Given how often my blog posts have literature as their subject, by now even irregular readers might have noticed I don't bash books or authors. My reason for resisting this unkind impulse is simple. Until completing and publishing my own first full-length book, I have not earned the right to trash the work of anyone who has done so. (Full disclosure: On rare occasions, I have succumbed to that unkind impulse when posting a review on Goodreads. But I have less than twenty-five friends on that site meaning there's little danger of any author losing sales due to my small "p" public churlishness.)
However, given the volume of my reading - and the number of groaners endured as a consequence of that volume - I feel justified saying more than a few authors frequently fall into the same trap as some recording artists and filmmakers - an over-reliance on formula. Now I realize many readers, music lovers, and film enthusiasts enjoy predictability, meaning formulaic books, music, and films have their place. But moving inexorably through Act Three, I yearn for freshness vs. formula. The list of over-used literary devices found in many traditional, conservative, predictable books - particularly those marketed as "historical fiction" - is long. I'll kick it off with a few that make me groan and then wait for you to join in. No book titles or authors, please.
* Exposition overload: Few things annoy me more than a writer who tells me what is about to happen, tells me again when it is happening, then reminds me what just happened. Set the scene once or not at all. Then give me something fresh, please. Don't chew the food for me.
* Epiphany alerts or ... cliffhanging final sentences to choppily episodic bite-size chapters: Books aimed at the mass market are supposed to be "page-turners". But suspense can be delivered in so many novel ways. Dangling shiny objects is a cheesy way to maintain narrative momentum. And it insults my intelligence.
* The rotating narrator loop: 1.) Narrator #1 tells a story in the "present" tense via hearing, reporting, or re-counting to others ... 2.) the famous/infamous, glorious/disastrous, but always "unforgettable" past of narrator #2, from whom narrator #1 will be fed or arrive at one or more of the aforementioned epiphanies, often delivered as a cliffhanger at the end of a bite-size, episodic, page-turning chapter. If multiple narrators must be used, give me an author who resists the temptation to have every chapter toggle between narrator #1 and #2. Formula-loving writers: If you must do that monotonous toggling thing, please don't date every chapter in strictly chronological order.
If you are a frequent reader, some of the above might feel eerily familiar. What groanworthy formulas are on your list?