Monday, September 13, 2010

Readers, what annoys you the most?

Reading fiction is supposed to be an enjoyable experience, right? What if it isn't?

The funny thing is that as authors, we read differently than the average reader. At least I do. Before I started writing, other than what was forced on me in English class, I read either science fiction, or commercial fiction. As a kid I read Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and authors like that. Later I went on to Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, etc.

I still don't read a lot of literary works, sorry, I find most of them too tedious and some of them extraordinarily pretentious.

I still enjoy a good mystery, thriller, science fiction, and other types of commercial fiction. (No, not romance)

When I'm reading these works, there is one thing that bugs the heck out of me when I see it, technical inaccuracy.

I don't expect every author to be an expert on physical processes, but I also don't expect them to be lazy. Lazy authors gloss over how an event happens because it's not important to them how it happens, just that it does, so they can get on with the part of the story that they find interesting. When I read a story with a technical inaccuracy it sets off an alarm in my head and depending on how loud that alarm is, I may or may not be able to keep reading.

Let me give you an example. I was reading a thriller about a badass assassin type guy who's trying to save a family from the clutches of an evil corporation. (Really original plot huh?) Anyway, he meets up with an old friend in Europe who helps him escape from pursuers. The author needed the friend to stop the pursuers from catching the assassin dude, so what did he do? He blew everyone up.

OK, that's fine, but it was the way that he did it. I feel he took the lazy way out. He had the friend leave the gas on, and the shotgun blast from one of the pursuers set it off, killing everyone in the process. Of course our dashing hero has already left the building, so he's fine, but everyone else is not.

Given the recent gas explosion out here in California, this might sound reasonable, but there is a problem. By the time the natural gas reaches the consumer, it has had a really smelly agent added to it, so that if the consumer has a gas leak, they will know about it. The gas leak out here in California, was in a transmission line where the smelly stuff hadn't yet been added, but in your home, you will know if the gas is leaking. It REALLY stinks.

So I felt that there was no way that the pursuers wouldn't have noticed the gas smell, and got the heck out of there, rather than release a shotgun blast, and blow themselves up. I suppose there are scenarios that the author could have used to do that, but the point is, he didn't. He simply tried to suspend disbelief, and at least for me, it didn't work.

I don't expect that every action in a book that I am reading be 100% technically accurate, but if it isn't, the story better be compelling enough that I'm willing to let it slide.

What about you? As a reader, what kinds of things annoy you?


  1. OH, YES, I get annoyed by that kind of inaccuracy. I do try to suspend my disbelief most of the time, and I have more of a problem with this kind of thing in movies more than books.

  2. Oh, that really annoys me because I do a lot of research for my novels and try to be as accurate as possible.


  3. I tend to be slightly forgiving about things like what you describe because I know people act stupid, especially in the heat of the moment, so ignoring the smell of gas and firing a shotgun is not outside the realm of human potential.

    What drives me insane are when characters say things which violate the basic premise of the character. For instance, if a character who has worked in Brazil for years (or is Brazilian) gets confused about the sound of Spanish versus Portuguese. (And no, anyone whose stuff I've read recently, you did not do that; it's just an example that came to mind. :) )

    Those are the inaccuracies that I can't deal with.

  4. Those kinds of technical inadequacies drive me batty, oh yes.

    Specifically ones about firearms, firearm owners, cops or anyone who looks at/has a gun.


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