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My Kind of Story – What this reader dislikes when reading a story

I can analyse and offer constructive criticism, looking at plot, dialogue, characterisation, pace, point of view, tense, hooks and so on but reading likes and dislikes are subjective.  Story reviews on Amazon are subjective too. One book I know has over 1,000 reviews of which 840 are 5*. 29 in total are 1* and 2*. Guess which reviews I read? Yep, the one and two star.  Anyway, I prefer to read the blurb and determine if it something I might like to read before reading reviews.

This is a list of the story formats or pet peeves which colour my view when it comes to reading or discarding a book. Of course, there are always exceptions to my rule.

  1. Written in present tense. Supposedly makes the story more immediate and engaging. According to the Guardian, present tense is fashionable with writers like Hilary Mantel, credited with starting the trend, to Philip Pullman, Kevin Barry, and David Mitchell. In the newspaper, Mantel is quoted as saying that the present tense isn’t an easy answer, or suitable for every story. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/21/rise-of-the-present-tense-in-fiction-hilary-mantel
  2. Chapters or pages which gives the villain’s story and point of view. I do not want to have insight into his thinking. Nor do I want to sympathise or empathise with him. I understand that knowing the villains plans when the victim does not, adds to the suspense but it’s not for me. In one of my novels about 20,000 words are the villain’s point of view. I have removed them, added them, removed them again and so on. I like his story line but it does not add to the main story, I think. My personal jury is sitting on the fence still. Maybe I can add it as bonus at the back of the book when it is published. Or self publish it as a novella.
  3. Flashbacks.  I can handle a paragraph but when it runs to pages and chapters, I ignore them. Some novels have Flashbacks every couple of chapters. The story stalls when I am eager to follow it.
  4. Information dumps. Similar to Flashbacks and they too hold up the story.
  5. An opening (not a prologue) with action in the present then the flashback to days or even months earlier returning to the opening midway through the plot, or near the end. I find it such a letdown
  6. Too much back story. In one novel, the first 25% was back story.  If it is that interesting, important or necessary it should be a book on its own, or better incorporated in the main story.
  7. Subject matter which disturbs me, and as I have aged, a lot more disturbs me. Anything which is described as ‘gritty realism’ and child abuse for example. A recent successful thriller/crime procedural on Amazon contained such. I skipped over the flashbacks. I had no need to read the details.

That list is just for starters because I am sure I can find more. Reading through it, I wonder how I ever find a book to read! But as I said, exceptions are the rule.

I made a decision about fifteen years ago to buy more books by female authors because of the gender imbalance between women writers and male writers; and the same with reviewers. Not exclusively because I still read male authors but far fewer. In the forty years before I changed my buying habits, I missed a lot of great work by women authors. Now I may miss a lot of great work by men. I can live with that.

This is a great article from Goodreads about readers choices.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/25/readers-prefer-authors-own-sex-goodreads-survey

Helen Dunmore Writer
RIP Helen Dunmore

Read her words about facing mortality –

 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/04/helen-dunmore-facing-mortality-birdcage-walk

Then read her wonderful, poignant final poem which can be found here –

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/06/helen-dunmores-family-reveal-poem-written-in-the-authors-last-days

Published inWriting

One Comment

  1. An interesting list. Are you going to supply a similar list of recommendations? You’ve intrigued me. I’m reading Cold Comfort Farm at the moment, which also functions as a kind of ‘pet peeves’ list for Stella Gibbons.

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