I’m a total prick when it comes to reading these days. Novels, comics, scripts, anything. Having a writing career and a six-month-old child and a burgeoning
heroin er pornography er Skyrim habit leaves me with less time to read than I’d like — so, when I hunker down over a story, my first (and admittedly worst) inclination is to actively seek reasons to put it down. Seriously. Imagine you came to my door and were selling cookies or Bibles or weird rhino-based aphrodesiacs and you open the door and there I stand with a pistol in your face and I’m all like, “Make your pitch, but say one wrong thing — if you even blink in a way I find disagreeable — then I’m going to shoot your face through your head.”
I went to a Christopher Moore signing way back when and the man said something there that stuck with me, and I’m paraphrasing the exact details but the notion remains true just the same:
If you can get someone to finish the first page, they’ll finish the second. If they finish the second page, they’ll get to page ten. If they get to page ten they’ll get to page 30, if they get to page 30 they’ll get to the halfway point of the book, and so on and so forth. The idea is that with each page of strong writing and good storytelling you’re buying time from the reader on credit. And your credit line increases the further they get and the more completely you grab the reader’s attention.
Lose their attention and they’re going to put that book down. And go do something else, since we are creatures bombarded with entertainment choices, from games to Netflix to sports to coked-up monkey fights in the back alley behind the methadone clinic.
Last week I told you the reasons you’ll keep readers hooked, but now comes the time to look at the reasons you might lose your readers. These are, at least for me, the reasons I’ll close your book and not return.
1. At Best: First Chapter, At Worst: First Page
If I’m feeling gracious, I’ll give you the first chapter to lose me. If I’m in a bad mood, you’ve got one page. Maybe less. In fact, that’s often how I determine what new books I’ll pick up: I’ll read the first couple pages of a Kindle sample or of the book in the store. I’ll know then and there if this is a book I’m going to want to read or want to drop-kick into a barrel fire. A first page or chapter that doesn’t hook me — doesn’t introduce an engaging premise or a fascinating character or fails to wow me with its seductive prose — tells me the rest of the book isn’t going to be much better. Make those first pages count. It’d be like going out on a blind date dressed in your ugliest outfit. “I know. The Spongebob cardigan and my old dirty Cherokee moccassins do not a strong impression make, but if you just get to know me…” BZZT. Wrongo, mutant. I’m not going to take the time to get to know you. Please leave, you smell like sour cabbage.
2. Typos And Errors
Pay attention, self-publishers: if your work is riddled with typos or grammatical errors, you’ve gone and ruined it. Doesn’t matter how inventive your story is if you cannot communicate it using the essential tools a writer is given. You can have the coolest idea for a house in the world but if you hand in blueprints drawn in shaky crayon I’m not going to let you build it for me. Bad craft kills good stories.
3. Introducing: Mister Snoozeworthy And Missus Snorebucket
Ugh. Nothing worse than a character duller than pre-chewed cardboard. Characters without strong motivation? Characters who are passive rather than active (meaning they experience the story rather than drive the story)? Characters who are indistinguishable from one another (or worse, indistinguishable from a room swathed in beige paint)? Blech. Blargh. Fnuh. No. This, by the way, is the danger of the Everyman protagonist: go too generic and “common man experience” and you rob from the character all the things that make him interesting and unique.
4. Prose Limp And Lifeless As Driveway Earthworms
You know when it rains, all those sad earthworms come crawling out and then when the rains pass the asphalt is littered with the lifeless gray water-logged mush of worm carcasses? Yeah, don’t let your prose be that. Don’t let your prose be as interesting as gray worms on gray macadam on a gray day. Bring life to language. Look at the shape it takes on the page. Find variety. Take risks. Most important: be confident. Wishy-washy prose that refuses to assert itself and relies on junk language and passive constructions to convey a story is prose that might choke that very story.
5. Awk! Awk! Awk!
Awkward language: when the quality and clarity of your prose fails to meet the intention of the writer. Put differently, it’s when your writing is clunky, clumsy, and the greatest sin of all, unclear. If I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me, I will put a bullet in your book’s brain and bury it out by the marigolds.
6. A Web Spun By A Drunken Spider
Confusing and illogical plots stop me dead. Newsflash: I need to know what’s going on. And what’s going on needs to actually make some fucking sense. I don’t want to feel like I’m machete-chopping my way through your snarled and tangled pubic thatch just to get to the good stuff.
7. All Answers, No Questions
Certain things kill the mystery in a new relationship. It’s why on the first date you don’t leave the bathroom door open and let your potential new mate see you, erm, taking out the biological garbage. “I need to go change into something comfortable. And I also have to poop. Wanna watch?” The mystery is dead. The romance? Stabbed in the face by too much information. “TMI” applies to fiction, too — if I’m reading your book and you’re hellbound to give away all the secrets and answers right from word one, then I’m going to catch the whiff of narrative desperation and end the date early. Don’t let your book show me its poop-squat.
8. Too Many Questions, Not Enough Answers
On the other hand, too much mystery spoils the soup. “What’s in this stew?” “I’m not telling.” “It tastes weird. Is this a fingernail?” “Wouldn’t you like to know.” Yes. Yes, actually, I would like to know.” Look at a TV show like Lost, which for the first several seasons introduced a freaky new mystery every episode but failed to address, um, any of the prior mysteries. There comes a point when you as the reader become pretty sure the storyteller is just fucking with you, and while that’s the storyteller’s job, it’s also the storyteller’s job to mask that role. I don’t want to feel like the storyteller is behind me spitting in my hair.
9. My Character Will Now Infodump Into Your Mouth
Expositional dialogue. Where characters explain everything that’s going on, even to those inside the story that don’t need the update. AKA AYKB: “As You Know, Bob.” Heavy exposition is like stealing all the oxygen from the room. You stole all the air for yourself and left the reader none at all. Bonafide story killer.
10. Carpet Doesn’t Match The Curtains
Internal consistency means something for writers. All the parts have to play well together — if you’ve got tone running with scissors and plot running the other way with a bucket on his head, and the dialogue doesn’t match the characters and the theme feels like it’s been hastily staplegunned to the story’s head, readers feel that. They know that the stars are out of alignment. And if they’re like me, they’ll drop your book like it’s a soup can full of cranky bees.
11. The Broken Mirror Effect
I had this problem recently with a draft of a novel: all the plot pieces made sense, they just didn’t work together to carry the overall story forward. No throughline could be felt — each was a sad little boat bobbling independently of all the other boats, no lash nor chain connecting them, each drifting in separate directions. It felt, as my agent put it, episodic: and she’s right. Put differently, a story is best when it’s like a wolf-pack rather than a herd of cats. The wolf pack features separate wolves who move together. The cat-herd has no unity and each cat scatters. Because cats can be real dicks.
12. Rolling In The Same Muddy Wheel Ruts
If I feel like I’ve seen this before — that the story doesn’t even make a go at being original and is just another vampire tween romance or Bourne Identity rip-off or sexy equine cyborg erotica — then I’m done, I’m out, game over, goodbye. Bring something new to the table, even if what’s “new” is in the arrangement.
13. Strangled All The Fun With Dirty Lampcord
Every story needn’t be a laugh riot. It’s not even humor I’m looking for. But if your story fails to have even the tiniest glimmer of fun in it, I must politely eject. Even the darkest and most nihilistic tales need that little starburst of fun or humor — not only to break up the darkness but also to serve as contrast to the darkness. The darkness is meaningless if we don’t have any light for comparison.
14. It’s A Problem-Free Colostomy: Spoon-Up-My-Bottom
(Sung to the tune of, Hakuna Matata.) Just as yeast thrives on sugar and babies thrive on the sleepless frustration of their parents, a story and its readers thrive on conflict. Conflict is essential to a story, and yet it’s far too often I read stories that feel like the conflict has all the sturm und drang of a ball-less scrotum. “John wanted a robot pony and so he went and bought a robot pony” is a story, yes, but it’s a piss-poor one. Conflict is the fuel that drives the narrative engine. If your conflict is tepid and soft, the narrative will be, too. Which means: DELETED.
15. The Tiger Changes Its Stripes
Story pivots and narrative shifts are good. Usually. A story that defies what it’s been all along and becomes something entirely different can work and can be totally rock-awesome: but it can also betray the audience. (The book did well, so this is a clear example of how subjective this stuff is, but a book that did this to me was THE PASSAGE. No spoilers but mid-way through the tale experiences a dramatic shift, so much so it felt like an entirely different and possibly unrelated book. That horse bucked me into the mud.)
16. Death, The Thief Of Conflict
A character dies without meaning or purpose in the story? I’m jarred, jostled, shaken, speechless. And not always in a sexy, erotic asphyxiation kind of way. Listen, if one of the primary reasons I’m digging your story is a particular character and then you rob me of that character without warning or meaning, you might lose me. Yes, random and senseless death can have a purpose, but not easily, and not often. If we are to assume that the character is the vehicle by which the reader travels through the story, then a sudden death of such a character is akin to us wrecking our vehicle. A bad call, Ripley. A bad call.
17. Giant Paragraphs Smashing Into Other Giant Paragraphs
RAAAAR PARAGRAPH SMASH. Your prose is not a boulder to drop on somebody’s head. I’m not saying long paragraphs are by themselves a problem — sometimes, it’s what’s for dinner. But if every page is naught but a neverending series of cement blocks comprising turgid prose, then you haven’t written a novel: you’ve written the literary equivalent to a hot Ambien toddy. (Though with fewer hallucinogenic freak-outs, sadly.) Characters don’t need to speak in lectures. Describing a rocking chair or a cab driver should not take you half-a-chapter. The shape of the prose on the page matters; it should show variety, have erratic and inconsistent shape. Beware massive text blocks. Like boat anchors they drag the story’s momentum.
If I feel like your characters are stereotypes — Hooker with a heart of gold! Tortured angsty good-guy vampire! Pantsless author who rants about booze and profanity! — then I’m out. I will wipe my hands of your trite and tepid tale and go, I dunno, drink tequila and curse at the skies. The way you elevate characters out of stereotype is to make them complex and layered. Defy convention!
19. A Hollow Emotional Core
We all need to relate to your story and the characters that populate it. We have various in-roads toward such identification but one key one is the tale’s emotional core. We’re emotional creatures and so it becomes easy to find a common thread — no, I may not understand what it’s like to be a mailman or a secret agent or a sapient moon-tree, but if those characters play off of common emotional hooks (jealousy, rage, triumph, bliss, etc.) then we’re good. The problem is when I can’t find that in a story: some tales are too guarded and refuse to let me in. They’re all action, with everything living on the surface. No, thank you.
20. All The Energy Of An Incontinent Basset Hound
If your story ambles about like an old man out on a Sunday walk (or worse, a Sunday drive), then your story has all the urgency of feeding pigeons. And feeding pigeons is not a particularly urgent activity, unless of course the pigeons are bloodthirsty and what you’re feeding them is bullets. (I’d totally read that.) Stories need to feel urgent: you’re capturing these moments for a reason.
21. Don’t Want To Shack Up With These Characters
Characters don’t need to be likable, but they must be livable — I’m hanging with them for 300 pages (or in a film, two hours) and so they must be someone I want to hang out with. Truly vile characters? Execrable fuckers? Boring dillholes? Characters who do things that completely turn me off? That’s how you lose me. My studio apartment with the clanging pipes and the tricky faucets goes from “charming and quaint” to “I’m packing my bags” soon as it’s infested with roaches. By the way, I don’t really live in a studio apartment. I live in a treehouse. With a goat-faced gentleman named Professor Hoofstomp Q. Whiskerchinny!
22. Busted-Ass Broke-Down POV
Who’s talking? Did we switch characters? Different POV? Did that just jump from first to third? Are we in someone’s head now? Wait, did Betty rescue John, or did John rescue Betty? Keep track of your goddamn POV, people. Like I said before, keeping a reader in the story is like keeping a fish on the line: you go cocking up the point-of-view and you’ll set me free. Giving me plenty of time to go gloomily play with myself.
23. A Pulled Punch Sandwich
I can feel when an author is pulling punches, when the story is the narrative equivalent of lobbing softballs. This isn’t about being edgy or hardcore, I only mean to suggest that I know when the author is treating his plot and his characters — and, by proxy, the audience — gingerly. He’s not taking any risks. No danger in plot, no conflict for the characters, no risk in the prose one writes. Go big or go the fuck home. Every book is in competition with every other book, movie, comic book, porn movie, and breakfast cereal in existence. Put your back and your heart into it, goddamnit. Stop phoning it in.
24. I’m Not Your Audience
Sometimes, the break-up is like a real life break-up: “It’s not you. It’s me.” I’m just not digging your story because it’s not mine to dig. And that’s okay. You can’t please everybody. I mean, I can. Because I have fingers like French ticklers and seven hundred tongues. You, however, are beholden to your mortal form.
25. It’s Just A Bad Book
On the other end, sometimes like a real life break-up it’s all your goddamn fault. Once again this is leveled more squarely at self-publishers, but it’s also (if with reduced frequency) true of some “traditionally” published novels — a bad book is a bad book. What I’m talking about is genuine dog-fuck writing, shit-basket characters, a spastic control of language, a fumbling numb-nutted grasp of grammar and spelling, and an overall muffin-headed window-licking approach to storytelling. Not subjectively bad, mind you, but objectively terrible. If I see a book like this, obviously, clearly, plainly I must escape it’s foul mire and put the book down. In fact, if any of you see a book like this, it should be killed with fire, and the ashes should be shoved in a hermetically-sealed tube and then launched into the heart of a volcano.
Your turn. Do me a favor: get down into the comments and tell the world what reasons you have for putting a book down. What have you encountered that’s stopped your reading enjoyment dead?
* * *
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92 responses to “25 Reasons Readers Will Quit Reading Your Story”
Overdescription. Sue me, but I don’t think Lord Of The Rings was the greatest written book. The story was gripping but the words just went on and on and on and on. I don’t have the patience to sit through 3 pages describing one enchanted forest.
Writers who are actually marketers in disguise. Sure, a book is a product and it needs to identify its target audience (readership) and offer up to them accordingly. But do it with the slickness of an MBA delivering up his ass-sucking, lingo-spewing presentation to the CEO of the company…and you’ve just lost me. I also hate it when a writer very obviously changes his voice so that he can appeal to a broader or different audience. Khaled Hosseini’s ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ comes to mind (what a letdown after the brilliance of ‘The Kite Runner’!!).
My wife recently self-published her first novel. She and I both obsessively edited it, and showed the “final” draft to several friends for input before going forward. Of course, they pointed out flaws we, being too close to the narrative, had missed.
This list is a huge boon to the struggling author. All of them are things that have turned me off to books. Granted, you take a few potshots at the the self-publishing author, whilst there are many established, bestselling authors guilty of one or (many) more of said offenses. The biggest one is engaging characters. Too often, I’ve read a great story (conceptually, at least), or watched a movie in which the idea grabs me, yet I care nothing what happens to the people.
All-in-all, a great list. Thank you.
FYI, I discovered this article on Zite/iPad. Was pulled in by a great title. Loved the style and content. Keep doing what you’re doing! I’m not an easy sell, but I enjoyed this article more than anything I’ve read in a while.
[…] 25 Reasons Readers Will Quit Reading Your Story. […]
Too many descriptions in the first page or throughout the book. I certainly don’t want to read two pages worth of them. I hate boring book or ones that take too long for something interesting to happen.
[…] finally, here’s a list that applies to published books as well as manuscripts: 25 Reasons Readers Will Quit Reading Your Story by Chuck […]
[…] 25 Reasons Readers Will Quit Reading Your Story — do you agree with these? […]
The last book I bought had a fascinating synopsis on the back cover, and was found in the paranormal section of my local bookstore. I read the first page and promptly made my way to the checkout.
That night after dinner was disappointed to find that the second page was uncomfortably over angsty, and I quickly realised the teenager that could see ghosts was in fact an immature bitch with a horrible attitude. I can only guess her attitude improved as the book progressed, or that she might at least appeal to immature teenage girls but by page ten I’d had enough of her already. Its ok to not like a character, but for me I want to be able to at least see where the MC is coming from.
I skimmed a few chapters to see if there was any alternative POV that would agree with my perception, but there was none. Just the mega-bitch and her attitude. If I had an open fire I’d have burned it, but instead I gave it to my 14yr old cousin, who later said she’d been unable to stomach it either.
I don’t mind feeling dirtier after reading something, but dumber is a problem. I have enough outside influences deadening the synapses. Books should at least allow me to break even, if not make me one-word-smarter.
Even if I get a freebie online, I still pay with my valuable time when I read it. I want relaxation, stimulation or and/or enlightenment from a book. If a piece does all three, it is probably a keeper. If it gives me a wedgie and a nosebleed, so much the better. Literature should not increase the amount of aluminum cobwebs in my already clouded brain. Save that for spirochetes, booze, and the occasional swipe of deodorant.
Excellent post. I found it to be exceptionally witty. Actually, given my aforementioned qualifications for ball-gripping writing, I would give you a 9.0. It was entertaining, provocative, and enlightening. Points off for being common sense. But maybe I should grant points for reading my freakin’ mind…
Two blue demerits for no Beasty Boys or backdoor, for lack of anything better.
[…] over at Terrible Minds has some spot-on (and totally snarky) things to say on this topic. Check it out. You’ll probably feel like every manuscript you ever wrote is total crap afterwards, but you […]
What really kills my interest in a story is when the author decides to make an infodump of his politics into the middle of a narrative — or worse — into the dialog. The characters are no longer talking to each other; suddenly they’re lecturing the reader on the author’s political views. Not good.
It is interesting to note that probably half of the novels that regularly appear on a Top 100 of All Times lists qualify on many of these. The Old Man and the Sea probably doesn’t, but you can read 30 or 40 pages into The Great Gatsby and you still haven’t even met the character.
With that, I’m wondering how many of these reflect “readers today” as opposed to traditional readers. Have we become so enthralled with the idea that a complete story can be told in 59 minutes, with 17 minutes of time out for commercials that we’re not longer willing to expend any effort, or is something else at work?
While I agree with some of these, the idea that the first page, which often consists of only a few lines below the centered chapter title, can somehow tell a “complete story” and absolutely MAKE you read the rest. There are few books where that is true. If you want that much information in the first paragraph, you will surely violate the Info Dump rule. If you really can’t turn the page to read a little more, then you’re not ready to read anything.
I shout “AWK!” in my best crow voice at students when they write awkwardly. When they see it on their papers, they giggle like the schoolchildren they are.
And that’s how we make criticism less painful.
[…] Craft I love this guy. From writer Chuck Wendig: 25 Reasons Readers Will Quit Reading Your Story. Share this:EmailPrintFacebook This entry was posted in Commentary, Critiques, Marketing, New […]
I hate it when a story is predictable. If I know exactly what’s going to happen before it does, why should I keep reading?
Of course, I read so much I can predict a lot of things that will happen in the book. But you gotta be surprising and interesting somehow, or I’m outta here. Don’t give away the ending in the first chapter, please. It’s like having one of those friends who announces the ending to a movie when you’ve just sat down in the theater chair. Kind of ruins the mystery.
Anyway, great list. I’ll be sure to keep these in mind while I’m revising the book I’m working on. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise, and being delightfully funny while you do it. Have a great day, and happy writing!
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Excellent list, and I’ve tossed books for every one(and, of course, combinations). As for too much description and those building block paragraphs, just remember that, as Craig said, books written before MTV have completely different pacing. Heck, the Victorians seemed to think that words were like oxygen molecules, and a book couldn’t survive without as many as possible.
One extra I would add to the list is, TSTL, meaning Too Stupid To LIve, memorialized by LIfetime Movies of the Week, i which a character(sadly, usually a woman), is set up as a brilliant anything(FBI agent, crack thief, pickpocket, detective) and then, in search of a longer book, makes a completely undefendible(sp?) decision just so she can be put in terrible trouble that somebody has to save her from. (“What? The serial killer is living in a basement and nobody knows? What the hell. I don’t need no stinkin’ back up. I don’t even need to take the cell phone with GPS with me. I’ll just confront that bad old boy and bring him in….oh, hell. I forgot my gun.”)
There was a movie once called, I think Illegal Entry with Ray Liotta, where he’s a cop obsessed with another man’s wife. So he gets the guy arrested and shows up at the house. Now, we know exactly what he’s there for. So does the wife. So after she sees him slide his .357 into a kitchen drawer, she entices him into the dining room, so he can give her a massage on the dining room table(I just can’t make this stuff up). Somehow she gets her knees into his nuts and runs. Now. Does she a) get as far as the kitchen to retrieve the gun and then blow his nuts cleaan off? b)run the hell out the front door screaming like a Justin Bieber fan in the hopes somebody hears her, or c) run upstairs and hide in a windowless bathroom, so that she has no escape, no help and no phone to call for help). IN a packed theater, I yelled, “Shoot her! She’s too stupid to live!” and got a standing O.
Corollary to Rule #1 that will ensure a good book has been written:
1.a: then, once you have written that sizzling first chapter, make sure everything goes upward from there. I do not mean anything as simplistic as: “have MORE action, or MORE grins, or MORE characters in nose-to-nose conflict.” Because like any symphony, if you don’t have some slow brooding bits, there is no way to create that steeple-chase of a closing movement (listen to Eroica; Beethoven knew what he was doing, all right!)
But nothing you do after chapter 1 should ever make a reader feel like they were the victims of a narrative/literary bait and switch scheme. Deliver–and then deliver more and better. Keep faith with your first high standard, and your readers will keep faith with you. And if you need a way to learn this, do some screenwriting. Just try to start a movie on something other than action unless you are hoping to write for an indi company that is trying to revive the Marchant Ivory line… Then, translate it into prose (but carefully, carefully…)
Good list. Fun reading. I write for Baen, where style serves and is vindicated by story, not the other way around.
I always interrupt my day to read whichever Terrible Minds blog my friends post on FB.. so of course I stopped writing a short while ago to read this… Now I’m 1000 words in on a story about feeding pigeons, and my other project is glaring at me. Curse you, Chuck Wendig!!! …
By the way, I can and will read anything all the way to the end except stories with excessive spelling or grammatical errors. Mainly because those are guaranteed to keep me from getting engrossed in a story.
I’ll dog the story out later if it’s bad, but i will read it all the way through.
1: Don’t get all obssessed about making the readers love you.
2: Don’t start out thinking “fuck the book reading public!”
3: Don’t try to be the next Hemingway, Tolkien, Chandler, Rowling, etc. Be you.
4: If you are going to write a longass fantasy series, make each book a story unto itself with a few connections to the next book. If we have to read 12 fucking books to get the whole story, we probably won’t.
5: If you are going to mix genres, KNOW THE GENRES YOU ARE MIXING!
6: if you are going to include sex scenes, don’t make them all flowers and heaving sighs and shit. They need not be hardcore porn, but for Christ’s sake, don’t make them all sappy, either.
7: If your characters are all idiots, you had better damned well be writing something humorous.
8: Political statements can be ok in a novel. Political tracts posing as novels are the most extreme opposite of ok.
9: Get Your Science Right!
10: If you are going to write humor, do try to be funny. And by funny, I mean not just funny to your close friends while you are all drunk or stoned.
My laughter finally decreased to the point that I can type. Thanks for the great list–and the mental images.
Too many characters so that it takes half the book to get back to that character you really like. I also hate (in sf and fantasy) when the characters are their race. exp. the dwarf character drinks a lot of ale and tells dirty jokes when he’s not swinging his axe at Orcs. I also hate when the writer has this completely meticulously made up world so that all the attention is on the world and not the characters.
Someone said it earlier, but characters I can’t stand. I got 50 pages into Percy Jackson (my nephews made me read it) and I put it down because I thought he was the thickest, densest, dumbest character I’ve ever read. “what? I magically control water? Who could possibly have been my father…not that I believe in Greek gods.”
I love good advice delivered with clever, intelligent humor, and I very much enjoyed this piece while learning something. Applause for the excellent use of “Bad call, Ripley,” in #16.
Factual errors will make me throw a book away. Some recent examples are: 1) a book in which Florida Seminole indians are portrayed as dirt poor. They haven’t been poor since the tribes built gambling casinos.
2) A book in which a character who wanted to get quickly from one local point to another took an extremely round-about route. All the author had to do was look at a map.
3) A book in which the main character drove the loop road in the Everglades in the summer without noticing any large amounts of water. That road is completely under water in the summer.
Good grief. Should I just send you money now? …because THAT was one of the best things I’ve ever written. I’m so very, very sick of this thing that’s taken hold where “there’s no such thing as a bad book…” Bupkis! Many books *are terrible*, and if I’m laboriously wading through one, that’s time I don’t have to read a good one. Spot-on.
Love your lists!
Used to be I’d have to read a book to the end, with the naive hope/belief that there must be something to learn. Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser I’ve found many reasons to stop reading and move on. My all time favorite was a book which introduced what I thought was the main character on page 1 only to kill him off on page 3. Then the writer introduced a new main character, who died a few pages later. Really? I don’t often have an urge to slap someone around but come on!
So so true, all of it.
I liked this article because I could relate to most of the list. To answer the question, my biggest turn off when reading is when a novel jumps between three or four different timelines/people/planets without explanation or warning. I read a book that did this for about six or seven lengthy chapters, and I still had no link between the four eras/characters so I finally stopped reading.
Fucking DO THE RESEARCH! Recently read a book where a character supposed to be a firefighter in NYC post 9/11 did shit that no firefighter in their right, left, or otherwise mind would ever so much as even contemplate because they would FUCKING.DIE. After which, the so-called paramedic treating said firefighter did shit that was absolutely fucking blatently wrong. As in, so wrong that most people who have ever watched a single episode of even the most ridiculous TV medical drama could pick up on. These are easy errors to fix. All you need to do is actually have a conversation with a real live human being who knows what you’re trying to write about.
Whether it’s a professional job question, question about how to use a firearm (It is super obvious to those of us who regularly gun sling when the author hasn’t got a freaking clue) or what the hell ever – find someone who knows and mine them for enough information that you can write believably about it. I have been known to ditch books when the lack of research became so overwhelming that I wanted to burn the book.
My personal pet peeves are “rocks fall, everybody dies” syndrome (where everyone you like dies horribly, or you can at least see their horrible death coming – I’m looking at you GRRM!) and books that after reading make me want to go curl in the feral position and cry (books that combine the two go in the fireplace). Thank you, no; there is QUITE enough depressing stuff IRL for me. Plus everything in the list, of course.
This is a BRILLIANT list and I now need to go repost it on FB. ^_^ Also bookmark it and hunt down anything else you’ve written…
Oh, thank the gods. I don’t think I do ANY of these things. My wife would string me up and use me like a pinata. Of course, you DO have to be able to tolerate a sudden left turn in the story when the protagonists run up against something unexpected. Some people seem to like that, though mileage may vary.
For me the two things that will kill my interest is stupid or hateful protagonists and authors who write as if they themselves are bored with their story. If you’re bored while writing it, how in the hell do you expect to keep the reader’s attention?
Your line in reason #25, “plainly I must escape it’s foul mire and put the book down” fails by the standards of reason #2. You’ve jacked up an apostrophe. Feel free to edit it and then delete this comment. Every book (or list) deserves a second chance. Especially when it is otherwise a great list, all too true.
Took me most of the week to get up the nerve to post this.
If you have a few minutes between a diaper change and some Skyrim, I will (insert biologically improbable verb here) rainbows for a month if you read and enjoyed my “Feeding the Pigeons” story.
Dude, if you hate it and rip it apart for me, that’s cool too, but go in knowing that I want you to like it.
Oh, my. Thank you for a great laugh. I was nodding my head right along with you the entire way.
The biggest problem I have (and, like you, I’ve found this is more true with self-published and small press books) is with the prose. Just, the art of *writing*. If your writing is limp and sounds like you wrote the thing in high school, I’m probably not going to get past the free sample. TAKE A WORKSHOP, people. Please.
Ah, I feel better. 🙂
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I hate when they throw the entire flipping population into the first chapter. If by page 5, I feel like I need a damn diagram of who everyone is, what their problem is and why they even exist, I’m not going to keep reading. I don’t want to feel neurologically challenged just because there are a dozen people with names that start with “B” in chapter one and they’re all *vastly important to the story!!!* Don’t have twenty-five characters in the book when three can do the job…
Also, a book jam-packed with funky names. I don’t want to read a story that looks like a monkey was effing the keyboard every time I come to a character name. Throw in some easy to read/remember/pronounce names like Slash, Raze and Mudfucker in between the Fg!hsiaets and Grya4ed3ons.
[…] http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/11/22/25-reasons-readers-will-quit-reading-your-story/ […]
You really should arrange your comments sections so that the newest comments are posted to the top rather than the bottom of the pile.
Anyway, I know this blog post is old news now, but if an author sees this and takes heed, I’ll be happy:
Fantasy & sci-fi writers, Don’t just jump into the magical elements of your story right away. Let the reader get a foothold in your world, and a chance to suspend their disbelief before you delve into talking about how time in your world flows backward and is full of flying orks or whatever. Go with the familiar first so readers can get acclimated. I’m not saying that doing the opposite can’t work, it just rarely works for me, and I’d bet that I’m not the only one.
[…] TerribleMinds comes this article: 25 Reasons Readers Will Quit Reading Your Story and #2 is bad […]
[…] tale: readers are looking–actively seeking, even!–for a reason to stop reading. Author Christopher Moore described it as writers buying time from the reader on credit. What he means is that they […]
[…] articles and infographics have tried to answer the question of what makes readers stop reading. They usually […]