How to Frustrate Readers


Try one or more of the following and see if you can achieve status as an “advanced frustrater.”

1. Signal your intent to frustrate early on with ​liberal use of typos. Put one in the title to show you are REALLY serious.

2. Speaking of titles, try to make sure yours has little or nothing to do with the content of your story.

3. Don’t just let your typos “happen,” make them happen. Engineer some corkers yourself — just start deleting letters or switching them for the one next-door on the keyboard. Readers will just have to puzzle them out, even when it’s neigh impossible. Stwllar trock!

4. Use run-on sentences, sentence fragments, and non-sensical run-on sentence fragments to spice things up.

5. Make up your own grammar rules and stick to them — until you don’t — and readers will be dazzled.

6. Fail to introduce your lead character until you’re past the midpoint of the story.

7. Write set-up after set-up with no payoffs.

8. Build up and put a spotlight on something in your story and then let it turn out to be nothing, like a noise you hear at night that you never are able to discern.

9. Forget writing the climax. Fill your pages with a glacial opening instead.

10. Repeat yourself, over and over and over…

11. Include plenty of holes in your story, so the plot reads like Swiss cheese.

12. Put in so many characters that your readers feel they are in Tokyo subway station.

13. Make your writing as dry as possible — aim for the arid language of a shirt label.

14. Avoid conflict, the extraordinary, and the rare.

15. Never evoke emotion.

16. If you do need to turn up the dial up on emotion, express yourself in an emotionally tone-deaf manner.

17. Make the shape of your story a flat line.

18. Avoid all change. If it was good enough for page one, still good on page 753!

19. Use tons of jargon, slang, and dialect words that no one will understand. If you don’t know any, just be inventive, and never offer context clues or explanations.

20. Give one character an unusual (made-up!) accent and write it out fon-et-ick’ly.

21. Head-hop so readers are constantly trying to figure out who is saying what. You can jump from one point-of-view to the next sentence-by-sentence if you get on a roll.

22. Give all your characters similar names — or better the same name! “Hi! I’m John! Hi! I’m John too! This is Jon, my brother! We all go by the nickname ‘J!’”

23. Make your characters one-dimensional — or perfect — or both. Everyone loves a Pollyanna, the perfect, irrepressibly optimistic, cardboard-cutout character.

24. Use the worst possible tropes — unforgivingly — and in unworkable combinations.

25. Make sure readers can guess the ending on page one.

26. Better yet, make sure there is no ending, just a lot of handwaving for the last quarter of the book.

27. Copy another book — imitation is the best compliment.

28. Label the book as one genre but write it as another. If the back-flap suggests that your book, All The Girls Love Daniel, is a classic romance, why not make Daniel a stallion and deliver a Western? Readers love a good bait-and-switch. Get creative, this trick works with any combination of genres.

29. Ignore narrative structure and the three-act story structure — who needs ALL the literary elements? Boring!

30. Go to the dictionary of dead words and pick a nosegay of vernacularisms that no one will know and use them willy-nilly and without definition.

31. Forget any semblance of continuity. If they drive on the left-side of the road in the beginning of the book, have them drive on the right by the end — you’re just shaking it up!

32. Have your characters do out-of-character things all the time — but always in a new way.

33. Patterns create depth and beauty in stories — choose randomness!

34. Write often about things that you fail to understand, have never done, and wish to know nothing about. The authenticity of the inauthenticity of the subsequent writing will provoke readers to frown so hard their faces will turn upside down.

35. Add no sensory details. Readers will feel like they are in a sensory-deprivation tank and that can be very relaxing.

36. Add monologues, but not from the hero or the villain and certainly not broaching any topic of heart-rending substance.

37. Make sure your dialogue is wooden and your exposition is as dense as the Black Forest. In contrast, your descriptions should be bloated and imprecise.

38. Never stoop to adding a cliff-hanger or any kind of hook that might pique curiosity and fill a reader’s head with questions that keep the pages turning.

39. Don’t stop here. Always be on the look-out for new ways to frustrate readers. Practice makes perfect.

Do you have special ways to frustrate readers or techniques that will make any sensible person put a book down? Share them in the comments section!


Alberta Sequeira
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