3 Common Mistakes Which Can Frustrate The Reader

As writers we never intentionally set out to frustrate the reader, but mistakes happen and blunders are made, ones which we usually wish someone had enlightened us on at some point in time. So here I go, aiming to shine a light on those common slip-ups which can make the reader say, “Ah, what?”

Naming Your Non-Speaking Characters

As you’re no doubt aware, when we name the major players in our story, this is our reader’s clue that this person is someone of importance, and they’ll note those names and pay attention. So that being the case, make sure you don’t make the mistake of naming your non-speaking/non-pivotal characters. Your reader isn’t going to care about the name of the next door neighbor, or the waitress who serves her coffee, the delivery boy, or even the name of the cute dog who lives next door and wags his tail.

You want to make certain you don’t frustrate your reader, because those clues they look for can get lost within the maze of names if you do. So keep in mind, that unless the person serves an essential role, they should remain a nameless prop within your story.

Too Many Bodily Processes

Here we go— Her heart raced. She struggled to catch her breath. Her heart beat in her chest. She sobbed in choking gulps.

Yeah, sometimes I’ve read too many of these short “shows” within a half page of writing, and I’ve actually wondered if the heroine is about to have a heart attack (if you get my drift.) This can be frustrating for the reader, so make sure you go easy on these, and ensure you show in all the ways we have open to us as writers. Always remember to include strong dialogue and narration to drive your scene, giving a good blend of all the elements.


Characters Calling Each Other By Name — When Is It Too Much?

Oh boy, this is a something that frustrates me when I’m reading a book. And to explain it fully, let me set the scene to give you an accurate description of what I mean.

Here Jack is sitting on a chair in the dining room, and Jane comes in after a long day at work. It’s just the two of them having a conversation.

“Did you have a bad day, Jane?” Jack sat forward, watching her intently.

She tilted her head, and blew out a breath. “Jack, what was your first clue?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Jane. Perhaps it was the way you stomped into the room.” He stroked his jaw. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

She clenched her fists and glared. “I hate my job, Jack. I can’t stand being the one everyone unloads their work on.”

Okay, I went overboard on the name use, but what I’m trying to point out is that any reader will get that Jack and Jane are having a conversation, and as writers, we need to eliminate any overuse of our characters’ names. So often I’ll be reading a passage where it’s just the hero and heroine present and they’re saying each other’s names in general conversation as I’ve recorded above. But why? I mean how often do you say someone’s name once you’re already speaking to them?

And to make certain we’re all on the same page, here’s the example rewritten without the overuse of names—

“Did you have a bad day, Jane?” Jack sat forward, watching her intently.

She tilted her head, and blew out a breath. “What was your first clue?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps it was the way you stomped into the room.” He stroked his jaw. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

She clenched her fists and glared. “I hate my job. I can’t stand being the one everyone unloads their work on.”

As you see, the dialogue was strong enough to dispense with the names straight after the opening line. It was more than obvious exactly who was speaking. So, once your scene is set, and your reader knows who is who, then don’t bring their names back in until the scene changes, or it’s unclear who’s speaking, or you’re just plain driven to drop that name back in. (And you’ll know what I mean when that happens, but until then, judge your own writing and don’t allow yourself to go overboard.)


Question: Of the three common mistakes I’ve mentioned, which frustrates you the most when you’re reading? And if there’s any other that really exasperates, make sure you tell me and I’ll mention them in a future post. Because that’s what I’m all about–ensuring writers support writers by keeping us all informed.

That’s all folks, and I hope my blog post this week has been immensely helpful. If you haven’t joined me for your weekly dose of bite-sized writing tidbits and you’d like to, then simply check out the right-hand side panel, and enter your email address to “follow the blog.”  If you want, also click “like” on my FB author page to the right.  I love all the support.

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9 thoughts on “3 Common Mistakes Which Can Frustrate The Reader

  1. Hi Joanne

    All of the above bug me 🙂 On the names front, I find so many of my characters can be identified just as you have referred to them – the neighbor, waitress, gardener etc. You can vary the references by doing such thing as nosy neighbor etc, as long as you don’t over do it.

    I think you’re right about bodily processes, I don’t read much romance, but some of it ought to come with a defibrillator for the heroine 🙂


  2. Naming characters that don’t matter in the least is the worst. A big part of me treats a book like a mystery whether it is one or not- I try to figure out what will happen from the clues the offer gives and where the author chooses to spend his or her time in the world. So when an author names people that don’t matter I feel violated- like it was a red herring of the worst kind: an unintentional one. I can’t stand it. Thanks for the tips!

  3. LOL this made me chuckle – the passage where Jack and Jane keep calling each other by name. It’s like they were annoyed with each other instead of her being annoyed with her job. Those are great tips, thanks for sharing them with us!

    There are some authors who do things that annoy me but none that were covered today.

    Have a fab day!

  4. All that you have mentioned bug me when I am trying to read a story. What really gets on my nerves though is when a writer spends too much time on detail. Like for example, the main character is arriving at a house he/she has never been to before and the author will spend three pages describing the house. Giving detail is important in writing so it can spark the readers imagination but too much detail is boring. Honestly once I have a visual of the place in my mind I skip the other pages and move on with the story.

    1. That gets me, too, Tabitha. I do the same thing as you and skip ahead. Also if I’m reading something the writer has already mentioned beforehand to do with plot, I get bored and jump ahead. It’s like, hello, I’m clever enough to remember that part. Hey, thanks for the comment. Love it.

  5. hi Joanne, love your work.

    I think the overuse of the character name is the worst. I try to keep it flowing naturally, otherwise when you read it back (out loud) it sounds stunted and very odd. We don’t talk that way so don’t write that way. At times I even drop ‘said…’ all together, unless it appears confusing who said what or a third character appears on/in the scene. Remember the ‘show, not tell’ rule, readers are not stupid an have an imagination of their own, we need only show/describe hints to a scene through another character and the reader will pick up on that without being told. I think you’ll know what I mean. Keep up the good work. Rick

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