What Readers Hate

Always striving to improve my writing, I make notes when readers complain about what they don’t like in a story. I reviewed my notes recently because I’m working on a rewrite of a new novel. Here’s a long list of  dislikes from readers on a mystery listserv I participate in:

  • portents, particularly the “had-I-but-known”
  • cliffhangers at the end of the chapter or the book
  • an abundance of coincidences
  • too little character background for series protagonists (assuming the reader has read the previous books in the series)
  • clumsy dialogue that doesn’t sound natural
  • insufficient sense of place and/or time
  • characters that are TSTL (too stupid to live)
  • rushed endings, particularly done with exposition rather than actually solving the clues to solve the crime
  • abuse to women, children, or animals…done for shock value
  • a prologue that either isn’t really necessary or that diminishes the impact later of the plot
  • characters with similar names
  • hackneyed plots
  • thin characters
  • an unconvincing voice
  • weak, bland prose no matter what the style
  • pretentious prose no matter what the style
  • stylistic repetition that seems lazy
  • badly edited texts
  • deja vu: “I’ve read this before”
  • the author trying too hard at whatever
  • the author seeming to revel in cruelty

I’d like to think my stories don’t fall into these patterns, but I confess, I occasionally use a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter.

Readers: What can you add to this list?
Writers: When and why do you break these “rules” in your novels?

This is a reprint from L.J. Sellers‘  Write First, Clean Later blog.