasons why I found Ulysses unreadable. Every other semester of six including the one I repeated was a distinction or high distinction. I still don't deal well with stream-of-consciousness writing. I seem to need structure in the narrative.

    I'm also with those who dislike first person present tense. Much writing in this style is overly precious and twee.

    Poor structure from writers who should know better also irritates me - Jeffrey Archer is a prime example. Did no editor have the gumption to tell him?
  • ArielAriel Shipmate
    Firenze wrote: »
    Another type of sloppy - when the cover artist has misinterpreted the brief. I'm thinking of a 'tec novel which featured a marble faun. And sure enough there was a statue of a young deer...

    More funny than annoying are covers which have nothing to do with the book. A man and a woman loosely dressed strolling barefoot and embracing along a beach? Austen's Sanditon of course.

    Well, it's got the word "sand" in the title, obviously it's relevant!

  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    And then there are the blurbs with spoilers ('Is the charming eligible neighbour really Mr Perfect? Suddenly Caroline finds herself being stalked...') or blurbs that tell you nothing about the novel except that it is 'the next bestseller and compulsively readable, a big juicy unputdownable read'.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Firenze wrote: »
    Another type of sloppy - when the cover artist has misinterpreted the brief. I'm thinking of a 'tec novel which featured a marble faun. And sure enough there was a statue of a young deer...

    More funny than annoying are covers which have nothing to do with the book. A man and a woman loosely dressed strolling barefoot and embracing along a beach? Austen's Sanditon of course.

    I was once going to start a thread on bait-and-switch book covers. Tom Adams work on Agatha Christie(apparently trying to market your grandma's mystery novels as dark psychedelia) would be Exhibit A.
  • DafydDafyd Hell Host
    I will just say that Tolkien and Austen are my two favourite novelists.

    I don't know that there's such a thing as a bad writing style as such. There are writing styles badly done.
  • The Tudor-based fiction where the cover image portrays an implausibly underdressed woman who has clearly forgotten to wear a shift under her kirtle.
    (Tudor re-enactor here who gets very sniffy about improperly dressed historical characters - see also the TV series The Tudors).
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