Literary Laws

Note: this will be a work in progress since I’m pretty sure I won’t remember all of them right this second.

-Character abuse- this is when the author uses the character as a punching bag for some reason. It might be because they secretly hate themselves, it might be because they think it will make their book more hard- core or darker, it might be because they have unrealistic expectations for themselves and are using their character as an avatar. I don’t know, but it is easily recognizable, always distasteful and always ruins the book. The examples are numerous: anything by Devon Monk, anything by Maggie Furey, I could go on.

-Wandering Plot- I have seen perfectly good books fall into this. It’s always sad. A prime example is “Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clark. This is clearly a book where she first came up with the concept, came up with the characters, wrote beautifully about said concept and characters for about three hundred some odd pages and then realized that she needed to have some sort of conflict in the book. So a kidnapping is very hastily thrown in and a hundred pages later is resolved and the book ends. Its one of the best example of wandering plot but it’s still a sad thing to see it happen to a book.

-Annoying sidekick- this is one of my biggest pet peeves, possibly ever. This is where the author introduces an annoying sidekick, sometimes the second or even third book in, and then persist in keeping them around. Even when you want to choke the shit out of them and they contribute nothing to the book as a whole, the author persists in keeping them around. I sometimes think it’s because they know you hate their character and want to make you pay for disliking any of their work. I might be being paranoid about that. The most egregious example I can think of is the Dhampir series, by Barb and J.C. Hendee. Wynn, the annoying, weak, annoying, so annoying, pathetic sidekick to the main characters just will not go the hell away. And then a second series was written, without the main characters there to make the books bearable. Not that I dislike their books, I quite like them, but I am unwilling to suffer through Wynn and her annoying vampire boyfriend- centric books. I’m just not.

-Persistent character- this one can be super annoying or kinda cool, depending on the author. It’s when the author persistently, constantly, for no apparent reason, keeps bringing a character back. Like, a series where every book is from someone else’s perspective and you never go back, the same character keeps popping up. Generally it’s the main character in the first book in the series, but not always. You’ll recognize them by virtue of them popping up in pretty much everything the author writes for that series. Even in short stories, they show up to say a line or two, or are mentioned in some tertiary way. And their evolution is always pretty obvious as a slow, avatarization of the character for the author. More and more they appear unnaturally perfect, and everyone loves them. They are awesome in all ways, and let us have entire chapters where the main character for this book interacts with them, purely because that character is the author’s favorite. Honestly, the only instance I can think of where it isn’t super annoying is in Meljean Brook’s Guardian series, where it is plainly Lillith. The most annoying, I would say, is Bella of J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. She was okay at first and then she just kept showing up, getting more and more perfect and beloved of everyone in every single book. Also annoying is Sasha in Nalini Singh’s Psy- Changeling series, though she was pretty cool at first.

-Mary- Sue-ing- this is a very egregious offense. Honestly, there is nothing that will ruin a series faster. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s when the author make the main character everything they wish they could be. The character has no flaws, everyone loves them, everyone wants them, and even if they do have flaws, no one talks about them like they are. The character can do no wrong. This is the avatarization I was discussing a moment ago. And honestly, the persistent character is an off- shoot of this, that is when it happens gradually and when the character in question has no purpose in the book. This generally happens when it is a multi- book series centered on one character. The best example I can think of is the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton. I haven’t read one in a while but last I checked it was beyond ridiculous. Anita was super- powered, every man she met wanted her, every woman she met was either an idiot or cool and died quickly, and every book she acquired more strength and more ability to kill. It was insane. The Mary-Sueing involved there is just… wow. It’s just wow.

-Pornographic titles- this honestly isn’t that big of a deal, but I have to mention it. It’s like the equivalent of a traffic ticket to these other ones, but it bears mentioning, not because it’s terribly bad, but because it’s embarrassing. When you can’t show your book to people because it’s called “Slave to Sensation” (about an empath, by Nalini Singh) or “Lick of Frost” (Frost is a character btw, by Laurell K. Hamilton) then I have to ding you. I mean, if your book is an erotica, then fine, great, truth in advertising. I have no argument there. But when it’s just a romance novel or a “horror” (you’re fooling no one Laurell K. Hamilton) then yeah, something has gone wrong. You want people to proudly show off their books, discuss them with friends, not hide them against the countertop and hope no one asks what their reading. Seriously, rethink your titles.

-Deceptive Descriptions- this is a very sad thing to have happen to you. It’s when the back of the book promises one thing and you are given another. It’s horrible, generally. You’ve been lied to by the book, sold a bill of goods. Sometimes it works out well, when the blurb on the back makes it sound so much stupider than it actually is (like the description on the paperback copy of “Fire Rose” by Mercedes Lackey) but it can also go horribly, horribly wrong. I once even found myself lied to about the actual genre of a book- that’s how far it can go (“Viridis” by Calista Taylor). But still, the book shouldn’t lie to you; it feels like a betrayal somehow.

-Unnecessary Details- this is when the author spends three paragraphs telling you about a room when all you really need to know about is the conversation that is happening inside it. It can get really super- annoying. It is also, and people are going to get angry with me about this, in Tolkien’s books when he gives completely unnecessary details about a legend, or a song, or a piece of history, or introducing whole characters for one chapter out of a whole book and spending two pages talking about them just so they can shoot an arrow and kill Smaug. I realize they’re creating ambience and a whole world and whatnot, but there is a limit people. Learn where the line is, it will help your book, I promise.

-Protagonist?- this is one of the worst offenses, in my opinion. It can very easily ruin a book or an entire series. It’s when one of the main characters, a purported protagonist, is such a self-righteous tool that you have zero sympathy for them. You seriously start to question why it is you’re supposed to like them, root for them, empathize with them, etc., instead of, say, wanting the bad guy to beat the crap out of them just to shut them the hell up. In particularly bad cases you find yourself wanting them to actually be the bad guy so you can hate them in peace, instead of the other characters persisting in acting like they’re an okay person. They’ve just spent the last two hundred pages being a dillhole, so as far as you’re concerned, no, they’re not an okay person. There are multiple examples, but the only one that springs immediately to mind is “In a Wolf’s Embrace” by Lora Leigh, I’ll update this when I have more.

-Plot Abuse- this is when the plot starts off as one thing and is twisted into something else, either through selfishness on the author’s part, lack of skill or a complete inability to write in a straight line, so to speak. The author starts off with a simple murder plot, say, and somehow it wanders off into romance and drama with politics and god only knows what else thrown in. This was not a random example, btw. That is literally what happened to “Viridis” by Calista Taylor. I don’t want to rag unnecessarily on that book, but dude. What she did to that plot was a travesty. I had forgotten there was even a murder mystery by the end. I don’t think she did it on purpose, but sometimes authors do, out of laziness or sheer vanity and that is even worse.

-Character Swapping- this is when an author apparently only has a few characters in their head and writes them over and over. It’s kind of sad really. I mean, it can also be funny and a little fun, kind of like a literary “Where’s Waldo?” but it’s still a bad sign. The best example I can think of are the works of Rob Thurman. Read through her works and tell me that you do not see Niko and Cal, over and over, with slightly different descriptions and backstories tacked onto them. Seriously, try it. It’s funny and sad, all at the same time. That’s not even the weird part though- the weird part is that the characters she writes, all four of them, are all really different from one another. That’s unique, in my experience. They’re all very different from one another and very distinct personalities, which is what makes them so very, very recognizable in her other series. It’s like they put on a different hat and changed jackets before running back onstage. Another example is the work of David Eddings, although that one isn’t quite as good since all the characters are basically the same person, over and over, in different clothes or with different hair or different gender specific body parts. He tries to tack on a few superficial personality traits but even those fall off after a while.


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