Skip to main content

5 Things Fiction Writers Do That Annoy Readers

Reading with a critical eye can ruin the fun of reading, but it's also what makes our writing stronger. Deanna Cabinian identifies five things that you might want to reconsider before including them in your work.

Reading with a critical eye can ruin the fun of reading, but it's also what makes our writing stronger. Deanna Cabinian identifies five things that you might want to reconsider before including them in your work.

Image placeholder title

Illustration by Johnn Tenniel from The poetical works of Edgar Allan Poe (1858). Source.

At times it is difficult being a writer and a reader, since looking at novels with a critical eye can ruin the fun of reading. But reading often is what makes our writing stronger. Over the years I’ve discovered similarities between the works that irritate me at best and cause me to lose interest and stop reading at worst. In no particular order, here are five things fiction writers do that annoy readers:

1. Use character names that are impossible to pronounce.

For example, names like Bxijkrnk. If I see a name like that in a novel I gloss right over it. Henceforth that character is simply B in my mind. I appreciate diversity in literature, but if you are trying to appeal to a primarily English-speaking audience you should try to include names readers have a shot at pronouncing. Or, have a clear footnote of how to pronounce the name so readers don’t slow down too much while reading or give up altogether.

2. Use character names that are too similar to each other.

It is confusing for the reader if you have characters with names that are too alike. If your book has a Bobby, Bob, and Beau in it, you can bet I’m putting it down after I’ve had to refer back to figure out who the heck is on stage one too many times.

3. Write beautiful descriptions and not much else.

I’ve picked up a few books this year where I recognized instantly that the author could write. They were great at describing the setting and making me feel like I was in the place they were talking about. They were good at describing characters’ looks and mannerisms. But they didn’t make me care about the characters which is crucial for me as a reader. No amount of beautiful writing can make up for the fact that an author made me fail to care about their people.

4. Get too creative with the structure.

Jesse Andrews’ Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl is an excellent example of a creative structure that I like as a reader. Andrews makes great use of lists and bullet points in his writing. Being creative with the structure fails, however, when it is too convoluted to follow. For example, having ten viewpoint characters makes it hard for the reader to stay engaged. Also, I’m not a fan of viewpoint characters that only have one chapter devoted to them. If that happens it makes me wonder why the character was introduced at all.

5. Break the fourth wall.

When the author constantly makes side comments to the reader or makes a character educate you about something it jars me out of the story. For example, I’m working on a manuscript with a Filipino main character. He is often referred to as “anak” in the text because it’s a term of endearment a lot of Filipino parents use. What he doesn’t do, however, is explain this (aka break the fourth wall) to the reader. I trust the reader is smart enough to figure this out.

What about you? Are there things authors do that annoy you? Discuss in the comments.

Image placeholder title

Deanna Cabinian is the author of One Night and One Love. When she isn’t working or writing she enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and their Havanese dog, Cuba.

Have an amazing story idea, but need to learn the basics of how to write a book? WD University's Fundamentals of Fiction will take you through all of the basics of writing a novel including how important it is to choose a great setting, how to build characters, what point of view you should choose, how to write great dialogue, and more. Register today!

Fundamentals of Fiction—WD University
How To Write and Research a Local History Book

How To Write and Research a Local History Book

Let award-winning writer Jennifer Boresz Engelking help you uncover local mysteries and put the puzzle pieces together when writing and researching a local history book.

From Script

Vulnerability as an Asset (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with Netflix’s acclaimed mini-series “Keep Breathing” creators Martin Gero and Brendan Gall, and BounceTV’s “Johnson” creator and star Deji LaRay.

Michael J. Seidlinger: On Asking Questions in Horror

Michael J. Seidlinger: On Asking Questions in Horror

Author Michael J. Seidlinger discusses the writing process of his new literary horror novel, Anybody Home?

10 Tips for Building a Realistic and Vibrant Fictional World

10 Tips for Building a Realistic and Vibrant Fictional World

World-building of any kind can seem like a daunting task. Here, author Nalini Singh shares 10 tips for building a realistic and vibrant fictional world.

Adalyn Grace: On Writing for Escape

Adalyn Grace: On Writing for Escape

New York Times bestselling author Adalyn Grace discusses combining her favorite genres into her new YA fantasy novel, Belladonna.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Our September/October Cover Reveal, a Competition Deadline Reminder, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our September/October 2022 cover, a competition deadline reminder, and more!

Writing Nonfiction History vs. Historical Fiction

Writing Nonfiction History vs. Historical Fiction

Author John Cameron discusses how nonfiction history and historical fiction are more similar than they are different.

Bob Eckstein | Publishing Survival Tips

Top 10+ Survival Tips for Publishing

Poignant advice from some of the funniest people in publishing.

Zac Bissonnette: On the Passionate Community of Mystery Lovers

Zac Bissonnette: On the Passionate Community of Mystery Lovers

New York Times bestselling author Zac Bissonnette discusses the process of writing his new cozy mystery, A Killing in Costumes.