A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about grammar pet peeves. Worse for me, I think, are style pet peeves. I’m hard to please. I’m a philosophy major and a literature buff, so writing style in anything I read, fiction or nonfiction, matters. I am not adamant about some errant grammar choices, but for a book or even an article to draw me in, there are a few things I cannot abide.
1. Flowery language
I am a writer. A major word nerd. I love spouting out my fancy vocabulary whenever possible. It makes me feel like all that college tuition money at least accomplished something. However, if your prose sounds overly poetic, or worse, if I have to look too many words up, it’s not going to work for me. It comes off as pompous, like you’re trying too hard to impress me.
Furthermore, too many big words and fancy language is not true to how people speak or think unless you’re doing a period piece or specific genre work that entails that type of language. So from the dialogue and inner monologue/character-as-narrator perspectives, it doesn’t work either.
When it comes to nonfiction, especially if it’s a subject I’m not very familiar with, I understand that I’ll have to look up a few things. But usually in those cases, I try to choose books that are a little more reader-friendly and can be read by people outside the field.
2. Sparse language
If flowery language is a pet peeve, sparse language is just as bad. Vis a vis, I’m not a Hemingway fan. There is a difference between sparse and concise. One of the best things my ethics professor taught me was to write concisely. I’m long-winded, so this is always a challenge for me, but I always feel like it makes my writing stronger. Just the facts, Jack. Don’t use ten words when five will do.
On the other hand, don’t use five words when you need ten. Some things are just complicated enough that you cannot shorten them. To shorten or truncate that idea or phrase means that some of the meaning will be lost. Lost meaning because of sparse writing is not being concise, it’s being lazy–assuming your reader/audience knows more than they may actually know.
3. Bad dialogue
I have spent many spare moments during the past few years reading Elmore Leonard books, so bad dialogue is just not acceptable. It’s the absolute killer for me, even if the rest of the book is decent.
In my writing, I try to keep my dialogue true to life and close to how people talk. My prose is like that as well sometimes, hence some deliberate disregard for grammar rules. But if I’m reading a book and I don’t believe the characters when they speak, it’s hard for me to keep reading.
People don’t talk in perfectly grammatical and syntactically correct statements. They curse, they end sentences with prepositions, and they interrupt each other mid-sentence. If your characters can’t even talk to each other like normal people, how am I supposed to relate to them throughout the rest of the story?
These are a few of the things I can’t get through when I read. Any other pet peeves about style?
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