What are your “red flags” in books?

  • asterisks to imply action *
    Lol jk that’s charming af


I’ve got three major ones I look for.

1: “It was a typical day…” “Mary Sue was your average…” type intros. I hate them. They’re boring, overdone, and make for a lame introduction to your overpowered character.

2: If I don’t have some reason to like the main character by the end of chapter one, I’m putting the book down and I’m never picking it back up. I’ve read through enough novels to know that wishing the main character would die doesn’t make for an enjoyable reading experience.

3: Language. If the language is clunky and annoying to read, I’m not going to sit and decipher it. A good example is from a series I recently read, in which each book is told from the perspective of one of seven grandchildren. It’s as though you’re reading their journals. One of them has a mental disorder, causing him to barely be able to write. Trying to read that through a 300 page book was a nightmare. I will never finish the book because of it.


People actually do that. I understand fun stuff like author interviews. But…they talk to their characters in ANs? That’s hilarious. I need examples of this.


What’s wrong with present tense third person? (Just asking because that’s how my current book is written :stuck_out_tongue: ) Just as an example, I’m pretty sure that’s how the Hunger Games was written


yes. a quote should show how your story is different, not how it is the same


I have issues when the story is very superficial and shallow. Life makes you suffer, and life brings pure joy. I want to know what is on the characters heart and mind. The only way the writer can do that is by delving into the deepest depths of their souls and sharing a piece of themselves from places they didn’t even know they had. When the tale never really goes past things like people’s appearances or what there favorite pillow pet is or something, I find myself scrolling through a lot. But things where a character shows some deep spiritual wisdom, or things where you get to see a character transcend and rise above the dark circumstances of where they have come from, those are the things that I like to see. I like to see the depth of the character. Look at the story Frankenstein from Mary Shelly. “Awake fairest, thy lover awaits. He who would give his life but to obtain one look of affection from thine eyes. My beloved, awake.”-the unnamed monster. He started out as a baby that never asked to be here. He was abandoned, mistreated, all he wanted was to be loved. But nobody could see him, they only saw the form. He lashed out and did terrible things because of this. But in his own way, he attempted to make things right in the end. This is what classic stories are all about, because this is what life things are all about.


Over powered characters really turn me away. however, I do make exceptions for some stories depending on the expectations I had for the book initially haha. :sweat_smile:

  1. Bad grammar and spelling
    A friend of mine told me I should read Anna Todd’s After, because it was supposed to be amazing. The first sentence, I spot two exclamation marks. Two. In one sentence. Nope.
  2. Waking up and going to school scenes
    Unless there’s an interesting twist, I usually put the book down if the first chapter starts with the girl waking up, showering, and going to school.
  3. Whiny characters I’m supposed to root for
    For example, the best friend in The Kissing Booth. What was his deal? Really? Don’t get him.
  4. Shallow characters I’m supposed to root for
    coughs Bella Swan
  5. Abusive bad boys
  6. Discrimination and racism, or cultural insensitivity
  7. “Call me daddy”

And a whole lot of other stuff. I’m really nit-picky :see_no_evil::sweat_smile:


I’d support the enemy on chapter one if they’re likable. :woman_shrugging: The MC, though? It depends on the story. There’s a lot of stories that I love that don’t have likable main characters. City of Bones, for example, has a horrible main character. I can’t stand reading from Clary or Jace’s perspectives, but I enjoy reading the story from the other perspectives.

And sometimes, the the unlikable main character can grow on you, so it depends on what I’m reading. :wink:

@Elflia If it starts out with a morning routine or a giant info-dump on the character (typically “Hi, my name is…”) or world building.

It would also be a red flag if I can’t understand what’s going on.

If there’s a cliche trope that doesn’t seem to feel like it’ll twist in the story.

Giant walls of text.

Stereotypical characters.

Characters who don’t think logically.

And, like everyone else says, the lack of editing is a major red flag. image


Oh, I get you. But this can work SO WELL. One German author does it, Walter Moers, and he uses the protagonist’s hubris perfectly. Said protagonist is an author himself (and some kind of dragon, at that), and there are moments when he just goes off on a tangent for PAGES to explain something stupidly irrelevant to the reader. Rarely have I been so entertained than when I read a Moers. He plays you so well. xD

… and I just realized you said author -> characters, and not protagonist -> reader. My bad, I woke up from bad dreams and I’m not quite awake, it seems. But Moers is still good! Yeah. :joy:

One giant red flag I have when it comes to books is the “Bad Boy”. Mostly used in Romance afaik, this kind of character just oozes arrogance and disregard for his peers. He doesn’t love the heroine, he desires her and strives to make her his own, and that makes it impossible for me to enjoy any of it. I keep books with these characters miles away from me.

Done right, you can turn this trope upside down. But there aren’t many writers who have the skill necessary to do that, or I haven’t found them yet. :thinking:


My guess is that this usually happens because the author has tried to write one of the more difficult hero types, and their writerly ambition exceeds their writing ability. Some hero types are more difficult to write than others, but can be more engaging and enduring when done well.

For example, when I encounter an MC that makes me put down the book without finishing, or makes me want to see the antagonist win, it’s usually because the author is trying to create an ‘everyman’ unwilling hero - a Frodo Baggins or Katniss Everdeen - and in an effort to achieve relatable realism, ends up making the character too whiny or timid or smart-ass or whatever. Since Frodo, the underdog under-hero has been popular in fantasy and other genres, the way the anti-hero defined Noire.

In this case, the author has forgotten that in most successful literature (esp. escapist literature), the baseline for ‘realistic’ is different than in the real world. Every important character should be heroic in some way - otherwise, they’re lame, and boring to read about.

Other hero types that can be difficult to execute well:

  • a willing hero: easily comes across as unbelievably gung-ho, shallow, cocky, and unrelatable.
  • a classical knightly hero, like Wonder Woman or Superman or Aragorn in LotR. They’re easy to write, but hard to write in a memorable and compelling way, because they’re difficult to relate to and can too easily come across as shallow.
  • a tragic hero: out of style. Who wants to read about losers?
  • an antihero: okay, an anti-hero has to have one or more dominant flaws, but choose the wrong flaw or get the ‘redeeming / negative qualities’ ratio wrong, and readers are going to root for the villain.

This is a ‘gotcha’ I’ve learned to be wary of as an aspiring writer. I don’t like the over-powered hero/heroine trope myself, so err on the side of flawed, forgetting that a person who would be considered a veritable paragon of virtue in the real world, can come across as an irredeemable asshole in a novel :slight_smile:


– brooding fae males (sjm)
– bad boy falls in love with shy/nerdy girl
– crime following a mc in the police
– people saying “babe” all the time. I just don’t like it.
– sole motivation being sex (staring at blue moon)
– mc crazy spoiled (staring at the selection #4)
– childlike writing style (mostly when I read MG and it’s not really something to com compain about, but some I just can’t get through bc of the writing.,fx. Rick Riordan’s newer series)


When the protagonist was all serious and motivated to achieve their goals and then suddenly turns into mush every time they see or think about their romantic interest. Really kills the vibe for me.


I always find it so irritating when the relationship between the two main protagonists is rushed. Like, they meet in the first chapter and then are suddenly crazy in love by the second chapter. I also hate how this can overshadow what potentially might be a great story.


My red flag is a really weak opening.

If the story begins with a person waking up from a dream, that is generally a bad sign for me

Another one includes a long and detailed description about the main character before the story even begins.


Red flags:

  • Useless backstories
  • Intro is just full of description without any character introduction (although this is situational)
  • Action scenes that are too dynamic and over described ('he spun his silver sword in a 195 degree arc, grasping firmly onto the golden snake like hilt, breathing frantically as he struggled to pierce the beast in front of him)
  • Sad scenes without build up
  • Meaningless characters
  • Stupid MC
  • Common sense is thrown out the window plots
  • Making a big situation out of nothing plots

I can go on forever


What do you mean by tragic hero? What makes them a loser? (We may have diff. definitions of tragic)


That threw me a bit right now. May I ask what you mean by a “useless” backstory? I always appreciate some background to the characters and strive to work their backstory into the narrative somewhat, sometimes only for them to realize that they have lost certain important memories, and with regaining them come new insights etc.

So… I always thought there can’t be any useless backstory. Do you have an example?


I may have mis-worded that, I also meant backstories that are thrown in at awkward times.
Also some backstories end up giving us no relevance to the plot and fail to build any emotional connection with out characters, hence useless (or in other words ineffective).


So it’s more about the execution than the backstory itself, I suppose? Maybe I’m just slow right now. xD