Things that horrify me in books: terrifying tropes and writing styles I really don’t like!

orangutan list

It’s nearly Halloween and- rather tangentially- that’s got me thinking about *scary* book tropes. No, not literally scary. I barely ever even read kids spooky stories. I mean, things that realllly make me break out in hives and send a shiver down my spine for all the wrong reasons. I had a good think about this, cos I didn’t want to include anything that could potentially be done well. These are the most irredeemable, the gah-why-is-this-a-thing, the KILL ME NOW tropes. That said, it goes without saying, these are my personal preferences, so if you like any of these, feel free to go on liking it *yada yada yada*. Without further ado, here’s some things that will probably (almost definitely) make me hate a book:

gollum not listeningStream of consciousness– this is my number one NO GO. Granted this is *absolutely* a matter of personal taste. I’ve tried loads and it never works out. I can barely ever manage to finish stream of consciousness books- let alone enjoy them. Whenever I pick something up in this style my brain just goes “lalalala not listening!” At this point, I’m genuinely frightened to pick up anything else in this style.

rolls eyesStupid moralising– if you really wanna make me freak out though, just include some moralising. It’s especially scary when it comes with simple platitudes like “war is bad” and “be nice to each other”. Wowww no one could’ve figured that out unless a brave author points it out. Sometimes, this is even combined with some post-structuralist pseudointellectualism crap where the author goes on a nice nihilist rant about how nothing means anything… I could really live without it.

pottyBodily functions– there are some exceptions where this is acceptable (ie comedy) but basically this is a no-go. Disgusting me is a sure-fire way to put me off a book. Speaking of shit things…

 

 

cheatCheating Love Triangles– what’s worse than a love triangle? A love triangle that involves some kind of cheating. What’s sad is cheating is often the default in books revolving round love triangles (and why I typically hate them).

 

your eternal rewardThe boy/girl is a rewardpeople still do this in books?!? I hear you yell. Unfortunately, yes. It’s not just the failure to make the love interest an actual person, it’s the fact that sometimes this is combined with…

 

escapeMiraculously escaping the friendzone– don’t get me wrong, I like friends to lovers, but when a character repeatedly says “I don’t want to be with you!” it can come off badly when they suddenly change their mind (usually for no apparent reason other than getting bored of arguing). This often ends up undermining “no means no” and I’m not a fan.

it was all a dream.gifIt was all a dream– I mean, what is more horrifying than getting to the end of a book and finding out it was all a waste of time? The same goes for anything else in this vein, like winding the clock back or ending up back where you started (when there’s little to no character development). But there are other *awful* ways to end a story, like…

voldemort
best friend material, amirite?!

The villain saying: “I was trying to help you all along”- ugh- surprisingly there are books that genuinely have the antagonist about-turning in the last chapter. I pretty much raged to read a story where a baddie said “you thought I was chasing you across Europe? Noooo I was trying to warn you about the other guy stalking you!” (a banana goes to anyone who knows what book I’m referring to 😉 )

set upThis entire book was setup for the next one! Yeahhh there are certain authors who think it’s a good idea to write an *ENTIRE BOOK* that has no plot of its own and to prep you for the sequel. Then, they go and stick a cliffhanger in to get you to tune in next time for an actual story… maybe… (it’s scary how often I’ve fallen for this trick!) There’s only one thing worse…

i don't remember.gifAmnesia– I hate when characters- particularly protagonists- get amnesia. It basically allows the author to repeat entire storylines/romances/character development. It’s so lazy and you end up with an entirely recycled story. So yeah, at the risk of repeating myself, I hate amnesia in books.

So, what are your thoughts on these? And what tropes or writing styles will instantly put you off a book? Let me know in the comments!

63 thoughts on “Things that horrify me in books: terrifying tropes and writing styles I really don’t like!

  1. All of the above – yes to everything. I mean no. You know what I mean. Formulaic, unimaginative, pretentious. In other words, writers who can type but cannot write. May I add one of my own peeves? I truly dislike books that are primarily a shopping list of elaborate, intricately detailed fanciful contrivances, so densely described that not a fingernail of imagination on the part of the reader is allowed. All a smoke screen for the fact that there is no story, or that it’s so thin a premise that the actual story is only a novella. Anyone recall a certain clock?

    Please tell what’s the book with the helpful villain? I haven’t earned it, but I’m hungry for a banana.

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  2. All of the above, but especially “It was all a dream…” The popularity of that, I think, can be traced back to the film version of The Wizard Of Oz even though (spoiler!) in the book Oz is a very real place.
    What I dislike almost as much, though, is too-tidy resolutions. An ambiguous or inconclusive ending can be a setup for a sequel, which I hate, but when done well reflects the open-ended nature of life itself. Compare, for instance, the ending of John Wyndham’s Day Of The Triffids with the ending of The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney. (The latter was the basis for The Invasion of The Body Snatchers.)
    With apologies for spoilers, both are about catastrophic events. In one a handful of survivors struggles to adapt to a world that is forever changed. The other ends with a sudden “and we fixed everything and never worried again” that takes a couple of pages.
    Even if a major event only affects one person it’s still going to have a lasting impact.

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  3. It’s not necessarily a trope, but a bunch of swearing in YA books (or any other book, but I’ve noticed this mostly in YA, & I just DNF after a few pages lol) really turns me off. I don’t mind a few curse words, sprinkled here and there, especially if they’re for emphasis, because then, THEY MAKE SENSE. Maybe I’m a prude for not wanting to read so much profanity, but I really don’t care :’)

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    1. I hear you. I once read this really fast-paced, zany, crude, fun comedy. Only problem was that almost every single character had a potty mouth. One or two of them swearing would have been funny, but the fact that they were all yelling and swearing all the time just made it harder to keep track of who was speaking.

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  4. What do you mean by String of consciousness? Rambling inside one’s head? I am lost! Now I hate love triangles, I hate when the first book is just setting the scene for the second one. I would add that I hate when they add a romance story that just doesn’t feel necessary nor true! I also hate doormat heroines. And I can’t stand flourishes when the author just uses pompous words and string them together in an attempt at beautiful prose. Not everyone is gifted ….

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    1. Yes! Non-romantic relationships are also important!!!

      Also hate it when people automatically end up married with kids at the end. ESPECIALLY when it happens in YA. Most people are not going to marry their high school sweetheart. I also wish more books ended with, you know, natural break-ups? It’s ok for the main character to end up alone but having grown as a person through the relationship without it having to be the ONLY relationship they ever have.

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      1. Absolutely agree with you there!! And *YES*- I’ve seen series with loads of trainwreck relationships end with the mc finding someone else (who happens to be miraculously perfect) and I just think “why couldn’t they just be single?” There isn’t always a need for this kind of pairing off.

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  5. I agree with the most of your list. Especially boy/girl as a reward. Come on, this is so popular in the movies that of course it had to leak to the modern literature too.

    I don’t fully agree with the one “it was all a dream” because here everything depends on the writer’s intention. If that’s just a lazy solution, originating in the lack of further ideas – burn the book! But often, even if the story happens in a dream or some other reality, it can say A LOT about the protagonists’ subconciousness, his or her fears, memories etc. Actually, I recently discovered that some of Astrid Lindgren’s books contain such tropes. And that makes it more fun in analyzing the insight to the characters’ subconciousness.

    And I have been pondering quite a lot how is this, that nowadays authors can’t write one, solid book? Noo, they have to write series! Preferably each and one of them ending with cliffhanger. It’s like butter stretched on too many pieces of bread. So I fully agree with your hate for the set up trope.

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  6. I totally agree on the cheating and moralizing tropes. It’s hard for me to root for a character when they are so flagrantly disregarding the feelings of another human. As someone who has been cheated on, this has a 9/10 success rate of me losing ALL sympathy for the protagonist.

    I despise nihilism with a burning passion, especially in books. It’s like if nothing really matters, then why should I waste time reading your book? To me, it’s pseudo-intellectual bullshit in my opinion.

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  7. STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS IS THE WORST!!! I know it’s like, literary mastery or whatever, but I just hate it so, so much.
    It’s so funny about the girl being the reward bit. My class’s textbook this year has several stories where someone gets to marry the princess as a reward, and in every single one of them it ends with the girl going, “Hey, I should get to pick if I get married or not y’all” and everyone is just like, “Oh, okay!” I don’t think my students have any idea that there are fairy tales where that was an actual thing, so they’re just like, “Mrs. R this is really weird, why would someone get to marry someone just because they ran faster in a race?”

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  8. One of my pet peeves is jarring name dropping ‘I sat on my Ikea chair and used my Dell computer while checking my iphone5 to see if my bid on e-bay for a Mary Berry apron was accepted…’ etc etc I don’t mind the odd name, but some authors overuse it mentioning brand items, films, characters from TV, films, comic book heroes etc to such an extent that it puts me off. Especially if I don’t know those brands or films, because it becomes a grey meaningless blob to me. Much better for them to create a picture in my mind with their own clever words of an item / person than relying on marketable images created by others.

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  9. I don’t like love triangles. I blame twilight for it.
    No time travel- blame is on Time Traveler’s Wife.
    Too much making out scenes like half of the book is all about how they make love in different places and style, ugh! No, thank you! I don’t have anything against it but I get it all in one scene how passionate their love is. Does it seriously require more than one scene?
    Sex in middle of action and tension when horde of zombies or viliain is on your trail- Okay, this is worst. isn’t there more important thing like saving the world, getting out of situation or something than having sex? Most of these kind of stories can do without sex in the middle of it. And then most of them turns out so predictable, male character is dead and female is pregnant with his baby!

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  10. I’m with you on most of those, except… How do you get a love triangle without cheating ? (Well, OK, there are some, but mostly…) Overused – yes, but can still be done well (although too often not .)

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  11. Oh man … totally agree with stupid moralizing … THEY DON’T MAKE SENSE! UGH ! CHEATING LOVE TRIANGLES! I don’t like love triangles to begin with … but I HATE when this happens. I also dislike when two people fall for one another and one of them is in a relationship … then they cheat and it’s all “sad” and then they end up together … and the person cheated on looks like the villain … REALLY??!! Like … why?!

    Friendship to romance is okay … but I really dislike when the person is adamant that they don’t like the person the ENTIRE novel and then VOILA! They fall in love … *eye rolling*

    Great list … really like this!

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  12. Agree with most of these. Especially: “There is no such thing as reality … because people who think there is are big meanies … Let’s all be nice to each other.”

    It’s been a while since I encountered “it was all a dream,” thankfully. It can be used as a frame, especially in allegory, like Pilgrim’s Progress. But there, you know it is a dream from the beginning and the content of his dream is going to be the story. So its being a dream doesn’t erase the stakes.

    Unfortunately, cheating love triangles do happen quite a bit in real life. But I know they have become quite the trope, especially to boost a heroine that everyone wants. Whereas IRL the cheater is more likely to be the boy (did I say that out loud?).

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    1. Yes!! It really irritates me!! Loads of people do that whole moral relativist/reality is just a construct annnd I want to throw the book they wrote at them (since it’s just a social construct, they shouldn’t feel a thing 😉 )

      Thankfully it’s been a while for me too. I can see it being used as a frame and if it’s an (older) allegory, I might just forgive it… but usually not even then 😉

      Yeah unfortunately it definitely happens- so I can definitely see why it would end up in fiction. My problem is too often it ends up there because the writer is trying to create conflict and it’s basically seen as romantic (/make the love interest/protagonist seem all the more desirable) but usually it just makes me hate everyone in the book

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  13. All of the above plus cliche stuck with childhood/highschool sweethearts who didn’t even have a chance to meet other people before deciding that they are soulmates or main character stuck with his teenage love while being with his current wife. I don’t know, I feel that this kind of story is making us believe that the only perfect love is a love that start when you’re young ( as if you know what is love back then) and other type of love story is nothing but trial and error. That there is no life after first love.

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  14. Yup, yup, completely agree on most of these! Especially the cheating love triangle and the boy/girl as a reward nonsense.

    I’ve only read a handful of books where an amnesia story-line was okay, and in those the amnesia happens BEFORE THE BOOK/SERIES STARTS. It’s fun to go on a journey of self-discovery with someone when we don’t already know all about them. Less fun when we watch them re-discover all these things we already know.

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    1. I agree. I kind of love it when a person wakes up in a hospital or some place and they’ve been accused of a crime and they don’t know who to trust for most of the book. Amnesia as a premise is completely different from amnesia as a cheat.

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    2. Really glad you agree there!!

      Oh yes- you’re totally right- I should’ve made that distinction cos I think of at least one series which I loved which had amnesia before the story started- I actually *love* when a story starts with a complete blank slate character, where they have to learn who they are/what skills they have etc. But yeah, I mean more when it basically gets used to go through the character growth/relationship drama we’ve already seen.

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      1. There was one series where it felt like the author used amnesia to change the direction a character’s development went when she decided that she didn’t like who the character was becoming. (I don’t know if that *was* the intent, but it felt that way to me as a reader.) And that felt like a cheat to me. I disliked it enough that I gave up on the series even though it hadn’t finished yet.

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  15. The ‘it was all a dream’ thing worked just once – for Alice in Wonderland. But not for anything after. However, I do love stories where you don’t know which parts are dreams/drug induced hallucinations and which parts are real 😉

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  16. These are all really bad, but the “book is setup for the next one” idea really ticks me off. So badly, that not only will I not by the sequel, but also I will not buy a single book by that author again. A cliffhanger is one thing, but writing a book purely from an exploitative design is nothing more than cheating the reader.

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  17. Yes to all of these, but especially “all a dream” and “setup for the next book”! Another one that I hate so much that it will actually make me DNF a book (something I rarely do) is the “sullen and/or stupid protagonist” whose unbelievable idiocy and/or childish sulking keeps the plot from moving too quickly so the author can pad out their page count.

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  18. Yep, all of the above. Love triangles in general are one of my pet hates. They’re so overused! And boy/girl as a reward makes my blood boil. I really hate books that only set up the next book too. If there’s anything that ensures I don’t continue a series, it’s that!

    Idiocy in main characters in general turns me right off a book. I can’t enjoy a book when I’m mentally screaming at the characters to just use their common sense!

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  19. “Cheating Love Triangles– what’s worse than a love triangle? A love triangle that involves some kind of cheating.”
    LOL.

    “I pretty much raged to read a story where a baddie said “you thought I was chasing you across Europe? Noooo I was trying to warn you about the other guy stalking you!””
    At least this one’s original 😉 😂. But I hear you about things that are in a book just for shock value.

    I don’t mind stream of consciousness, and amnesia used to be cool until it became overused. What I hate the most is the following scenario: Girl X meets Boy Y, who of course is the epitome of everything handsome and sexy and mysterious under the sun, and they have to team together in order to save the world or defeat an enemy. The worst thing is, Boy Y is NEVER a normal boy – he has to be infuriatingly handsome, and of course that’s the only thing that counts…

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  20. Yes! Yes! Yes!
    It warms the cockles of my heart that so many people have commented that they also hate love triangles (with or without cheating) and boy/girl as reward tropes! Readers of the world unite!! 😀

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  21. I actually don’t mind stream of consciousnesses if it’s done in smaller doses. If the text were all that way it would probably drive me crazy though lol.
    Cheating love triangles, ugh! This is when I’m like ‘can’t we have more poly relationships?’ lololol. 😀

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    1. I think that’s completely understandable- for me, it’s just a matter of not appealing to my personal taste (though I don’t mind long streams of thought within a regularly structured novel, if that makes sense, so I may very well be in a similar boat to you 😉 ) haha yeah!

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  22. I am super late to this (I’m so sorry!!), but I just need to say that I have seen amnesia done amazingly well once. The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. It doesn’t repeat storylines at all, in fact, the amnesia is on page 1 of the novel. Such an amazing urban fantasy novel, too!!

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    1. No worries! Oh that’s good to hear to be honest, cos I’ve had that on my tbr *forever*. I do actually like amnesia from page 1 (a few people mentioned that like you in the comments, so I should’ve clarified!) I tend to just dislike it in series. But that sounds really great!

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