Pet Peeves

As writers, they say we need to develop a thick skin.  I say we need to be more like the Honey Badger. What’s the Honey Badger, you say? Well, allow my friend to explain:

The Honey Badger  

Okay, with that little introduction aside, I’d like to help the author’s skin by offering some anti-pet-peeve lotion.  For those who are allergic to certain ingredients, here they are so you can avoid at all cost.


These are from readers:

  • “Characters who take a beating or a bullet (often detectives) and then refuse pain medication.”
  • “Exclamation points! Especially two at a time!!”
  • “Characters looking into a mirror and describing themselves.”
  • “Mr/Ms Exposition. (i.e., characters who exist mainly for info dumps)”
  • “Rape scenes.”
  • “’Creative’ dialogue tags.”
  • “Internal monologues.”
  • “Information dumps disguised as dialogue.”
  • “New York, it’s as if the only city in the literary world is zip code 10001, same holds true for Los Angeles in film.”
  • “The belief that good description means describing fluffy clouds and sunbeams. (this is only excusable if the author is on LSD)”
  • “Characters in YA novels who seem like the embodiment of one giant teen cliche, spewing every contemporary slang term the 40-year-old author could overhear at her daughter’s cheerleading contest.”
  • “When a comedy writer feels like every sentence has to be a punchline.”
  • “Overly descriptive passages. I usually skip ’em.”
  • “Very. Short. Sentences.”
  • “Cursing…….. I do not need a profanity eevry three words. Thanks!”
  • “Dropping me off in a brand new world at the start of the story, and then proceeding to give me ten million made up words without explaining any of them.”
  • “Overly sentimentalized sex scenes, or sex scenes just for the sake of HAVING sex scenes. If it doesn’t add anything to the story or character development – or if it’s full of “her eyes were pools of desire” wishwash – it just irritates me.”
  • “Repetitions. If you’ve already told me the hero is grieving over a lost love so he won’t let himself love again, don’t tell me on every other page.”
  • “Stereotypes. The “strong” character has a “strong chin.” The “weak” character has a “weak chin.” The overweight woman is unhappy and sexless; the tall, slender woman is brilliant and sexy. Freckles equal mischievous and not attractive or sexy. Red hair means a temper and/or meanness or sluttiness, esp. in a girl. A short man is aggressive and defensive, and so on. These kinds of assumptions are akin to discrimination, IMO.”


And these are from agents/editors:

  • “1. Squinting into the sunlight with a hangover in a crime novel. Good grief — been done a million times. 2. A sci-fi novel that spends the first two pages describing the strange landscape. 3. A trite statement (“Get with the program” or “Houston, we have a problem” or “You go girl” or “Earth to Michael” or “Are we all on the same page?”), said by a weenie sales guy, usually in the opening paragraph. 4. A rape scene in a Christian novel, especially in the first chapter. 5. ‘Years later, Monica would look back and laugh…’ 6. “The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land.”

Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary

  • “Here are things I can’t stand: Cliché openings in Fantasy can include an opening scene set in a battle (and my peeve is that I don’t know any of the characters yet so why should I care about this battle) or with a pastoral scene where the protagonist is gathering herbs (I didn’t realize how common this is).  Opening chapters where a main protagonist is in the middle of a bodily function (jerking off, vomiting, peeing, or what have you) is usually a firm NO right from the get-go. Gross.  Long prologues that often don’t have anything to do with the story. So common in Fantasy again.  Opening scenes that our all dialogue without any context. I could probably go on…”

Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary

  • “‘The weather’ is always a problem—the author feels he has to set up the scene and tell us who the characters are, etc. I like starting a story in medias res.”

Elizabeth Pomada, Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents

  • “Run on sentences: So many authors keep adding clauses to their sentences and connecting them with commas. “

Barbara Ehrentreu, Editor

  • “Too many dialogue tags with anything but said. I’ll take replied, but using anything else detracts from the sentence. Many times you don’t even need a tag if the author has delineated the characters with one or two at the beginning of the dialogue.”

Barbara Ehrentreu, Editor

  • “I dislike opening scenes that you think are real (I rep adult genre fiction), then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.  And so many writers use this hackneyed device. I dislike lengthy paragraphs of world building and scene setting up front.  I usually crave action close to the beginning of the book (and so do readers).”

Laurie McLean, Larsen/Pomada Literary Agents

  • “I do in fact hate it when someone wakes up from a dream in Chapter 1, and I dislike an overly long prologue.  The worst thing that you can do is let that crucial chapter be boring – that’s the chapter that has to grab my interest!”

Michelle Brower, Folio Literary Management

  • “Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking … Authors often do this to transmit information, but the result is action in a literal sense but no real energy in a narrative sense. The best rule of thumb is always to start the story where the story starts.”

Dan Lazar, Writers House

  • “I hate seeing a ‘run-down list:’ Names, hair color, eye color, height, even weight sometimes.  Other things that bother me is over-describing the scenery or area where the story starts.  Usually a manuscript can lose the first 3-5 chapters and start there. Besides the run-down list preaching to me about a subject, I don’t like having a character immediately tell me how much he/she hates the world for whatever reason.  In other words, tell me your issues on politics, the environment, etc. through your character.  That is a real turn off to me.”

Miriam Hees, editor, Blooming Tree Press

  • “I hate reading purple prose, taking the time to set up– to describe something so beautifully and that has nothing to do with the actual story. I also hate when an author starts something and then says ‘(the main character) would find out later.’ I hate gratuitous sex and violence anywhere in the manuscript.  If it is not crucial to the story then I don’t want to see it in there, in any chapters.”

Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary

  • “I don’t like to see a lot of passive voice, also inadequate research resulting in a lot of rewrites for the author, too many and/or awkward dialogue tags, overuse of em dashes and ellipses.”

Nancy Bell, Muse Editor

  • “General overuse of the same words or similar words, which we all are guilty of I might add. In particular the words, then, he, she, a character’s name, had, had been, that.”

Nancy Bell, Muse Editor

  • “Anything cliché such as ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ will turn me off.  I hate when a narrator or author addresses the reader (e.g., ‘Gentle reader’).”

Jennie Dunham, DunhamLiterary

  • “[I dislike] inauthentic dialogue to tell the reader who the characters are, instead of showing who the characters are.”

Jennifer Cayea, Avenue A Literary

  • “Most agents hate prologues. Just make the first chapter relevant and well written.”

Andrea Brown, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

  • “I’m turned off when a writer feels the need to fill in all the backstory before starting the story; a story that opens on the protagonist’s mental reflection of their situation is a red flag.”

Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary Management

  • “One of the biggest problems is the ‘information dump’ in the first few pages, where the author is trying to tell us everything we supposedly need to know to understand the story. Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”

Rachelle Gardner, WordServe Literary

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