Every reader I’ve ever spoken with has literary pet peeves. One of the challenges of being a writer is identifying when an editorial suggestion is valid across most of her potential readers, and when it’s a matter of personal preference.
I recently joined an online workshop, and it’s been extremely useful. The reviews and critiques I’ve gotten have pointed out writing tics and quirks that I probably wouldn’t have noticed myself. Being too close to one’s work means that I see the pores of the writing, but I couldn’t possibly recognize problems like repetitive structure and reliance on clichés in my style. I’m a new writer, and it’s entirely normal for me to have these issues. Getting those sorts of critiques is an exciting experience for me! It gives me the opportunity to pull back and say what I really meant to say, without feeling hackneyed. It’s like washing grit from the pretty stained glass I’ve made.
There are also critiques that are hard to hear but incredibly necessary. No one wants to hear that they’ve left an immense plot hole in their novel. It made sense when I was writing it down, dammit! But these sorts of problems are critical. Anything that throws the reader out of the story and makes the suspension of disbelief come crashing down MUST be fixed. Thankfully, the holes in Prisoner of War were found in early edits, and I had ready answers for them. It was in my head, just not on the page.
Then, finally, there are the pet peeves. For example, any story, anywhere, that starts out in either present tense (she moves to the door) or is written in second person (you moved to the door), or god forbid both (you move to the door) is guaranteed to make my eye twitch. They simply don’t feel like a story to me; the tactics get in the way rather than add to the story. Even worse, they feel contrived to me.
But this is extremely personal. Some people love the immediacy of present tense. It makes them feel as though the story is happening word by word directly in front of them, like in a movie. This is done to good effect in White Cat by Holly Black, which is wildly popular. Second person is widely recognized as difficult to get right. One example is Complicity by Iain Banks, who has the literary chops to get away with trying something that difficult.
So what does this have to do with my own writing in Prisoner of War? Well, I’ve run up against critiques where it’s clear (sometimes to the reviewer, sometimes not) that some objections are simply personal preference rather than an objective critique. One reviewer dislikes multiple points of view when one of them is first person and the others are third person. Another feels I put in far too many descriptive terms, to the extreme suggestion that I pull out ALL of them.
As writers and readers, we need to recognize when we have a stubborn bias against a particular style. I think it’s extremely important for us to look past those preferences and simply try to enjoy them. If you’re a die-hard SF fan, just try reading a paranormal romance novel. If you never read non-fiction, pick up a biography on historical figure you admire. Don’t talk yourself into bypassing them, into staying in familiar waters. Take a deep breath and TRY.