Writing pet peeves | things I hate to encounter in books

Disclaimer: I am not a writer or an author, nor do I aspire to be one. I don’t mean to offend anyone with this list, and I certainly don’t want to seem condescending. I’m simply stating an opinion. I know loads of you won’t agree with me because we all like different things. And that’s fine! Just be respectful about it, please.

Now that we’ve covered the disclaimer, let’s get on to the actual blog post. Today, I thought I’d write about some of my writing pet peeves. I’ve been an avid reader for a long time, and have become far more critical of what I read in the past few years. Along with that comes the realization that there are some writing styles and techniques that just don’t work for me. Let’s take a look at what bothers me while reading, shall we?

OVERUSE OF ELLIPSES AND DASHES

I don’t really mind the use of ellipses and dashes in general, before you come for me. When it’s used so often that I actually notice it though, it starts to bother me. Punctuation is an aspect of writing I usually don’t pay that much attention to, unless the author uses too much or too little of it.

I noticed the overuse of dashes and ellipses during my reread of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 2018. Not once had I taken notice of it before, even though I’ve read the series multiple times. I encourage you to pick up your copy of the book and look for the dashes and ellipses on the page. There’ll be a lot of them…

TOO MUCH EMPHASIS/EMPHASIS ON THE WRONG WORDS

Often, authors used italics or bold to put emphasis on a particular word in the sentence. Once again, in itself I have no problem with that. It allows the you to read in the way the writer intended it to be read. But when there’s an emphasized word every few sentences, it starts to lose all meaning for me. A few months ago I read The Woods, a graphic novel that falls victim to this writing technique. In every text bubble a word was emphasized. It made the characters sound ridiculous, because who puts a heavy emphasis on a word in every single sentence they speak?

The Woods also put emphasis on odd parts of the sentence. Parts you wouldn’t necessarily emphasize yourself while talking, which made the conversation seem awkward and stunted.

INCLUDING ANOTHER LANGUAGE, AND GETTING IT WRONG

This is one of the most annoying things, ever, to me. What I mean by including another language and getting it wrong is that the author will include characters who speak a language other than English, or have a book take place in a foreign country, and try to include the language of that country but get it wrong.

A prime example of this is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. For some background information, I am Belgian. My first language is Dutch, and that is still what I speak at home and usually at work. The Goldfinch partly plays out in Amsterdam where the official language is Dutch as well. I was so excited to come across a few Dutch words and sentences in the book! Come to realize that there’s probably not a single Dutch sentence without a mistake in there. Mistakes that could’ve easily been fixed through a simple Google search. Even worse, since the Dutch words are italicized or bold, it highlights the mistakes even more. Here are some examples.

[…] a lighted sign Beetaalautomaat op where Boris’s head […]

I have multiple problems with this sentence.

  1. Beetaalautomaat is not a word. Betaalautomaat on the other hand, is. You misspelled the word! This could’ve been fixed with one Google search.
  2. I don’t understand what this means? The payment machine is empty? The word ‘betaalautomaat’ means a machine that allows you to pay by credit/debit card. It’s not the same as a ‘geldautomaat’ from which you withdraw cash. So it doesn’t make any sense? The payments you have to do are empty?
  3. I don’t think we would ever even say that the ‘geldautomaat’ is ‘op’. I think we would say it’s empty (leeg) or has to be refilled. ‘Op’ is used more for things that aren’t about to be replaced, things that are gone. Like, do you want some cake? Can’t, it’s gone.

So many mistakes in TWO WORDS. Then there’s the next sentence.

Deze moorden kwamen als en schok voor.

In itself, this is a sentence that could be used in an article, like it’s supposed to be in the book. If not for one word: en. Quick Dutch lesson: en = and, een = an/a. Instead of saying that these murders came as a shock, you stated that these murders came as and shock. MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL.

This makes me so angry, because it’s clear no Dutch-speaking person read these sentences before publication. A Dutch child could’ve pointed these mistakes out. If you are including a language you don’t personally speak, PLEASE ask someone who does speak it to read over your work. Or you know, Google it.

INCREDIBLY LONG SENTENCES

There are some books in which the sentences make up half of a page. I’m sorry, you might be overestimating my memorization skills. By the time I’ve finished the sentence, I can’t even remember the start of it. There are some authors I love that are guilty of this, so I won’t automatically dislike every author who uses long sentences. I’m just asking you to make them a tad shorter as it’s much easier to read and digest. Sentences that make up entire paragraphs are just hard to get through, making it feel like much more of a struggle to read.

J.R.R. Tolkien is definitely guilty of this. There are so many descriptions in his Lord of the Rings series, and his sentences are SO LONG. It makes for a rather difficult read at times. Yet I do love the series.

SHORT. SENTENCES. OF. ONE. WORD. 

This is another one I can enjoy at times, in the right circumstances. For example, when the author switches to these very short sentences in scenes where tension needs to be built, and readers need to be at the edge of their seats. I believe this happens in the Red Rising trilogy. During tense scenes or battle scenes, the sentences become much shorter which leaves you a tad unsettled and with a sense of urgency.

When the entire book is made up of these short sentences however, it becomes a chore to read. It feels stilted and unnatural. It was the reason I chose to DNF The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. 

TOO MANY (RIDICULOUS) METAPHORS

I don’t mind the use of some metaphors at all. It can help the reader envision your characters or their surroundings, which can be difficult in a novel. However, I’m not really a fan of the use of a lot of metaphors. To me, it makes the read become to difficult and abstract and makes it harder for me to create an idea of it in my mind.

One example of this is I’ll Give You the Sun. I DNFed this book because the writing was just too much for me. I know that it’s actually the reason most people love and adore it but I didn’t work for me, and that’s okay.


There you have it, my writing pet peeves. Like I mentioned before, just because I don’t like these doesn’t mean you can’t. Of course, I also hate spelling mistakes and incorrect grammar but I assume that is a universal thing. What are your writing pet peeves? Do you agree with mine?

24 thoughts on “Writing pet peeves | things I hate to encounter in books

  1. Your pet peeves are understandable no doubt. Not the top of my list but I feel your pain. Long chapters kill me. I like breaks. I’m also not a fan of LOADS of description. When it’s done well and serves a purpose, like driving the scene forward, then okay. But I do not like description just for the sake of description, telling me just how all the darn flowers in the field look when the field is not significant is so annoying. Lol. To each his/her own. Good post. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks! I agree. If describing the surroundings in such detail serves no purpose, then why am I reading 2 pages on the trees and mountains? Sometimes, it does have a purpose, especially in fantasy novels when we need to get a feel for the world. But enough is enough…

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  2. Oh, this post is just fantastic! One of my biggest pet peeves is POV changes with the ONLY clue being the chapter heading. To me, it comes off as lazy writing. Compounded is when one character starts a thought… and then the other character finishes it. 👎

    I also did not think I had a problem with italics and purple prose, but I’m reading Night Film and it’s drenched in both. When your narrative or stylistic choice takes me out of the story, you failed as a writer.

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    1. That’s so true! You should be able to tell the difference by the way they think, talk, and act. Not just the chapter heading. To be honest, I often don’t read chapter titles and headings… So if that’s the only clue, I’ll be annoyingly lost the entire time until I remember to look up.

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  3. I didn’t know about the language wrong in The Goldfinch, what a shame! For me, I hate when there are words or phrases in another languages with no translation anywhere in the book. I already read in two languages, but maybe I didn’t know also Norwegian or Chinese.

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  4. I agree that over emphasis can be annoying when overused too much. Yeah, you have to get the foreign languages right if you are going to use them. The Goldfinch is one of my favourite books and I do speak Dutch too (my second language) and I didn’t notice the mistakes! But I am going to let myself off for that as I read it when I was much younger and I don’t stop to check little details like that too often.

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  5. This is a great post! I also hate long sentences, especially if it’s descriptive. I can still stand long sentences in conversation, but long sentences about some information really annoys me. And yeah, the language thing really annoys me too. In this modern era, a simple google search will tell the writers the correct word/sentence arrangement. It’s quick and free, the mistakes shows that many actually don’t try to do it :/

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  6. Getting a language wrong is frustrating. Also, it’s easy to fix. You can just ask on Twitter if someone is willing to check your grammar. I like descriptive writing, but too many metaphors will annoy me, especially if they don’t make sense.

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  7. Oh my god this is such a hilarious and infuriating post!!! I can only imagine your pain when you were reading Goldfinch. Gee, couldn’t they have asked anyone whose mother tongue is Duth to proofread the Dutch sentences? It screams poor quality to me… Also, empty metaphors are such a pain. I’ll Give You the Sun was massively underwhelming for me (and I nearly DNF’d it because of them). Remember when the author would talk about colorful vomit to describe how one of the characters talked??? Yuck. Great post!

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  8. Cool topic. The comment about other languages is interesting- I always assumed editors/publishers had that stuff checked because it a) seems easy enough and b) is so easy to get wrong if you aren’t fluent or a native speaker. Words carry so many more meanings than just their direct translations. Some might have negative connotations if you aren’t familiar.. etc.

    Overlong sentences is a big one of my mine. I grew up reading Stephen King who is fairly simplistic and direct in style, and even if his books aren’t always a hit I think it’s one of the reasons I love his writing so much. As I get older I find excessive metaphors and overly convoluted sentences annoy me more and more. There’s simply no need.

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  9. I can’t speak another language (although I wish I could, and I’ve been very slowly learning a little Italian and German) but I can imagine how frustrating it would be to find sentences from a language you speak that have been written or used incorrectly! Like you said, that’s so simple to fix – even if the author doesn’t correct it, though they should, the publisher should definitely catch those sentences before the book’s published. Great post!

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