When I read fiction for pleasure I strive to turn off the “internal editor” as I read, but lately I’ve come across a number of glaring mistakes that pull me right out of the story. Let me address five of those fiction flubs here.
Fiction Flub #1: Confusing Names. We all remember trying to keep people straight in Russian novels where the character is called by a number of names and diminutives. But Russian novels aside, I’ve recently come across novels with a plethora of characters who answer to nicknames, first names, last names and pet names. You almost need to keep a notepad next to the book to keep it all straight. Another flub is using too similar names. Having characters named McAllister, Mackenzie, and Macintosh in the same book is inviting confusion.
Fiction Flub #2: Faulty Character Description. Falling out of point of view when describing another character in the book makes me cringe. For instance, we may be reading a scene from the POV of the rugged cowboy who walks into the room and describes a women like this: “Her eyes sparkled with a delicate shade of cerulean blue and she wore her strawberry blond hair gathered into a chignon at the nape of her neck. Each time she walked, I managed to catch a glimpse of slender ankle beneath the Battenburg lace of her petticoat.”
No cowboy worth his salt would know the color cerulean, would he? Would he really recognize a chignon, calling it by name? And what are the chances that he would be able to recognize a Battenburg lace? Make sure your description does two things. It should give us a picture of the person being described but it should also tell us more about the person doing the describing.
Fiction Flub #3: Beating the Reader Over the Head. In a recent well-regarded book, the author referred to a character as plump among the other descriptions. But every time she showed up from then on, her shape was mentioned– and he rarely varied from the word plump. All right, already. We got it the first time. It became annoying.
Fiction Flub #4: Setting the Scene in Omniscient POV. I’m seeing this more and more in books. Before we settle into a viewpoint character the scene is described in almost poetic language to set the mood. Yes, we love the ferocious clouds battling in the sky and the rumble of thunder over verdant green hills but, pretty as it may be, it’s sterile. We want to hear the scene described by the viewpoint character. We’ll learn so much more about her as we read how she views the scene. A skillful writer can reveal so much by having the same scene described by different characters.
Fiction Flub #5: Not Trusting the Reader. Too often we see information being served up long before we need to know. Trust your reader. We are willing to wait to find out details as they reveal themselves naturally. It’s a treat to come upon something halfway through the book and think, “I certainly wasn’t expecting that.”
This is only the tip of the iceberg but it’s a start. What have you noticed lately? Do you have any pet peeves?