Discussion: What turns you off?

I can handle almost anything with literature. I don’t think I’ve found a level of swearing that bothers me. I don’t mind graphic details. In fact, I tend to embrace them. Give me the all the cursing, the blood, guts, sex, and… well, pretty much anything you want to throw my way. I don’t care. Doesn’t bug me. 
Just don’t give me boats. Please. 
I firmly believe that everyone has something that turns them off in literature. My turn off point is boats. I’m not sure why, but if a book has a plot that mostly takes place on a ship, I just can’t find it in me to care that much. It could be the best written book on the face of the planet with the most awesomely developed characters in the history of literature, but if it takes place on a boat, I just turn off. 
Maybe it’s because the only boat I’ve ever been on is a ferry taking me somewhere across the Puget Sound so I can’t really relate or picture anything nautical and I usually don’t care enough to figure it out. Maybe it’s because the world just seems too small to me if it’s mostly boat-contained. Perhaps I have just spent too much time landlocked. I’m not sure, but whatever it is,  I haven’t ever found it within myself to fully get over it. 
It doesn’t really make sense. I spent roughly nine years of my life as a competitive swimmer. If there’s one thing I understand and embrace, it’s water. I just don’t care about boats, or books filled with boats. No matter how hard I try, they just turn me off. 
So, what turns you off? 

P.S. I’m going to try to post these discussions every Sunday. Yes, I’m posting it 30 minutes shy of Sunday this week, but I don’t care. 

24 Responses

  • Bryan Thomas

    I'd say gratuitous graphic anything turns me off. I think it's in there as an ego thing more than to serve the story in all too many cases. I have read tons of books which used none of any and were compelling reads. It annoys me when authors insist their artistry can't be censored. Uh huh. As if I'm not creative enough to fill in the blank when I read "character A cursed." I sure can. And I can fill in words which are far more powerful in my mind than yours. We all have our favorite curse words or the ones we find shocking, etc. The same is true of sex scenes and violence. All too often authors overwrite with these motives and it discourages reader involvement. Which is why I find many books today less compelling than books I read twenty years ago. I know a lot of people won't agree, but there it is.

  • Sarah

    I agree with you on the boating! I recently reviewed Her Sister's Shadow by Katharine Britton and much of it was about boating, which bored me to tears. I hate political science unless the story is super suspenseful and most of all, I hated reading about the detailed Quidditch matches in the Harry Potter books! I have other minor turn-offs, but nothing on the same level as law and court scenes.

  • writingbec

    Is anyone else sick of vampires? I was reading the blurb of a promising novel about magic and it started going on about vampires. I had to put it down.
    Apart from that, poor and cliched expression is a big turn off, which is why I can't read very much crime fiction.

  • Cora

    Oh, good question. For me I suppose it has to be bad characterisation.

    The best example for me has to be Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion series. I didn't really get that far beyond Sheepfarmer's Daughter (The first book) simply because I was sick to the back teeth of the characterisation. Almost every character talked the same way, acted the same way and ended up indistinguishable from each other. Paks herself became a problem for me, too, as she was so ridiculously indestructable that I just stopped caring. If the protagonist is being kicked in the head by someone with a metal boot on, you'd expect them to have some serious damage – But not Paks! She frequently finds herself seriously injured, yet fully recovers in no time at all and suffers no ill effect from any of her injuries – Not even some annoying scar tissue!

    I've joked that if you cut her legs off, she'd have them back in a week and be running around as if nothing happened. Sadly, I think that could actually be true.

  • Lisa @ Read.Breathe.Relax.

    This is a really great question! I actually dislike excess, graphic violence. If an author says, so and so was killed. Ok, I can handle that. But once the descriptive paragraphs begin about the blood oozing and guts bursting, I just kinda feel a little sick. Ugh…

  • Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)

    A few months back, I'd have probably said the same thing. Then came a good few books that had boats as the main part of their plot (or at least they were part of the setting for a good while). Now I'm fine with them. I don't think I have any particular thing as turnoff, but I'd say that if an author stops to explain a metaphor, sarcasm or irony in their writing, then that puts me off, e.g.

    "When she told him, he felt as light as a feather. Well, of course, he didn't actually feel as light as a feather, because that defies the laws of physics. Rather, he felt slightly light headed and happy". That annoys me and is usually an instant book closer.

  • Bibliotropic

    Boats don't turn me off so much as they just don't hold any interest for me in particular. I can't relate, but then there's a lot of stuff that I read that I can't necessarily relate to.

    My biggest turn-off in a novel is probably the romance. I always say that I prefer my plot with a side of romance and not the other way 'round, so when I come across a book that seems like it could be interesting and then just turns out that the plot is a flimsy tie-together for romantic adventures, I get bored and annoyed.

    I also dislike heavy-handed preaching in novels. It's one thing to try to convey a message, even a moral one, but when large chunks of the novel start going on very explicitly about the importance of the message and how everyone should realise it and feel the same way… It's clunky, and it can really ruin any chance of actually getting the message across. Have characters be shocked and appalled at the sight of a blighted wasteland, have them be deeply struck by it, but don't have them start a 3-page diatribe about how this is what happens when humans mistreat the planet and how we should have taken better care of it in the beginning and we'd all be better off for it. Even if I agree with the message, having it hammered in like that is just painful. Let me draw my own conclusions from the scene, feel my own pain, instead of forcing me to sit through moralizing.

  • Jared

    Rape. (Sorry to strike an extremely serious note here.)

    Too often sexual violence is used a shorthand for evilness – a sort of lazy shorthand that winds up undercutting the *actual* evilness involved. Or, worse yet, abuse used as a replacement for character-building. (Garth Ennis makes a darkly funny joke about this in THE BOYS, where a female superhero has to fend off the marketing department's insistence that she *has* to be sexually abused).

    It is a dangerous and horrid convention that often crosses over into the lurid. It isn't just a new trend either (although I've got a few contemporary authors in mind as I type this).

  • Noel R.

    This is a great question. While I don't have a problem with boats (in fact I love Age of Sail literature), I do apparently have an issue with stories based on Christian mythology that include things like demons and such. Just recently I was reading a book and within the first twenty pages I saw the phrase "portal to hell," and immediately lost interest in the book. Now I'm trying to convince myself to keep going in the hopes that it'll be a good story regardless.

    That said, I liked the movie Constantine. Maybe I just don't like portals to hell in my reading material. ;D

  • Anonymous

    Boats! I adore boats. I'm a sailor and have a soft spot for nautical themed books.
    I can't stand vampires, werewolves or zombies. It could be a fabulous novel, but my eyes glaze over if there are vampires, werewolves or zombies. This is the reason I did not like Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. If someone told me there was a werewolf in it, I would have never read it.
    Excessive and graphic violence is not my cup of tea either. There needs to be some humour to offset it for me (see GRRM and Abercrombie).
    I don't mind graphic sex as long it is between consenting adults. I agree with one of the above posts about rape. It seems to be far too common in fantasy literature.
    I am surprised nobody has mentioned a certain fantasy beings/animals such as dwarves or dragons as something they can't stand.


  • Scott

    Boats too. In fact if a story is going to even spend SOME time on a boat I wince and promtly fall asleep. Can't bloody stand books that take place ALL on boats usually.

  • redhead

    religious preachyness.

    Give me all the christmas parties, calls to prayer, burkas, bar mitzvahs, and monks you want, but the moment something gets preachy I am done with it. and usually done with the author too.

    I love Stephen Lawhead. He is published by a Christian publishing house, and most of his characters are Christians of some kind. He does a lot of early Christianity celtic historical fiction. And I adore every book of his I've ever read.

    A few months ago I read a dystopian/steampunk/romance type thing where a main character who had never been exposed to religion suddenly felt "a feeling of profound beauty peacefulness" or some such the first time she stepped into a cathedral. There were some other odd preachy bits, so trust me, she didn't fall in love with the architecture. I will not be reading that author again.

  • James

    "Leet" speak. Cory Doctorow's Little Brother might have a lot of praise behind it, but I didn't get past the first use of it. I will ignore anything that uses it around the internet (unless it is used in a mocking manner), I certainly don't want to see it in my books.

    I don't understand the whole zombie fad and tend to avoid any books that center around them. To me, they are the least frightening "monsters" and that is before looking at them in a realistic light… which puts them about on par with an animated skeleton in the laughably useless range.

    There are probably more, but I can't think of them.

  • Bibliotropic

    Ah yes, I forgot to mention zombies when I first commented. But for me zombies aren't quite in the same level of "turn-off" so much as "something to be avoided at all costs." I don't dislike them; I'm actively afraid of them, to the point where I have had trouble falling asleep at night due to the fear that my apartment wouldn't be safe if zombies happened to start marching on the city. Yeah, I know, it's pretty pathetic. :/ I sort of wish sometimes that I didn't have that fear, because there are so many books about zombies that are getting amazing praise and I'd love to be able to give them a chance, but quite frankly, I enjoy nightmareless sleep more.

  • Weirdmage

    My biggest turn off is when the main characters don't talk to each other. The best example of this is in Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. We get several pages of conversation about how important it is that they meet up and talk about magic. And then the main chracter, Richard Cypher, uses magic and everything turns worse. The idiotic thing about it is that if the other character, Zedd, had just said "Magic has consequences, don't use it if you don't understand them", instead of going on for a looong time about how important it is that they talk about magic, it could have been avoided.

    So basically, if the characters don't talk to each other because that would make the story not work, I find it really annoying. And I think authors should stop doing it.

  • Liviu

    Vampires (and zombies, sorcerers and all supernatural accepted as mundane) with computers or guns; though I have nothing against scientific vampires (The Passage, Greyfriar are some recent offerings that I enjoyed) with enough mumbo-jumbo to make them plausible as another sf trope

    naming conventions that do not fit – either parochial (John, Jake and Jane in a secondary world) or annoying

    more generally – parochiality like say all Anglo characters unless the book is specifically set in a middle of nowhere English village, but if it has the least cosmopolitan setting, I expect characters to be diverse too

  • Allan

    I have only ever been turned off a fantasy book once. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I wont say what it is to avoid spoilers. I bought the omnibus version of the first chronicles and I just couldnt get past the first hundred pages. I didnt want to. I think thats a shame because I hear it is amazing. But that really is the only thing that has turned me off. maybe one day i will go back to it but i dont think so.

  • James

    Don't worry Allan, if the spoiler didn't get you, then Covenant's endless whining and temper tantrums would have. I almost made it, was so close to the end, but couldn't take it anymore.

  • Lood

    I have an intense dislike of diary entries. One or two in the space of a novel is fine. Every second chapter? Shoot me now.

  • Heloise

    Pity about the boats, as you all miss out on the Aubrey/Maturin novels which are great fun.

    My worst turn off is probably heavy-handed self-reference – like when the protagonists are out adventuring and it is mentioned either by them or auctorial voice that this is not all like the songs/tales/novels, and they're experiencing the real thing instead – the point of course being that all of that takes place inside a novel, haha.
    That cliché was never funny and more than a bit silly in the first place, but by now it's been so done to death by every author who thinks they need some supposedly clever postmodern twist to their tale, that it's become positively insufferable and gives me a sever tooth ache every time I encounter it.

  • Benjamin

    My personal pet peeves are time travel and alternate reality stories. Sometimes they're okay if they're done well (or the rest of book makes up for it), but for the most part I avoid them. To me, it seems like laziness on the part of the author. Like they couldn't come up with a better idea.

  • Stefan

    Anything with the word "dragon" in the title. I've made a few exceptions, but in every case the title's dragon wasn't an actual dragon (Steven Brust, Kate Elliot, and way back in the day Robert Jordan). I'm just tired of dragons.

    Also, I am sick of vampires and usually will skip almost anything that features them.

    My biggest pet peeve is what I call "Keanu Reeve-itis" – meaning something shockingly supernatural or bizarre happens, and the characters just go "whoa" and then continue on as if they've been through dimensional gates or confronted with monsters or whatever before. Even though I wasn't wild about Mark Chadbourn's Age of Misrule books, I loved the fact that the characters would pass out because their brains just couldn't process the crazy fantastic creatures they were faced with.

  • Anonymous

    I really don't like flash-backs or long dream sequences. It really turns me off when half of a book is taken up by a flash-back or if the entire book IS a flashback. Horns, by Joe Hill was exactly like that and I didn't even bother to continue.

  • Nathaniel Katz

    I'm not sure if I have one turn off, though I probably have dozens I'm just not thinking of. Most of the things I like can be overdone if done well enough. If the book's got very vanilla cliches it'll be a hard sell for me, though. I'm not a fan of boy-saviors, vampires, werewolves, elves, dwarves, etc. Actually, nonhuman races in general might be my turn off. They CAN be done well, but they usually just read like people in suits with one incredibly exaggerated trait.

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