|What makes you mad?|
Today I’ve narrowed down my top five pet peeves, the tropes in books and movies that make gnash my teeth and wring my hair in fury. I’ve also put down examples and reasons why I feel so strongly. These are just my personal opinions, and feel free to disagree. But I hope my little rants helps you think about what really bothers you in stories and why.
So without further ado, here are my top five pet peeves, from least to most irritating.
Number 5: Bland Acting
If I were given the choice between an actor giving an over-the-top, scenery chewing, triple ham and cheese, utterly ridiculous performance—or an actor standing with a sleepy stare on his face, I will take the former every time. I can forgive an actor for being terrible, but I cannot forgive them for being boring.
|A classic character is completely wasted on blandness.|
Brad Pitt epitomizes this for me, not because he can’t act, but he can’t act in the roles I find interesting. I got burned by him three times before I refused to watch him in anything besides Ocean’s 11 type movies, which he seems to handle fine.
First, I caught Meet Joe Black on T.V., where he got to play the literal embodiment of death, and all he did was look bored and depressed. Then I saw Interview with the Vampire, where Tom Cruise turned him into a vampire. While Tom Cruise was having fun and single-handedly keeping the movie afloat, Brad Pitt was listlessly whining about how life as a vampire sucked. Finally, I saw Troy, and though I’d never read The Iliad, I knew enough about the character of Achilles to know that the man was both a massive jerk and a hero. I so desperately wanted to see both characteristics finely balanced out. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
“But I thought he was a good actor,” my mom protested. “He cried really well in that one scene.”
“So what?” I replied. “He’s an actor—he’s supposed to know how to cry. But what did he bring to the character? Achilles is arrogant, egotistical, and acts like a whining baby when he doesn’t get his way. I wanted to see him embody those flaws, yet still show enough charisma to charm us to his side against our will. Instead I got none of it! He wasn’t evil, he wasn’t charming, they tried to make him a good guy, but even that didn’t work. Who cares if he cries when his character is sad? That’s the easy part. The tough part is constructing a character with contradictions and making us believe in him.”
Bland acting bothers me, because there’s no risk to it. Actors stay in their safe comfort zones. They don’t put thought or energy into their roles. They sleepwalk through them. I’m not paying for that. I feel like, if you do nothing else, be interesting! Entertain me! That’s what I’m paying you for.
Number 4: Stupid Characters
It’s not that I hate all stupid characters. Some characters are deliberately stupid for comedic purposes—and that’s okay. I can deal with that. What I hate is characters we’re supposed to root for who make stupid, impulsive choices over and over again, yet get bailed out by the author. This happens with so many fantasy heroes, it’s not even funny.
|It is possible to be a hero and have a brain.|
The best example I can think of is Naruto, the anime ninja who dreams of being hokage, a legendary rank of ninja. He blunders straight into danger without thinking, over and over, expecting his power or his sheer determination to get him out of the mess—and time and time, he triumphs. It drove me crazy.
Added to this, Naruto was joined by Sakura, who embodied the stupid girl love interest. Her every waking thought was spent on how to capture the affection of the cold, but “cool” guy she had a crush on. Literally, her every thought. Love had made her stupid. She had no personality outside this crush and was completely useless in battle.
Apparently, they got better, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.
I just hate this. I hate stupidity, and worse yet, I hate when stupidity is rewarded. I like characters who are smart, thoughtful, and responsible—not ones who are lucky.
Number 3: Nihilism and Despair
Speaking of negative things that have affected my chosen genre, I found I have an aversion to “literary” fantasy. The recent books I’ve read tend to strip the romance out of the magical world. I like my fantasy to be about struggles, growth, and morality, not… well, whatever the opposite is.
|Let's treat Narnia like it's our own, personal video game.|
Take The Magicians, a “literary” blend of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. Except that, when our motley group of heroes are granted not only magic but enough money to be secure for the rest of the life, they decide that, rather than using their power to better the world, they’ll spend their time being bored, cheating on each other, escaping to an entirely new world where they’re treated as saviors, acting like new world is their exclusive playground, and then being shocked when their actions have consequences. Apparently, things like heroes, loyalty, and friendship are all very passé. It’s all about selfishness and boredom.
I’m also a little nervous around dark fantasy and dystopias, because, while I can handle darkness, I dislike despair. I was enjoying The Hunger Games trilogy up until the third book literally killed the embodiment of goodness and hope, as well as main character’s entire reason for struggling so hard and sacrificing so much. As Katniss went into despair, so did I—and it left a bitter taste in my mouth.
I read books to inspire me, to give me hope. And while I will happily deal with the darkness of the world and the darkness of the soul, in the end, I want to believe that evil can be overcome, that wounds can heal, that change is possible, and that sacrifices will be honored. Take that away, and why am I bothering to read?
Number 2: Endings that Negate the Whole Plot
The host of a movie news channel I watch on YouTube once said that nobody didn’t love The Wizard of Oz, but I disagree, because even as a kid, I hated that movie. The problem was the ending. After going through the whole long journey, I was presented with not one, but two Deus ex Machinas: first, the water bucket of water that melted the witch out of nowhere, and second, the ruby red slippers that could have teleported Dorothy out of Oz anytime she wished. To top it off, the movie was capped with an “it’s all just a dream” ending. The whole movie was meaningless.
When I read a book or watch a movie, I do so with this implicit promise that the plot will lead to a logical and fulfilling conclusion. When the book or movie breaks that promise, I get mad, and I get even madder knowing that I wasted all this time and caring over a premise that was meaningless.
Another example is The Scions of Shanara. In the first book, we are told that evil is coming to the world and that four chosen ones must complete their tasks to rid the world of evil. At the end of four long books, the last person retrieves a sword that promptly sucks all the evil beings into the blade. And I thought, why did I read this? Why bother with any of the side quests at all, if all you needed was the stupid sword? No one had to struggle and sacrifice. It was pointless.
I hate pointless things. If you write an ending that breaks its promise to the readers, then you tear that ending up and start again, because your audience deserves better. They deserve a real ending.
Number 1: Writer’s Block
God, I hate this so, so much. And I’ve read it so often in critique groups, where young writers trying to “write what they know,” write about their inability to write. Worse though, are professionals who put this out. It always seems to go like this:
|Watch me stare at the typewriter for two months. It's art.|
There is a main character, who is a writer. This writer has already made tons of money off at least one bestseller, and is now under pressure to write another book. But they can’t think of an idea. So, for days, months, or years at a time, they stare at a typewriter, wander around, and/ or drink to excess while trying to come up with a new idea.
This is so boring. Nothing happens. For pages and pages.
I’m a writer. I’ve had to deal with writer’s block. I sit down and write until I come up with an idea. If that doesn’t work, I research or re-read my previous chapters. If that doesn’t work, I switch projects. If that doesn’t work, I deal with whatever psychological issue that’s keeping me from writing. I have no sympathy for people who call themselves writers and don’t do the work.
And the thing that bothers me even more than the boredom, the sameness, or the lack of realism, is the fact that it makes me jealous. These writer characters have already found success and recognition. I have never had that luxury. I have had to struggle and work toward achieving my dream. And I’m still not there. It’s frustrating to see a character who already has everything you so desperately want angst about how hard it is to have it.
So for all these reasons, writer’s block is my number one pet peeve.
* * *
What are your pet peeves and why do they bother you? I asked my friends on Facebook, and this is what they replied:
Christy Madokoro “I'll put a book down if I don't like the way a main character speaks. If they sound whiny or extreme Valley girl-ish, I put the book away. And that's probably all a matter of perspective... But the moment I see slang, temper tantrums, woe-is-me, or the word "hella," I have to reevaluate the quality of the book thus far...usually the word hella is an instant toss out...I can't remember any books that might include, but I've definitely turned off movies in the past. When a main character feels sorry for themselves all the time without moving past that, or they are only focused on the unfairness of their life, it's another annoyance that will make me put a book down.”
Claire Larry “I couldn't stand Twilight's writing style. It didn't flow, and it felt like she was pulling words out of the dictionary that she didn't know how to really properly use. It gave me an actual headache.”
Biz Nijdam “I hate it when people don't say goodbye when they hang up the phone in movies! Also that no one knows how to use the subjunctive...”
Next week, I’m going to write about the opposite: what I’m a complete sucker for in books or movies. If you want me to put your reply in my blog, reply in the comments or on Facebook.