Reviewer Warnings to Writers #1: Skip the Head Dipping

Over the past few weeks, I've been grabbing a little time here and there to make a study of one-star reviews of fantasy books on Amazon. The content of such reviews has been sometimes funny, but more often very telling. A detailed picture of "what not to do" as an author. Now, granted, I tend to skip over the one-star reviews where the reviewer makes an idiot of him- or herself by spouting vitriol, or spelling every third word wrong, or using syntax that requires the reader to employ a combination of creativity and mind-altering substances to make sense of the reviewer's point.

Anyway, once the chaff blows yonder, what's left is a specific list of what makes readers so mad they feel they have to stand in front of the book in question and wave their arms wildly, saying "Turn back! Turn back! Don't suffer like I did."

One of the biggest reader offenders I'm running into is what I'll call "head dipping." What I mean by that is a story that interrupts itself continually to give us the point of view character's internal monologue. It seems a lot of writers not only head dip too often, but the feelings they are talking about in their characters are whiny, insecure, pathetic, and annoying. It's true we all feel like that when we're confronted with overwhelming circumstances, but it seems the bulk of fantasy readers don't want to hear about it. They want the story to forge onward. They want to see the character's conflicts, they want to hear the dialogue that reveals little snippets of the characters' inner distress, but more than one visit in a very great while to any remotely emo passages, and you readers will let the world know--loud and clear--that they think it stinks.

While frequent passages of musing may work literary wonders in "serious" forms of prose, it appears to me fantasy is surely not one of them--from a reader perspective. Since most of us who write genre fiction are indeed writing for readers, I believe we would do well to heed the issues that inspire one-star reviews. As I turn up more recurring themes in these boo-hiss reviews, I'll be back to share what those are. And as always, I invite your commentary on what you think about the observations I bring up here.

Happy reading and writing, friends!


  1. Emphasis on the whining--and on the character sitting around thinking to the exclusion of doing anything, or not using scene and sequel correctly (spending too much time in sequel, which is where the character is deciding what their next move will be.)

    A good reason to get a one star review: the reviewer detected and didn't like your Jesus. :)

  2. Oh wow. That is not what I expected from 1 star reviews. Really? The whining emo passages? I'm assuming they mean the ones that go on for pages, right? A paragraph or two of a character figuring stuff out for the sake of plot doesn't count, does it?

  3. That is really clever, reading reviews on Amazon to see what mistakes writers make. Very clever :).

  4. I agree, Kat. I had honestly never thought of that, but it's certainly making me think! Especially now as I'm working on the *fingers crossed* final edit of my novel.

  5. @Andrea: You touch on what will likely be #2 on the list--parallels to Christianity that many readers call "preachy" and end up being a deal breaker to a crossover audience. It's a sticky situation we writers have to navigate with care. But more on that later...

    Thanks for dropping in!

  6. @Kessie--I think it has to do with frequency and tone of the dips. If a character is honestly figuring out plot points, I haven't seen any readers whining about that, but I do see male fantasy readers having a problem with continual angst the character does nothing about. (And female reviewers too, but not with the frequency and level of frustration as the men.)

    I think it all comes back to the story. If the story moves forard best by visiting the character's inner journey, then we should include it. If it's a speed bump, we shouldn't. Just my newbie opinion. :)

  7. @Kat: Thanks for the visit and the props. :D

    @Mary: May your work in progress have great success as you start introducing it to the world!

  8. Becky, this is a really valuable analysis. As Kat said,very clever. And I'm relieved that this post wasn't about what I thought of when I saw the title. I thought you were going to tell us we couldn't write stories depicting full-immersion baptisms.

  9. @Kristen-Thanks for my laugh for the night. Carry on, baptize in whatever way your characters deem appropriate. :)

  10. An interesting point, one I hadn't thought about. I, for one, do use monologue perhaps more often than I should. I never thought that a reader might just find it annoying. But I believe this is also subjective. I read a book a while ago about two werewolves that were in love (by a secular writer), and the author often expressed the characters's feelings in a form of monologue, and I loved that book. I suppose it comes down to characterization, being able to do that without them sounding "whiny" as Becky pointed out.

    Too little monologue can also grant one-star reviews. I once read a review for a book I had just bought. The review said simply "She walked, she slept, she ate..." The book has been gathering dust on my bookshelf for over five years.


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