IRRITANTS. Things that bother you, drive you nuts, or are at least distracting when reading them. Mine, among others, is "small smile."  You see it in the books of leading writers, some my favorites, as well as aspirants. When I see it, it's like something approaching an ice cream brain freeze. There are numerous ways to describe a smile that isn't prominent or otherwise overwhelming. Please use either one of them. And you can tell who are some of the users/abusers aspiring writers are reading because of this "small smile" refrain; monkey see, monkey do. Would you say "smiling smally"?

Look, writers are suppose to be among the skilled, if not masters, of the craft. There must be a way to kill this expression, send it to the bone yard of goofy things.

You got one, I want to hear it. I might be guilty of it.

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I must plead guilty to abusing some favorite phrases (not "small smile"). The reason is that the story pushes forward and the brain supplies the handiest term as quickly as possible. I also use words that one of my beta readers circles: "that" in phrases where it may be dropped because it is understood. This I think is due to the rule that we must write the most stripped-down prose possible in the U.S. I don't really agree with that but remove a few of the objectionable things from time to time.


As for what irritates me as a reader: confusing narrative. I just tossed a highly acclaimed writer (Morag Joss) who spends pages setting up a novel apparently about Puccini, with fanciful pages and small biographies of Turandot.

Then she moves to a first p. present tense rumination about life based on someone's memory of a school girl's essay on how she sees the world. (She sees it in colors, different for every day of the week). From this we move to the teacher who set the topic as a revenge before departing forever.


At that point I'd lost interest. The confusion of the narative arises from constant switches of pov as well as a sense that this is going nowhere discernible and there is no point in making an effort to unravel things.

Sometimes I think awards are given to writers who mystify their judges.  If they can't understand it, it must be brilliant.

Yes, and I've noticed that what you say about judges might also be the case with academics and language, especially poetry, and in particular graduate students. The more mystic or puzzling it is or resembles an argot, the more they're fascinated by it, want to read something spooky into a thing that's really quite simple.

Academics enjoy solving puzzles. As a rule, they have to prove their deductions with examples from the text.  Poetry is a form of shorthand that leaves much unsaid or only suggested via images. There are keys to unraveling those puzzles.


But that sort of thing is very different from what a mystery writer should be concerned with. We have moved away from the teasers, the puzzles that challenged the reader to guess how the murderer got into the locked room, or committed a crime while having a cast-iron alibi. These days we are more interested in human nature, in characters, in the stresses of life.  That requires taking the readers into the world of our characters without confusing them about what they see. 

Or writing "words to fill the empty page" and get a word count up.  And sometimes the Emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Yes. I toss a lot of library books after having initially picked them because they looked interesting.

From the challenge of Mensa to the couch of the analyst, in a manner of speaking?

Yes, I.J., I used to get annoyed at all the "thats." Like a machine gun firing.

One peeve I have in regard to fiction is the overuse of character names or the underuse of third person personal pronouns. I recently read a Karin Slaughter book in which she thumped her readers with the names of her characters in virtually every paragraph and hardly ever used a "he" or "she" when she could've, or so it seemed to my suffering internal ear. Enjoyed the book otherwise...

"The overuse of anything but said for dialogue tags, and the overuse of adverbs tacked on to the end of dialogue tags," Jude barked emphatically.


I like adverbs.

Eric thinks that all of the pet peeves should be illustrated in Jude's manner. That is all Eric has to say.


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