James Alan Gardner at SF Novelists offers a nifty list of boneheaded things writers do that force him to just put the book down and walk away. I find I have a lot in common with his point of view:

… a boring book doesn’t make me mad; my interest just dwindles until I never pick up the book again. On the other hand, there are some books I’ve been reading along with pleasure, when suddenly, sometimes at an exact word, I stop and say, “No farther.” I’m not the sort of person who hurls books across the room, but I’m definitely the sort to remember and hold a grudge. How can a story that’s going along well plunge so abruptly down the tubes?

I’ve only ever once actually hurled a book across the room. That one occasion was the result of one of the items on James’ list:

A diabolus ex machina is the same as a deus ex machina but with a devil instead of a god. I use it for those times that an author artificially pours crap on some character’s head, just to make a situation more dire.

I accept that characters always have to face obstacles; characters usually have to suffer; characters sometimes go through gut-wrenching ordeals. But I hate it when the pain happens arbitrarily. Nothing turns me off faster than the author trying to squeeze out more pathos by piling up flukes of bad luck.

In my case, the book I was reading (and I admit this somewhat sheepishly) was The Witching Hour by Anne Rice, and the author had just heaped one too many troubles upon the head of the very likable and empathetic character, Michael Curry. I’d like to know what happened to him some day (or maybe not… he was clearly being set up for still more troubles down the road.) But so far as I’m concerned, Rice broke the boundaries of our reading relationship that day and — while I’m really not the sort to hold a grudge — I haven’t read a word of her work since.

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