Hello all! Happy deep discount candy day (in my country, anyway) and National Novel Writing Month (everywhere, but most nerve-wrackingly in my own home)!
And welcome to the first top ten Tuesday of the month! I won’t always be following the current prompt for these, since some of them apply more or less to me, but I found this older one about book turn-offs and, well, that’s very me. So let’s run them down!
Top Ten Book turn-offs
1. Instalove (for no reason)
Instalove is occasionally allowed in extenuating circumstances with soulmates and supernatural forces. Even then, though, it can be eyeroll-worthy and really boring or just kind of weird and gross. (This is why I am partial to fanfiction where Jacob imprints on Bella but hates that, because love should have a choice.)
If it’s going to be supernatural instalove, then at least let people react to it in different ways. Not everyone will be overjoyed, and some people are definitely going to want to get to know the person they’re wrapped up with before they find out they’re with a serial killer. If it’s not supernatural instalove, then I assume it’s circumstance-caused infatuation and not real love. And that definitely happens! But those two people aren’t going to end up together unless they build a relationship on a whole lot more than that.
2. scalene love triangles
Or, love triangles where all sides and angles are different sizes. Or, when the protagonist has a really great childhood friend she cares about but has never seen the way she sees the new love interest, or conversely, when the protagonist has a new love interest she cares about but can’t stop angsting about her really great childhood friend (with really great abs).
These love triangles are unsuccessful because they introduce a conflict that’s not a conflict. We can already tell which of these people the protagonist wants to be with. We already know the other option would be settling. Young adult protagonists don’t settle; really, most main characters don’t settle unless the book is very bleak by design. Wasting my time with conflicts that have zero stakes is not going to keep me reading. (Does actually anyone think Mare of Red Queen will end up with Kilorn? Haha NOPE.)
3. “Not Like other girls” / fem-shaming
People do this in real life and they do it in books. The protagonist or the protagonist’s love interest is not like other girls. She doesn’t have blonde hair and a tan. She doesn’t care as much about her looks. She’s bookish or geeky or eccentric and doesn’t take time to do her makeup or care what she eats but she’s still slim and ridiculously good-looking. She doesn’t even want to go to prom!
This kind of thing makes me want to puke, basically. There is nothing wrong with being feminine in the very ways young women are socialized to be feminine, and bleaching your hair doesn’t wreck your IQ, sense of empathy, or agency as a human being. Wanting to look cute in an environment where your looks are constantly policed and used as a marker of your value doesn’t make you plastic, for crying out loud. It’s a normal reaction to a strange reality, and even then, maybe someone just wants to look good to feel good. Which is also fine.
It’s now becoming a trope that the girls who initially are portrayed and judged this way later become the protagonist’s BFF because they’re prickly but awesome people. I don’t really want this character type to gloss over the depth and variety of personalities that femme girls can have, but I’ll take it over the alternative.
4. shitty boyfriends I’m supposed to root for
Get your Edwards and your Christians and even your Jaces right the heck out of here. If the male love interest is too self-involved with his own ~issues~ to stop being abusive, then he’s not ready to be a boyfriend and I don’t want my protagonist giving him the time of day.
5. Manic Pixie Dream Girls
I’m still okay with manic pixie dream boys because it just doesn’t happen that often, but if it becomes its own thing, it’ll probably get annoying. (Sometimes I think manic pixie dream gay-best-friends-who-suffer-and-teach-understanding is becoming its own thing that is already annoying.) But female characters/love interests shouldn’t just exist to teach life lessons. Okay, thanks for coming out.
6. Hero “protecting” the heroine (by pushing her away)
This happens in every medium and it is always the worst. If someone is already part of a situation (the best friend of a superhero, the parent of someone on the run, in love with a vampire, etc.), then trying to cut them off or trying to leave them out of danger by keeping them uninformed is a pretty ridiculous move. They’ll just get hurt, they’ll trail along wondering what’s going on or trying to figure out why the hero left them, and they’ll probably end up in the thick of the danger anyway.
More importantly, though, this often seems to be a gendered thing where the hero takes away a female character’s choices “for her own good,” and I hate that 11/10 times.
7. Pair the spare(s)
I really only want to hear about a couple within the pages of the book if they are a) characters I give a damn about, and b) they seem as if they would make a good couple. If I don’t really know anything about the characters and/or there’s no reason for them to get together other than the fact that they are not already in a pairing, then this revelation is a waste of my time.
Exceptions can be made for pairings that are mentioned when the reader doesn’t know/doesn’t care but later become plot-relevant, but this rarely happens.
8. Sequel/series overexposition
You know that part in a second (or third, or fourth, or seventeeth) book when the narrator tells us what happened last time on Supernatural? A sentence or two at a time about this spaced out and sparse over the course of a book is okay. A rehash of every single character, their appearance, their backstory, the previous book’s plot, and so on? Not even a little bit okay.
The Babysitter’s Club series was notoriously bad for this, although to be fair, at least it made it so that you could pick up at any point in the huge series and know what was up. (They did introduce a bunch more characters later on. But hearing the club’s origin story every time was still a lot.) But this is super inexcusable in, say, a popular trilogy. Trust us, we already read the last book. It’s time for what happens now, pls kthx.
9. Guy “deserves” the girl (who has no reason to like him)
Also one that happens in a lot of mediums: a guy, usually nerdy or awkward or romantically inexperienced, is super infatuated with a girl or young woman who is really attractive and put together. He is nice to her in his own socially awkward way (also known as, he is often inappropriate and often clingy, possessive, and otherwise creepy about her and his expectations) and Does Stuff, so he “deserves” her time, attention, and romantic interest. Therefore, he gets it.
I get being a socially awkward nerd, okay. I have been there. (Incidentally, I also happen to have an awful time trying not to be an awkward mess when talking to women I’m into.) But can we shut down the narrative that guys just deserve the attention of the women they’re into as long as they’re acting nice? Women, even fictional ones, even younger girl ones, are not vending machines of affection who spit out infatuation when you put in enough nice-coins.
I struggle to come up with a reverse example of this in a book, but I like what the TV show Scream does, where Noah’s love interest(s) are young women he knows and likes casually (without expectations) who are just attracted to his smarts and interests and make the first move because they know he’s a bit oblivious. That is what real life nerd dating is like when it doesn’t suck.
10. The stop-talking misunderstanding that requires an intervention
I have a really hard time rooting for couples who have a misunderstanding so hard that they just stop talking to one another until someone else intervenes much later to bring them back together. If one of you can’t suck up your pride enough to find a way to talk to the other, or if the other can’t swallow their pride enough to allow the other to at least eventually have a chance to explain, or if the explainer tries a couple times and gives up—why do I care? Were these two characters really into each other in the first place? If these people aren’t trying to end up together, why do I want them to?
This can be handled in some circumstances, depending on the nature of the misunderstanding and if the characters are separated by more than that one situation. (I don’t hate it in Fangirl, because it happens prior to characters being in a relationship and other things are going on.)
So those are ten of my worst book turn-offs—once I’m reading the book, anyway. (I definitely have some book back cover summary turn-offs.) Thanks for dropping in, and I’ll see you Friday with more bookish subjects! (I can’t start reading again until I have a Nano word buffer. I just received a book order at the end of October, so this is cruel.)