Last week I asked: what gets you to read a book?
What works to convince you to pick up that book and start reading?
That post generated over 180 comments.
It’s actually pretty enlightening — I’d suggest that writers and publishers and anybody peripherally related to the publishing industry poke through those comments. It’s a long read, but contains some surprising answers (f’rex, blurbs figure in more than I would’ve imagined).
This week, I want to look at the other side of the question:
Once you’ve picked up a book, what gets you to set it down?
More importantly, what ensures you won’t likely pick it up again?
What is it about a story, the writing, the author that stops you from reading further? What for you is the story-killer? Something about the wordsmithy? Something about the content or about a character? I will, as always, hang up and wait for your answer.
256 responses to “Bookish Turn-Offs?”
I’ll usually keep at it with a book unless it is so convoluted that I can’t follow the story. I also will put down a book if most of the characters have similar names (Ashley, Ashen, Asheen) or there is a cast of characters larger than an typical Italian wedding. I’m a hopeless optimist. I’ll watch a really bad movie, late at night, JUST KNOWING that it’ll get better. I’m like that with books too. I read Fifty Shades, just KNOWING that it was going to get better…I’m a little less optimistic now…
Extreme foreshadowing. Now, *some* foreshadowing is a legit writing thing, and it’s fine. Have you ever read “Floating Dragon” by Peter Straub? He tells you everything that happens before it does. Not shadows, TELLS YOU. One chapter opens with a police officer that we haven’t met yet. I’m all “oh, this must be the one that dies horribly that everyone’s been talking about.” And it was. MAIN CHAR, WHY ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT YOUR UNBORN CHILD IN THE PAST TENSE, STOP, IT WILL RUIN THE SUSPENSE OF THE MISCARRIAGE SCENE!!!
I’ve stopped reading the series he’s writing with King, as much as I actually enjoyed it, because fuck that shit. It’s ok that you can tell from the style who’s writing what chapter, because it’s not a secret that there are two authors. But do you fucking have to start a chapter “I’d like to tell you that it all turned out all right…” AAAARRRGGGHHHH. Now that series is going to merge with the Dark Tower universe? Sad, no more Dark Tower universe for me. :'(
The accepted term for this phenomenon is “fiveshadowing.”
I don’t make up the words. I just enforce their proper use.
Excellent question, Chuck. Most of the books I put down are the types that are either too obvious or too oblivious. They either think the reader is a fool or an imbecile, and veer toward giving too much away or trying to get away with murder. You cannot think you are smarter than your reader, and you cannot think your reader will go along with everything you say just because you say it. Give us plausible explanations and we will go along, but give us bullshit and we will smell it a mile away.
Biggest killer would be verbosity, especially long-winded melodrama. I read mostly scifi and too much jargon and info-dumping makes me put a book down too. Generally, anything that needs a lot of description to comprehend conflicts with my ADD. Also, after reading some Heinlein, I noticed I don’t care about stories that resonate a strong political, moral, or philosophical message. I may sound like an impatient sociopath, but I know my turn-offs and they resemble things I actually appreciate outside of reading. Hence, stories are an escape for me.
Characters doing something that seems to be out of character. An extreme example would be a naive innocent girl turns around and stabs someone, and shrugs if off without any remorse. It makes me want to shred the book or burn it something.
There are almost no books I have stopped reading once I have started. I am pretty genre specific with science fiction and fantasy and usually tough it out. The ones I have put down are 1) those that have been mislabeled as fantasy or science fiction when they are really a romance or other tripe with a spaceship or a dragon thrown in for color, 2) Books that are internally inconsistent regarding how their magic system work or their extrapolated science works. There is no suspension of disbelief if these inconsistencies keep jarring you back to reality, 3) Fantasy and science fiction with cutesy names that are so pathetic they overwhelm the story itself – Gormenghast for one example.
I don’t often put down a book I’ve started (must be related to that early indoctrination in eating everything on my plate. . . ). A few that I have given up on, though, either totally failed to grab my interest, so that I never managed to muster the will to pick it up and make progress–or it had significant problems with quality of writing, i.e. typos, mis-used words, and/or anachronisms (in historical fiction).
There are of course many books where I pick up an interesting cover and read the blurb, and think hmm, yeah, maybe, but not really my kind of story. There are whole genres that just don’t interest me.
Oh, let me count the ways. I’ve put down five books in the past seven days.
Let’s see…loads of grammar & spelling mistakes.
Run-on sentences: not “good” run-on sentences, but sentences where someone bakes muffins, takes out the garbage, makes a phone call, thinks, goes to the bathroom, picks their nose, thinks some more, throws in a load of laundry and OHGOD make it stop!
Speaking of food, I don’t need to read about every single ingredient in every single meal. I’m having a lot of food-related issues with recent books.
Cutesy language that makes the character sound 10 years old.
There’s a lot more, but I’ll stop for now.
So many things and, or, combinations of things. I love fantasy…but I get easily bored with the fascination with ‘political’ fantasy. Give me a good epic with a quest, adventure, and real heroes. Any story that demeans males (as a whole) turns me right off. I do not appreciate the trend of making the heroine more important by making the males stupid and worthless. If I get to that…I chuck the book and go elsewhere. No boring black and white without description to bring the world to life. And definetely poor craftsmanship will kill a book. A good story should be well written. I don’t have time to read a lot of books or authors not yet ‘ready’ for publication.
Can’t wait to read all the comments. This should be very educational 🙂
What defines a “real hero”?
Lack of dialogue for pages and pages. Hideous grammatical errors. Misspellings. The story rambling on without ever getting anywhere. A book full of characters I don’t like and can’t like, no matter how they might change. Using fiction as a thin cover for preaching about something. Blatant factual errors. Something so absolutely depressing that I want to kill myself by the end of chapter two. And female characters who look in the mirror and admire their perky breasts.
Typos. I hate them. They take me right out of a story. I can forgive a few but if they’re chronic, it’s difficult for me to invest in the characters. It’s like when an actor struggles with an accent in a movie. I just can’t keep watching, usually.
Also, stilted and/or too on-the-nose dialog. I recently struggled to finish a book that not only had typos, but none of the dialog, regardless of who was speaking, used contractions. No one said, “it’s,” only “it is.” No one said “they’re,” only “they are,” etc. Also, the author brought up the movie GoodFellas, but called it “Good Fellows.” That made me rather furious, for some reason, and from then on I skimmed, just to see what happened. Unfortunately, the author also completely cheated the ending, and towards the middle all the characters started running together. Overall a waste of the $2.99 I spent for the Kindle book. I actually deleted it from my device, and I will never pick up another of that author’s books.
Books that have a Tristam Shandy vibe, where the author knows a couple of tricks and does them, repeatedly, for what begins to feel like a thousand pages or so and after a while I stop hoping for a point, and then I take the book and give it to GoodWill. I felt some of that with Catch-22 (just saying). The cozy ending can sometimes be an off-putter – the all-too-convenient ending – deus-ex-machina was a device before it was a cool video game.
Too much telling and not enough showing or dialogue or character interaction.
I need characters. Just give me a couple interesting characters and I’m good. At some point in every book I’m going to stop and ask myself if I give a shit about any of these characters and if the answer is no then the book goes bye bye and it’s unlikely I will ever pick it up again.
I love characters who have real needs, real flaws and feel real to me. I can’t hack characters who whine and bitch and carry on as though they’re they only ones with problems either. I read one book which was based on Greek Gods called ‘Ackeron’ and for the first half of the book, all the main character did was complain about how good-looking he was (crap, if that was his only problem, what was his worse?). The second half zoomed by once he killed the God who was holding him prisoner for 2,000 years… jeez why didn’t he think about killing her in the first 3 chapters?
Another thing I hate to the teeth is when the author creates character with the same name – or the same name but it’s shortened – like Tom and Tommy in this book I’m trying to read now. The story started out brilliant, fantastic even, and then along came Tom, and his twin brother, Tommy (roll eyes now!) who are related to the main character… now who in the hell would name their twins the same name? Not me for sure if I ever had children! Can you imagine the problems and confusion in life these two characters would have had if they were real people? Yeah, it’d be crap.
Another is mixing past and present tenses… writers! Get it right! For example:
“Go to hell!” she spit (wrong!)
“Go to hell!” she spat (right!)
Getting the tenses wrong puts the reader off, and turns the whole story into something my writing brain begins to pull apart and edit instead of getting in and enjoys. No fun for me at all 🙁
There’s just a few of my pet peeves of writing and books… oh, and the twin brothers who are named Tom and Tommy? Yeah, I’m no longer reading that book… just can’t get past the names. :/
There are any number of things, really, that kill my story-boner, all of which fall under the umbrella of “bad story-telling”.
One thing that I truly despise is excessive description, which for me is more than a few lines. Sometimes I put up with it. It’s the paragraphs of boring, unnecessary shit that drive me away, as if hot fire-pokers are being shoved at my face.
Then, there are the basics. If I don’t have at least a hint of conflict, a protagonist with at least some personality (which I define as the expression of character), and something like a goal that needs achieving, I get antsy. I might not toss the book away-yet. But, I get ready to. My arm’s cocked back and tensed, which is an awkward way to read, but necessary. If key elements of story are missing, I’ve got to be ready to chuck the book and go find another one ASAP. Gotta keep the story-boner going strong.
What makes me stop reading:
Too many characters. I want to stick with one or two and go deep into their emotional lives and trajectories. When an author can’t decide who the story is about, I stop caring.
Closely tied to this problem, confusing or weak transitions.
Bad prose. I mean just shitty, grammatically lame, fucked up, stupid, “telling” prose. Much crappy technique can be forgiven for a good story, but there is a bar below which the strength of a story can’t overcome bad writing.
Lack of emotional resonance. If I can’t relate to the characters or their problems. All action and no interior experience is boring.
Stereotypical, contrived characters. Racism. Sexism.
Lack of story (something must happen).
It’s a buzz kill when I can guess the rest of the story based on the set up. Predictability is a problem, but writers keep pulling the same manipulative tricks. You know if there’s a couple that loves each other, one of them is going to die. If I know who the killer is in a mystery during his first appearance, that’s a problem.
Type that’s too small.
A “life sucks then you die” story in which characters lives are bad for no reason and never get better. When an author drags me through hell, I expect a silver lining – there must be a higher purpose, or a moment that makes sense. Life often doesn’t make sense, but in fiction, it can and should.
I LOATHE a ‘life sucks and then you die’. I know it does. That’s why I’m reading fiction.
I don’t mind a bitter-sweet ending, I like an ackowledgement of what people have lost to get there. But I like them to win. I want the world to be better, even just a little bit, when they’ve finished. At the very least, i want them to not fail. I want there to be a point to following this story.
There is only one book, ever, which I have picked up and then never finished, and that is The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen Donaldson. From not-finishing the first book, I’ve then not-read the second two books in the first trilogy, and then moved on to not-reading The Second Chronicles.
Now, I have nothing against Donaldson’s narrative. I liked the world where the story is set, I thought the side-characters were interesting and I thought his way of story-telling was decent. But the one thing that ruined the whole story for me, was Thomas Covenant himself.
My God, what a self-pitying piece of crap he is. The entire book was one long “oh woe is me, I’m dying of leprosy” whinge—and then he found other things to whinge about too. I understand he’s going through a shitty time but when a character starts wallowing in self-pity, it makes *me* feel like I’m wallowing too. And if it’s for a few chapters, I can understand it. If it’s for the sake of important character development, I can understand it. But not for a. Whole. Frigging. Book. And I’ve read some dark books before, so it’s not as if “uh-oh, this book is dealing with difficult themes and dark subject matter!” Hell, I’ve written some difficult themes and dark subject matter myself, and I love Johnny Dread, one of the antagonists of Tad Willams’ Otherland series.
Long story short, if you’re going to tell a story from the POV of an unlikeable character, at the very least you have to give them a sympathetic quality to keep my interest. Or make them so twisted that it’s hypnotically impossible to stop reading. And for the love of God, Satan and all of their little minions, don’t have your character wallow in the filth of self-pity for an entire book, even if you have amazing plans to throw in several pages worth of awesome character development right at the end.
You got off lightly! I read them as a teenager because a) I didn’t know any better and b) my best friend loved them. Covenant doesn’t get much better, IIRC – he spends at least the first trilogy refusing to believe in The Land. Dreadful books, best avoided!
Thanks for the info! I definitely won’t bother trying them again, then. To be honest, if I want a dose of a self-pitying reluctant anti-hero I can just re-re-read Wheel of Time. Sure Jordan spends about 3 books describing how women dress and constantly roll their eyes at men, but at least his characters (when they’re not rolling their eyes or being confuzzled entirely by the opposite gender) have some interesting qualities.
The ultimate story-killer is the over use of unaccustomed words such as sciapodous, hamartithia, xenobombulate, etc… Once in a while, I don’t mind looking up a word to get the gist of the story but having to look up words for every other page on a piece of fiction that is supposed to be entertaining is simply aggravating. I will put the book down for that alone. But, if a book is going along with mostly normal everyday speech, I’ll generally keep reading it. Looking up a word or two in a volume not a big issue for me. The other big no-no is when the author repeats him/herself repeatedly for no apparent benefit to the reader. I will put the book down for that as well.
I quite like the occasional ‘odd’ word, as I think it helps to expand my vocabulary. But I completely agree that too many rarely-used words are more of a hindrance than a help.
My biggest book turn-off was when I read “Dracula the Un-Dead”, the sequel written by Bram Stoker’s great-grand-nephew Dacre set twenty-five years after the original novel. It was a great book. I read half of it in one day, setting it down only to get some sleep. I returned to it eagerly rushing towards the end, and that was when the turn-off arrived. The book boiled down to a very Star Wars-y “I am you father” ending. I’m not even quoting Star Wars there. I was quoting the book. I remember finishing the book thinking that Stoker had spent hundred of pages building a good plot with very complex characters, dynamic twists, and a great detective subplot only to pop the balloon in the last twenty pages.
I agree with all reasons already stated and would just add that all the writers of these crappy books are people who have written the first draft of a story and think they’ve written a novel. Then they publish it without cutting the crap, redrafting, or rewriting any of it. They give Indie publishing a bad name. As an Indie publisher myself who DID put in all the hard work, it infuriates me.
Most recent reason for rejecting a book was the author’s use of an American word which didn’t exist until the 20th century – in the first pages of a novel set in mediaeval Britain. That was just a taster of what was to follow. I didn’t get past the first chapter. Needless to say, I will never waste my money on anything by this author again. Yet, this book had good reviews, that’s why I bought it. Who are the irresponsible idiots saying ‘yeah, of course I’ll leave you a 5 star review for that piece of shite you’ve written’? It renders the review system meaningless.
That’s my bitch for the day.
Yes, Jenny. Your first paragraph. SO YES.
If reading the prose feels like licking my way through a brick, then I tend to put it down within a chapter or so. Sometimes sooner.
Omniscient tends to be a tough sell for me these days, unless there is a humorous, quirky narrative voice or it quickly becomes clear to me why the story needs to be told in this pov rather than letting me get to see things through the eyes of pov character(s).
Completely unsympathetic or unrelatable pov characters at the beginning also tend to lose me. So can characters who are just bland and insipid.
If I feel that the main purpose of the story is to sell me on a political or religious belief, I tend not to get pulled in.
Also, opening scenes that are so chaotic and confusing that I don’t know who I am rooting for, or what is at stake, can lose me (like starting with a battle scene).
Starting with the birth of the chosen one, especially if the chosen one is a boy. Girl chosen ones are still rare enough that they may get a little more tolerance.
As far as world building goes, in a fantasy or SF story, a story that’s merely a showcase for a bizarre and disjointing world building premise without having an interesting story or characters will tend to lose me. Like, for instance, in this world down is up and up is down. Whee!
I really tend to lose interest if it seems like the author regards female characters as having no purpose except male gaze appeal or to be crosses for the male characters to bear (the poor, hen pecked man with the harpy wife).
Makes it sounds like I hate most books. In actuality, I probably put down and don’t come back to about half the books I pick up and start reading (based on recommendation, back cover copy etc). There are some I plowed through what I thought was a bad start (I’ll tend to keep going through bad fantasy or SF prologues, as the pov and style of the writing can really change once the story gets going). Some of the things I mentioned here have definite exceptions if the writing is good or if there is simply some intangible quality that pulls me in.
I’m surprised by the number of comments against “message” stories. I like political stories with social commentary – unless I disagree, or it feels preachy. If there is preaching involved, I definitely want to be among the converted, and will turn off to an author with an offensive world view. I like stories that are About Something. Depends on the delivery – if it’s shrill, relentless,and demanding, not into it. But if it’s well-rounded with different sides of an issue presented, and is thought-provoking, I’m usually more receptive. If the political or social circumstances are backdrop to the central drama, I think that’s OK.
I don’t mind an occasional ‘message’ story either. I think that Philip K. Dick does it brilliantly. His books are not only entertaining, but also thought-provoking. I died a little inside when I saw Blade Runner, because I’d been informed it was based off the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Wow. There wasn’t even a single electric sheep in the film. Not even the electric frog/toad. Man, was I disappointed.
The quickest turn off for me is style. If I don’t like the way the author puts words together I can rarely manage to stick with the book long enough for the amazing plot or great characters to compensate for that. I’ll also put the book down if I get the feeling that I just hate the author’s worldview and can’t stand being around him any more.
More specifically, I also hate gratuitous rape/sexual assault scenes, misogyny (I’d rather not have female characters at all than have them be there and be insulting), modern worldviews in historicals, preaching of some message or other, fantasy that goes on for 500 pages where nothing really happens, books that start with explosive energy on page 1 and beat you around the head with it from then on. Vary your pace, people!
I hate grim, hopeless books that seem committed to the idea that everything is awful, books that read like soap operas, and books that are so full of action they don’t bother engaging with any thought. On the other hand, I’m also not fond of books that are so full of thought that nothing happens. I’m very picky!
I am a persistent reader, it takes a lot to make me stop reading even if it’s a bad book, but: Characters that behave stupidly to accommodate the plot. Stupid science (I love SF but hate ignorant writers, even crazy science needs to have internal logic). Being preached at (I want a book that makes me think, I don’t want a writer telling me his viewpoint is right). Modern attitudes in period work (I read a lot of Steampunk and this is a common crime).
Uech, and what Jenny said: People who think they can publish a first draft.
Interestingly enough, since Steampunk isn’t truly “period-work” but more “fantasy-period-work”, I take no issue with more progressive attitudes in an environment that’s already unhistorically progressive for the period in other ways. If they can invent airships in a steampunk world, maybe they also realized men and women should be treated equal, eschewed racism, and/or developed healthier attitudes towards sex (i.e.: not a scandal to do it outside of marriage). Those may be modern attitudes in a fantasy-period-work, but can’t that go along with more modern technology, also present in those works?
So – for me – I actually look for Steampunk works that play with all of those concepts. Not saying everyone should do that (obviously), just finding it interesting how one person’s “I can’t read this” can be another person’s “give me more!” 🙂
Great swathes of uninterrupted prose where the author has to show off how much knowledge he or she has about the industrialisation of flip-flops in a remote province of China set against a backdrop of the move to porcelain from terracotta in pottery manufacture. And then you realise you’re supposed to be reading a comedy. Stop it.
Above all, I hate badly written dialogue, too much he-said-she-said, tedious telling, nothing left unsaid. Basically those characters you would stab if you had to make conversation with them for any length of time. Can’t bear wet women and unrealistically sensitive men — balance, people.
I hate having to put a book down never to pick it up again. All that work, all that time someone has lavished on getting it out there. It seems somehow disrespectful. But really? Anything by Nicci French — such lacklustre descriptions, characters you want to die but never turn out to be the murder victims, obvious plotting. I could go on.
Any pretentious twattery that is all about the author and has nothing to do with an intended readership. Character names that are too similar, sci-fi names with a rich abundance of hyphens.
There. I’m done. Phew. Thank you, I feel better.
I really can’t read present-tense; it’s too distracting. Likewise, I think first-person sounds too simple and child-like. There are exceptions for the latter, but in general I can’t behind either of those stylistic choices.
I rarely abandon ship but it’s only ever due to not giving a damn about the key character(s)…you’ve got to care what happens to them and be interested/involved – you’ve got to like or even love them! Typos and twaddle plots are maddening but I’ve even got to the end of a few of these if I like the characters… although it’s pretty rare to find a well-written book with really bland characters – they normally go with twaddle plots!. I admit to struggling a little with your Miriam at the moment – but am sticking with her as I love your blog (and I need to know what happens to the truck driver)!
Terrible writing. I don’t expect brilliant, deathless prose from everything, but if the writing is turgid and confusing it makes me want to throw the book. However, if your writing is entertainingly bad, I will probably keep going if only so I can read passages out to my husband in a mocking tone of voice. This also covers poor pacing, or characters I actively want to murder.
Egregious sexism. I don’t mind sexist characters, but if the narrative (and maybe the author) is sexist it disgusts me and I stop reading. I am particularly twitchy about rape and sexual abuse in books. It seems very rare to me that it’s necessary and not done in a way that isn’t hurtful, damaging to my mental health, or breathtakingly offensive. (recently read a book where a twelve year old girl recalls a rape attempt that she fended off and chuckles at the memory. Ick.) Not saying you can’t write it, but after many years of reading I’ve come to the conclusion I no longer want to read it.
I have very few DNFs, but there are some “Book hurlers”
Lousy writing can do it.
Boring me to tears will do it.
Squicking me will definitely do it.
I think its an accumulation of things, Chuck. Once critical mass is reached, then the relationship between the book and I end.
Gotta ask: What’s “squicking?” Or, in case you are British, what’s “squicking”?
(I know Chuck was dying to ask but didn’t want anyone to know.)
It’s a word for sort of grossing you out and creeping you out at the same time.
It comes, apparently, from a made-up sex act birthed on alt.tasteless back in the early days of the internet, where you drill a hole in the head, and well. Named after the supposed name such an act would make. The name ended up applying to the emotion people felt when discovering something appalling.
Source: My husband, who was there in the first discussion.
Thanks. I think. Really.
One thing that will almost always get me to put a book down is if the writer just gets lost. I was reading a book and it was going so well. I was invested in the characters. I was curious what was going to happen next. And then, suddenly, the entire story shifts to something unrelated to everything that led up to it. It felt like being hit over the head with a rock, blindsided. Where the hell did the shift come from? Why was it so jolting? I never picked that book back up again. I couldn’t stomach doing it.
Even books that are written horribly, I’ll do my best to try to finish. The sense of accomplishment of finishing a book is worth it for me. Except sometimes I just have to let go. It causes me anxiety and frustration. But that one book, I had to walk away from it. It was awful. It was NOT what all the reviews said it was.
I agree with your gratuitous rape/sexual assault scenes. Gratuitous anything, to be honest, annoys me. I’m not sure what you really mean by misogyny though. Your explanation makes it sounds like you don’t like reading about women who are insulting to men (misandry)? Or did you actually mean women being insulted by men(misogyny)?
I suppose either unattractive to wade through, especially if it’s not necessary for plot.
Fatal flaws are many.
INTERNAL LOGIC – I read mainly mystery, so there needs to be some order to things. Sadly, by the time I get to the physics warping error, I’m usually at the end. That isn’t to say that fantasy and mystery can’t be blended, just that real-world physics are assumed unless the author specifically alters them and explain the new rules. The story I read where the killer used a magnifying glass to focus sunlight 40 feet away was not a good example of internal logic.
BEING DULL – Not just a slow spot. God knows that chapter in “House of Leaves” where the calculus explaining how echoes work got skipped over for being pointless, but the stuff on either side was solid.
WRITING – There is a well known, quite successful, horror author who wrote a book with a great story. I’ll never read another one of his because the similes and metaphors littered the page (every page), like leaves on an autumn lawn. It got so bad I started counting lines between them and had to reread several sections because I stopped paying attention to the story. When your writing obscures your story, there is something wrong.
PACING – Stephen King said something like “Everyone remembers the book they were reading when they first thought ‘I can do better than this.’” That’s certainly true in my case. Every chapter was three scenes. Main plot resolution, subplot, main plot new problem. I picked up on it abut 2/3 of the way through and kept reading just to see if would be that bad all the way. This was before I ever thought about actually writing anything.
A good enough story can save most of these. “Star Trek VI” had some of the worst internal logic in the history of film, but I still don’t care. I like the film. I just ignore the flaws as best I can.
The over explaining of things often gets me to put a book down, along with page-long paragraphs. It’s like a clunky parade on an interstate highway. I know of two books that I gave up on, one was a first in a series and the other book 6 into the series. Rehashing what happened in the past is a good tool if someone who doesn’t realize they’ve jumped into the middle of a series but to constantly take pages upon pages to do it…ugh.
Pacing also has to be there. I think of a book as a wonderful rollercoaster that has it’s ups and downs but that twist-loopy part at the end? Oh, that’s my favorite. I like to say I don’t like a book to read like a dissertation either.
I used to muddle my way through every book I picked up…it became sort of a badge of honor to finish something — no matter how bad. I could usually find something redeeming or that I enjoyed in it.
No more! There are too many *good* books out there that deserve to be read.
I agree with so many of the reasons already stated, particularly: verbose dialogue and/or exposition. More telling than showing. Extremely slow pacing. High on the list are unsympathetic POV characters, especially if the book is told in first person.
First person narratives in general. I think it takes a very special voice to tell 1st person. Lots of really good writers have difficulty pulling it off enough for me – though there are a few. Carol Berg comes to mind – fantastic.
Probably the main reason I shot-put a book is when characters are too stupid to live and/or who make the same mistakes (decisions) over and over again. I don’t want to read about the the prolonged suffering of a character who only has to decide the opposite in order for riches to be bestowed upon him, life be good, and the book wrap up all tidy-like.
I put a book down when I can. If I can. I rarely finish books that don’t compel me to read them in one sitting. I don’t like too much repetition or a story that drags.
Personally, once I start a book I finish it. Whether its broken or tedious early on, I finish them in the hopes of finding some hidden gem later. That being said, when it comes to a series or saga, I will stop reading if the author makes a serious faux pas in their own story canon.
I read every Dirk Pitt adventure that Clive Cussler wrote up to the point that Dirk Pitt Jr. and his sister were introduced. The woman who was to be their mother died before her and Pitt could do the dirty. Everytime they were alone she tried to kill him before he could wisk her away to fornicopia land.
As much as it burns my pride to admit this, I have also read the Twilight Saga. The first three books I admit with no shame, but that fourth book was garbage. Once you have a vampire chick tell the MC “I hate you because vampires can’t physically have babies” how do turn around and then have the MC get knocked up by vampire boy? Then to top it all off, you bring around your ending climax by saying “Well, you broke the rules about vampires not having babies, so now we have to kill you all.” Its almost like she wrote book 4 without ever reading 1-3.
Mistakes like that ruin a series for me, but a single book won’t turn me off to the point I put it away for good.
Lazy writing disengages me.
I have to admit, I read so fast I don’t always catch typos or grammar unless I’m re-reading the book. But if the universe is so complex I can’t remember what happens from when I put the book down last (a few hours to a day ago), then I tend to give up, especially if none of the characters are making me care about them anyway.
I LOVE long books and stories that take many, many books, but I gave up on a once-popular writer because her attention to detail was just too tedious and I gave up on another because the writing just got too smutty. And when that happens, especially after I’ve invested my interest for 3-4 long books, I feel betrayed. It’s not easy finding good, multi-volume universes.
One-dimensional women characters, because I will be bored, and there is nothing I can learn from an author so blind.
I try to read anything I pick up (buy) though I have had books that required a 2nd start. For permanent vacation on a book:
Constant errors. I’m not a true grammar nazi but I know my way around a sentence. Homophones, especially contractions. Too much exposition. Zzz. I have read certain Star Wars books, skipping the whats and only reading the dialogue.
A bad book cover won’t prevent me from reading something if it’s been recommended by people I trust, but it might make me pause. A bad cover on a book I’ve not been recommended by an author I don’t know might turn me off, which is a shame because it’s usually not the author’s fault. I try not to let that happen.
I mostly get put off by wobbly POVs. Also, when a writer loses control of an ongoing series, I’ll generally steer clear, at least until I know they’re back on track or have finished the series.
I put down novels all the time. Either I’m just not in the mood for that type of story (e.g. I’m stressed out IRL, I need something lighter) or the story just isn’t grabbing me. I interpret the latter as bad pacing. I can overlook a lot of things if you’ve got good pacing. Probably 2/3 of the time I’ll come back to a book I put down and finish it. That means I have a steadily growing digital pile of books I’ll never finish – and is part of why I don’t want to spend $13 for a book by an unfamiliar author.
Another thing that makes me put down books is the end of a story. If I’m reading an anthology, sooner or later I finish a story at the same time I finish a reading session. There’s no continuing story to pull me back and I almost never get around to finishing the anthology.
The one radically different failure is a short story by Jonathan Lethem that begins an anthology of his. Reading it is so traumatic that I’ve done it 3 times over the years and it always messes me up so much I can’t stand the thought of reading more in that anthology. I pick it up again after I forget about why I never finished that particular anthology. I doubt I’ll give it a 4th go – it’s burned into my brain now AND the book is on paper and thus not something I’m likely to read anyway.
Truly bad writing. That’s the number one reason I’ll give up on a book, and I don’t mean typos here (I can be fairly forgiving of those if I like the story and characters).
Sentence structure, language use, grammar, how the story is conveyed, inconsistencies in the story.
Even so, I’ll usually give it at least a few chapters.
The only other reason is if the story and/or characters are truly atrocious.
I very rarely ‘give up’ on a book, though. It has happened less than a dozen times in my life. There are books I have put down that I’m meaning to take up again, but haven’t managed to in years – usually I’ve given them a rest because something else, more promising, came along, and other things just kept taking priority.
I’ve been struggling to get through the first installment of a million dollar best seller sensation and I’ve had the damned trilogy on my Kindle for over a year. (I won’t name, but you can guess.) While the gratuitous sex scenes are interesting, the writing is NOT. In fact, it’s so horrible, I can only take a few pages at a time before I throw my e-Reader (gently) down in disgust. The grammar is terrible, the characters are not sympathetic, sentence structure – don’t even ask, and then I realized I only liked the sex scenes because my mind was adding layers and complexities that weren’t there to begin with. Because the mind can do GREAT things when it comes to sex. Anyway, this woman is making boatloads of money for this tripe? I don’t know how anyone can get past the first ten pages.
I’ve loved Stephen King all my life but I quit reading 11/22/63 halfway through and I don’t plan on ever finishing it because it was boring. I’ve read everything else the man has ever written, he’s still a great writer, but the middle section of that book is so slow and tedious I just kept falling asleep. And nothing was happening with the characters. Mostly the main dude was just getting it on with his girlfriend over and over and over again and occasionally driving to Dallas. So what?
I am an editor so it will come as no surprise that when I find a book with poor grammar, endless typos, POV shifts that speak to chaos, tense changes ad nauseam… I put that book down and never return. In addition, I file away that author’s name in the ‘don’t bother ever again’ folder.
And I admit that I am a geography whore: get it wrong and you’ve lost me forever. The same goes with historical details: there’s simply no excuse not to do a modicum of research to get the details right.
Writing is a craft and it takes a book to explain all the elements of that craft and why failure of one element can make or break a story. But it only takes a page or two (maybe a couple of chapters if I am feeling generous) to determine if a writer has a solid handle on that craft. If they do not, I chuck that book (or click delete). Life is simply too short to wade through an endless supply of story drafts.
It isn’t always the same thing that has forced the DNF upon the book, but one or more of the following:
Lack of momentum – This can either be the characters physically not moving, the plot not moving, or no sense of direction.
Characters – They can’t be annoying, willfully stupid, or a shallow cardboard cut-out. For example, one book I DNF a few years ago was a first person narrative. The protagonist was perhaps the most annoying, prattling ninny of a character I ever encountered. After just 10 or 15 pages I had to throw the book against the wall realizing I’d rather stick a fork in my eye than read more of this particular character’s nattering.
Apathy – If I don’t connect or care about what’s happening in the story or the characters, good by.
For me, it’s all in how the writer uses their words. You can have the greatest premise in the world, but if your style throws me, I just… fade. I find my mind wandering, thinking of other things I’d rather be doing. Examples of this include unnecessary details, a wandering narrative, and no immediate investment in the characters.
Most recently, I picked up a copy of The Six-Gun Tarot. Seemed a great book. Well recommended. I started it and just didn’t click with the way it was presented. Everything seemed… distant. Like I wasn’t actually there. I thought I could see where the book was heading, but the payoff seemed so far away that it wasn’t worth it.
Anything less than a stirring first sentence, captivating first paragraph, character endearing first chapter is grounds for cessation. Conflict inflicted by the end of page one. Life’s too short, otherwise. The writer’s job is to make me want to keep reading. I remain astonished by the huge number of readers who will “tough it out.” Any decent writer spends more time on his opening sentence than on the entire first chapter. It usually doesn’t get better. Often, it gets worse.
I am really put off by a truly well written novel that punts the ending. I’m looking at you, Gillian Flynn. So much promise, wasted and fizzled. Enough regret to make me not buy her backlist. Not that she should care. Which she doesn’t. Sigh.
It’s rare for me to abandon a book, no matter how bad it is. Once I start, I want to finish. It does happen, though. Taking something from the world space as your own will make me drop a book, (like taking a made-up metal from an established world and giving it your own origin story – that pisses me off). I once set aside a book by one of my favorite authors because I just couldn’t wait for stuff to start happening… I was a third of the way in and still being introduced to characters – see ya!