There's been an interesting discussion on the mystery list Dorothy L this week on what readers want to see less of and more of in mysteries. Although it was just a small sampling of mystery readers (some of them were also writers), it was very enlightening.
As writers, we're constantly bombarded with advice. The problem is much of it is conflicting. One expert will tell us that readers want books about serial killers. Another will tell us we have to have a dead body on the first page. Yet another will tell us our protagonists must not only have problems, they must be flawed--no one wants to read about an ordinary person.
Here are the things that some readers would be happy to never see again in a book:
Alcoholic protagonists, especially cops.
A body on the first page.
Prologues in the serial killer's point of view.
Thoughtful and insightful FBI agents.
Idiot FBI agents/cops.
Making the killer too bizarre.
Cliffhangers at the end of every chapter.
Hmm. A lot to think about.
I have to agree with a couple of these items. I don't like the current trend of the extremely flawed protagonist. Some are so screwed up, even their mothers wouldn't like them. If I don't have sympathy for a character, I don't want to read about them.
The other one I agree with is the tiresome, bizarre killer. When a writer tries to make his character the most evil person who ever walked the face of the earth, he loses me. Killers should be complicated. A killer who is an ordinary person until something or someone pushed them over the edge is much scarier to me than the boogeyman. This "ordinary" killer could be anyone.
The item on the list that surprised me is that some readers don't want cliffhangers at the end of chapters. I don't think I've ever read a book that didn't have some kind of hook at the end of most chapters. We don't want the reader to put the book down, so we try to make sure they don't. Makes sense to me. But one person on the list hinted that using cliffhangers was taking the easy way out. Just write a good book and she'll keep reading. Ouch.
But come to think of it--isn't that our job? To write a good book? We'll never make everyone happy, so the best advice is just to write the best book we can.
So what do you think? Do you agree with what these readers said? What would you be happy to never see in a book again? And, while we're at it, what would you like to see more of in books?