25 Reasons Readers Will Quit Reading Your Story

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.

18. Copypasta

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”

  1. This list makes me want to curl up in a bath and claw my wrists open with ragged fingernails, muttering “The edits! They do nothing!” while my half-finished novel laughs at me.

    Which is not to say that it’s a bad list.

    To answer the question, I’ve been noticing that first paragraphs are real red flags to me. If it’s a solid block of text that goes for more than half a page, it’d better be a masterclass in lyrical, evocative prose.

    And make sure I know who the POV character is by no later than the second page. It’s probably just me, but I struggle to engage with a story that doesn’t give me an avatar (for want of a better word) straight away.

  2. Have you ever actually seen earthworms having sex? I did once and I’m pretty sure it was in my driveway.

    They sidle up next to each other and excrete this gelatinous goo that functions like those things that connect to airplanes so you can walk in. In this goo they exchange biological information.

    With ebooks these days I sample a ton and if I am not engrossed within five minutes or so you’re toast. All of the things above apply but the most annoying to me are the expository dialogue, info dumps, and rampant insipidity.

    This last one is particularly relevant to fantasy. I love a good fantasy but the thing with fantasy is that it is incredibly easy to do it incredibly poorly.

  3. I have two, both of which are illustrated by things I read as samples on my kindle. Now keep in mind that normally if I read a sample and don’t like it then fine by me, I lost some time but that was all. These, on the other hand, I should have been payed to read.

    1. Dry prose. You want to engage me? Give me something to tickle the senses. Sight, sound, smell or even just interesting thoughts going on. Tell me things, show me things and I am a happy man. I like my reading to be squishy, lurid, visceral. Hence why I favor Howard over Lovecraft.
    The example that fueled this? I once read a sample of Tarnsmen of Gor as I actually know a few Goreans and wanted to get to understand them better. And now I do: they have a high tolerance for reading description free boring text that repeats ad nauseum. In one sample I cannot tell you how many times the main character felt the need to inform me that the camping gear he had was borrowed from his friend in the athletic department. I mean really, in the entire sample while things happened I couldn’t be bothered to care about any of it.

    2. Messing with the tropes to quickly and loosely. Now a small warning to this one: I get that things need to change, and really I am glad to see things shaken up as fiction moves on, but you have to work really really hard to make me buy some changes and the more you change the more I wonder why you don’t just use a new name for things.

    The obvious here is Twilight and how it changes vampires and while I feel that is a fine example it’s not the one I am going for.

    I read a sample of some novel about noble orcs fighting barbaric humans and serving a dark goddess figure while the author mocked Christianity with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer to the face. It was poor on many levels but what struck me the most was the orcs themselves. You want to make orcs heroic individuals instead of interchangeable evil grunts? I can go with that. You want them to be intelligent and fight like it? Sure. You want them using rapiers and daggers while the physically smaller humans wield giant axes? The hell are you thinking? The hallmark of the orc as an idea is that they are big. The intelligent thing for them to do is use a weapon that takes advantage of that. Sure make them heroes, Blizzard did that rather well really. Sure make them smarter and less ugly like in Shadowrun. But really leave some iconic part intact so we know they are still, you know, orcs. As opposed to what honestly read like Aryan supermen.

  4. Great list.

    The most recent book I had to stop reading mid-way was like fairy gold: it seemed bright and shiny at first, but quickly devolved into a handful of jagged rocks. .

    A bad first page is a good reason not to buy a book. In this case, the first line was one of the best I’ve ever come across. The first page rocked. The second page was good. The tenth page was okay. But my page 30, it was pure shit. The betrayal was somehow greater than if I’d been turned off at the start.

    My other pet peeve is POV characters who KNOW what’s going on, but keep it secret from the audience. If I’m supposed to be in your head, you shouldn’t be keeping secrets from me.

    Whew. I feel strangely cleansed.

  5. I’ve had issues with books that seem to hit the right notes, but the sum of their parts and the execution paled to what it should have felt to me. I think this is weak writing more than anything, though there have been books, where the POV character is so annoying and her behaviour includes word for word repetition of certain actions… It’s a gag fest for me.

  6. Great list, and covers a lot of the things that stop me reading (which is rare, as I have forced myself to read some terrible books in the past – mainly to learn how not to do it!)

    I actually prefer stories that are bad from the beginning; that way I know what I’m in for. The worst is a story that has all the bells and whistles, and keeps me going right to the end only to pull the rug out from under me, smashing my face into the hard, unforgiving concrete of a shitty ending. Infuriating doesn’t begin to describe the sensation. The Beach by Alex Garland is a perfect example – great set up, fantastic tone throughout, only for the end to be a complete cop out of what had gone before. And I have never looked at another Garland book since.

  7. I’ll put a book down for the same reason I put down a JackInTheBox egg roll–it tastes bad. One thing that leaves a bad taste in my mouth is no hope. If the protagonist doesn’t care about the world and how to live in it, I don’t want to read about them.
    However, humor covers over a multitude of sins. A book can have half the mistakes you’ve listed above, but if it makes me laugh or giggle or even half-smile … I’ll keep reading.

  8. Predictability. My book shelves have more than a few dust caked book corpses that shall never be revived by me because I knew how they were going to end.

    Oh your main character’s father disappeared when they were a little kid? Right around the time that the novel’s big, bad villain started killing folks? Gee…I wonder how this it going to turn out…

    Oh you’re about to go into the final showdown between our hero and his nemesis? And you’re mentioning some dangerous object in the room like it’s a clown at a funeral? Hmmm…I think I’d like to solve the puzzle…

    If your premise makes the ending inevitable, I’m already bored. I’m not saying I need to be completely surprised by what happens in a book, but I like there to be at least a little uncertainty. Even when the ending is inescapable. The Titanic is -going- to sink. The Apollo 13 crew is going to come back safely. Anakin is inexplicably going to hook up with Natalie Portman. If you can at least make the journey uncertain, then it might be redeemable. MIGHT. No amount of Natalie Portman can save the Skywalker family now…

  9. You said it, Chuck.
    But sometimes, it’s me not you. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood. The first time I tried Dorothy Dunnett’s “Game of Kings,” I really wasn’t engaged. It’s hard going, that first book, but it was the first book she wrote, or the first one she had published. I could see why. I had another go. No better.
    Then my life changed and in the hiatus between selling my house and moving, I tried it again. That damn book took me away, and finally I got it. There are six books in that series, and I ploughed through them at a rate of knots. I showed people around my house with a copy of the latest one in my hand. I even remember the book I was on when I sold the house, “Pawn In Frankincense.”
    So sometimes, you have to be in the right mood for the book.

    And sometimes everybody loves it and you don’t and you don’t know why. You can think of excuses, but not the real reason why everybody you know is raving about it, and you just don’t get it. Maybe there is no real reason.

  10. In the case of Stephenson’s Anathema, I gave up about 2/3 of the way through (maybe page 600 or so) because the pace was slow and I stopped caring. He did a tremendous job of building a world, a society and a culture, but he spent so much time explaining it via character discussions that I just lost interest. The payoff wasn’t there for me.

  11. Big, thick chunks of prose-laden paragraph telling me what stuff looks like. Blah, blah, blah . . . and it turns out it’s not important, I feel I’ve wasted my time reading it or, worse still, the writer is just showing off about how clever they are. I find myself skipping ahead until I find people *talking* or *doing*. If the blah blah comes up too much I might consider reading something else.

  12. I’ll usually give a book fifty pages. The only thing that’ll turn me off before then is godawful cruddy style and piles of typos, which will bring me grinding to a crimson haze, axe-wielding, Bill-Burroughs-on-a-bad-day stop right on the first page, usually hurling the book straight into the fire. If a writer can’t be arsed *writing* the goddamn thing properly, I certainly can’t be arsed *reading* it. Oh, yes, and thesaurus monsters who just love to see those crunchy rococo clusters of verbiage just pile up on the page, screeching THOU SHALT NOT PASS. If it looks like the verbal equivalent of intestines, then I shall treat it as such.

    Apart from that, I’m quite forgiving.

  13. The only book I ever bought and couldn’t stand (so much that I threw it out and I HATE throwing away books), was because I HATED the characters.

    It wasn’t that they weren’t interesting or cardboard cut outs or anything like that. Perhaps they just weren’t my cup of tea. Their combination of actions, words and personality simply made me HATE them.

    (It’s one thing when you have teen characters who act like they know everything, it’s another to have a teen character who actually seemed to be smarter than the adults. Then there was this girl who apparently would rather die than marry the love of her life, who suddenly stopped being the love of her life because he lied about sleeping with her. Okay, yes, I’d be pissed off. But it was in my pov understandable that the boy caved to peer pressure. For the girl to just HATE him that INTENSELY, enough to throw her life away….it’s ridiculous.)

    Point is…if I hate the characters, I’m not gonna keep reading for very much longer.

  14. It’s funny to look at how readers’ preferences have changed regarding the wall of exposition. Point number 17 took me straight back to reading Moby Dick when the paragraph smash was acceptable and encouraged on a literary level. I think it was Hemingway who actually shifted the expectations from “wall of prose” to “immediate gratification.” I thank him for it.

    Things that make me put a book down include recapping the same action from multiple points of view (Why Eddings? I loved you so much), walking the audience through all the steps of what is essentially a dungeon crawl, adding so many characters to a book that you have to slug through chapters of characters you don’t give a damn about to read two pages on the ones you do (I’m looking at you Robert Jordan), and overly long lulls in action that provide a natural pausing point in reading but lack the incentive to pick it back up.

    As a side note Patrick Rothfuss has a way of doing #17 with class. His execution and craft are so dynamic that he can actually pull it off while still being enjoyable.

  15. I think you’ve covered every reason I’ve ever tossed a book. For me, it comes down to respect. Does the writer respect the reader’s intelligence? And does the writer respect their obligation to work their ass off to make it the best book they can produce?

  16. I don’t think I’ve given up on any book, but the Godfather had a tough slog through Sicilian backstory, if I remember correctly. But when you got to the good stuff, it was worth the muddy boots.

    Recently, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest had a tough slog through Swedish politics. I suppose it was necessary.

    My stepson walked away from Moby Dick shaking his head. “Why do they consider that a classic?” he lamented.

  17. Great list. Nothing irritates me faster than a story that seems like it’s waiting for permission to start. Main character walks around. Main character has a nice lunch. Main character makes a plan to do something, eventually. Main character sees a ghost in the toilet, thinks “hm, that’s peculiar,” finishes lunch.

    No character should leave a scene completely unchanged. The more they do, the greater the chance the book (and the author) will lose me.

  18. I also wanted to add that personally, I don’t mind characters I hate. If I hate a character, at least I have an opinion about them. It’s complete indifference I can’t deal with. If the protagonist is a hateful idiot and yet the world seems to adore him/her, that’s a tougher sell, but I don’t have to like characters to find them compelling.

  19. My two biggest complaints: characters who act stupidly for no good reason, and characters I don’t care about.

    Probably the best example of stupid characters I ever ran into was a book back in the 80’s, trying to be something like a literary Judge Dredd. Early in the story, there’s this long aircar chase, with the bad guy chasing the protagonist, firing weapons, causing havoc, and being a persistant pain in the ass. After FIVE PAGES, the protagonist decides, “Enough of this, time to fire my rear-mounted missile.” Touch one button, dead bad guy. What? Did you just forget for five pages that you had that missile?

    As for the characters I don’t care about, I find that happens more with movies. Frequently, I’ve gotten about thirty or sixty minutes into a film and realized that I would be perfectly happy if the movie ended right then in a nuclear holocaust, snuffing out ever character I’d seen so far. When I get to that point, it’s time to press eject. I don’t care if it’s up for an Academy Award, I’m not spending another hour of my life with these people.

  20. Your lists are always awesome!!

    What makes me put down a book instantly (and this goes for fantasy books) is if I feel like I have to take notes in the first 50 pages just to keep up with all the new and unfamiliar things the author introduces. It’s cool to make up things in fantasy but have it grounded in something I’m familiar with otherwise I’m completely lost and I will put the book down.

    Also, really slow, slow, slooooow beginnings. One book that comes to mind is Wicked. I wanted to love it so bad. But I was a few chapters in and nothing was happening really. I was bored out of mind…

  21. I usually quit 2/3 – 3/4 of the way through, when the author decides, “Enough of this action! It’s time to shut everything down and meticulously describe something completely different.” Some of the most famous, most-awarded books do this, and I wonder why nobody dings the author for it. Doesn’t that annoy ANYONE?

  22. I once stopped cold reading a Dean Koontz novel when he killed a kitten in a gruesome cruel way. Just couldn’t read another word, and didn’t read him for years after. Then, apparently someone mentioned the kitten incident to him and he got all warm and fuzzy with dogs.
    I have struggled through many books, trying to find the merit in them, and these are paper books, so someone queried, agented, edited and PUBLISHED them, and STILL, IMHO, they sucked.
    And yet, I am puzzled that so many traditionally published books are so (can’t say imperfect) obviously written for someone other than me.
    This has given me hope for my own writing.
    Although I think that literature will change with indie/ebooks, because the traditional gatekeepers; Publishers, with THEIR taste in books, will be bypassed, and the awards will go to the People’s Choice.

  23. What will generally turn me off is a story that has obviously started in the wrong place. This inevitably leads to pages and pages of dry, often POV-less exposition. Even worse, sometimes it leads to flashbacks; one book I started even had flashbacks within its flashbacks, which quickly put that book in my “I’m done with you” pile.

  24. Amen to point #1. My to-read pile is taller than I am. If I’m going to add to it, I’d better be damned convinced the book is worth my time.

    One concern (and a blog post I swear I’m going to write up one of these days) is the focus so many writing sites put on that first sentence/paragraph/page/chapter: “Make sure this chunk of your story pops so you get agents’ or editors’ or readers’ attention!” It’s good advice, but sometimes I think they leave out the point that you picked up from the Author Guy: everything that follows those first pages ought to get the same level of attention and polish.

    Another thing that will make me stop reading: characters who are too self-absorbed to react to world/plot events. “Oh no! A cataclysmic event just wiped out the west coast! Now I’ll never know who won Dancing With the Stars! WORST DAY EVER!” Couple chapters of it, to show how they eventually change? Sure, I’ll go with it. But 300 pages of it, no thank you.

  25. My biggest peeve? Writers who make new worlds and new breeds of character, write new rules for those new worlds and breeds, then don’t follow their own rules. Seriously, take notes. I remember it if you tell me your werewolf-fairy-vampire hybrid has saliva so acidic it will dissolve titanium. Please don’t then have him doing the tongue tango with a human female and expect me to believe that her face won’t melt off.

  26. Last book I couldn’t finish was Cold Mountain. I got 70-something pages in, and I swear, only 2 things kinda happened.

    The guy’s writing and descriptions were very, very good. Exceptionally good. But even gorgeous writing needs to have some shit actually happen in it. I couldn’t stay with it. I think it may have also been a problem that it was TOO good, and too thorough, to the point that I wasn’t having to do the glorious work of filling in the blanks (which readers WANT) but in fact, the “work” I was having to do was following all the meandering paragraphs to nowhere, trying like hell to find an actual event. It was exhausting.

    One way or another, if I catch myself rolling my eyes, that book is headed for the dustbin. Unless, of course, I am in jail again, in which case shitty books are your only thing to do.

  27. I put down _Game of Thrones_ for reason #24. I’m just not into fantasy, and no matter how interesting the book was, it just wasn’t hooking me.

    I wish I could have put down Robert Jordan’s first book, Eye of the Whatever or Something, because it bored me to tears, but at the time I had this weird hangup about finishing books once I started them. I’ve since come to my senses.

  28. I reading a “stream of consciousness” thing right now. I have persevered all the way to page 73. I’m fairly ambivalent about the form, and honestly if I hadn’t promised to review it, I think I would have binned it around page 5.

    We’ll see if it manages to capture me sometime before I slam blindly into the back cover.

  29. The most common reason I’ll put a book down? Because I’m just not having *fun*. I read to escape, not to feel miserable, and if I’m not enjoying the story? Done.

    That doesn’t mean the book has to be one big happyjoygasm. Actually, I wouldn’t find that even *remotely* fun. The kinds of stories I enjoy let me step into a character in a terrible situation, and imagine myself overcoming it, just like the protagonist.

  30. Your list covered just about all the reasons why I stop reading, but one of the smaller things you sort of touched on is when an author doesn’t push the premise. It starts out feeling cool and interesting, but rather than figuring out how to push the ideas to the fullest, the author sort of settles on “good enough”. What once had great potential is now squandered on mediocre plotting. It’s always so disappointing.

    Something else that bothers me is mediocrity in general. I don’t mean to sound sobbish, but once you’re read a lot of books, especially within a certain genre, you know what feels familiar. I love urban fantasy, but I’ve read so much of it that a book really has to do something new and interesting to catch my attention.

    I’ll read something new and there will be nothing technically wrong with the book–good characters, interesting plot–but it will still feel blah because the author didn’t push every detail. Instead of unforgettable characters, they were just good. Instead of a kick ass plot, it was just entertaining.

    I think this is where the details bring your story to life. You can have a similar sounding premise, but if you pile on the cool and interesting details, the book transcends itself. A cool detail is almost like finding out a little secret. It’s like a little jolt of energy into the reader that keeps them going.

    These details don’t really have to be that big or clever either. Just something that makes your reader go “oh cool” or “interesting” or “ewww.” The Harry Potter books are the best example I can think of with my sleep deprived brain. Rowling just piled on detail after detail to the characters, the world, the plot, until you couldn’t help but fall totally into the book she created.

    Anyway, just my opinion. Great post!

  31. I read many books, and through the process I’ve discovered that I have roughly the attention span of an ADHD squirrel on crack. Which is to say, if the pace doesn’t move and the dialogue doesn’t snap I’m gone.

    I can suspend disbelief through plenty of shattered archetypes, but if you’re boring, you’re gone – and by “boring” I mean if you have two consecutive pages in which nothing happens to entertain me and/or in which your grammatical errors take me out of the story…

    buh bye.

    Those looking for the definition of “not boring” will please refer to any of Chuck Wendig’s “25 things” posts – if I can’t tell what’s coming, but know the next sentence will be as chock-full of awesome as a coke-addled octopus wielding four ninja swords and an uzi, we just crossed the border out of boringville.

  32. I have an over developed “must watch this train wreck” gene and I often keep reading just to see how bad it can get. I also take notes and share them with my friends, but that’s a character flaw and another subject.

    A few things will stop me (or at least start imagining revenge scenarios about the author).

    Writers who don’t know the difference between plot and situation. I can see the author’s hand on every page, moving characters around the stage like stop-motion animation dummies. Plot is action, but it is action with purpose, fueled by character motives and desires and goals.

    Characters who don’t exist outside the story. Great characters have lives beyond the story. You get the feeling you’d know them if you met them on the street. You wonder what they’re doing when they’re off stage, because damn it, you know they’re up to something. They have lives to live and stuff to do and people to hate or love. Lousy characters are like stage actors. They exist only on the stage. I never feel as if they’re real or worth knowing since all they do is run around according to a script. That’s boring.

    Lousy villains AND writers who don’t know the difference between a villain and an antagonist. Every story needs a good antagonist, even if there is no villain, or else why should I care about the protagonist’s struggles? No story needs a mustache twirler gloating and chortling about how much he delights in evil.

    One writing quirk is too much for my even my high tolerance and I will toss down a book in disgust if it happens more than a few times. Explainery. The character produces a gun from his pocket, and THEN the author feels compelled to tell me how the gun got there and why the character is carrying it and maybe the make and model, too. Or, the character slams a door or smiles, which launches the author into yet another explanation for why the character did what he did. Hey, if the action needs a set up, then set it up. After the fact, I do not care.

  33. Multiple viewpoints done maliciously drive me up the wall. Too often, characters are interchangeable in voice and action so telling the story from each point of view is a cheap trick to allow the author to jump cut from one scene to another.

    Worse, when the viewpoint channel surfing mangles up the sense of pacing. It’s been a while since you checked in on the dude flying across the country. If you feel the need to cut to the in-flight movie in the midst of a rooftop fight to the death I’ll not only toss the book aside but I’ll hope your next trip to the grocery store involves a deliberate kick to the groin.

  34. #9: I write SF and one pet peeve I have is over-expository paragraphs or dialogue that attempts to describe how this dystopia world arrived. I call this character Dr. Splainsitoll. “When the evil Obama administration took over and took away the guns, the Sphichterons arrived, sucking all our natural resources into their Colon ships.”

    It’s not just the first page, but the first line that has to hook you like one of those Hellraiser flying hooks. My favorite first line is from Scalzi’s Old Man’s War – I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.

  35. I’m not the Disney ending only type of person (although I do enjoy happy endings from time to time). I enjoy crazy twists and even enjoy the villain winning (because lets face it, it does happen). What really makes me annoyed is when a story’s soul seems to just die with the ending. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book or watched a movie and when it ended I felt like scorching the book and piss on the ashes or smash my television and gear up to assassinate M. Knight Shamalamanon (WHAT A TWIST!).

    I think this goes with the bad punch line bit. You wait through an entire series, which builds up and has all the right elements, characters you genuinely care for and a near feverish need to reach the end, and when you do, not only are you scratching your head, but you’re actually peeling your scalp off in frustration.

    It’s like playing DND with your friends. The DM is making these challenges to entertain the group, but you put trust in them not to throw something too powerful because the entire party dying is not really fun for anyone (unless that DM is a complete DICK). And then one night, they have an arguement with their mate, the DM is all pissy so they take it out on the players and now its a giant TPK (Total party Kill) and everyone is bitter.

    Also, stories that are extremly predictable are boring to read. I need something that is engaging, that I connect with, and leaves me with some kind of closure. IE “moral of the story” even if that moral makes me question my own, in fact thats even better.

    And for FUCK sake can someone get Hollywood to stop shitting out terrible movies with high flash budgets! Jesus, its like the Director is masturbating on the screen and forcing me to watch his eye candy orgasm.

    /end rant.

  36. How about writing that is clever for the sake of being clever. Overtly wordsmithy. Writing that pays more attention to the language than it does the characters or plot. Obvious thesaurus abuse. Metaphors extended within an inch of their lives.
    When I read, I want to be so drawn into the story that the words disappear, not be smacked up-side the head with them.

  37. I agree with Amy. Overly clever writing with no humor bores me to tears. Also, anything John Updike’s written. Who cares about these bored surburbanites having affairs? Fuck that guy!

  38. It takes a really special present-tense book to grab me. Not saying one couldn’t, but I usually find it such a distraction that I put the book down early. I often scan for it and eliminate a book right of the bat.

  39. Sadly, am not finishing a number of books these days, don’t have time anymore for crap. Have even been disappointed by some terric writers I normally love. The brilliant Dan Simmons has let me down with the last two of his I’ve tried (Black Hills and Flashback), mostly because of characters I don’t care about. Same with Neal Stephenson’s Anathem (and I’ve loved everything else until then). Was loving Brunonia Barry’s The Lace Reader, until she suddenly shifted the POV, almost halfway in! What, because she couldn’t figure out how to finish the same way, or the publisher had her on deadline? Damnit! Now I’m pissed at what was a terrific story, and it’s completely distracted me.
    Don’t like books that make the reader hate the human race, with no redeeming features whatsoever. Seem to be more of those, gritty, gruesome, lurid, nasty bits, without a hint of real humor or compassion.
    And mysteries that rely heavily on the precise timing of coincidences, held-back info, and a chain of unbelievable circumstance and actions. Way too many of those.

  40. Most of my reasons would be the same as yours. I vowed several years ago to stop reading a book I wasn’t enjoying (after my son pointed out that there are more books in the world than you can possibly read in a lifetime) but I broke my vow after I got published and started reviewing other people’s books. My God, I have read some awful crap. My pet hates: Telling the story through dialogue, so a character tells another character, who obviously must know all about it already, what is going on. Eg, man says to his best friend, “My daughter Elizabeth, who is five years old and has blue eyes… and so on.
    Bad grammar – I know they don’t teach grammar in school any more, but surely if you write for a living you should have at least a passing acquaintance with it. Most editors don’t seem to understand it these days.
    Unbelievable, unlikeable or just downright boring characters.
    Long, detailed and incredibly boring sex scenes. I’m really not interested in what other people do in bed. I am not a voyeur and I am already familiar with the mechanics, thankyou.
    That’s enough. I enjoyed that. Thank you for the opportunity to rant.

  41. When the author has characters ask the questions the reader should be asking, as if we are not clever enough to realize there are things the characters (and readers) need to discover in order to triumph (survive, etc.).

    Truly reprehensible men being presented as the romantic hero, based almost entirely on their good looks and/or special ability to save the heroine. If the story involves cataclysm, and she is the only one he is concerned about saving, then I am no longer convinced of his heroism. If she is the only one he CAN save, then fine. If she is the first one he thinks of saving, then fine. But “fuck the rest of the human race; she is all that matters!” will result in a fiery death for that book.

    Also, established authors who rely on the exact same plot elements and framework for every book. This becomes especially obvious when you’re working your way through their backlist and realize you’ve read the same book three times with slightly different settings and character names.

  42. Great list and excellent comments. After judging a national writing award, I’m cross-eyed and exhausted by an avalanche of first person – worse, present-tense – narratives, and manuscripts that “tell” rather than show for hundreds of pages. Caesar’s wife time – aphrodesiac should be aphrodisiac, Chuck. And someone above said they were “payed to read” instead of “paid.” Wouldn’t have mentioned these but for #2 being Typos and Errors. Still a terrific column I’ll be sending others to read.

  43. If the main character is an absolute shitheap with no redeeming features then I’m going to put the book down.

    I’m OK with magnificnt bastards and even MC’s who are outright villains, but if they’re just plain jerks through and through, not interested.

  44. One of the worst things for me, and I think others have alluded to it as well, is a completely linear plot. A problem (or several) crop up, the main character thinks of how to solve it, and then goes and does exactly that. Sometimes, to create suspense, the writer won’t tell you what the hero’s plan was. That is not okay. Have some surprises. Don’t always have the antagonists know exactly what the protags are thinking, and vice versa. Too many otherwise well-written books suffer from this (imo).

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