I recently received an email from someone who enjoyed what I'd written in "Devices and Desires."
"OK, now we know what you like. Can you tell me what you don't like?"
Well, since you asked...here is my list of hackneyed/boring narrative devices that cause me to roll my eyes, yawn, or both.
1. Prophetic dreams. There are so many effective ways to get into a character's psyche. Prophetic/ horrific / enigmatic dreams, particularly of the recurring nature, are not one of them. I always feel like I'm reading a Psych101 textbook when I get to these passages. I basically have given up reading them; they always feel so contrived, even ridiculous. I skip to the end of the passage as quickly as my eyes will take me there. It's particularly bad if the dream contains some sort of "clue" to help the reader solve the mystery. So tiresome!
2. Animals in a Sleuth Capacity. OK, I admit it. I'm not a fan of pet detectives. I'm pretty good at suspending disbelief and letting a narrative overtake me, but the second a cat starts playing a role of something other than pet, I feel my spine go tense. This is absolutely a subjective opinion, as I know there are a lot of animal/cat/dog lovers out there. But they just don't work for me, no matter how well written or witty.
3. Desperate Humor. I've said it before, but nothing is more unfunny than a writer or character who is trying too hard to be funny. I cringe in agony reading such characters/authors, feeling myself taken back to my high school/college days, when I experienced this phenomenon a bit too frequently in person.
4. Plot Turns Based on Stupidity. There was a time that writers could let their protagonists do something really stupid, like walk through a deserted alley in a dangerous city alone at midnight, or knowingly enter a house filled with really bad people. Those days are gone! Mistakes based on naivete or lack of experience are totally understandable (and can be good for character development), but when a writer has an otherwise intelligent character do something stupid, my mind snaps shut.
5. Schmaltz. Everyone likes a good romance and a happy ending, but some manuscripts/books end up stuck in Syrup Land. It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment when a writer goes too far (like the definition of pornography, I know it when I see it).
6. Series Books After the Magic Has Gone. I've blogged about series books and characters in the past. While I'm a fan of a good series, there comes a time when some writers do it solely for the money. The result can be books that seem phoned in. I don't encounter these too much, because I rarely read more than two or three books in a series. But they are out there (of course, I won't name names....)
7. Derivatives. We're in the business of publishing what sells, so it's not uncommon to hear of a new writer being positioned as "the new Sue Grafton" or "the heir apparent to Patricia Cornwell." But guess what--Grafton and Cornwell have already done it, and probably much better than their descendants. I always look for freshness and originality--or, alternatively, a book that executes a traditional formula with an interesting new twist. When I see someone consciously trying to be like, say, Anne Rice or some other ground-breaking writer, I sigh and wish they'd developed their own ideas instead of stealing someone else's.
8. Celebs. For the most part, I loathe mysteries written (or ghost written) by celebrities or their children. Yes, the book sells, and the minute Oprah Winfrey sends me her first mystery manuscript, I'll publish it without even reading it first. But I hate seeing a limited number of publishing slots filled by people who don't need the fame, don't need the money, and don't have the talent--while much worthier people go unpublished and unnoticed.
9. Serial killers. Borrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrinnnnnnnggggggggggggggggg.
10. Discovering the killer rather than figuring out who did it. Not everyone will agree with me on this, but I think this has become a real problem in recent years. So many books now feature a sleuth sort of bumbling around and finding him/herself in perilous situations. But the clues never quite come together and the sleuth doesn't really use any brainpower to figure out the murder's identity. Instead, the murderer is revealed in some odd way, confessing everything in a weird sort of soliloquy. I really prefer to see the chief investigator using brain cells to outsmart a very smart person.
I'm sure there are more...but it's the end of the day!