Top 7 terrible things modern writers do

Updated: Aug 1, 2018

Maybe I'm getting old, but I keep on seeing the same old things pop up in modern books. New writers, take note.

Here are the top seven things modern writers do which I hate

1. Poor command of the English language

The depth and breadth of the English language has been forgotten; writers will describe their characters as "very sad" instead of "devastated". Modern writers will go for the most direct meaning, rather than explaining things through metaphor, simile, and analogy. For modern writers, sentences are about conveying information, helping the scene to move from one action point to the next.

"In our village, folks say God crumbles up the old moon into stars." — Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Taken from one of my favourite books ever, this sentence is art in word form.

You should read the works of Truman Capote, Mary Shelley or Oscar Wilde — their sentences are so deliciously constructed I could dine on their words, while at the same time, their writing serves to build character, reflect on themes and move along the plot.

Modern writers aren't writing in a post-modern style. James Joyce — while at times wrote a garbled mess — was a post-modern writer who had a firm command over the English language. Modern writers are just lazy, producing poorly written prose.

2. Poor use of grammar: only using commas and periods

I turn giddy inside when I see a book I'm about to read contains more than the basic punctuations of a period or comma — give me an em dash or a semicolon and I'm a happy girl. Without the full range of punctuation an author's writing is lacklustre; it can even obscure the meaning of their sentences because they're not using the language properly.

3. Lack of moral teachings

I love a good story as much as the next person, but what I really love — and the stories which stick with me — are the ones which teach me something about the world; the ones where I walk away thinking about the moral or message of the book. While it's not a crime for books to entertain, I think it bland when the writer's sole purpose is to entertain. If you don't have anything interesting to say, why bother saying it at all? It's really just self-indulgence.

This point is the main reason why modern fiction reads like junk food — easily consumed, leaving the reader with nothing.

4. Bland or stereotypical characters

Characters don't resemble real people, rather ideas of real people. Often, characters read as if they're based on other characters from other books, rather than being based on real people. Sometimes, a character's flaws are so inconsequential they don't matter — they succeed because of their flaws rather than succeeding because they overcame their flaws.

5. Reliance on cliffhangers and cheap thrills

Rather than creating an engaging story, modern writers often rely on cheap thrills. The worst offender is the trop of "the phone rung" or "there was a knock on the door" right at the end of a chapter. This makes the reader read on, not because it is an engaging story, but because of cheap excitement which momentarily sparks the reader's natural curiosity. I miss intelligently written plot lines.

Modern writers also tend to shoehorn an action scene in, simply to thrill the reader. While the actions scenes may be written well from a technical stand point, they're bland because the reader knows the scene is meaningless in the long run; they know the hero won't die, won't get hurt, won't feel the consequences of the fight. If a character is going to do something it has to mean something.

Remember Newton's third law:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction

There has to be consequence for what happens in the your book, if not, it's just a cheap thrill.

6. The "pay off" moment, without the necessary build up

Writers do this all the time; suddenly pause the non-stop action in the book for a supposedly heartwarming moment. But pay off is all about set up, set up — particular character set up — is about tension and conflict, but most importantly, making us care about the character. Without this, the character's declaration of love, or their sacrifice is meaningless.

7. Tropes

I get so tired of reading tropes in books; give me fresh and original content. Tropes are connected to stereotypical characters — you have one, usually you'll have the other. You can find a really great list of genre tropes here.