Columns > Published on May 8th, 2019

9 Fiction Pet Peeves

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Everyone loves a good rant. How about some ranting about those tropes and recurring annoyances that pop up in books, shows, and movies? Pet peeves are an interesting thing, because they’re not always logical. Thus the “pet” part—the ones that irk us the most aren’t always the most important. Sometimes they’re tiny; sometimes they’re even irrational. But when we’re peeved, we’re peeved, eh?

So that’s the spirit of my list. It’s my list. It’s not intended to represent the larger scope of fiction, be balanced, or even put priority on the more important issues over the petty ones. They’re just peeves that irk me every time. Join me for my nine, and then meet me in the comments to share your own; I know you have some!

1. Flashing Forward to Open

I’ll probably catch some flack for this, but what can I say? I hate this tactic. I’m not trying to call out anyone specifically, either. This is so ubiquitous now that most people probably don’t even notice it anymore. I think every other TV episode I see uses it. We open with some crazy action, stop on a cliffhanger, and then head back to the beginning to see how our characters got there. I’m not saying it can’t work, but I am saying it usually doesn’t. Rather than make the beginning of the story interesting, the writer(s) show us that it’ll get interesting later if we’re patient. To me that just seems lazy. Find some interest early on and/or trust your consumer.

2. Eyes Changing Color with Emotion

Romance is particularly guilty of this, but I’ve seen it in all genres. Y’all know that eyes don’t actually change color, right? Not in the way that books would have us believe, at least. They change with age sometimes, and they look different depending on lighting and the surrounding colors, etc., but they don’t actually turn gray when you’re angry and blue when you’re happy. They might occasionally look different depending on pupil dilation, which can be affected by emotion, but that would be a very small difference. And judging by the amount of characters noticing minute differences in multiple people based on surprisingly specific moods… fictional people are far more observant than any humans I actually know. Unless it’s part of your speculative worldbuilding to have changing eye color, I’ll pass. (And maybe even then.)

3. CPR Reviving People

You don’t give CPR to someone who’s still breathing, for example, and you rarely use it to "bring someone back."

This isn’t something that used to bug me until my husband (a CPR instructor) pointed it out years ago, and now I can’t shake it either. CPR doesn’t actually revive people very often, even when it’s done correctly, and most ordinary folks don’t do it correctly. (The sheer amount of movies and TV shows that get the process wrong seem evidence enough that it’s not a wide-spread, easily understood skill set.) So how do so many freaking characters get brought ‘back to life’ by CPR? It drives me nuts. Not only that it’s so unlikely in real life and so very common in fiction, but also that it’s often the case even in situations where CPR wouldn’t make any difference at all. You don’t give CPR to someone who’s still breathing, for example, and you rarely use it to bring someone back; you use it to keep them from experiencing brain death until an ambulance can get there. Smh.

4. “The Other” as the Explanation for Horror

Okay here’s one that’s actually important enough that it could easily merit an entire blog post, so I’ll try to keep this short for now. I love speculative horror, but I hate, hate, hate when the big reveal or explanation for the supernatural element is that it’s some other culture’s bogey. Personally, I often don’t even want my horror “explained,” but if you’re going to explain it, you damn well better have a better source than pointing to Vietnamese folklore or tribal Africans or Native American legend. If your whole book is set in another culture, that’s one thing. But if your book is set in white American culture and your explanation for the scary thing is that it came from Somewhere Else, not only are you probably being racist, but you’re being lazy. Why does that group have magic if your protagonist’s people don’t? And how does that make it more believable for a reader wanting an explanation? That’s just passing the supernatural buck.

5. Quiet Guns

Have you ever fired a gun? That shit’s loud. Even at a gun range with proper ear protection. Can you even imagine how loud it would be if you fired in an enclosed space with nothing to cover your ears? Really. Fucking. Loud. If your characters end up in that situation, they better not be able to hear for a while afterward. Their ears should be ringing at the very least, and potentially damaged depending on the firearm and the space. They definitely can’t keep whispering as they sneak up on the next bad guy. *eyeroll* (And for you naysayers, it can be done. Example 1. Example 2.)

6. Easy Genius Skills

Are there geniuses in this world? Absolutely. There are savants of various natures. But unless you’re intentionally writing one, having your character be easily brilliant at a skill that actually takes years and years of practice is annoying af. Do they play the piano like Beethoven? They should’ve worked their ass off for years to get that good. Do they do ballet with breathtaking grace? Then their body ought to show the wear of a life of physical hardship. Are they a writer unparalleled by the likes of man? Then let them have some practice novels in the trunk, dude. Genius is very rarely a pure, unpracticed gift; having characters who make it seem so is misleading and usually unrealistic.

7. Darkness

Hospitals don’t go full spooky, y’all.

This one’s mostly for shows and films. I’m not a fan of using darkness (as in a lack of light, not content) as a budget-saver, but even that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the ludicrousness of having notoriously well-lit settings be dark for the sake of atmosphere to the detriment of reality. Morgues are not dim and creepy; they’re cold and well-lit. FBI headquarters actually have full access to electricity. And even when medical professionals stay after-hours, they at least keep the light on in the room they’re in. Hospitals don’t go full spooky, y’all. If you can’t set the mood without randomly, artificially dimming the lights, I think you need to try harder.

8. Unproblematic “Knocking Out”

Being knocked unconscious by a blow is a big deal. It means you’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury. If you remain unconscious for more than a few moments, it means you’re probably boned. If you remain unconscious for hours without medical care, you’re pretty likely to die. But somehow, folks in fiction are getting knocked out willy-nilly (strangely coinciding with the convenience of plotting for the writer) and waking up the next day feeling just fine. Funny how that plays out, isn’t it? If you can’t get your character from one plot point to the next without knocking them out, then at least write in the repercussions of having severe brain swelling, ya dig?

9. Ending on a Cliff Hanger

I’m starting to see a trend, that many of my personal fiction pet peeves relate to laziness on the part of the writer(s). Some of these things can work some of the time, but far too often they’re used because they’re easier than coming up with something better. And perhaps the worst of all, in my opinion, is the cliff-hanger. At the end of a chapter, I don’t care; I can turn the page. At the end of an episode I’m annoyed. At the end of a book, season, or movie: raaaaage. Are you so insecure in what you’ve done with your first story that you think the only way to get someone to buy/read/watch the next is by forcing them to in order to find out what happens? Ugh. Drives me nuts. Write a good book or make a good show, and I’ll keep consuming. Try to manipulate me into continuing on and I’m out.

What are your biggest, smallest, weirdest, or most specific pet peeves as a reader or viewer? What’s your most important? Rants are welcome below, although call creators out at your own risk. ;)

About the author

Annie Neugebauer likes to make things as challenging as possible for herself by writing horror, poetry, literary, and speculative fiction—often blended together in ways ye olde publishing gods have strictly forbidden. She’s a two-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated author with work appearing and forthcoming in more than a hundred publications, including magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Apex, and Black Static, as well as anthologies such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volumes 3 & 4 and #1 Amazon bestsellers Killing It Softly and Fire. She’s an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and in addition to LitReactor, a columnist for Writer Unboxed. She’s represented by Alec Shane of Writers House. She needs to make new friends because her current ones are tired of hearing about House of Leaves. You can visit her at for news, poems, organizational tools for writers, and more.

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