25 Reasons Why I Stopped Reading Your Book

I don’t read novels like I used to.

I want to, but can’t. That’s for a lot of reasons — for one, it’s time. I write a lot. I have a five-year-old. Life intrudes. My reading is also broader, now. Writing comics means I read more comics. I also do a lot of research and read non-fiction — more non-fic than fic, I think. The other thing, though, is that I know how the sausage is made. I know because I make it every day. My hands are unctuous with narrative pigfat. I find that as you do a thing more and more, you become more persnickety about that overall thing. Example: there’s a farm-to-table ice cream place not far from us, and the owner has very strong opinions about ice cream. Who gets it wrong, who gets it right, what techniques are best, or laziest, or who is sexier, BEN or JERRY. I don’t have those kinds of strong opinions about ice cream because fuck you, it’s ice cream. Bad ice cream is better than no ice cream. Shove it in my bone-cave. All of it. NOW PLEASE.

But! I have strong reactions to novels. Stronger than I used to. I’m like a stage magician where it’s harder to fool me with your magic because I know all the tricks. I can see the misdirection coming a mile away. That means I probably start and put down four novels for every one that I pick up and finish. I don’t throw those first four down in rage before urinating upon them. I just quietly set the book aside, say “This book is not for me,” and then I urinate on it. No rage at all. Only smug beneficence paired with my steaming asparagus pee!

Kidding, kidding. No pee.

But I thought, okay, it might be interesting to unpack a little bit why I pick up some books and then put them down after five, ten, thirty pages. This is true of manuscripts both published and unpublished. And it’s important to note here that none of what I’m about to say is gospel. Some of these books reached shelves. Many of these books do very well despite what I’m telling you here. Which is to say, the list of reasons I’m about to give are intensely personal to me and not in any way good guidelines to follow. Why even include them? First, because I want to unpack it for my own curiosity (and this blog is for me before it is for you), and second because maybe the conversation will trigger something in your thoughts about your own work, or it’ll inspire some interesting and spirited conversation in the comments below.

(I encourage you to use the comments to answer the question: what makes you put down a book?)

Let’s begin.

1. I just don’t want to read it. This isn’t a helpful comment by any stretch of the imagination but it’s vital I get it out there — sometimes, I pick up a book, I start a book, and it’s a puzzle piece whose nubbins and divots don’t line up with mine. Book’s not for me. I’m not for it. End of story.

2. I have no context. None. Zero. Crafting the first thirty or so pages of a book is itself a vital and elusive art. You are required to pack so much into so little while at the same time not overdoing it. But the greatest thing missing from too many books is context. Books that begin with characters just doing shit or saying shit or thinking shit are fine — but from the first page, I want context. I don’t need all the details, but I need some sense of what’s going on and why. I need to be rooted in the story fast as you can get me there. You can meander, but goddamnit, meander with purpose. I need to know why you’re writing it, why the character is here, and why I should give a hot cup of fuck in the first place. This isn’t easy to do! Writing those early pages is a combat landing in terms of narrative — you’ve got to pull us all the way from the atmosphere to the ground in a thousand words. It’s hard, but WE NEEDS THE CONTEXT, PRECIOUS. *gums a fish*

3. Another thing I need that you’re not giving me: stakes. This is tied into the context. But if I don’t know the stakes — what can be won, what can be lost, what’s on the table — then why am I reading? Why are we here? Where are my pants?

4. Too much action. Once again, this is tied a little into the context problem, but I really hate books where I start them and suddenly we’re thrown into BULLETS WHIZZING AND KARATE WHALES AND A THOUSAND CREAMY PASTRY NINJAS and it’s five pages of cool-ass katana action and yet I have no idea what’s happening. Every punch is clear as day, but the motivation behind the scene or sequence is invisible. Realize that the mechanisms for resolving conflict are not the same as the conflict. A fistfight is not a conflict. Why they’re punching the beefy fuck out of each other? That’s the conflict. Jealousy. Stolen property. Revenge. Whatever. Conflict is the reason behind the fight, not the fight itself.

5. The book is all surface. A story isn’t just one thing. It can’t just be what you see, what you read — it has innumerable added layers, all invisible but still keenly felt. Like, okay, consider a sports car. The fanciest fastest motherfucker you can think of. The love child of a Lamborghini and a SR-71 jet. That car isn’t a model. It’s more than its frame and its paint job. Some of the interior you can see: seats, dashboard, steering wheel. Some parts you can see only if you look hard: the engine under the hood, the dead guy in the trunk. (I know cars like that don’t have trunks you can use to store dead bodies, but just play pretend.) Other parts will never be seen by you: the engine’s deepest interior, or the endless human and machine hours put into designing the car and the engine and the experience of the car. The car is more than just its function, too. It has style. It has a vibe. Designers don’t just plunk down a seat thinking, WELL THE DRIVER NEEDS TO SIT. It’s that, but then it transcends function. It becomes, how do we want the driver to feel? How do we want him to look in his own head and to other drivers? The car has a theme, a mood, it has a message. Your story is like that — or, it should be. It can’t just be CHARACTERS SAY SHIT AND DO SHIT. That’s there, but it’s just the paint job. A story operating without deeper layers is a shallow narrative, and I ain’t got time for that.

6. The characters all sound the same.

7. The book starts off too, um, genre-shellacked. What I mean is, if it’s sci-fi, it’s loaded for bear with bewildering sciencey stuff, or if it’s fantasy it’s all funky names with magical apostrophes, or if it’s horror it’s more interested in soaking the pages in raw, red gore and horror tropes. Context is king, yet again. Character is everything. Root me in the character. Make me care. Then layer in the genre elements. It’s like a cake — it’s easy to make icing taste good, but too much of it is gross. (Don’t tell this to my son, who will vacuum the icing into his maw while discarding the cake part. The little barbarian.) The cake is the foundation. It’s what holds up the rest of the stuff. Cake is character, character is cake. Now I’m hungry. I want cake. Someone get me cake. YOU THERE IN THE THIRD ROW. CAKE ME. NOW.

8. Speaking of genre, I’ll put a book down if it feels too samey-samey. It’s not that you can’t do interesting things with well-wrought tropes, but usually, I can tell when you’ve performed the narrative equivalent of a Human Centipede — where you digest one kind of fiction and then excrete that fiction back out into the world. It’s like Taco Bell — you’re just renting it and returning it to the ecosystem without actually processing it. I’d rather you make the genre yours. I’d rather you read more broadly and bring outside influence to the work.

9. No voice at all. This is a personal preference, to be clear — some readers want an author who disappears into the background. I don’t. I want the author to emerge a little, like a shadow in the rain. Sometimes that means word choice or sentence construction or rhythm. Sometimes it’s in the themes that present themselves. The book isn’t ALL YOU, ALL THE TIME, but I still want to see your bloody fingerprints at the margins of the page. I’ll put it this way: Dan Brown’s work is, to me, about as cardboardy as it comes. No harm or foul, because hey, his books are whiz-bang successes. But then you look at someone like Stephen King, whose work always reads like Stephen King. His ease of storytelling doesn’t betray his voice. Daniel Jose Older’s work feels like Daniel Jose Older’s work. Victoria Schwab’s work feels like — drum roll please — Victoria Schwab’s work. (I like these authors because when I read their work, it’s not that I know what I’m in for, it’s that I know I’m in the company of a capable, confident storyteller. Some authors view this as a brand, but a brand is about a pre-existing set of chosen permutations — a brand is about comfort. I want voice. I want to trust in the story even as it brings me discomfort.)

10. Too much voice will kill my interest, too. Comes a point where you gotta get out of the way of your own story. (Again: Stephen King is amazing at this. His work feels like his work, but he’s also not tap-dancing in front of the tale — he sits very comfortably behind the curtain.) Your story isn’t a stunt. It isn’t a stage. You’re playing drums, not playing lead guitar.

11. I’m bored. I get bored easily, to be clear. In this day and age, I’ve got a lot of very dumb stuff competing for my attention and I fall prey to it too easily — it’s a lot easier to check Twitter than read a novel. People could read a book, or they could hunt Pokemon. At the same time, though, I don’t think it’s an unfair ask when I say it’s important a story be interesting. One of the most vital goals of a storyteller is to capture attention. It’s like trapping a fly in a cup. It is necessary to be able to — from the first sentence — snap your fingers and hypnotize me with the tale at hand. And that means being interesting. The question of what’s interesting, however, is a many-headed, snarly beast, but at the very least, look to how one tells a story in person. Think about how you would keep people’s attention. How would you spark their interest? How might you give them just enough to keep listening? Worry, danger, conflict, desire. Imagine telling a story in such a way that if you just quit in the middle of a sentence, you’d leave people hanging with a HOLY SHIT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT look on their dumbfounded faces. Write a book like that.

12 . The balance of mystery is off. Mystery is tricky. Every mystery is a question mark, and as I am all-too-fond of repeating, a question mark is shaped like a hook for a reason. It sticks in you and pulls you along. But too many question marks and you’re pulled into asplodey viscera like that guy from Hellraiser. We need mystery early on — little mysteries that tease us forward without overwhelming. Or one big mystery that will cast its void-like shadow over everything. We still need a rope to feel for in the dark, though — something we use to pull ourselves a long. Too many questions, too much mystery, and we feel lost. We have no rope, no anchor. We have only hooks and darkness. And also cake. What I mean is, I’m still hungry for cake, you bastards.

13. Not enough cake in your story.

13. Fine, here’s a real #13: JESUS GOD THIS BOOK IS SLOW. I don’t need every book to have thriller pacing, though I admit I do prefer a snappier, zippier narrative. But while I do not require your book to read like it’s duct-taped to the back of a cheetah fixed with some manner of rectal rocket, I do want to feel like we’re getting somewhere in a way that respects the story and respects the time of the reader. Some books I read I feel like that stormtrooper on Tatooine — “Move along, old man in a landspeeder. Go on, just go, c’mon. Vertical pedal on the right, Grandpa Kenobi, chop-chop.” A story is liquid. A story moves. It doesn’t need to be a raging rapids, but don’t let it be a stagnant puddle. That’s how you get mosquitoes.

14. The story is too busy, too early. Cleave to simplicity. Simple goals are better than complicated ones. You can build up to bigger conflicts, but at the fore, think conflicts that are primal, that are easily parsed by the largest number of us. A lost child. Revenge for a death. Grieving over someone gone. Broken love. Simple, forthright things will grab us and root us. Common, fundamental problems are key — then you can spin them in whatever way fits the story (A DRAGON WANTS REVENGE ON A LIVING STARSHIP BECAUSE IT KILLED HIS ROBOT LOVER). Start small. Begin simple. Complexity comes later.

15. Also, this is true with language, too. If your book’s language is muddy or bombastic, I’ll check right out. Aim for clarity above any kind of GRAND MAJESTY OF THE HUMAN TONGUE. You’re not trying to impress us with frippery. Writing is a mechanism. It is a means to an end. Writing conveys more than itself. Writing is a conveyance for story, for idea, for character, for theme, for vision. Seek substance over style. Pursue precision in language over a noisy parade of words.

16. The character has done something I hate. And this is a weird thing, because it’s not a character’s job to be likable or to perform actions perfectly in line with my own morality, but if by page five I find out he’s a puppy-kicking baby-shitting rapist, I’m done. Sorry. Maybe this is a tale of his redemption or maybe you just want me to empathize with this horrible person, and that’s fair. I’m just not going to do it. I don’t need characters to be likable. I do, however, need them to be livable — meaning, I need to find some reason to want to live with that individual for 300+ pages. Some things are dealbreakers, though, and a character who is too vile or somehow unredeemable by my own metric… then I just can’t stay in the story.

17. Whoa, way too heavy a hand with the worldbuilding, pal. Ease back on the infinite details, okay? The worldbuilding should serve the story. The story is not just a vehicle for worldbuilding. I want to eat a meal, not stare at the plate. The plate can be lovely! You can work very hard on the plate. But not, I’m afraid, at the cost of the food that sits upon it.

18. Similar to the above? Your book has way, way too much exposition. Exposition is not the devil. We like exposition… ennnh, within reason. I like to treat exposition as if it’s a dirty necessity. It is an unpleasant act that must be fulfilled — it is, in a way, like air travel. Nobody likes air travel. These days, air travel is basically just SKY BUS, full of as many dubious weirdos, like that guy who keeps taking off his shoes, or that other guy who sweats hoagie oil, or those people who were somehow allowed to bring on a Tupperware tub of warm sauerkraut. But if you wanna get to that place you wanna go: you hop on the plane and you get it over with. Exposition is an act that is best served by figuring out how little of it you can get away with while still serving and continuing the tale. Get in. Get out. Get it over with.

19. OH MY GOD I AM BEING CRUSHED BY THESE WALLS OF TEXT. Stories are beholden to rhythm. Short sentences, long sentences, diverse paragraphs, mixed-up word choice. But if I open a book and it’s just one epic paragraph after another, after another, after another, my eyes start to become tired. I pee myself and pass out. It’s not a good scene.

20. I’m confused. No idea what’s happening. Have to keep backtracking to find out.

21. I gain no sense of why now? Every story you write should begin with that essential question: why is this story happening now? If we are to assume that a story is a break in the status quo — and to my mind, stories are exactly that — then the timing of the story is vital. What precipitated the narrative? What events inside the story make it necessary, and necessary at this moment? Did someone just steal the Death Star plans? Is this a Christmas party set in a building just as German terrorist-thieves are about to initiate an, erm, hostile takeover? Has there been a wedding? A funeral? A discovery? An attack? HAS THERE BEEN AN AWAKENING AND HAVE YOU FELT IT? Some stories lack an answer to that question, why now, and I can feel it. It undercuts the urgency of the tale. And urgency is everything. Creating urgency makes the story feel vital and it keeps people reading. (Lending the narrative that urgency is a lesson unto itself, of course.)

22. Not enough sodomy. Okay, just seeing if you’re still reading. But seriously: cake and sodomy.

22. Okay, real #22 — the plot exists outside the characters. They do not control it. They do not contribute to it. Nobody is directing it but you, the Overarching God-Author. You’re like a railroading DM who has the adventure set one way and any time the party wants to try something different (“We’d like to make friends with the Demogorgon!”) you short-circuit and punch the plot to do what you want it to do, not what feels natural to the characters, their motivations, and their actions. Plot should be internal, growing into the narrative like coral, like bones, but yours is external: it’s all exoskeleton, all scaffolding.

23. The plot exists only because of stupid, wrong people and their very bad, very stinky decisions. I’m not saying characters cannot and should not make mistakes. Characters needn’t — and shouldn’t — be perfect. But if the plot only exists because they’re jerky dumdums who just make jerky dumdum decisions, then ennnnyyeaaaah not for me. I prefer you treat your characters as if they’re all intelligent with respect to their own worlds. That doesn’t mean high-IQ. It doesn’t mean a plumber knows how to build a fucking teleporter. It just means within respect to their own life and experience they have some smarts going on.

24. Your characters aren’t acting like people. They’re acting like plot devices. This is related to #22 and #23, but what I mean is, you can feel how they’re acting against logic and their own emotional intelligence to further plot points. They keep secrets when keeping secrets is neither prudent nor interesting — it’s just that the secret is what keeps the plot alive. They lie when it makes no sense to lie. They perform actions like the victims in the horror movie, just stumbling into danger because they need to die to chain to the next scene in the sequence of events.

25. Everything is just a series of scenes. Scenes need to connect. They are bound by a throughline. But yours just feel like disconnected bits — vignettes and moments and setpieces that have been placed next to each other but given no connection. They are rooms without doors or windows.

* * *

INVASIVE:

“Think Thomas Harris’ Will Graham and Clarice Starling rolled into one and pitched on the knife’s edge of a scenario that makes Jurassic Park look like a carnival ride. Another rip-roaring, deeply paranoid thriller about the reasons to fear the future.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Out 8/16. Preorder now:

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210 comments

  • You forgot about aliens suddenly showing up in chapter 14. You know those YA things where the dweeb gets into an untenable situation and suddenly finds out they have magic and save the day.

  • Number 16 surprised me because I’ve never Seen that written down before but I’m completely with you. I put down The Things They Carried after a genius opening chapter because out of dust ration the main characters started torturing a baby bull. Also Alice Hoffman is one of my all Tim favorite writers but I put down The Dovekeepers after a MC crushed a bird in her hands and I haven’t really read anything of here’s since. No one I know understood why!

    • #16 is a big one for me, but I’m a bit pickier. Even if the F word shows up in the story a couple times, I might put it down. (But I did finish this blog post!)

      The only one I know my writing has trouble with is pacing, but (like a later commenter points out), this is subjective, esp by genre. Do I take a page here and there to delve into world-builing or family history or laws governing blade shifters? Yes, because I think it’s important to the story.

  • I love this list. I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy lately, and I’ve stopped several books without finishing. I’ve also stopped several series without continuing on. I get really annoyed when a)the worldbuilding is so aggressively confusing and in your face that you feel like you are reading someones roleplaying guidebook, b)When female characters are poorly written, poorly used, or abused to further the plot, and c), when it just makes no sense because the author is trying to either build suspense by not showing you everything or whatever. Oh, and wanton violence and cruelty will turn me off. and rape. I don’t need that in my fiction. Real life is cruddy enough.

    However, even the books I love get some of these things wrong, and most of the books I haven’t been able to finish were incredibly popular. So there’s that.

    • How about pie & sodomy?
      real comment: great post! (I’m now going to offer my wip a sword and point the way to the ritual room. One of us needs to be put out of our misery 😀 )

  • The only books I have ever, truly, set aside without finishing have been those (just two) that were so overwhelmingly full of spelling and grammar mistakes that I was making internal corrections nearly every sentence. (One of these books was a mass market romantic suspense over 20 years ago that was just really poorly edited; the other was a hardcover intentionally written with poor grammar and spelling because it was a first-person point-of-view story and that’s how she talked and thought. For both of these stories, I didn’t make it to page three.)

    For every other book I’ve read, including some I really despised, I finished them. But some of the things on your list are deal-breakers for me. So while I will finish “that” book, I will think really hard about reading anything else in that series and/or by that author. (Nine times of ten, I set aside the series as skip-it; but sometimes I’ll give an author another chance.)

  • I am sorry, I did not finish reading the article. Not your fault, the writing is very good. I just wanted more sleep.

  • Loved this! Though I rarely stop reading (it’s just a guilt thing for me as I tend to feel like a quitter if I do this), I either stop, or want t stop for most of the latter reasons you give. I’d also add, when the unique style gets in the way of the story. Yes, I liked “The Lovely Bones” as well as “What the Dog Saw.” But, apparently, I’m one of the few who didn’t enjoy The Girl on the Train and have yet to finish it.

    • Agree with a lot of what you said, especially re the self-imposed guilt-trip that comes with not staying until the end with a read I’ve willingly chosen as well as the opinion of “The Lovely Bones”.

    • I used to finish things even when I didn’t like them, just to see how the story would go. However, I’ve now stopped doing that because I’ve come to the conclusion that life is too short to keep tormenting myself with drivel — and the fact that there are literally millions of books out there and I would never be able to read them all even if I did nothing but read books. I’d rather find awesome gems with my time than waste my precious and limited time with crap, just to have the dubious “achievement” of finishing said crappy book.

      • Many, many, many moons ago when the world was young and I was a child, I would finish a book no matter how deplorably bad the book was. But I had the same epiphany you did when I was around ten years old. I walked into a really large library for the first time and realized that there were thousands and thousands of books that I hadn’t even known existed! The only reason to ever slog through a bad book is if there is absolutely NOTHING ELSE to read.

        My husband, whose parents raised him in the “clean your plate or you’ll burn in the hell fires of eternal damnation” school of thought (which carried over into so many other aspects of his life) couldn’t NOT finish a book, no matter how godawful it was. He had his epiphany regarding bad books at about fifty years old. The half century mark can really make a person take a very careful look at their life, how much life they can reasonably expect to have left and what the best use of their remaining time might be. Reading a bad book, he decided, wasn’t a worthwhile use of his remaining time, lol! I actually cheered like a crazed, teenaged, pom-pom girl the first time he tossed a bad book aside after a couple of chapters!

        I cheat when it comes to books that aren’t totally horrible and I’ve read enough to be invested in the outcome but not enthused enough to read the rest. I flip to the last chapter, read it and then toss the book in the donate pile!

        • Let’s all say it together – “The truth will set you free” (or at the very least unbind you from the obligation of ‘finishing what’s on your plate.’)

          • I had that attitude too! I’d finish-that-damn-book even if it made my brain ache and my eyes vomit. That lasted until I tried to force myself to finish ‘Little Women’… UGH classic and all but just not for me. And now I just remember life is short, fling those bad books out the window. Jean Auel’s final Earth’s Children book was the exception; I read it all the way to the end, the whole time hoping it would suddenly regain the magic of the early series. Alas it didn’t.

      • In military parlance, making the deliberate decision to end any further advance thru a book would be known as a ‘tactical withdrawal.’ That saves lives. In the world of books it can save hours – hundreds of them.

        • Haha I like that! It’s going to come in useful for avoiding many of life’s unpleasantries, not just stinky word vomit. I will employ tactical withdrawals from toxic friends, boring conversationalists, dirty toilets, and cafes with menus with terrible spelling and using apostrophes for plurals. *This cafe sells sandwich’s?? Run away…*

          • October 4, 2016 at 5:28 AM //

            Ditto to all that especially the frenemies and the mind numbing conversationailists (somedays there’s just so many!).

  • I am do glad that I’m not the only one who doesn’t read as much anymore. It bothers me that I have such difficulty getting invested in anything anymore but, while part of it i think is my depression being a bung hole, I think several of these were spot on. When you learn the writerly ways, you read it differently. You become far pickier I think.

  • Americans, of all people, have experienced a steady if not sharp decline in reading compared to all other ‘1st world’ nations with the progressive, insidious invasion of television and radio, specifically ”talk’ radio.

    We once read all the time, newspapers, cereal boxes, anything in front of us.

    Now we don’t even read a court summons or a credit card statement, which are things we OUGHT to be paying scrupulous attention to!

    Reading a book based on how flashy or how gripping it is, this is a brand new phenomenon.

    At one point, writers, GREAT writers, wrote much more subtly and with far less flash, flare and panache than the authors of the modern day. At one point, the American mind had enough of an imagination of its own, and a sense of wonder all within its self that being graphic or edgy was not necessary.

    The truth of the matter is, it is not the quality of the books are in decline, its the quality of the reader.

    -Yuri Futanari-

    • I believe that you have hit that nail squarely on the head. I’m 56 and vividly remember reading the cereal box while sitting at the breakfast table as a child. My children did as well. My children, now 34 and 31, were raised with books in every room in the house, including the bathroom (for fear we’d accidentally get locked in and have nothing but the shampoo bottles to read). We always had books in the car when traveling. A book went with us into waiting rooms. If we were eating lunch alone, we had a book for companionship. Books are, and always have been, a bright and prominent thread in the fabric of our lives.

      • You’ve definitely got your finger on a changed sociological pulse there. Well said.

        Regarding the cereal boxes, remember when they came with the prospect of finding a miniature plastic toy buried deep inside? Your parents would tell you to aportion the cereal normally and then wait for the hidden prize to come out by itself (which could take weeks, depending on how much cereal you had for breakfast). Inevitably you’d try that disciplined approach for a couple of days and then finally decide, when no one was looking , to try the direct approach and bury your hand deep inside the box, feel around and pull out the treasure. The reading part usually came in with the instructions on how to assembly the toy you’d just found.

        • As a child, I learned how to read (at the belated age of 3) from engine repair manuals, then rapidly branched out into the Encyclopedia Britianica [two editions] and Encyclopedia Americana, the Time Life home repair encyclopedia, 84 years of National Geographic magazine (missing only a very few of the earliest edition, but containing volume one issue one from 1888) then I branched out into names like H.G. Wells, Paul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, and so forth.

          My older brother to this day reads Zane Grey, Mac Bolan, Tom Clancy (rest his soul, I dedicated one of my books to him O:-) ) and a few others of that ilk.

          My mom reads mystery stories and animal stories, when she was much younger she read many of the types I grew up on, back when they were ‘new releases’ and not reprints.

          Now I proof read/edit (at a pitifully slow rate) my own stories with 10 titles either released, waiting for a book cover, in editing, or waiting to be edited, plus nearly 70 more titles (every one with no fewer than 2 sequels), so I may be writing (and still more proof reading) until the day I die.

          It was my dream to become a writer at the venerable age of four, but it took nearly a half century before I really got the hang of putting a story into somewhat legible, sensible, coherent strings worthy of being called books.

          I truly wish I had focused on this earlier in life when my brain functioned more astutely, I might be wealthy and famous by now.

          I do find, however, there are very few people out there who will read my books, mainly because people simply no longer feel like reading.

          Those who do are mostly in countries such as Israel where people spend much more time reading and less time watching television or other forms of electronic media.

        • Remember when you chose your cereal predicted on the delightful toy it was likely to contain as opposed to whether or you actually liked the cereal? Then you were fated to eat that cereal for a week or more, whether you liked it or not.

          • I have always leaned toward steak and eggs with home fries, biscuits and gravy personally.

            But then again I was an odd nerdy child who would trade my dessert for another kid’s vegetables too. ~( ‘w’)/

  • Love this list and your speaking style (which mirrors my own). I’m 3/5 of the way through a sci-fi book and believe I’ve avoided all your pitfalls except one. I feel like I need to write at least 1/5 of filler (more character development and relationship development; a long red herring just to reach the sci-fi-required 155,000 pages). The problem is that the book flows at a good clip and the two dozen test readers have all loved the pace and expressed connection with the characters except for the one who prefers a 700 page tome and wants me to take a complete detour to develop this things more.
    Your blog tells me to go with my gut and let the story flow logically to its end. And now I know the reader will put my book down without getting to the glorious end (which in itself is a challenge to present well).

  • #16 is a big one for me. I’m busy. If I’m going to spend that much time with characters, I need to like them despite/because of their imperfections and feel like there’s something about them to admire. If I despise liars in real life, I’m also going to despise them in a story. Not that they can *never* lie, but dang…if that’s their answer to practically everything, I begin to feel they lack good problem-solving skills (as well as good character), so they’re uninteresting as well as annoying.

    Additional reasons I won’t finish a book, most pretty specific to me:
    1) The story goes off the rails and is taking me somewhere I don’t want to go.
    2) Most paragraphs are made up of only one or two sentences, so it feels like I’m being made to read a little kiddy chapter book.
    3) Overly simplified language and/or an excess of sentence fragments. There are places for these, but they get old for me really quickly. Although the best writing may not be overloaded with a plethora of long words, often the shorter, more common words aren’t nuanced enough. It’s like the writer only broke out the 8-pack of crayons for his picture.

    And those things I dislike may or may not have been done by the writer. It could have been the editor looking at trends for what sells. But I don’t care about what sells, just what I like to read.

    • “Although the best writing may not be overloaded with a plethora of long words, often the shorter, more common words aren’t nuanced enough. It’s like the writer only broke out the 8-pack of crayons for his picture.”

      That’s putting it superbly.

  • This post got me thinking about how writing is a discipline: a craft one continually strives to master. I suppose too many fiction writers aren’t even trying to write clearly. Or, they rely on editors or writing groups to clean up their sloppy prose, muddy plots, and unclear characters. Or, they think that an otherworldly setting or intense action is all their story needs. But stories must be crafted. Stories must have a message. Every word you write must matter, or it needs to be cut. Treat writing like a discipline, and your stories will naturally improve even if they never achieve greatness. So what fiction doesn’t hold my interest? Any fiction where the writer has forgotten that writing is a discipline, which is most fiction, I’m afraid.

    • I am not a writer.

      I am a reporter/journalist.

      I report the stories in the field, as they happen.

      All I have to do is make sure what I saw is clearly conveyed to the audience.

      Sure, that means a LOT of literary skills, but the plot, the setting and all those ‘high minded’ details are all neatly taken care of by the story.

      I find when I mull over a story often times it starts making sense to me which is always pretty awesome!
      *\(^_^)/*

      I eagerly await chances to visit these stories again and report more events from them in the future!

  • This is part of the reason I can’t enjoy YA fiction anymore. Loads of adults read it, and eat it up. I can’t. Because of a few reasons:

    a)teen angst. Pretty much all YA has it. If your character (probably in the 1st person, which is worse) goes out of their way to tell me how “unfair” the world is, and how much their job sucks, no one around me understands me, blah blah I have a real hard time giving a shit about that character. Especially if it’s in the first few pages. No one likes complainers. I was raised to not complain about shit that I had no business complaining about. For example, the opening chapters of Miss Peregrine’s nail down how shitty his privileged-rich kid-always-guaranteed-a-job-parents-are-normal-and supportive–life is. Give me a break. If your character is angsty he better have a damn good reason.
    b)romance for the sake of romance. Ugh. I know young readers are full of hormones. Just stop.
    c)”As the main character, I know better than everyone else and I refuse to listen to anyone, because conflict/antihero.” Having just one character run the show is boring. If the story happens because the edgy guy or gal refuses to listen to reason, or anyone, I begin to reallllly dislike that character.
    d)stupid character names. You know lots of examples, don’t cha?

  • I like this list for reading books or watching shows and movies. Usually I force myself to finish something because I feel I have no right to criticize or dislike unless I have finished it. And sometimes I do like the story later on like Pride and Prejudice. The first half was boring and confusing but I had to read it for school. I ended up enjoying the second half. Sometimes I finish it because the concept seems interesting and I stupidly hope it will get better though. But there are things that literally make it impossible for me to continue. A couple things you didn’t mention are where there are a fuck ton of characters being introduced within five seconds of each other and I can’t keep up with who’s who so every time I read a name I have to go back and try to figure out who this person is. In which case I usually quit. It’s really bad when they aren’t unique. I find this is a bigger problem with some of the old classics. It was one reason I couldn’t stand the first half of Pride and Prejudice. I had no idea who was who. There were too many to keep up with. The other thing I can’t stand though is changing the main character though that’s really a personal thing. Like I don’t mind reading the story from a different persons view for a chapter or so. I’m talking about when the main character changes for good. I quit some series that I really adored because the main character got old and they went to the child of the character or they switched between telling the individual stories of each character per book. I can’t do it. Or just really weird things. Like this was actually an anime show, but it started with two teens in a love hotel with sounds of indecent acts and not showing anything too raunchy but showing a bit more skin than necessary. But they weren’t really doing much it just sounded like they were. But then they step out the door of this room and they are on the street of a city that looks like it’s been through hell and back and a giant robot head falls from the sky landing in front of them. That was basically the first five minutes. I quit. I can’t think of any book examples off the top of my head, but there are some things that are just too out there.

  • This might be more helpful with more examples. #17 is a pretty important one because I love world building but I’m left with no idea if I’m overdoing it just based on what’s written. The plate analogy is funny and all but it doesn’t really add any clarity.

  • I was in the process of writing a similar post, “Why I don’t read in my genres anymore”, and found your post while bouncing around websites. I read it once and thought, “Why bother? I’ll never write anything as good as this,” then reread your post and thought, “Fuck it. It may not be as good and isn’t that what this is all about?”

    Thanks for your post. It solidified much of my thinking. I’ll be referencing it often and widely starting here.

  • Huh, I’ve been writing ever since i was a girl, not all of it good and most of it terrible actually. But as I’ve gotten older and more serious about my craft and my voice in my writing and because of all that I’ve taken more serious overtures into the publishing scene and wondered what was wrong with my stuff? So thank you for writing this, it’s made me stop and take a look at my own fiction and think about it in a different manner, not so much as an author but more in the way of a reader and i can’t tell you enough how much i appreciate that. 🙂

    Personally I think it’s the stakes and the context that get lost with me… I like writing short stories and I think these end up getting lost in my editing, so I’ll be working on that.

    That and it was a genuine pleasure to read.

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