The Reading Effects of Writing Affects

affected My daughter went through a phase where she dotted her i’s with little open circles that look like the ones in the Disney logo. She’d make the dots at the bottom of her exclamation points the same way. She thought it made her unique. Given that she was only eleven at the time, I just smiled, pretty certain that when she was a world famous scientist on the verge of a cure for cancer or the first female president of the United States, she’d have outgrown this silly affectation. Sure enough, at the ripe old age of fifteen, her dots are now simple points of ink on the tops of her i’s and the bottoms of her exclamation points.

Sadly, some writers demonstrate writing affectations that they don’t seem likely to outgrow any time soon. And while they may feel that these “stylistic” choices make them unique or stand out, in reality I find that they serve only to pull me out of a story quicker than the offer of a hot fudge sundae.

Dictionary.com lists the following definition for affected: adjective: assumed artificially; unnatural; feigned. The more traditional Oxford American Dictionary takes a harsher viewpoint when defining the same word: affected: adjective: pretentious, or designed to impress.

The older I get, the more I lean toward Oxford’s opinion. Indeed, in some cases a pervasive affectation will actually annoy me, especially if it openly flaunts the tenets of basic English grammar for no good reason that I can understand. Not only to I feel frustration with the author for doing it in the first place, my disgust encompasses the editors who let what I view as a blatant error cover the pages (or screens) of something I’ve paid good money for.

For example, I’m in the middle of a book I’m reading for review, and the author has decided that using a comma in place of a period is perfectly reasonable. Thus I’ve come across such run-on beauties as “I shook my head and didn’t even wait for Drew to respond, I went off to find the bathroom on my own” and the nearly unreadable “The pounding started again and I looked at the door, I had no idea what time it was, but Brandon had called right before ten, so I knew it was really late now.”

When I first encountered this, I thought perhaps she’d made a mistake. But when I encountered this multiple times on every page, I realized it was a writing choice. An affectation that no editor in the entire process from submission to printed page ever thought to stop as something that was just plain wrong. So now, even if this story turns out to be a literary masterpiece on the level of Jane Austen, I’d never know it because I’m far too busy trying to parse all of the run-on sentences that litter the whole book.

A smaller if no less irritating bad-writing habit are what I call literary tics. For example, a writer who puts character names inside every other line of dialogue is displaying a literary tic. In real speech, Bob, we do not constantly repeat our companion’s name. So, Bob, seeing this on the page jerks me out of the story and sets me to counting how many time Character A says Character B’s name in the course of their conversation instead of listening to what they have to say. Surely, that’s not what the writer wanted, Bob. That or she thinks her readers are incapable of remembering characters’ names from one minute to the next, Bob.

Another literary tic I encountered recently was a writer’s use of italics to emphasize certain words. She didn’t do this once or twice over the course of a chapter, she did it many, many times on each page. The result was an odd up-and-down cadence in my internal reading voice, a sing-songy effect that kept me from fully engaging with the characters or the story being told.

Affectations and literary tics will usually cause me to downgrade a book and perhaps even not finish it if other aspects are equally frustrating. Worst case, some affectations contradict what the writer is trying to accomplish.

When I first began reading the Black Dagger Brotherhood books, I found the slang-like language used by J.R. Ward’s uber-masculine vampire heroes to be fresh and unique. By book four, the same slang seemed absolutely ridiculous in the context of the world she had created and the types of alpha heroes she was trying to sell. These guys can practically kill you with a mere look, don’t so much as wince when they are dealt near-mortal wounds, and wear leather the way most of us wear cotton. Yet they say and think things like:

“You just say the word, ‘kay?”

and

When the waitress brought freshies, John glanced over at the redhead…

and

“I’m outtie then.”

or

He made her shift her weight onto one foot so he could pop off her stillie and shuck her Sevens free…

Okay, what person over the age of 13 would seriously say “I’m outtie then”? And ask any random man to name the correct term for a stilleto and I’ll wager 99 times out of a 100 the answer would probably be “those spikey heel shoes” not stillie. I’m supposed to believe these guys are stone cold killers who inspire fear in everyone they encounter when they’re telling each other to just chill, ‘kay?. This affectation creates a complete mental dissonance because their language doesn’t match their descriptions. Shortening words and ending them with “ie” as a form of slang doesn’t make these guys metrosexual chic. It doesn’t make them in touch with their feminine, sensitive sides. It doesn’t even make them guys with a surprising knowledge of women’s fashion and incredibly good taste. It makes them ridiculous. And ridiculous isn’t really that scary.

When a writer has positioned him or herself in the cultural zeitgeist by proving to be a talent above all others, that person can feel free to e.e. cummings to their heart’s content. Until that time, however, I would say that affectations are something to be avoided if at all possible.

Because as vivid and complex of a world that a writer has created, as compelling as her characters may be, as intricate of plots she manages to weave, if her style of writing is so unbelievably affected that it yanks me out of the story time and time again, it’s all that comes to mind when I think of her books. I no longer can lose myself in the story because I’ve reached the point where I’m actively looking for examples, and I squeal in glee when they pop up every few paragraphs. I certainly can’t take the author seriously because it’s the literary equivalent of dotting their i’s with little swirly circles.

Are there any affectations or literary tics that will turn a story into a wall banger for you?

– Jenna Harper

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64 Responses to “The Reading Effects of Writing Affects”

  1. Blythe says:

    I don’t know if she’s moved on or changed, but I read a book and a novella by HelenKay Dimon, and both were comprised only of rapid fire dialog and paragraphs that were three sentences long exactly. Every paragraph three sentences, and all of them short sentences. You would be amazed at how this can be both annoying and mesmerizing at the same time.

  2. pamelia says:

    UGH! You mentioned the use of commas instead of periods, but what I see far more often is the use of periods when a semi-colon is required. In dialogue (or even in a first person narrative) this doesn’t tend to bother me all that much, but in general? It’s a little disconcerting.
    Another one that gets me a little is sentences which start with “and” or “but”.
    Overall though, I’m willing to overlook tons of editing/grammar issues if a book has me engrossed by the story and characters (hello, Kristen Ashley!).
    The one thing that will always make me cringe though is the use of an exclamation mark at the end of a non-dialogue sentence. (It never fails to make me read the sentence in my best valley-girl inner-voice.)

  3. Jess says:

    When particular vocabulary or phrases litter every one of an author’s works, I really notice and get annoyed. I love Lisa Kleypas but her near constant use of the word “sardonic” drives me up the wall. When I see the word too many times in one of her books, I have to put it aside and rest from all of the sardonic-ness before reading more.

    • Mary says:

      This is also one of my pet peeves. I read a book a couple of weeks ago that contained a vocabulary word I was not familiar with (and my vocabulary is pretty broad from decades of reading). I looked the word up in the dictionary and applauded myself on learning a new word. Then, I proceeded to read that same adjective no less than ten times throughout the rest of the novel. It felt like that word was new to the author as well and she had to find as many ways to use it in one book as possible. I remember when my kids first hit junior high and had to start writing essays. One of the things I told them when proofreading their writing was: if you keep using the same word over and over again, you need to get out the thesaurus.

    • AARJenna says:

      This makes me laugh because I also notice when a writer uses a particular word or phrase, either often within one book or across her entire work. Suzanne Brockmann introduced me to the phrase “sitting tailor style” which I take to mean sitting on the floor cross-legged or the less PC “Indian style”. Since I love SB’s work so much, I’ve read practically all of her titles, and I swear she uses that expression at least once in each one. It doesn’t bother me, pre se, but I do come to a full stop when reading to smile and note that it’s there.

    • Lourdes says:

      Yes, I have noticed her constant use of the word, and sometimes I have a hard time seeing how it applies, but I still love her!

  4. Aida says:

    Don’t writers (or their editors, at least) read Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” before they send their books out into the world? Or has “The Elements of Style” gone out of style? English is not my first language, but I respect it too much to mangle it with unnecessary commas when a period would do.

    @ Pamela. Having said that, I still agree with this statement: “Overall though, I’m willing to overlook tons of editing/grammar issues if a book has me engrossed by the story and characters.”

  5. Eliza says:

    I am almost always far more annoyed at the writing mistakes that reviewers make when critiquing a book than I am at authors’ and editors’ writing choices. I can stop reading a book if their choices are not to my taste or are just illiterate, but I have no patience whatsoever for reviewers nit-picking authors’ language oftentimes when they can’t write themselves. I stop reading their reviews as well. At least the author produced a book, while the reviewer produced a page or two; and to my way of thinking, the writing of reviewers is often far more affected than the writers I choose to read. Besides affection, I sometimes pick up a certain amount of reviewer arrogance at times, too, which is a definite no-go for me.

    • AARJenna says:

      My goodness. I think I touched on a nerve here. Yes, I do agree that it is imperative that reviewers demonstrate the ability to write and communicate well, and they are not excused from avoiding annoying affectations. I think it is also important to remember that while writers and editors are paid for their work – writing and communicating are their actual professions – the vast majority of reviewers are not paid at all. Having higher expectations from a published, paid writer and a book that has supposedly undergone the editing process is not unreasonable. Thankfully, after reading a review that you’ve found unacceptable, you can at least be happy it cost you nothing.

      As far as invalidating the opinion of any reviewer simply because she has not – to your knowledge – produced a full-length published piece, that’s the equivalent of saying that a person can’t have an opinion about a movie because he is not an actor, screenwriter, director, producer, etc. If I’ve invested time and money in someone’s work, I’ve earned the right to an opinion, just as I might comment that a chef used too much pepper in his signature dish. This isn’t reviewer arrogance, it’s customer satisfaction feedback.

      • maggie b. says:

        I think you make an excellent point here Jenna. A reviewer is providing customer satisfaction feedback. We are not literary critics – we don’t theorize or interpret. We give an opinion and a defense of that opinion. Hopefully, readers will find that helpful. At worst, our lack of help comes at no cost to them.

      • Eliza says:

        Interesting that you used a “my goodness” and “touched a nerve” when my opinion differed from yours…rather like a reviewer not liking a book maybe?

        My opinion is based purely on language–the topic of this very column–and not money. We’re talking about literacy, grammar and affectation by writers. So in my opinion too many reviewers make the very mistakes you pointed out, and in far shorter documents that have the potential to be more quickly edited and changed, based on size alone.

        Speaking of size, when one compares the number of pages in a book to a page or two of a review, there are a lot more opportunities for mistakes to slip into the larger document or book; that’s just statistics. And since no person or organization–even a publishing house–is perfect, where would one expect to find fewer language mistakes from writers of English? THAT was my point. Let me know if I haven’t clarified this point to your satisfaction.

        Let’s go back to money and professions since you raised that issue. First, JIMO, I don’t base anything I read on the money I paid or didn’t pay for it. Not everything in the US needs to have a dollar sign attached to it, but especially the use of language and literacy. Again, just my opinion. Also, many writers write as secondary careers, just as some/many online reviewers take on the hobby/interest/job of reviews to whatever they do full time. What does that have to do with the ability to write correctly and in a pleasing way?

        Now, let’s DO talk about money, which does indeed touch a nerve with me. I just can’t imagine anyone living in the US being unaware of our economic situation, and I just can’t imagine any serious reader or reviewer being unaware of the effects the economy has had on publishing as well as everywhere else, such as fewer reading passes and the conscious decision to not fix a mistake when the cost won’t be recovered–like any other American business (sadly, I must add).

        And finally, my question is why reviewers make language mistakes when they’re pointing out authors’ mistakes. What reviewers are doing sets them up as fair game in my book by the very nature of what they themselves set out to do.

        • Lourdes says:

          I think that you have valid points, but your tone seems contentious and hostile.

        • Eliza,

          Authors are professional writers who get paid for their work. Most reviewers are not. They do this for fun, and because they love reading. They are under no obligation to write error-free reviews with perfect grammar and punctuation. You seem to be suggesting that only professional writers can or should write critical reviews. We’ve all heard this argument before. It’s a thinly disguised attempt to silence criticism.

          Have reviewers pointed out mistakes in your writing, by chance? You sound like a disgruntled author with a bone to pick.

          • Eliza says:

            “Have reviewers pointed out mistakes in your writing, by chance? You sound like a disgruntled author with a bone to pick.”

            Nope, not a writer at all. That doesn’t mean I can’t be passionate about language use, though.

            This also isn’t a thinly disguised comment bent on subduing criticism either. Clearly though if someone writes about the use of language and what they consider to be unacceptable, they ought to be able to demonstrate the competence to make those judgment. That’s my point.

    • Mary says:

      While I think that some reviewers can nitpick to death, when I read a review I am not paying for their insight. It is a free service to me. I typically read reviews before I buy a book because I do not want to spend money on a product that I might be dissatisfied with. I also get reviews on other products that I am looking to purchase. If 75% of the people who reviewed a certain brand of dishwasher were unhappy with that appliance brand, then I am going to think twice (or three times) before buying it. The same thing goes for books. If most of people who took the time to review a book had major problems with it, then I will probably pass on that book. I personally do not know how to build a dishwasher, but I want to know that those who get paid to construct that dishwasher knew what they were doing before putting it out for public sale. I spend more on books each year than I would a dishwasher, so buying books collectively is a major purchase for me even if each individual book is not. If 75% of the readers loved a book and 25% are clamoring on about how the author switches from first to third person or there were two misspelled words in a 400 page novel, then I will probably go with the majority. However, readers who are critical of grammatical mistakes or affectations by authors do have the right to their opinion. We all judge books by our own personal preferences and when readers pay for a book, I believe they are entitled to critique it.

    • Aida says:

      @ Eliza. Love this statement: “I have no patience whatsoever for reviewers nit-picking authors’ language oftentimes when they can’t write themselves.”

      Me too. My opinion on this matter is: people who don’t know how to cook are not in the position to judge the blueberry souffle (eaten for free!) done by those who do know how to cook. Needless to say, it takes a lot of skill to pull off a decent blueberry souffle :)

  6. Mark says:

    Jenna, please see the OAD usage note after “flaunt” about “flaunt” vs. “flout” (for your 4th paragraph).
    I’m usually pretty insensitive to style, but regularly notice spelling, grammar, punctuation & usage problems. I’ve posted on many related threads on the message boards for years.
    A recent instance when I did notice style is in the opposite direction from the problems you posted about: It Happened One Midnight by Julie Anne Long (Avon ebook 2013) started with such lyrical language that I noticed it, then the editing turned out to be terrible. I recorded a dozen copy-edits and estimated several hundred instances of formatting problems (garbage characters instead of punctuation mark).

    • AARJenna says:

      Thank you, Mark – I did look up the difference between “flaunt” vs. “flout” and you are indeed correct. I should have chosen “flout” in that instance. I’ve learned something today.

  7. Lynda X says:

    I loved this column!

  8. CarolineAAR says:

    I’m reading a Lilith Saintcrow book for review. Clearly there was a fire sale on ellipses when she wrote that book… because they happen in every chapter.

  9. Dabney AAR says:

    I liked this column. That said, language is fluid. Text is now a very. And beginning a sentence with and now accepted.

    Faulkner was scorned for his prose–run on sentences–and, good heavens, don’t get me started on Joyce. For me, if a writer’s work works for me, I don’t care about Strunk and White.

    • maggie b. says:

      Dabney AAR: I liked this column. That said, language is fluid. Text is now a very. And beginning a sentence with and now accepted.
      Faulkner was scorned for his prose–run on sentences–and, good heavens, don’t get me started on Joyce. For me, if a writer’s work works for me, I don’t care about Strunk and White.

      I totally agree with this. Language changes and evolves and different voices work for different readers. Clearly JR Ward has struck a chord with many people since she is still selling well in spite of what some personally consider annoying lingo. BTW, I too find it annoying.)

      When I am reviewing I don’t discount for language. I will mention it if I think it will be a turn off to certain readers (clever nicknames seem to be the new no-no) but I don’t count off for that. Bad plotting, bad characterization, no love story – those will cost you. How you write won’t.

    • AARJenna says:

      I agree that if a story is well told, I can overlook stylistic choices. My problem is when a stylistic choice removes me so fully from the story that I cannot know if the story is good or not. If I’m so focused on trying to understand who is speaking because the writer has decided not to use any dialog tags, I can’t enjoy what I’m reading. Or if they’ve chosen unique spelling paradigm, I’m no longer focused on setting or character or plot, I’m trying to sound out strange words in my head. Perhaps this makes my point – a writer’s work cannot work for me if some aspect of the actual writing pulls me away from the story. It’s the equivalent of trying to watch a play only to have a stagehand flashing a light in my eye from just off stage left.

      • Dabney AAR says:

        Jenna,

        I agree with you. If one can’t follow a plot or a conversation in a book, it’s unlikely one would enjoy it.

        For me, it all comes down to whether or not I am pulled in to the story. I remember the first time I read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. I could not understand what was happening in the first few pages. I read them once, twice, and was baffled. But, as I read on, I got it. His language and world began to make sense to me. By the third chapter, I was riveted. To this day, I count that book as one of my most beloved.

  10. pwnn says:

    >>affected: adjective: pretentious, or designed to impress.<<

    Designed to impress whom? That's the question. I'd term a couple of these examples as juvenile in an attempt to be cute or "current" rather than pretentious.

    • AARJenna says:

      This is a good point. I wonder how many things that I notice as affectations or tics are actually just habits that the writer isn’t even aware is happening. I’m sure in the long process of writing a book, revising it multiple times and then going through the editing process that a writer becomes almost numb to small details, such as overuse of a phrase or too many ellipses or italics. I’m sure no writer sets out to be pretentious or thinks so highly of him or herself as to say “I’m not bound by those silly rules of English grammar.” I think this is where my frustrations with editors comes into play. In my mind, it’s a good editor who does pick up on things like this. In my first example, for the life of me I cannot understand why the editors let the book go through the whole process with uncountable run-on sentences created by misused punctuation.

      • Aida says:

        @AARJenna. “I think this is where my frustrations with editors comes into play. In my mind, it’s a good editor who does pick up on things like this. In my first example, for the life of me I cannot understand why the editors let the book go through the whole process with uncountable run-on sentences created by misused punctuation.” My theories: 1. the editors are underpaid, hence the poor quality of their work, 2. the editors were hired based on looks and not on merit, 3. the editor was the publisher’s sister/brother/cousin/aunt/bestfriend, 4. the editors don’t speak English, the work was outsourced and the editor is actually a native-Tagalog speaker who scammed her employers (LOL), 5. Signet/Penguin/Harlequin (sorry, I’m not that familiar with the publishing houses) actually sent the galley to 1st year high school students to edit! gasp! The high school students live in Manila! They were told that they would be given free lunch for their effort! The free lunch was so delayed that the students were so hungry, they couldn’t be bothered to remember the dictums in “The Elements of Style”.

  11. AAR Lynn says:

    I hope I’m not the only one who immediately thought, “Barbara Cartland” on reading this piece. Or perhaps I should say…I….immediately thought…of Barbara Cartland! Did…someone…mention affectation?…Oh my!

    • Aida says:

      LOL! Just checked good-old Wikipedia and found that Dame Barbara Cartland drew her last breath in year 2000, god bless her soul.

      I therefore propose: we only bash writers who have joined their Maker so as not to offend feelings.

      I start with Shakespeare! I hate it when he writes in archaic English! Us, people from developing world cannot understand too much :)

  12. LeeB. says:

    I didn’t know what a “stillie” was. Thanks for the translation.

    I enjoyed your column and most everyone’s responses. ;)

  13. MzKara says:

    I must admit that I don’t pick up on these types of tics too often. I don’t notice until some reviewer points it out. A few that i’ve started to notice as a result of book reviews:
    Susan Andersen LOVES HYPHENS. I did not notice this until I read a review and then of course I saw them everywhere

    Jennifer Crusie’s characters blink a lot. Again, not something I’d noticed until someone mentioned how irritated they were by this.

    I’ve read all but 3 of Lisa Kleypas’ books and I can’t recall seeing the word sardonic at all, now I’m going to go look for it. LOL

    Usually I’m so anxious to get through a really good story that I don’t notice these affectations. I occassionally catch mispellings and typos which grate my nerves but if I struggle too much with an author, I just move on to the next.

    • Blythe says:

      I never noticed Judith McNaught’s love for the word “achingly” until someone pointed it out. But once they did, I couldn’t not see it. Yes, I know that’s a double negative.

      • Aida says:

        Yup, Judith McNaught loved “achingly”.

        But I love her, anyway! You can’t argue with puppy love. Ditto with Iris Johansen who is not overly fond of statement attribution and Linda Howard who loved virgins-in-disguise — ooops, that already goes under ‘plot points’ and not, ‘writing affects’.

        *Sigh* I love romance novels!

      • willaful says:

        Sometimes I wish I never read anything written about romance, because that always happens to me. Once they mention it… I can’t not see it. This has ruined more sex scenes for me than I can count.

    • Haley says:

      I’ve noticed Crusie’s blinking characters. I can remember wondering why the heroine in one of her books blinked in response to every stimulus.

  14. Haley says:

    I’m not trained enough in proper punctuation and such to critique anyone else for minor things (I know I’m at a loss on colons and semicolons). Weird vocabulary and unrealistic dialogue will do me in though. I noticed in Leigh Bardugo’s book that she used the word “bridled” a lot. I had never heard this used for a human so when I read it, I thought of horses and laughed.
    One of my pet peeves is when male narrative or dialogue sounds too feminine. In your example, I couldn’t have said what “stillies” was, but it sounds more like something Carrie Bradshaw would say than an alpha-male.
    I also have to agree with the argument about editing. I expect more from a book that I paid money to read than a book review. Reviews may not even be edited and, if they are, they’re done by volunteer reviews and editors. Whether an author writes full time or not, they are still being compensated for their publication. If you went in to work every day and did sloppy work, you probably wouldn’t get paid. Unfortunately, I read publishers like Harlequin, that are putting out high volume, expect manuscripts to come in ready to print. One of their authors wrote a series of blogs about her experience with it and said that they will reject manuscripts with too many errors because they don’t have the time to spend editing. It isn’t worth the money they’ll make in the end.

  15. Eliza says:

    Money? Again? Please tell me, someone, anyone, that you don’t judge what you read is based on money as the major criteria for your judgment. Does the value of the almighty dollar become the ultimate end for everything–even the ability to communicate? By that logic, a free anything automatically gets a pass no matter its other qualities compared to something you paid money for. The quality of library books must be automatically better than purchased books, or $30 hardbacks read ever so-o-o-o much better than $8 paperbacks. Puh-lease. Language is language. Make your choice based on style, grammar, sheer, flat-out personal preference or whatever, but please don’t throw language, communication, and reading into the capitalist cauldron too or we’re sunk. Just sunk.

    • Blythe says:

      I think as reviewers we are kind of hardwired to think in terms of “Is this worth the reader’s hard-earned money?” They are thinking in a consumer advocate way. But again, that is as reviewers, not readers. It is not that we are judging books on a bang for your buck basis – I think the AAR reviewers who were replying to you were pointing out that they are all volunteers and that the content that they provide is available for free. I don’t think they are saying that the more something costs, the better it should be. Or that the fact that reviewers are not paid (in many cases) is an excuse to be unprofessional.

      I always think I should duck and run when I say this, because I know ebook pricing is a hot button issue for many. It isn’t an issue for me. Rather than judging on any sort of dollar amount, my personal measure is TIME. With all the available books out there, is this worth my time? Is it worth a reader’s time? But I know for some, money definitely factors in. I have heard many a reader say, “This isn’t worth buying in hard cover,” or “I’m not paying $15.00 for an ebook.”

      • Eliza says:

        Thank you for addressing my points, Blythe.

        I think if what you say is true, it is a mistake for reviewers to be ‘ hardwired to think in terms of ‘Is this worth the reader’s hard-earned money?’ ” You mean readers who can afford ereaders and the unmanageable piles of TBRs we so often discuss here, etc.? Time–I do get. BUT, the premise of this article was focused on language and not about either time or money. The focus was use of LANGUAGE. Yet when I raised the point about affectation in reviewers’ writing, money was jumped to as the defense, which is a an obvious flaw in logic in my book.

        And besides, I happen to think that reviewing or critiquing anything, professional or not, paid or not, should be about the intrinsic worthiness (or not) of what is being reviewed, full stop. All the rest is a side-step, missing the point entirely.

        All that said, I think Robin in her post below hits the nail squarely on the head: “I like this discussion because I enjoy noticing errors for the entertainment value. It gives me a brief flush of superiority.” I think that is very human, particularly for non-professionals, and it makes me want to restate my earliest comment based on the title and substance of this piece: “… the writing of reviewers is often far more affected than the writers I choose to read. Besides affection, I sometimes pick up a certain amount of reviewer arrogance at times, too, which is a definite no-go for me.” I was on topic with language and affectation; I just directed it also at reviewers as well as authors. Language is language in my book obviously.

        • Aida says:

          Hurray Eliza! “intrinsic” and “worthiness” are two words that I like when strung together. I know this must be out-of-topic but can we hazard a guess on why, “the writing of reviewers is far often more affected that the writers” we choose to read? And also, why is there “a certain amount of reviewer arrogance at times too”? These, I must say are also a “no-go” for me :) My questions may be the subject of another AAR blog post! :)

  16. Joane says:

    I do agree with your post. I think that a ‘pretentious’ author is trying to impress you, pretending he/she is more literary talented than he/she really is. And when something does not sound correct, well that can take me out of the story. I do also ask myself where’s the editor -or the writer’s best friend I don’t care-, someone must see that before the book is published.
    I don’t usually pay attention to the grammar problems, perhaps because in English I have my own problems.
    The thing that really puts me off is the use of words that do not sound appropriate to the time of the novel.
    For instance, I really liked Tessa Dare’s ‘Any Duchess will do’, but I was constantly asking myself if ‘cor’ was used in Regency times. My dictionary says that the origin of that word is in 1930s. So that took me a little bit out of an otherwise charming story.
    I thank those reviewers that point out these things. Plot, character, style and personal feeling towards the book is what I expect from a reader review. That’s why AAR is one of my favourite romance novel sites in English ;)

  17. Robin says:

    ALL authors have errors in their work. Full stop. Some people, when reading, notice the errors and some don’t. Some who notice are offended and feel cheated, some don’t. Some errors take you out of the story significantly, some don’t. Not really sure if I have used proper punctuation just now, or if I should have used semi-colons.

    That said– I like this discussion because I enjoy noticing errors for the entertainment value. It gives me a brief flush of superiority.

    My most recent nit-pick was while reading Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series. She repeatedly used the word “apropos” interchangeably with appropriate. They are NOT synonyms.

    Secondly–Jayne Ann Krentz’s Curtain series (I think) uses lots of hybrid words like, coff-tea and cat-dog which bug me. I still love her and the series, but they pull me out of the story.

    While I was writing my comment, I read the blog post to my twin who loves the JR Ward books–I was howling with laughter over the word ‘stillie’ used by an uber-alpha male. Her take on the dialogue is that it is sometimes ridiculous and obsessed with name brands, but she loves the books anyway. So there you go. If you love the story and characters enough, you can forgive an author anything.

    • AARJenna says:

      Actually, JR Ward is a great example of being able to overlook affectations if the story and characters are appealing enough. I consider the BDB series my ultimate literary crack. I absolutely loved the first three books – check out my AAR Top 10 list and you’ll find “Lover Awakened” right near the top – and reread those frequently. Right up front I noticed (and began my eye-rolling) at the constant name-brand-dropping, but I would get so caught up in the world she’d created I was able to ignore it. The language seemed silly, but not completely out there. “Lover Unbound” was when I began to get distracted by these affectations, and a good bit of that reason is because I also began to get annoyed with the storytelling as a whole. I started to let the little things get to me because the bigger things were no longer capable of distracting me. I’m at the point now where I’ve broken my BDB habit – haven’t read any of the last three books – but forever when I think of that series I will remember the funky slang, her use of the word “shitkickers” and the fact that these vampire uber-warriors could host episodes of “Project Runway” given their familiarity with fashion.

  18. Mark says:

    Robin, the double-naming was in the Psynergy trilogy (the first Curtain world, not the Curtain world of Harmony she is currently using). That trilogy really didn’t work for me until I realized that the double names for everything local were a deliberate emphasis of the “it takes two” theme of the planet instead of just lazy naming.

  19. Mark says:

    A point I often make in discussions of problems in texts is that producing a book requires a team. Without the writer, there is nothing. Unfortunately, NO single person can know everything, so a clean text requires editing, proofreading, fact-checking, etc. Also, only some writers can proofread their own work well. ANYONE reading their own writing tends to see what they intended to write rather than what they actually wrote, making self-proofreading very difficult. I have often suggested that publishing would benefit from a beta reader system or a version release system where the publisher rewards readers who point out errors that allow a better 1.1 version to be produced.

    • Joane says:

      Good idea, I really would love to be a beta reader.

    • Eliza says:

      Mark, having been in publishing a long time, I learned that no matter how many readers or editors you threw at a project, it was still possible for an error or two to slip by, probably because as you said, readers as well as authors can tend to see what was intended rather what is actually there–especially if they’re caught up in what they are reading. I think it’s about just being a human being, no matter your job label. It’s also why no one is surprised to see multiple followup editions to any kind of written work.

  20. 1literalredhead says:

    I have been following this thread with great interest. First, I have to say that I have been reading this website for a lot of years, and the reviews are usually on the mark with my opinion of a book. That is not say, however, that I always agree. All good relationships do have differing opinions from time to time, wouldn’t you agree?

    BUT, as an English/history major, a writer and now a person who is opening my own publishing firm, I have to agree with Eliza. Grammar matters. Style does not. To give an example: a published author asked for a beta-read on her 4th installment of her series, which she cannot get published for the life of her, and who then said of her run-on sentences “That is just my style.” Her style gave me a kink in my neck, and is one of the many reason she will not be published by the traditional route. It is also one of the reasons I stopped buying Stephanie Laurens and others who write like that.

    What I look for in a book (manuscript) is great characters, plot, pacing. However, if the writing is not even close to being grammatically correct, it is a definite toss against the wall.
    I recently read a book (on my e-reader) and thought, within the first chapter, “this is self-pubbed.” My surprise when I realized this author has been around for years, and WAS one of my favourites.

    As for historical writing–I cringe when I see words like “deja-vu” “Cor” in historical novels, or other words not in use at said time. Another pet peeve, is that most historical writers do not know how to use properly titles when it comes to the aristocracy.

    I could go on, but I hope you understand my point.

    And, and yes you can start a sentence with the word AND or BUT, I think this thread has missed Eliza’s point, and attacked her unnecessarily.

  21. Mel says:

    I really enjoyed this post, and I for one thank you for sharing what (apparently) has proven to be a somewhat contentious point of view.

    I am not familiar with all of the authors named in the comments, but I definitely agree with the example provided of J.R. Ward. I can no longer read her work – the slang is just too ridiculous. To paraphrase from my GR review of Lover Reborn, there are:
    -nouns turned into verbs (“pop-tarting”: referring to jumping up),
    -adjectives turned into nouns (“honey roasted,” denoting peanuts (I assume)),
    -rhetorical questions in sentence form (“And didn’t that make him want to kill himself.”),
    -silly spelling (“atchu”, short for ‘at you’, presumably), and…
    -abuse of punctuation left and right.
    This is a scratch of the surface. Now, this may be accused of being nitpicking by others, and I’m fine with that. But when I can no longer focus on the plot because I’m completely distracted by linguistic hijinks, I give up on the author. Lover Reborn is rated 4.35 stars on GR with 31,318 ratings as of this comment, so obviously I am in the most minor of minorities. Fine by me.

    Two other authors I no longer read…:

    Stephanie Laurens, for one, who cannot let a book go by without describing a Cynster or Cynster relative ad nauseum as “stubborn.” (And there are a lot of Cynsters). I greatly enjoyed her earlier works, but I guess a lack of fresh personality types in her books burnt me out.

    and

    Nora Roberts. Her sentences have gotten choppier and choppier over time (as with Laurens, her earlier work is much more enjoyable). I want so much to like her work, as I respect her considerably, but it’s just not for me any longer.

    Practically every author has editing mistakes, but these are the nitpicks that are deal-breakers for me.

  22. AARJenna says:

    This has been such a great discussion – I’ve really enjoyed reading all of the comments. It’s given me a lot to think about.

    I think I should clarify that the issue I intended to address isn’t so much errors in a published work but rather stylistic choices. Errors do occur because any given book contains pages upon pages of words, punctuation, etc. and no human is perfect. In my opinion, a book riddled with errors tends to look amateurish, but a handful of errors sprinkled throughout 100,000+ words will not lead me to write off a book if I think the other aspects are well done.

    A stylistic choice is something done intentionally, a decision made to present something in a particular way: using italics, ellipses, unique spelling, unconventional punctuation, a certain type of dialogue, pet phrases, and others. In my opinion, when a writer makes such a choice, there is a chance that it may cause enough of a distraction that the reader has problems fully appreciating the story or characters or setting or what have you. It is a gamble the writer is taking, perhaps a good one even, but there is a risk there. And obviously, every person has his or her particular threshold as to what will tip them over the edge.

    • Elizabeth Rolls says:

      I take your point about the author taking a risk with having a personal style, Jenna. However, all authors have a personal style, some stronger than others. Otherwise all books would be the same and something that might by itself be a delicate shade of grey would became the same old, same old, dreary shade. (And that was NOT meant to be a jibe at FSOG! I haven’t actually read it.)
      What one reader may find to be a quirky tone in an author’s voice will drive another reader to distraction. Frankly, as an author you take that risk every time you put a book out there.

  23. Clearly reading the blog post many will resonate with this as it’s what we genuinely feel so it’s pleasant to see a guy thats telling it for all to see to read!

  24. Eliza says:

    “Faulkner was scorned for his prose–run on sentences–and, good heavens, don’t get me started on Joyce. For me, if a writer’s work works for me, I don’t care about Strunk and White.”

    This statement has stayed with me and here’s why. Authors who clearly are MASTERS OF LANGUAGE know how and when to brilliantly break “the rules” in order to write something absolutely new, wonderful and creative. So using Faulkner and Joyce in this particular thread is likely a “non sequitur,” IMO, since these two authors are in a class all by themselves, and unless one is focusing solely on the inability of a reader to appreciate true genius and mastery at work.

    I am NOT saying that everyone must absolutely love “The Sound and the Fury” or “Ulysses,” but those two works have nothing to do at all with illiterate run-on sentences, and everything to do with the masterful use of language, POV, the manipulation of time, and something other than the normal literary line of human consciousness and story telling. And if the reader does indeed understand the rules of grammar and communication, that reader will know a master when he sees one.

    • Eliza says:

      Oops, I meant to add that a literate reader should be able to discern the difference between plainly illiterate writing and and the deliberate and accomplished breaking of rules. In this instance, I’m putting the burden on readers in addition to reviewers and critiques.

  25. Eliza says:

    *sigh* I meant critiqueRs.

  26. Now about scanning the OPs content numerous will like the above because it’s valid so its good to see a poster thats writing this for us to consider.

  27. Corinna says:

    For example, I’m in the middle of a book I’m reading for review, and the author has decided that using a comma in place of a period is perfectly reasonable. Thus I’ve come across such run-on beauties as “I shook my head and didn’t even wait for Drew to respond, I went off to find the bathroom on my own” and the nearly unreadable “The pounding started again and I looked at the door, I had no idea what time it was, but Brandon had called right before ten, so I knew it was really late now.”

    Amen, amen, amen. This isn’t a case of affectation; it’s a case of a writer not knowing what the heck she/he is doing. I agree with a lot of the points and counterpoints in this column, but there really is no excuse for this particular example.

    • Eliza says:

      I agree with both of your points about that sentence: it’s not affectation and the writer is just wrong. I’d like to add that it’s also not a style problem but a basic grammar mistake called “the comma splice,” which can be found in a grammar handbook. It’s hard to believe that an editor would have missed that one, so I wonder if this was a case of what I call “spellcheck editing.”

  28. One of the author’s jobs is to create and maintain (what someone much smarter than me called) the “fictive dream.” I can’t count the times a writer, by using one of the affectations you describe here, has kicked me out of the fictive dream and popped the bubble he or she successfully created. It really is a shame. Many times, a writer’s own words get in the way of his or her writing. Isn’t that crazy?

    It is difficult for me as an emotional person to keep my writing as simple and unadorned as possible, to avoid intruding on the reader’s experience. But I work at it!

    (For example, I’m still not entirely successful at ridding my work of exclamation points.)