Little Miss Know-It-All

I think we’ve all met at least one Miss (or Mister) Know-It-All in our lifetime.  This person can readily inform you of the proper way to juice a pomegranate; suggest better yielding stocks in your retirement portfolio; and recite a dissertation about the incompetence of today’s parents – no research needed.

If that’s not annoying enough, the Know-It-All lays claim to all the best ideas.  Even if the original thought was not their own, they build on the foundation, convince themselves the idea was their baby – and then, they can even get you to believe it too.  The Know-It-All is slicker than a used car sales person dipped in margarine.

Perhaps you can see why it disturbs me to realize that I’m a fiction Miss Know-It-All.  In nearly every book I’ve read over the last couple months, I’ve had thoughts like:

  • “That character would’ve been so much more believable if he hadn’t been a cliché.”
  • “The story would’ve been richer if the nemesis hadn’t been so obviously messed up.  They should’ve thrown in some endearing qualities to make me feel sorry for her.”
  • “The main character got off too easy.  She should’ve faced more struggles before getting what she wanted.”

These authors just need to tell me: “If you think you can do better, go write a book yourself.”

Yeah, that’d shut me up.  (Because I’m making soooo much progress on that endeavor ;))

I used to read just to read.  The only opinions I had at the end of a novel were: “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.”  Once upon a time, I didn’t re-dream characters or remodel an author’s concept.  Because I wrote (but didn’t publish a novel) and penned a few short stories, now I think I can improve on a published author’s story?

I confess I’m really a Miss Knows-Nothing-About-Everything dressing as Miss Know-It-All.  Though I looked darn good in those pumps, I’m going to return them to Miss Know-It-All.  And then I’m going to get to the business of writing my own novel.  There’s only one way to know for sure if I can write a better story:  prove it!

Tell me, what kind of reader are you?  Do you find yourself critiquing your leisure reading?  Can you push the analysis out of your mind and just enjoy the read?



30 thoughts on “Little Miss Know-It-All

  1. CreativeBeauty July 28, 2011 / 6:48 AM

    I can totally understand where you’re coming from. I find that as of late, I’m a critical reader. If it’s a really good novel, I’ll say the usual “I liked it.” If I didn’t like the book, it’s usually the tone or style of writing that would throw me off.

    • jannatwrites July 28, 2011 / 8:59 PM

      Good point about the writing style. That is a big factor in whether or not I like a book, too. I’ll often keep reading anyway just to see if I can learn to like it. (Smarter people would ditch the book and move on to another :))

      I’ll just be happy that I’m not a ‘negative’ Miss Know-It-All, because I do find novels that I like overall (except for one or two little things.)

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, CreativeBeauty. I hope you find your way over here again sometime 🙂

  2. Tori Nelson July 28, 2011 / 6:54 AM

    Well crud. I think I’m a faux Miss-Know-It-All, too. I’ve been doing a lot of critiquing as I read and I hardly realize when I’m doing it!

    • jannatwrites July 28, 2011 / 9:04 PM

      So, it looks like I’m in good company, then 🙂 Even though my nit-picking isn’t mean-spirited, I still feel bad for critiquing. (Which is weird because the author would never know anyway…)

      Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone, Tori!

  3. Richard W Scott July 28, 2011 / 6:56 AM

    I find that the books I really enjoy do not get my second-guessing voice going–or at least not as loudly, but yes. I do critique books I read. I seem to find every typo and error the typesetters (probably) made. I seen to hit on every “dead herring” (a promise made, or a gun placed on the mantle piece which is not fired).

    There is one other form of interaction I have with books that might be thought of to fall into the same category: it is when I argue with the writer about giving the protagonist a break. My better self knows that such a break would hurt the story, but my heart goes out for the character’s pain.

    …however, this, I think, is more a compliment than a critism. ))

    • jannatwrites July 28, 2011 / 9:10 PM

      “Dead herrings” are so annoying! (Like the term, by the way. I hadn’t heard that before.) I’ve read books where an event is made to seem significant, but it’s not elaborated on at all. It doesn’t happen often, thankfully.

      I think you are right – wanting the character to get a break is a compliment. It shows the author got you to care about the character. That’s a problem I’d love to have 🙂

      Thanks for your comment, Richard. I’m glad I’m not alone in the involuntary critiquing.

  4. timweaverwrites July 28, 2011 / 7:10 AM

    I still read just to read. Of course, if I plan to do any more writing, I need to learn how to ‘dissect’, yes? I am afraid that would ruin my reading for enjoyment, in much the way as my in ordinate amount of knowledge of firearms and how they work ruins my enjoyment of action movies.

    “There’s no way that gun would allow him/her to do that.”
    “That gun only has a 12 round magazine, 15 tops. He fired WAY more than that.”
    “That is a belt-fed machine gun…where are the empty casings and linkage?”
    and, in The Matrix (during the elevator shoot-out scene), “Those casings they’re showing hit the ground at NOT AT ALL the same ammunition that would go INTO that gun.”

    See what I mean?

    • jannatwrites July 28, 2011 / 9:19 PM

      I guess dissecting would be helpful, but I don’t fully dissect the stories either. It’s not like I’m looking for the story arc or excessive adverb usage or the long list of you’re-not-really-supposed-to-do-thats. I still enjoy reading despite my annoying habit of critiquing.

      I never pay that much attention to the details in movies (and I almost never see action movies) but I can see how it would be annoying to see stuff that is just wrong. Maybe you should be a consultant for the movie studios? (It’s kind of like a book I read recently where the character turned on a radio to hear the weather report during a power outage. I thought, ‘how could they do that if there’s no power?’ Then I decided it had to be an emergency radio. Nope. Several pages later, they were searching for a radio that didn’t take electricity and they couldn’t find one.)

      Thanks for visiting today. Hope you’re doing well!

  5. crumbl July 28, 2011 / 7:34 AM

    Where I believe any author fails in fiction is in the suspension of disbelief. If you have to question a character, a plot line, any element of the story rather than suspending your disbelief and being immersed against all rationality (of course there are talking dragons, and Peter Pan never grows up, and trees can walk and talk, and …) it’s a fail. With a more normative style of fiction, I think the key is to suspend the disbelief because identifying with the characters is so strong … we see parts of ourselves in them, or we know someone just like them (even if we don’t like them), so we identify.

    Ever watch a TV show or a movie with one (or more) characters you’re rooting for and other characters you love to hate? Some actors make a career out of playing parts you love to hate. They’re great at it and thoroughly admirable for always taking the “bad guy” roles. Love them or hate them, the characters engage a sympathetic (combined meaning here … resonance and identification) response. Books (stories) are the same.

    I’m self-admittedly arrogant in thinking I have any right to comment or critique your writing, JT. I saw more from the last story you posted than have I from some of your previous works. You admit character development isn’t your strong suit. I refer you to Isaac Asimov whose characters were drier than dust bunny flatulence, but whose technical knowledge carried the day for him. Then I refer you to Robert Heinlein, who probably didn’t know which end of a screwdriver was the business end, but created characters with whom you could identify.

    You have a voice that shines through when you let it. Sometimes, I think it’s self-doubt, sometimes, I think it’s lack of inspiration, never have I thought it was lack of ability or determination … otherwise, I just wore down my fingertips typing 4 paragraphs for nothing.

    And that’s MY Mr. Know-it-all discourse for today! 🙂

    • jannatwrites July 28, 2011 / 9:41 PM

      Everyone has a right to an opinion, Crumbl, and I don’t mind you sharing it. Dust bunny flatulence? Can’t say I’ve heard that one before 🙂 I agree with you on the suspension of disbelief. Even in fantasy fiction, the author develops the rules of that world, and the characters still must behave within those boundaries. As for Peter Pan, yes, it’s normal for Peter Pan to never grow up. But if Peter Pan shot lasers from his fingertips and wrestled cyborgs, that wouldn’t work within the setting of his world.

      How did you get in my head? I have bucket loads of self-doubt (the buckets runneth over.) In fact, every story I post, I get a sick feeling that maybe it’s terrible. (Like the crayon scribble drawings little kids do – they think they are museum quality, but really, they’re barely suitable for the refrigerator.) I don’t think ego will be a problem for me, that’s for sure. My mind travels to how much better everyone else is, prompting me to wonder why I even bother. Obviously, it’s not enough to stop my writing, but has slowed me down on the publishing road. One day, I’ll get past that…and when I do, I’ll have a stockpiled collection of writing.

      Thanks for sharing your insights, Crumbl. I appreciate the four paragraphs from a Mr. Know-It-All 🙂

  6. nrhatch July 28, 2011 / 10:03 AM

    If I’m reading on the computer, I’m in “editor” mode. If I’m reading in bed at night, I’m in “reader” mode and rarely feel like getting out of bed to get the red pen. 😀

    • jannatwrites July 28, 2011 / 9:51 PM

      I wouldn’t get out of bed to get a pen either! I wish I had the switch that would turn ‘off’ the “editor mode”.

      Thanks for stopping by, Nancy!

  7. pattyabr July 28, 2011 / 12:57 PM

    I guess I would never start reading a book if I second guessed the character or found them not to be credible. My biggest challenge is the flow of the words with reading. For example, I read Wicked and found it to be a challenging read. I had to listen to it on my IPod in order to understand the cadence of the writer. The same with Lake Wobegon Days. If you listen to Garrison Keillor speak he has a way of telling a story but to read the words on the page I have to listen to him speak in my head while reading in order to get the gist.

    • jannatwrites July 28, 2011 / 9:58 PM

      The critiques don’t come to mind until I’m halfway (or even further) through the book. By that time, I’m too invested to walk away (and I don’t ‘hate’ the story, so I feel I should see it through.)

      I agree that the writing style makes a big difference. When I’m not ordering online, I like to open a book to a random page and read several paragraphs to see if I like the style before I buy the book. I’ve not read either of these books, so I’m curious if they would strike me the same way. Either way, thank goodness for audio versions!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Patty!

  8. chlost July 28, 2011 / 3:15 PM

    I still love to read, and don’t dissect the story or characters very often. But typos drive me crazy!

    • jannatwrites July 28, 2011 / 10:00 PM

      I agree with you about typos. Funny thing is, I don’t catch too many of them because my mind sees what fits. So when I do see one, I know it’s bad 🙂

      Thanks for your comment, Chlost.

  9. clarbojahn July 28, 2011 / 4:46 PM

    If i can second guess the author it’s not a book worth reading in my opinion. I don’t want to waste my time. I’ve gotten pretty picky in what I read. Then after I’ve enjoyed the book I want to go back and dissect it.

    A course I took called “the Art of Reading” taught me what to look for in books and I’m still going off the list that gave me. I’m also heavy into memoirs. Although I just finished a Jodi Picoult called “Sing me Home”. I like her ethical dilemmas.

    • jannatwrites July 28, 2011 / 10:06 PM

      I read a Jodi Piccoult book last year (Vanishing Acts) and if I remember correctly, I enjoyed that one. I did like how she makes you see the shades of gray. In that story, someone broke the law, which is ‘wrong’, but the motivation was pure and selfless, so perhaps it’s justified.

      In the books I’ve read, the stories have been mostly good, so I like to see them through. I can count on one hand the books that I finished (with hopes that they would improve) only to be sorry I wasted the time.

      I’m glad you stopped by and shared your point of view, Clar 🙂

  10. pattisj July 28, 2011 / 7:32 PM

    I try to read for enjoyment, but it’s not so enjoyable with typos, etc. I don’t like words or names that aren’t in the dictionary where I can learn how to pronounce them, either. I like it simple, I don’t want to have to think too much when reading for pleasure.

    • jannatwrites July 28, 2011 / 10:09 PM

      I like to keep it simple, too, Patti! I’m too lazy to get the dictionary (or go online) when I’m leisure reading.

  11. Debbie July 29, 2011 / 12:55 PM

    Ah, Janna, have you been reading my mind?? I’m struggling with this same “flaw.” I start reading a novel for pleasure but somewhere along the line, my inner editor takes over and begins its critique — inane plot, unbelievable characters, incorrect grammar and punctuation, on and on. What’s wrong with me, I’ve been thinking. Glad to know others do it, too!

    • jannatwrites July 29, 2011 / 11:25 PM

      I haven’t been reading your mind, Debbie. If I was, I’m sure I’d find something I’d like to change 😉

      I’m so glad I’m not alone in this. I’ve felt so nit-picky and really, I have no room to judge someone else’s writing.

      Here’s hoping you find a story that pulls you in so deep you won’t remember to critique it. Thanks for sharing that you can relate to this!

  12. dorcas July 29, 2011 / 1:12 PM

    I read just to read… BUT I hate “know it all’s in my kitchen. ANybody who comes in and tells me what/ how to cook without me asking them.. GRRRRRR… They are on my hit list 🙂 🙂

    • jannatwrites July 29, 2011 / 11:26 PM

      Kitchen ‘know it alls’ would be annoying. I don’t have that problem because everyone seems content to not have to cook! Hey, if you want to cook for me, I promise I won’t try to give instructions.

      Thanks for visiting, Dorcas.

      • crumbl July 30, 2011 / 4:34 AM

        Hey … I’m perfectly content to cook, and at the risk of immodesty, I’m better than the average beer … er … bear. I try very hard not to armchair quarterback if someone’s willing to cook for me (LRHG and I have totally different styles, not that she’s a bad cook … I’m better, so I do most of the cooking), great … go to work. We’ve even had LRHG’s son cook for us, and excepting a little instruction to help him along, we left him pretty much on his own … more like Q&A than dictatorial.

        I do have a good friend who’s a chef … if she speaks, I listen. She can boss me around my own kitchen any time. Maybe they don’t know it all, but definitely, some know more or better than do I. You can teach some old dogs new tricks.

        • jannatwrites July 31, 2011 / 4:05 PM

          Crumbl, I would be content to let someone else cook once in a while, but the job is mine because practice has made me the better cook (on most things). Still can’t flip a fried egg to save my life….but luckily my life hasn’t depended on it 😉

          It sounds like you have a reasonable attitude toward direction in the ktichen. I need to find myself a chef friend… (note added to my “to do” list)

  13. Carol Ann Hoel July 29, 2011 / 8:04 PM

    I am more aware of writing rules and styles since I’ve been blogging with writers. If I’m reading a novel, I tend to notice issues I’d expect an editor to question. I don’t think you are Little Miss Know-it-all. I think you are doing what comes natural as a writer. Writers think like editors when they read. We do the same thing when we read our own manuscripts. Blessing to you, Little Miss Editor…

    • jannatwrites July 29, 2011 / 11:31 PM

      You’ve rationalized that very well, Carol Ann. It makes sense and I’ll go with that, because it sounds much better than me being a critical know it all 🙂

      It is nice to know that I’m not just being critical or nit-picky!

      Thanks for stopping by tonight. I’ve missed your visits, but I know you’ve had a lot going on. I do hope that your husband is showing improvement. Your’e still in my prayers.

  14. deehsarsiavo August 1, 2011 / 11:13 AM

    I can relate to the know-it-all aspect of the post. The past semester at college I took a course called Contemporary Short Stories, where we critiqued and analysed the writing styles of authors like Flannery O’ Connor and Denis Johnson et al. It was a great course and we learnt a lot about how to read a text properly and appreciate it for what it’s worth, but I haven’t been able to read a book since without applying the same logic to it. This author could have done better without writing long sentences; this author could have given the narrator a stronger voice.

    I can’t say that this applies to every situation,but at least in terms of reading and writing, the process of critique is actually good. Even if you’re just shooting in the dark with your opinions on books new and old, it’s giving you insight into how you’d behave as a writer. At the end of the day, that means improvement for you!

    Before we can become good writers, we must become good readers. And the way to become good readers is to pick up on the specifics of what you peruse and avoid or include it in your style. In short, even though you may consider yourself being a Know-It-All, I’d consider it maturing as a reader, which is excellent! =D

    Sorry for the ramble; this post really touched home =)

    • jannatwrites August 1, 2011 / 10:06 PM

      I’m glad the post related to you in some way, Deehsarsiavo.

      It sounds like that course was helpful to you on the technical side, although it may have damaged your pleasure reading forever 🙂 I don’t have a ‘trained’ critique eye, so my opinions may be way off. I’ll take your suggestion that I’m becoming a mature reader rather than a Know-It-All. Sounds much nicer!

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