Annoying Habits In Writing

by limebirdster

This post was inspired by by recent read of  ‘The Casual Vacancy’ by J.K Rowling.  Ignoring anything about the actual story, I found her use of brackets a little bit weird. There was also such an unexpected use of incredibly vulgar language on the fifteenth page that I actually put the book down for a moment. Not that I have any problem with swearing, as anyone who has ever spoken to me will tell you, but it just seemed so unnecessary and out of place with the part of the story that I had read so far.

But anyway, to explain my issue with the brackets. The first use of brackets comes on page 16 and, from opening the brackets to closing them, there are 10 lines of text, which isn’t too extravagant. But the brackets after that frequently span over a page, the largest amount of text inside a pair of brackets is 1 page and 23 lines long, which is very nearly 2 pages.

There were times when I was reading where I would encounter a closing bracket and be completely confused because it had been so long ago that I’d forgotten ever having entered them! Surely if the information inside the bracket is so important that it takes 2 pages to explain then it shouldn’t be in between brackets but simply part of the story. Or is that just me? It might just be me that found the brackets bizarre, but we do all have things that we don’t like in other people’s writing.

I find the tendency to talk to the reader as if the book is a one sided conversation quite annoying as well. Tolkien does it a lot in The Hobbit, lines such as “I imagine you know the answer of course,” “Most likely you saw it some time ago,” and “I will tell you what Gandalf heard, though Bilbo did not understand it.” I suppose that it’s done to make sure that the reader understands what’s going on, but surely the writing should be able to do that on its own, shouldn’t it?

C.S. Lewis does it too, though in a slightly different way. He changes points of view during the story by using lines such as “And now of course you want to know what happened to Edmund.” He also apparently avoids writing passages that he doesn’t want to by writing things like “This lasted longer than I could describe even if I wrote pages and pages about it. But I will skip to the time when snow had stopped.”

He also randomly addresses the reader in brackets halfway through a sentence – “The stone dwarf which (as you remember) was standing a few feet from the lion”. I’m not sure what the bracketed as you remember actually adds to the story but I found it very irritating when reading! Now I’m not disputing that these are very well loved stories, both The Hobbit and The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe were amoung my favourite books when I was younger, but I find them really hard to read now!

Another thing that annoys me when reading is too much detail. I found The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo quite difficult to read because of the amount of unnecessary detail that he puts in. He doesn’t just say that she was wearing dark clothes and stripy socks, he says “black t-shirt with a picture of E.T. with fangs, and the words ‘I am also an alien’. She had on a black skirt that was frayed at the hem, a worn-out black, mid-length leather jacket, rivet belt, heavy Doc Martens boots, and horizontally striped, green and red knee socks.”

She doesn’t just have her computer in her bag, it’s “The rucksack contained her white Apple iBook 600 with a twenty-five-gig hard drive and 420 megs of R.A.M., manufactured in January 6 2002 and equipped with a thirty-five-centimetre screen.”etc

Also, I’m sure that I’m not the only person outside of Sweden that had to Google Billy’s Pan Pizza to see what it was because it was mentioned so often. The characters don’t just drive somewhere, he gives you the entire route including street names and junctions. The Girl Who Played With Fire begins with chapters of the main character trying to solve an unsolvable equation in great detail. If the equation hasn’t been solved then most people aren’t going to understand it, it’s far too complicated!

Anyway, maybe I’m just an angry, easily irritated reader, but there seem to be quite a lot of things that I don’t like about different writer’s styles. It doesn’t usually stop me from reading, but I do tend to roll my eyes a bit and skim read some sections!

Does anyone else get irritated by other writer’s little quirks or is it actually just me? What do you hate to read? Is there anything that you find irritating that other people seem to love? And are you guilty of any strange idiosyncrasies in your writing?

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64 Comments to “Annoying Habits In Writing”

  1. I have to say… what Tolkein and Lewis do that you hate… I love that! I find it draws you into the story and is more personal. Obviously this only works with certain stories, but I really like it. I also did this a lot in my children’s book I wrote for NaNo.. oops. Haha, we’re all different right! 😛 However the brackets thing and the details would drive me nuts definitely. Honestly I never finished the CV and I hated GWTDT haha, maybe that’s why…

    • Haha, I’m pretty sure that I used to like it because I remember loving both books when I first read them, but at some point it started annoying me!

      CV took me a long time to read, I kept putting it down and ignoring it for a while! And I only persevered with GWTDT because everyong kept telling me that it got better but I only actually liked it right at the end, about the last 100 pages!

  2. I also remember being confused by Rowling’s use of brackets, though not for the same reasons as you. I didn’t mind that they went on for a while, I found the formatting strange. The paragraph breaks inside the brackets stuck out to me, and I found myself trying to think whether I’d seen that before. It was as if there had been no brackets there in her first or second or even third draft, but then at the last minute, they’d stuck brackets around chunks of passage, but neglected the formatting within the brackets. I don’t know if it was right or not, but it caught my eye on more than one occasion and took me away from the story.

    I’d have to say that’s one of my pet writer-peeves, when odd formatting draws my attention from the story. I’ve always been taught that you don’t indent the first paragraph after white space, but in a few recent books I’ve seen indents where (so I’ve been told) there shouldn’t be. Then I get stuck on it.

    I also hate too much information. “She walked twelve paces forward and two to the right, to her husband’s grave”. No. She walked to his grave, that’s all I need to know. I’m going to stop rambling now, haha!

    • Interesting comment about the formatting. I have always been taught that you indent all paragraphs. Since I saw some that DID indent after white space and some that DID NOT, I just assumed it was personal preference. I’ve seen a wide variety here. Mostly that is done by the typesetter/publisher in printed books. I don’t think that has been much up to the authors until digital media became so popular. I could definitely be wrong here, it’s just always been my assumption.

      • Formatting was something I never took note of in books until I got to uni and had it drilled into me by my lecturers. Now it just looks strange when it’s not what I’m used to. What I’ve found is that nearly all the books I’ve ever read follow the formatting I’ve been told to use, with two or three exceptions. I think, from memory, ‘Water for Elephants’ indents the first paragraph after it’s white space, which I remember threw me off track the first time I saw it. Great book though!

        I’m open to the idea of other kinds of formatting. It’s just something that, when I first see it, distracts me because I’m not used to it…

    • I think the weird thing about formatting is that you get taught one set of rules in school and then you have to learn a complertely new set when trying to get published!

      I did a placement in a school recently and the class was learning about speech marks which led to a massive debate about it! In school you’re taught to use ” for speech, but in books it’s always ‘ instead. It’s very confusing!
      I always thought that a paragraph didn’t need to be indented after white space too but, as you say, it happens in books all the time!

      Haha, I used to be quite bad with too much information in my writing, I put in every detail of every room until my sister told me to stop!

  3. Thank you for this post. I believe the large brackets would definitely take away from the story for me and confuse me just as much. I know the uber-detail from The Girl with the …. series has been a big turnoff for me. I tried to read two and gave up on both before the end of the first chapter.

    Excessive detail is a big reason that, while I LOVE Anne Rice, I have only four of her vampire series. I keep trying to get started on The Vampire Armand but I just cannot get into it. I own every single one and I do hope to finish the series eventually. The only reason I was able to finish the witch series was that I had it on audiobook.

    I agree with Beth on the personalization from CS Lewis, although and Tolkein. If not overused, it is a good way to pull me into a story, although I think I prefer a first person POV where I’m in the main character’s head, rather than the author’s.

    • OOPS!–rather than the narrator’s, not the author’s. You know what I mean! *blush*

    • The Millenium series is very difficult to get into, almost everyone that that I’ve spoken to about it has said that they didn’t like it until about 200 pages in, though it took me closer to 400!

      Haha, don’t worry Raven, I wouldn’t even have noticed what you’d said if you hadn’t pointed it out! I don’t know why that annoys me so much, a lot of people love it but it just does my head in!

  4. It’s funny that you pick on Tolkien. I saw a tweet from an agent a couple weeks ago, in which she commented that Tolkien would never be published today without extensive editing. 🙂 I haven’t gone back and read the books. I’m thinking I would find myself skimming a bit of them. Readers seem to want the shorter, in your face, immediate gratification type of writing. It’s a comment on society, I suppose.

    As for what ticks me off when I’m reading? Overuse of ‘was’ and having the POV ask questions. You know, like, “Something banged against the wall in the other room. What was that? Was the monster coming for him? What would he do?” Drives me batty.

    • I’ve heard that Tolkien comment before, I suppose it’s just what was popular at the time! I’m sure that in a few years people will be amazed at some of the books that are being published now.

      I think a character asking themselves a question is very similar to the narrator talking directly to the reader, it drives me crazy too! Though I do have a higher tolerance for asking questions, the odd one here and there I hardly notice but a load of them in a row will get my attention pretty fast!

  5. Brackets (or parenthesis as I call them) don’t bother me. Actually, I tend to over use them. I also don’t mind the author having a narrating voice “talking” directly to me, especially if it has a distinct personality. I don’t care if it’s in 1st person or 3rd for that.

    I actually *like* what Kathils dislikes, especially in the 1st person. I feel closer to the protagonist if I’m “in his head.” So, if it’s something like, “Why would Joe say something so mean? What did I ever do to him?” then it doesn’t bother me. In the 3rd though, it would bug me.

    What I couldn’t stand about “The Lord of the Rings” was randomly breaking out in make-believe languages. I’m not talking about having a few words that are explained to the reader, but whole friggin passages. Really. Annoying.

    As for excessive detail, I’m with you guys on that. I actually commented on that in a book review. Sure, saying a bunch of details about a guy’s car might mean something to folks who are into that, but I don’t need to know the make & model of the computer, car, police helicopter, etc. Details are important (like, say, knowing it’s a Honda is different than, say, a Jaguar), and even more specifics (the newest, latest Jag with all the bells & whistles), but if you’re going down to the full model details (e.g. 2004 Toyota Corolla SE) it’d better either be a classic that MEANS something. Otherwise, it will make sense to only a handful of readers AND be meaningless to all of them in a few years. I always imagine that amount of detail on something like a typewriter in a story. Nowadays, WHO would know anything about typewriter models?

    I suppose it’s part of knowing your audience. If you anticipate your novel about a car mechanic will get lots of car enthusiasts to read it then sure, add all the fine points about the transmission, but otherwise, we just need to know that the car runs (or not).

    • I have no problem with brackets usually, I just kept getting confused when I’d reach the end and forget that I was in them! The questions and talking directly to the reader thing seems to be a bit of a marmite situation, it’s dividing us right down the middle! I don’t mind it in 3rd person but, again, if it happens too much then it starts standing out and eventually I’ll get fed up with it!

      You mean you don’t want to teach yourself an entire made up language? I remember a book in mt school library that, halfway through, started being written in “alien” and then continued that way for the rest of the book. It made no sense and I got really frustrated with it!

      I never actually thought about the fact that it won’t make sense to anyone soon but you’re totally right, being up to date now is pointless when no one will be able to read it in a few years!

  6. On the brackets I agree that over a page is excessive. In relation to Kyra’s point; perhaps, if there is such a large chunk that needs to be separated, it might be better to indent the paragraphs like one would do in a report. It would make it easier to distinguish…

    I agree with Beth that, in children’s stories, the addressing the reader can really work. Try reading it out loud and you’ll see that it really helps the reader/narrator. I can’t be 100%

    As for too much detail – as soon as it becomes noticeable the author risks losing the reader!

    • Adressing the reader was obviously the stylistic choice of the time, I just don’t like it! I’m not saying that it’s wrong by any means, it’s just something that I personally don’t like, if we all wanted the same things in a story we’d have a lot less choice of what to read!

  7. Loved Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the little extras make me feel included, like I’m part of the story. So it doesn’t take me out, it keeps me in somehow.
    Too much description makes me angry when it’s a good book. I find it very irritating! When the drama of the story isn’t enough to keep me reading; I start skipping large blocks in an effort to “find out what’s going on;” which means I won’t pick up that author again.
    The brackets would throw me completely. I would have go back and check those sections of text – it would pull me right out of the story. I can’t imagine that working well.
    Loved this post Ster, it never occurred to me to look at these habits of others…it’s an interesting point of view and we can all take a lesson for our own writing from it.

    • I think the Tolkien and C.S. Lewis little extra are a love it or hate it thing and I’m definately in the minority with not liking it! I sometimes skip chunks out too, I really don’t care what the room looks like when there’s something going on inside it!

      Thanks Neeks! It is interesting hearing what everyone else finds annoying, and even more interesting to hear what they love that you hate!

  8. I love the Harry Potter books — have read them each several times, when I have nothing else to read. But after less than 3 chapters into #7, the Deathly Hallows, I realized that J.K.Rowling felt the need to refer to nearly each event in the first six books with obvious references — such and such happens just like it did in Prisoner of Azkaban, something else feels just like Book 1, or 4, etc. I would have enjoyed a slightly more subtle handling of these references, a task of which she was obviously capable. Awkward, to say the least. I still haven’t finished #7.

    • Oh dear, I do know what you mean there! I love the books too but I don’t think that 7 was the greatest out of the lot. I guess you’ve probably heard the ending by now anyway!

      • Actually, I have managed thus far not to find out how the story ends — as far as I’m concerned, Harry has just seen Dumbledore die, and has decided not to come back to school. I suppose I should see the movies — then maybe I could read the book! 😎

      • Wow, it’s quite impressive that you’ve managed to stay in the dark about it! The last film was actually quite good, Part 2 anyway, the book did drag on a bit!

  9. Interesting post, Ster. Quite thought-provoking. I think you’re right, that a lot of it has to do with personal preference.

    The Stig Larsson books were published posthumously. He wrote them for himself first. When they weren’t published the first go-round, he probably didn’t think too hard on fixing them up. The details are a bit overwhelming and likely could be cut without repercussion to the story…but, some writers prefer to spell everything out for the reader, in order to let the reader see exactly what the writer wants them to see. Personally, I like description. Though I tend to agree with what Kirk said in “The Trouble with Tribbles”: Too much of any thing, even love, is not necessarily a good thing. 🙂

    I think the voices of Tolkien and Lewis are simply indicative of the time in which they wrote. In this day, where everyone and their mother wants to write a book, there are certain “rules” we’re all told to follow: get to the story as quickly as possible, write for mass marketing, get rid of any extraneous text. But, if you go back and take a look at nineteenth century fiction, for example, there are paragraphs literally pages long. Many of them dwell on detail that’s not necessarily pivotal to the plot, but it’s representative of the storytelling conventions of the time. This is before television and the Internet, remember, and the age of the soundbite. People were more accustomed to sitting in for a longer haul. It wasn’t much beyond the oral storytelling tradition of our ancestors.

    Related to this is the brackets/paren argument. Dennis makes a very good point, above: reading those parenthetical passages aloud – especially in children’s literature – can make a big difference. I haven’t read The Casual Vacancy (I don’t care for Rowling, but that’s just me), but her goal with those sections might be to create a more free-flowing narrative. Or, maybe she just needed a better editor. 😉

    • As always Mayumi you have summed up everything beautifully. I think you’re right about Tolkein and Lewis, I hadn’t thought of looking at it that way! B x

    • You’re right about Tolkien and Lewis, it was the way to right for children at the time, I just happen to find it irritaing! Though as a child I really liked those books so it obviously did it’s job because I didn’t even notice then!

      Haha, I can’t quite work out what was going on with the brackets in A Casual Vacancy, I just found it odd that it was such large sections! And then everytime I encountered a closing bracket I had to go back and find the beginning so it kind of threw me out of the story, not that I was particularly enjoying it anyway to be honest!

  10. Two remarks!
    First, a question of terminology: I call these things ( ) parentheses. I call these [ ] brackets, so that’s what I thought you were talking about at first. (Is this a question of British vs. American terminology?) To me, brackets imply something introduced by the author such as an author’s or editor’s note or explanation, completely outside the story. Parentheses suggest an inserted remark that belongs in the story but needs to be set off other than by commas or dashes. I never use brackets, but I do use parentheses. I do find the overuse of parentheses to be annoying, as in the case of a passage that is so long that the reader loses track of the opening mark.
    Second, Tolkien and Lewis are working out of the tradition of omnipotent narrator, where the writer is comfortable inserting his own persona into the story and nudging and guiding the reader along. Today we consider that old fashioned and stodgy – we want the story to flow organically under its own power. That’s probably why that editor said, Tolkien would not get published today without a lot of editing. But neither would Shakespeare, most likely. or Fielding or Sterne or Dickens! You have to accept the conventions of the author’s time!

    • I was indeed talking about the first Lorinda, I don’t think I’ve ever put a name to the latter to be honest! And that is exactly the problem that I had with them, I wouldn’t usually mind but it just became confusing and I had to keep checking back to see where the beginning was.

      Haha, I think Shakespeare would definately be in trouble! You’re right though, it is what was popular at the time, especially in children’s fiction, I just don’t like it! Most people seem to be disagreeing with me though so I’m obviously just a bit weird!

      • You’re not weird! Omnipotent narration went out of style well before I went to college in 1957! It died with people like James Joyce and Heminingway! It was so 19th century, you know – so Victorian! So Tolkien and Lewis were a bit stodgy even for their own day! I don’t particularly like that style and I certainly don’t write it, but I tolerate it based on what I know of the author’s period and tradition.

  11. Great and thought-provoking post.

    “The stone dwarf which (as you remember) was standing a few feet from the lion”. This seems like a particularly indulgent tendency on the part of writers, like “LOOK. I am so good at writing that I foreshadowed something, ICYMI LOL.”

    I like to be able to come to that revelation by myself, thank you. Oh! This is the dwarf mentioned earlier! Chekov’s dwarf!

    • Haha, that’s exactly how I feel about it too! I just think it’s unnecessary, but then a lot of people quite like how it brings them in to the story so I guess it’s just one of those things that you either love or you hate!

  12. I could not finish the JK Rowling book. Although foul language doesn’t bother me, in the Casual Vacancy its usage often seemed gratuitous. Plus, there were WAY too many characters to keep track of, and the whole thing just felt choppy. I didn’t notice the brackets – now you’ve made me want to have a look. Great post.

    • Not my post, BUT I had the same problem Gwen. We were introduced to about 10 characters at once and I was really confused about who was who. I had to flick back to remember the names. Needless to say I’ve read about 20 pages and given up. I might give another go at some point. Beth

    • Bad laguage doesn’t bother me at all, it was just that one word that seemed so out of place! I’ll admit that I cheated a bit with a Casual Vacancy and used wikipedia to help me keep up with who everyone was, there were just so many names to rememmber!
      I gave up several times as well, I think the only reason that I eventually finished was because I wanted to know for sure that I didn’t like it!

      • You’re much more persistent than me. My rule is 50 pages – if a story doesn’t grab me by then, I give it up. There are too many good books to be read, so I don’t see the point of spending time with one I don’t like. With this book, it was a struggle to make it to page 50.

        Seems like many people I’ve spoken to about The Casual Vacancy have commented on the overwhelming number of characters. I used a hand-written “cheat sheet” to help keep them straight. I just didn’t feel vested in the story and really didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. Disappointing.

        Great post!

      • I usually have a similar rule Gwen, I gave reading to the end of books I don’t like a while ago, but for some reason this one was different. I think it was because so many people were saying that it was good that I felt I needed to have an informed arguement when I disagreed with them!

  13. Just as Mayumi and Lorinda said, the styles of Tolkien and Lewis were acceptable and within the norm during their time. Very chatty with the reader, and the reader is helped along in the story. This also explains why they have so much heavy detail in their books.

    I was taught that brackets and parentheses are to be avoided if at all possible, because f the info is necessary, then why is it bracketed, etc? Why not edit the passage so that the info is part of the natural flow of the story? And over a couple of lines is ridiculous, never mind almost 2 pages!!

    • It was the style of the time, it’s interesting how things change! I think there’s been a big shift towards first person recently so I suposse these little asides to the reader don’t really fit with that kind of narrative.

      I think I was taught the same thing about brackets, 2 pages does seem quite excessive!

  14. I think that a writer should always consider the reason “why” they’re doing something. If there is no reason, if it is an arbitrary choice, if it’s unconsidered, if it’s just because they’ve seen someone else do it, if…you can see where I’m going here. Authorial intrusion was a common stylistic choice in earlier eras and is still seen in current literature. Sometimes I think authors sometimes unsuccessfully attempt to use another author’s “tricks” that they admired and that were successful within the context of the admired author’s work (imitation being the most sincere form of flattery). But these attempts can fall quite flat. I happen to enjoy authorial intrusion when it fits, especially in children’s literature. But the use of other “tricks,” like brackets or excessive use of footnotes, can often be misguided in the hands of authors not as skilled as the likes of Nabokov (Pale Fire) or David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest). And even these skilled authors can test the patience of their readers when it seems like all they’re doing is showing off their chops at the expense of reader comprehension and enjoyment. Think of works like Finnegans Wake, a brilliant exercise in style that very few people can stand to read.

    • You’re right Jilanne, I think it all comes down to the skill of the writer and also the preference of the reader, if the two don’t match up then the book will never be read. Good job there are so many of us who don’t like the same things!

  15. I was never taught not to use parentheses. For example, I think Jilanne Hoffmann’s use of them in the comment above is fine; you could set off the “imitation” one with a comma, but the parentheses make it a bit more “parenthetical,” that is, a somewhat gratuitous addition. Here are a couple of examples of how I use them in my writing (taken from “The Storm-Wing,” the volume I’m preparing for publication):

    “I vowed that as soon as (and if) we arrived once again in civilized surroundings, all of us who did not already possess the skill were going to learn how to swim!”
    “The officials of the fortress fanned out from either side of the progenitors – certain Caste Chiefs – the Keeper of the Holy Chamber – the Cohort Chiefs – but no Remembrancer (Ni’shbu’uto’cha did not even have one).

    Here is the somewhat wordy way that Dictionary.com defines “parenthesis”:
    Grammar . a qualifying, explanatory, or appositive word, phrase, clause, or sentence that interrupts a syntactic construction without otherwise affecting it …

    • I don’t see an issue with using parentheses, either, Lorinda. Used too much or too frequently, they could become a crutch, but there are certainly supporting details which help flesh out a scene that need to be separated from the main text. Of course, that could just be my love of description popping into things, too. 😉

      • I think what we’re proving here is that it’s an issue of personnal preference, there isn’t really a right or wrong answer so long as there are people who want to read it!

  16. Brackets open secrets. They can be whispers of hidden information – not unnecessary or flow-breaking, but additional, foundation-building. I’m pretty sure Mark Twain used them a fair bit and he was awesome.

    I back all those facts up with absolutely nothing.

    I love Terry Pratchett’s use of footnotes, and have begun using them in my own writing. I know they aren’t for everyone though.

    • You’re right, I think the test is whether or not you notice them, if they blend in so well with the rest of the writing that there isn’t a break in the flow then no one will ever have a problem with them. It’s when the narrative seems broken up with them I tend to find it irritating!

      Footnotes can be a great tool, especially in comic writing, and I know that I’d be lost in Anna Karenina without them!

      • Now I have to comment on the use of footnotes. My series “The Labors of Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head” uses footnotes, because it’s couched as the work of my termite bard and is being presented as a scholarly work by my Professor from “The Termite Queen.” She’s the translator and editor, and so she writes a Translator’s Foreword and laces the book with footnotes explaining alien words and customs and giving information about the termite planet. I’m hoping that won’t turn people off, because it shows the layers of the story – gives you information you don’t get in the story itself. But formatting footnotes for Kindle and other ereaders was a pain. They definitely work best in the printed book.

  17. On the language in A Casual Vacancy, I haven’t read it (yet) but have you heard people out in the wild nowadays? The book can’t be as foul-mouthed as many of the UK’s citizens! Maybe she was just going for ‘authenticity’?

    On using brackets, I don’t use them much in my fiction (but don’t ask about commas!). However, when the story is narrated by the protagonist I do sometimes use them to give a more chatty feel. In “Talatu” the whole novel is an account written after the fact by Talatu and I used the brackets for the asides that she pops in to show what she was feeling.

    For example:

    Being ever the professional Middie (yeah right!) I thought it best to start a formal report.

    I had nothing to eat, nothing to drink (who was it that said “water water everywhere and not a drop to drink?”) and I was exhausted.

    The next day I got up while it was still dark and ate some fruit (while thinking about bacon!) and then met my two friends at their OngLang.

    • Right, Dennis! That’s exactly the way I use parentheses! My “Labors” series is written in the first person, narrated by Di’fa’kro’mi the Remembrancer (bard), so that kind of aside is valuable.

    • I never meant to suggest that all published language should be free from any expletives, it was literally that one word that didn’t fit with the rest of the narrative and so stuck out as somewhat gratuitous. Again, it’s all really just a case of personnal preferences!

  18. I’m with you on everything except the millennium trilogy. Salander is such an enigmatic character that say, a message on her shirt is a clue to the sense of humour buried in a humourless woman and her nerdish traits are deepened by her specifically chosen tools. I found such mentions to be an important part of the exposition.

    • Each to their own Mike, I’m glad that we agree on something though! I do agree that sometimes certain mentions were helpful with the exposition, but I do think that there were parts that were a bit too much. At times I felt as if I should get out a Stockholm street map and follow their route with them, but I’m sure that’s just me!

  19. I, too, hate it when an author unexpectedly breaks a perfectly well-constructed fourth wall.

  20. Since I don’t swear, I am often put off by writers who use vile language. I can tolerate it if it is part of dialog (to a point) and in keeping with a character, but too much will make me stop reading. There are other ways to communicate anger or disapproval…

    The line between providing too much detail and not enough is tough. I know what you mean about long descriptions that seem unnecessary. Perhaps plots are better served if those details of, say a lap top, are included in a dialog about how there is or isn’t enough memory to do some kind of function necessary. Then the reader knows why it’s important to have the level of detail.

    • That’s exactly the issue that I had with this example Lorna, it was just a little too much to be in keeping with the character. It was so unexpected and this chracter was one of the few who used bad language in the book, so it really stuck out!

  21. So, I’d like to ask a question. If you’re writing in the 1st person, and the character is reflecting (perhaps pondering what happened or what to do next), how would you write that if you don’t just state the question?

    E.g.

    I picked up the strange object. It was heavier than I thought. The surface felt like fine silk, but was warm to the touch. I’d never seen anything like it. What could it be?

    I picked up the strange object. It was heavier than I thought. The surface felt like fine silk ,but was warm to the touch. I’d never seen anything like it. I wondered what it could be.

    (something else perhaps?)

    • Hi Shannon, I’m not sure how good my answer will be to this question as I never write in 1st person, which is probably very strange of me I know! Personally though, I would do exactly what you’ve just done in your example and just ask the question. It’s when there are many questions one after the other that I get irritated!
      I’d actually write in a question in 3rd person as well, so long as it fitted with the rest of the narrative, I think it’s a question of how the story flows. If something interrupts the flow then you notice it and then you might find that it annoys you, but if it flows well enough then you’ll never notice that it happened in the first place, if that makes sense!

      Again, it is a question of personnal preference on what we all like to read. I pretty much don’t mind anything the first time, it’s when it happens so much that I notice it happening that I start to find it odd. For example, if you had ended with several questions about the item then that would make me pause, but just the one fits easily.

      I’m sure that other people will have other answers and opinions though, it’s just a case of what we all like!

    • I would probably write that like this:
      I picked up the strange object. It was heavier than I thought, and the surface felt like fine silk and was warm to the touch. I’d never seen anything like it.
      I wouldn’t have either a question or a statement at the end. Obviously, the speaker is puzzled about what the object is – we don’t really need to be told that. Of course, it might depend on the context of what went before and what follows.

      • Thanks for adding another option Lorinda!

      • That’s a good point. I’ve got a few places where my character is trying to figure things out and it’s almost stream-of-conscious.

        Why would he do that? Maybe he needed the money. But then he wouldn’t be giving so much to the church. Could he be a liar?…

  22. Shannon: I don’t have anything specifically against the questions; but, if you wanted to get rid of them, how about:

    It was strange that he would do that; maybe he needed the money, but then he wouldn’t be giving so much to the church. I suspected that he was lying about something…

  23. Great post Ster, I’ve only just got round to reading it, and I see it has stirred up lots of interesting discussion which is wonderful. I too find brackets/parentheses annoying. An occasional appropriate use can be fine, but what you’ve described sounds ridiculous to me!

    It’s funny that you mention about the writer talking to the reader because I just did a bit of that in a short story I wrote for a competition, however, the story was deliberately meant to be like a bit of an old-fashioned fairy tale – I hadn’t planned on talking to the reader in that way, and yet it just seemed to fit naturally when I was writing it, and so it’s interesting to read that people are saying it is a bit of old-fashioned way of writing because that’s what I was doing!

    I totally agree about over-use of description, to me it feels selfish and over-indulgent on the part of the writer. Description should enhance the action, not the other way around.

    • Vanessa, I’ve decided that whenever I can possibly get around to it, I’m going to do an Olde Grammarian post on brackets/parentheses! Also on italics, which stimulated a similar discussion over on one of the Google+ fantasy groups.

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