Recently, I was scrolling through an interesting thread on a bookish Facebook page. The OP had asked what tropes or events in a book would cause you to stop reading in frustration. The answers were pretty surprising.
It wasn’t necessarily the answers themselves that interested me, but the response to the answers. For every person naming a certain pet-peeve as a reader, there were multiple responses stating “Oh, I don’t mind that at all, but I really hate it when…”.
As a fairly neurotic writer, I opened the post comments wondering if I should read it at all. I was afraid that the first 5 responses would list 5 of the things that I most definitely used in my upcoming book, The Suffering, and that I would cringe and sweat and quiver inside a little, wondering whether everyone would instantly see me for the big fat writing fraud that my brain insists that I am. But the responses were immediately comforting.
It was great to see the sheer spectrum of loves in comparison to the personal grievances of the reading community, and for just as many readers to reply and state that a particular trope or writing “faux-pas” is something they actively seek in a book, and get pleasure from when they see it.
Because it’s impossible to please everyone. There is not a chance in hell that you can write a book or create a piece of art that everyone will enjoy. Pleasure is unequivocally, beautifully subjective.
Just for fun, here are some of the ‘hated’ tropes or writing mishaps that were listed, followed by some of the rebuttals (although they are in speech marks, they are summarized from the answers given and are not direct quotes):
- Spelling mistakes or grammatical errors (naturally – we need to make sure there are as few as possible!). But here’s what a few of the readers said: “I find it kind of comforting when there’s a mistake in a book. It shows that the writer is human, too.”
- Writing a character’s accent within the speech patterns. (And if you’re looking for an example of this, think about all the recent Benoit Blanc memes for reference!) For all those who listed this as a gripe, others said: “I love it when a character has an obvious accent, especially when it’s familiar to the area I’m from. If it’s done well, I can hear it in my head, and I instantly warm to the character.”
- A main character who vehemently dislikes someone, only for them to end up falling in love a few chapters later. While a lot of readers agreed that this was annoying and unrealistic, there were plenty who disagreed. “This is my favourite kind of tension in a book! The ‘will they/won’t they’ keeps me turning the pages until I get a definitive answer, and I love it when they finally get together. I don’t care how many times I read it, the characters are always different, so it doesn’t matter to me.” While another said, “This is how I met my partner – I hated their guts. It always feels realistic to me. We’re married now!”
- The baddy becomes the goody or the goody becomes the baddy. While some readers find the switch utterly frustrating, others couldn’t disagree more. “Character development is the best part of reading for me. I put this in the same category. If the character changes dramatically, I can only see it as a good thing.” Another mentioned that they had been a bit of a bully in school and managed to turn it around. Reading a bad character turn good always felt familiar to them, affirming their choice to make the switch all those years ago.
- Writers going into detail about the food the character is eating. This one surprised me, as I’ve always enjoyed a good food description in a book, and find it really puts me in the scene (Richard Laymon’s hotdog descriptions in Funland and The Midnight Tour, anyone?!). And let’s not forget about Hemingway. This was one of the most divisive topics. You either love it or hate it. But, like all good foods, perhaps moderation is key to this bug-bear. As one reader stated, “If it went on for pages and pages of description then, absolutely. But I like to experience the food along with the character if it’s within reason.”
- Characters referencing pop-culture such as real-life movies, or using social media apps like TikTok or Instagram. This one intrigued me as some of my characters (students in 2016) actively use social media apps in the story. I felt the same way as many of the people responding to the contrary – “We aren’t living in the 1950s. If it’s a contemporary book about young characters, chances are they spend a lot of time on their phones, so it adds to realistic world-building.”
- Finally, one of the readers (who was also a writer, I’m assuming!) hated the question itself. Why? Because there is no one-size-fits-all way of writing, and so she found the question frustratingly irrelevant.
I guess my summary here is drawing the same conclusion, but unlike the final reader’s response, I’m glad the question was asked. It reminded me that even if you accidentally (or intentionally) include a reader’s most hated trope or writer mistake in your work, there WILL be another reader who appreciates it.
So the old adage that you should write the book that you always wanted to read really is true. If you like it, chances are there will be many more who feel the same way. And don’t be disheartened if you get bad feedback. Sometimes, the ones who don’t like what you do are the ones who shout loudest, or take the time to voice their opinions. In the background, there may be 10 more people for every 1 of the ones who don’t like it just quietly thinking how much they love what you do. Don’t fixate on that negative opinion because it looms largest.
As with all things, you just have to find your audience.