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 have a hard time tolerating present tense. Most people seem to do it badly. Getting facts wrong (like I read one book where the heroine, who was supposed to be some kind of hunter of the Supernatural variety, who was emptying the shot out of shotgun shells and loading them with salt BY HAND, not using a proper reloading station–hello, that’s a misfire waiting to happen!). More than a couple of typos that should’ve been caught in copy edits. Otherwise bad formatting (I read a crapton of ebooks). Shallow heroines. Slow starts and endless worldbuilding that doesn’t manage to happen while the actual PLOT is kicking. For audiobooks, lousy narrators. In YA, characters that feel much younger than their actual ages (this is probably because I’ve been 30 since I was 5 and don’t GET super immature teens). Endless unnecessary description that was obviously just to make the author happy (this seems to happen most in either self published or very well established authors who no longer have to follow The Rules). And sometimes, it’s just…NOT what I’m in the mood for.
For me, the worst reason to finish a book is because you started it. There’s just too much good entertainment out there to continue on reading something that isn’t turning your crank.
The things that gets me to put a book down (and I put most of them down):
– weak character logic (plot holes I can live with)
– bad similies, metaphors, sentence structure, etc. (a.k.a. zero erudition to come)
– too much blah blah blah (tangents and sub-plots are great as long as they are integral to the plot or character dev)
– banality (though if it is revealed that the way the character makes toast indicates a relevant and interesting trait, love that)
Bad prose is a big killer for me. Clunky, redundant, awkward language all gets you on my shit list.
It’s rare for me not to finish a book because I always want to see how it turns out. There’s one YA book I read recently where the heroine’s “shimmering cobalt eyes” got mentioned on the second page (by the omniscient narrator when she was alone). That sent my Mary Sue alarms buzzing. I stuck with it, but I wasn’t wrong, and it was pretty terrible.
I read some contest entries a little while back, and most of them were rather dreadful. One that stands out had its premise as 5 year old kid who gets lost in the Arizona desert in the middle of summer, and the blurb said that they only have a few days to find him. Um, have you ever been to Arizona? You’d only have a few _hours_ in that situation; a kid that young isn’t going to be able to manage even the most basic survival stuff. I read the pages, and it started off with the family in their RV in the desert, parked and chilling in the A/C, specifically mentioning that it was very cool and comfortable. Again, no; I’ve been in that situation, and cool and comfortable it is not. Someone didn’t do their research, and it was an immediate turn-off. You don’t have to be an expert, but if the basic premise is deeply flawed, I’m out.
I recently sent John Dies at the End back to the library unfinished. It wasn’t terrible; there were some moments of brilliance, and I was curious to read more. But it also had an entirely unnecessary prologue, and the author’s idea of foreshadowing and building tension was to say things like, “If only I hadn’t turned down that road, things wouldn’t have gotten so bad” every eight bloody paragraphs, and it’s hard to read when your eyes keep rolling. So it sat untouched night after night as I couldn’t quite work up the interest to pick it up again, and then it was due back and couldn’t be renewed because there were other holds. It’ll probably go back on my TBR list, but I’m not in any hurry.
I think if I were to get into indie stuff, I’d have to read like an agent; I don’t have time to read crap, so if you lose me, I’m done.
• Sloppy editing
• An author trying too hard to be funny (or humor that just doesn’t work for me)
• Too many unpronounceable names (real or made-up) or an onslaught of made-up words
• Huge swaths of dialogue written in dialect
• Author asides and cutesy meta-fictional cleverness in general
• Too much epistolary storytelling
• New and pervasive punctuation rules the author has invented
• Works in which it seems the author’s main purpose is to show off how clever and/or smart he/she is instead of telling a great story
• Gimmicks that get in the way of the story (constant font changes, upside-down text, chapter 3 is written in play format, etc.)
It is very rare I put a book down and not pick it back up, but if I do, it is because it is going nowhere fast. I need a book that has me chomping through the pages like the ticket eater at Chuck E. Cheese.
Most commonly, instead of putting the book down I find myself skipping over most anything but the dialogue. For instance, the 500 page book I am reading now could have been written in 300 pages (maybe even less), and while I apologize to the writer for not caring about all the carefully sculpted details they felt the need to sculpt. . . I just don’t care. I will literally skip two or three pages at a time just to find the next bit of dialogue. If you are a decent writer you can probably describe the scene in one paragraph instead of three pages of word count fluffing.
Brevity people . . . it goes a long way!
ha! I don’t know why but this really made me laugh:
“• Gimmicks that get in the way of the story (constant font changes, upside-down text, chapter 3 is written in play format, etc.) ”
Do people do this? if so please tell me who so I can AVOID it.
I’m opening myself to attack from fans here, but essentially what George R. R. Martin does. Get you heavily invested in a character and then kill the character off. I get it, I really do, and to his credit he does it brilliantly, but when I put in the time to read my escapism and that happens I feel manipulated by the author.
So… that convinces me to put a book down and never, ever pick it up again. Consequently I don’t read GRRM.
I’m not going to attack because this made me laugh—and you have an excellent point. I very much enjoy GRRM even though he kills off characters because it gives me the feeling that no one is ever “safe.” I’ve always liked war movies and some of my favorite happen to be ones where the main character dies—Braveheart, Gladiator (not exactly war but you get the drift), etc.
However, I think GRRM’s main failing is that he has too many characters—-and keeps introducing more, so he has to kill of one…or three…or ten…
Well I actually don’t mind *specifically* that a character dies, but if a character I’m invested in dies the death better be mind-bogglingly awesome and serve to elevate the character to previously untold heights. In Braveheart and Gladiator the protagonists die but they do rather heroically. Wallace dies but doesn’t break, Maximus still manages to do what he sets out to do even when it costs him.
Hell, Cool Hand Luke is one of my favorite movies and Luke dies but it’s clear that the way he goes about it means he remains unbroken by The Man.
A story can can kill off a character I love and still provide payoff for the investment I put into it. The “no one is safe” mode of writing tends to eschew payoff because it defeats the purpose of no one being safe.
To be clear though, I’m *not* taking the position that writers shouldn’t tell those stories — writers should tell any damn story they want and readers who enjoy those stories should absolutely enjoy them. I just don’t enjoy writing or telling them. I suppose I’m old fashioned in that respect.
Excellent point—Maximus and William were killed for their bravery whereas most people in GRRM are killed for their stupidity.
I admire the way Martin crafts characters that feel like real, walking, talking people—terrible flaws and all. Many of the characters in my writing tend to be varied degrees of perfection—something I am avidly working on changing, so oftentimes I read and re-read his series trying to get into the heads of his characters so I can do it better myself.
But, killing off characters for the sake of shock value or because the plot is bogged down is obviously not great writing. Although I wouldn’t mind a certain plot abyss being taken care of by a certain blonde dragon girl falling into it.
Haha I was banking on some sort of statute of limitations on movies from the late 90s/early 2000s. Unless you were talking about GRRM in which case…what? No one dies…crazy people…
I’ve read all of the books so far, and at this point, I’m with you, Christopher. It’s not that I feel manipulated, though. I’ve just gotten to the point that I don’t care about anyone – my connection with all the characters has been lost because nearly all the ones I thought were the main characters have died. I have no idea who matters anymore.
Also, as Justine said above, GRRM could use some brevity. There’s a 2-3 page description of how the Wall is used as a freezer in the most recent book. Seriously – pretty much an inventory of everything in the damn thing. The ultimate point of which is to let you know that even though they have a lot of things stored, they still don’t have enough food to feed everyone through the winter. Could have easily been taken care of in a paragraph (or even a couple of sentences) and made room for more actual *action*.
But like you, my opinion is not popular among my many GRRM fan friends. 🙂
Completely agree. I got three or four books into the series and felt manipulated. When I got interested in one character, he would do something awful to that person, and then switch to a different character. And he does it in a gripping, page-turning, stay-up-all-night way, but nothing gets resolved. I despise those books and will never read another word by him ever again.
If the book I am reading catches on fire, I am very likely to put it down. If it remains on fire, I am very unlikely to pick it up again.
I think I love you. This, this, eternally this.
You’re just not using the right gloves.
Lack of description or good dialogue will make me put down a book. I don’t need to know what the main character looks like, but I want to *see* the world in some sense. Or I want to feel it via what people say (like in The Road).
Outright racist/dramatically sexist portrayals of characters will make me put down a book and never pick it up again. It’s one thing to have a character with a racist/sexist POV; it’s yet another thing to have the writing reflect it. I can deal with a little bit, since, well, I did enjoy Shakespeare and the Brontes and Faulkner and… you catch my meaning. But i get enough of that directly via news, movies & TV; I’m not going to inject more into my imagination.
If I don’t engage with the characters in some way I’ll not really put it down, I just… won’t care. I might finish it, I might not. I certainly won’t stay up all night reading it. If I put it down, I usually won’t remember to pick it up again. My brain tends to gloss over it even if it’s in my bookshelf or Kindle or iBooks or Bluefire and I’m browsing for something I want to re/read. Occasionally someone will talk about a book I didn’t care about and I get convinced to give it another try. (One good example of this was Dune. I started reading it way too young.)
Grammar does bother me, but if the story and characters are interesting enough, I can usually bulldoze my way through.
Poor writing will have me put down a book in a heartbeat. Someone who cannot express themselves lucidly, and grammatically correctly, will bug me so much I won’t be able to continue. This may be a side-effect of copy editing for a few years, but it’s not just the odd punctuation error or homonym that’ll get to me. It’s the ones where I know I could have done better. Other than that, character is very important to me. I do not like stereotypes that conform so utterly that they become predictable. Sure, have a kickass female protagonist, but give her a flaw, a weakness, or an obsession or I know exactly how she’ll react the whole way through the book and I don’t need to read it anymore. I like being surprised. If I start to realize I can see exactly where this is going, I often don’t bother. Sure, I might be wrong, but I’m usually not.
I can read through many horrible things (Space Train and Da Vinci Code were both one-sitting reads). Reasons I haven’t finished books:
1. When I was a kid, wanton cruelty to animals (cruelty to people was fine, but when the hero slammed a door and caught the cat’s tail? Never read past that point).
2. Quite a few trade paper backs – the size is unwieldy and they get put aside and forgotten. Love mass-market.
3. Laughing too hard in a high fantasy because the author had picked place names out of the index of an atlas and the characters were suddenly walking between two Queensland towns.
4. Read the start of a second series, all of a first series, then the last book in the second series and was traumatised by abrupt agof beloved characters. Not author’s fault (but same author as above).
5. Bad cover art. There was once a short story I adored – I would tell people about it, fish out the ragged copy of the magazine and lend it at people, force friends to hear it read out loud. I could not wait to see more from that author. Then the book came out and it had the most off-putting, amateurish, ugly cover with horrible typography. And though I kept trying to read the book, it was tainted irrevocably by that distaste, and I ended up putting it in recycling.
6. The steady drip of dullness. I have read histories of boring events which were utterly thrilling, and books of thrilling events which just – ugh.
7. No kindness. There must be some good-heartedness, some tolerance, some love – if not in the world or the characters, then in the author for them. Even in horror – my favourite dark works also have some fo the most beautiful passages in them.
I agree. And it’s always a cat. As though cats are throw away animals, go-to animals for torture. Once I hit the “Let’s torture a cat page’ or see it coming, that book goes down.
Absolutely . For some reason I was cool with violence to kids (in The Silver Sword I was most worried about the rooster). So maybe at that age I just related more to animals. (That poor canary in Little Women!)
I once threw a book across the room because the plot took a turn towards torture that was completely unnecessary in relation to the story. It felt like the author was trying to fuck with the character simply to fuck with him. I didn’t want to finish it. So I skipped ahead after the torture bit. 50 pages of it. I just wanted the book to be over. And quite honestly, after the torture plot, the antagonist recovered almost immediately. After months of torture. I don’t think so. It was the first in a long series that I did not read any more of.
I am not on the Game of Thrones wagon, I’ve tried, I really have. I’ve been urged by many friends to stick with it, that it eventually pays off. Except 200 pages in, any character I have remotely been interested in is dead. And I don’t care enough about the rest to figure out what happens to them.
I have read several ebooks that were self pubbed and I can get past editing issues if the story is solid and characters are well written. The thing that kills it for me is when the story becomes a device for the author to be the sadist kid, playing with his sisters’s dolls just to torture them and force us to watch it unfold.
I have to care, I have to feel invested and if I don’t, then you’ve lost me.
That should say the protagonist recovered almost immediately. Coffee, you have failed me for the last time.
Wizard’s First Rule? 🙂
How’d ya guess? 😀
• The obvious self-insert character. Like, when the protagonist is a middle-aged, world-famous, and wealthy author, just like the author.
• Political views for no reason other than to establish who’s “good” and who’s “evil.” See most of Dean Koontz. It’s the difference between name-calling and disagreeing with a decently thought-out position.
• Characters not having a voice. If I’m two chapters in and the only differences I can detect between the cast members is gender pronouns, I’m done.
• When the novel is written practically as a screenplay.
• When any romantic interest is tacked on because it’ll help sales and is so front-loaded it’s practically a license plate. For example, we get a married protagonist who flirts with a co-worker but both decide they should remain professional, which means the protagonist’s spouse is going to be dead as a Disney parent before too much longer.
There are others, but these are enough to make me quit reading this post. 🙂
Would it be vicious of me to say that writers who don’t like words or the nuances of language…should probably write screenplays? In a novel, I expect the words to matter. Story telling is key, but if all a writer wants to do is tell a story, write a screenplay and spare us the shitty prose.
My wife recently heard a book-on-CD in which Clive Cussler inserted himself. It was actually very funny.
The problem is when the self-insertion isn’t a joke cameo, but serious. You’re not chuckling with the author then, you’re laughing at him.
Besides the usual things, like errors in grammar/spelling, strange and jarring word choices, etc – if something completely implausible happens in the first five pages, I’m out. I don’t mean unlikely, or supernatural, or bends the laws of physics, I mean completely past the bounds of belief. I started a book recently that had a person “hiding” behind absolutely nothing, watching a killer bury a corpse – and the killer never once shifted his eyeballs to note the witness to his crime watching him… from a few feet away… hidden by nothing. Couldn’t take it, dropped book back at library ASAP. These are also the kind of ebook samples that don’t get the novel purchased.
Recently I found myself unable to read past the eleventh chapter of “Uglies” by Scott Westerfeld. To be honest I was bored long before that but I had been told the story was interesting so I tried to soldier through. Nope, couldn’t even do that. I have never witnessed such monotonous sentence structure, or a more poorly developed concept. Heck, the author could scarcely describe the futuristic inventions in an intelligible manner. So it goes without saying that I won’t pick up a…well…AWFUL book again.
I found Uglies (and its sequels) unputdownably entertaining. They’re the first thing I recommend to people who are looking for YA stuff.
To each their own, of course. We’ve all hated things that other people have loved. I hope people won’t take any of the mini-reviews in this thread to be the last word.
I couldn’t get into Uglies, either, but I LOVED his Leviathon series.
1) This happens more often than I like, but boredom and confusion. If the plot starts lagging, or the author starts introducing new characters and I can’t discern their immediate relation to the story, I stop reading.
2) The protagonist does something so out of character that it breaks my psychic connection to him or her. I actually wrote a blog a while back on my most recent incident of this: http://thespidereen.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/the-taboo-as-a-plot-device/
It’s been a almost a year and I still haven’t gone back to that one book. I’m not sure I will.
Head-hopping can stop me reading.
I’m not really talking about omniscient POV, here. Omniscient perspective is fair enough to a point, although it’s not easy to do well. What really jolts me out of the story is inserting insights from the POV of another character erratically and within a scene, especially half way through the book when everything else to that point has been close-in third person for a particular character.
But head-hopping in general is difficult to follow.
I have a really hard time with a lot of first person narration books—maybe because the only ones I’ve read have been YA (with the exception of the Great Gatsby) recently. Maybe it’s because I have a difficult time relating to a lot of the female characters that are written in YA (Bella in Twilight and even Katniss in The Hunger Games).
Books with too much character introspection bore me—stop thinking/whining about it and go DO something.
Dull prose, if it feels too academic or the author spends NO time on setting or world building then I’m not interested—although I happen to like a healthy amount of description IF it is well-written and has a purpose.
If I have tried more than two times to read a book and can’t get past the first few chapters, it’s usually a lost cause.
Being a compulsive reader, I’ve only actually stopped reading maybe 5 books in my lifetime. One was a rapture novel disguised as a mystery, and as soon as I realized God was going to kill everyone, I put it down. The others I just found boring — which for me means starting your book like an encyclopedia of genealogy and world creation.
These things below are things I may well put up with once I’ve started reading, but if I notice them ahead of time (like in a Kindle sample), I will not make a purchase. If I’m fooled by the sample, and I buy the book, I will read it through the end 90% of the time. But I do mention these things specifically in reviews as warnings or things other people might not enjoy:
* Perspective choice – I prefer multiple perspectives and am less likely to purchase a book in first person. Doesn’t mean I never do (most urban fantasy is in first person, unfortunately), but given a choice between a single perspective and multiple perspectives, I’d take the latter any day.
* Bad grammar/typos in the first chapter
* Bad staging – “He took off her bra. They kissed. He took off her shirt and was stunned by her magnificently melons cupped seductively in the lace cups of her bra.” Um. How did all that happen again?
* Rape. There *can* be story reasons why rape is necessary to the plot, but very often there aren’t. What I see are cheap copouts (you know this is the bad person – he/she rapes people) or rape fantasies (under the guise of romance). I know there are plenty of people who enjoy rape fantasies, but they are not for me, and I’m always sure to mention any form of rape in a review. I’m not the only one who prefers not to read it. —- If this one is bad enough, I probably would put the book down and never pick it up again, regardless of my reading compulsion and whether or not I’d paid money for it.
I tend not to pick up in the first place the books that have the major issues I’d avoid (pointless sex, objectifying women, noticeable lack of plot). So typically the reason I put down a book is that it simply fails to grab me. Most recently, I’ve been meaning to pick up Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter again, but even though I haven’t disliked what I’ve read so far, it just seems to be dragging.
I’ve had books that have soured me to other stuff from that author/other books in the series, though. One recently with a bad ending (the main relationship of the story shifted from father/daughter type to romantic without that good of a transition inbetween – it felt like jumping between rivers) and another with very whiny “oh, the adults don’t understand us wahhh” teenage MCs. Which is a shame because some of the side characters/villains in the next book looked great, but I couldn’t stand a journey with Bratty von StereotypicalTeenagerFace. Pretty sure the only reason I finished it was that it was short and was an entry for book club.
Minor details being wrong don’t put me off (I admit I boggled a bit at the ‘this one anachronistic word put me off’ thing – I know I’m not checking every word of my vocabulary against a medieval lexicon. Sigh. Why I don’t write historical fiction.) but they can make me roll my eyes, especially when they (badly) date a book. Said book with Bratty von StereotypicalTeenagerFace has them using Altavista to look up something on the internet (Altavista? REALLY?) and then using Google later. It seemed to me part inconsistent/bad editing, part the author not realizing that people tend to have consistent search engine preferences, and part the author going “Look! I know about these interweb things!”
I very rarely put down a book and can probably count on my fingers the number of times I’ve done so.
That being said, it is usually a pacing or plot problem (and likely the former). I can be a very rapid reader at a few hundred pages that aren’t that engaging aren’t terribly daunting and are enough to finish even a disappointing story. But if after a few hundred pages I don’t have a good idea about what needs to happen next and I’m not engaged with the characters, I’ll put it down.
The trifecta that gets me to put a book down is:
1.) Unlikable characters, doing
2.) Uninteresting things, for
3.) Unfathomable reasons.
I can enjoy a book that does two of these. It can have unlikable characters doing interesting things for reasons I can’t understand, unlikable characters doing bizarre things for good reasons, or likable characters doing whatever the fuck, but all three together just kills me.
Probably the worst of those is #3, and it happens a lot when I’m reading about characters who appear to have motivational structures that belong to space aliens.
Any of John Updike’s later work is a pretty good example of the Trifecta of Death.
That last one bugs me too– and in the weirdest way, because sometimes I’m guilty of it in my own writing.
If Young Farmboy is going to go on a quest with Little Miss Protagonist, he sure as hell better have a good reason to leave his home, family, and responsibilities, especially when there’s a near certainty of death on the other side. “I want to go on an adventure!” only works as motivation if the character in question has a cucumber’s grip on reality.
Usually I don’t deliberately decide to put a book down, I just lose interest and start reading something else, and a lot of the time it is simply a timing or a mood issue. Some of the books I fist gave up on, have ended up among my absolute favorites after I eventually got to reading them. But I have a hard time finishing a book if I don’t enjoy the way the author uses language, or if it reads like something I’ve read before. I can enjoy vastly different writing styles, from the very verbose to the minimalistically stripped down, but the language needs to have its own estethic value to me.
Unimaginative writing combined with sexist tropes (which seem to correlate) is a strong incentive for me to put a book down in disgust.
I’m not sure I keep enough information in my brain about books I’ve stopped reading partway through to give a general answer… I do have at least one specific example though, because it ticked me off enough that I remember it.
I was reading what seemed like it would be an interesting fantasy novel, when at the end of the second chapter they killed off the character I thought was the main one. Everything so far had been from her perspective. Then the story was taken over by another, very minor so far, character some unspecified amount of time later. You could tell it wasn’t a week later, but I have no idea if it was supposed to have been a few months, a few decades, or somewhere in between. And I did keep reading for another two chapters at least. It was too frustrating to put up with.
Sometimes I’ll pick up a book and read the first few pages and the descriptions will be so laughably bad that I’ll have to put it down. No specific examples right now though… Repeating the same phrase over and over is another thing. Although I’ve been putting up with it in the Wheel of Time series so far because it was recommended by several people and the story has been interesting enough.
I have something to add after reading some of the other comments.
Dunx mentioned head hopping. I don’t usually mind this, as long as it’s fairly consistent throughout the story. But it is another thing that bothers me about the Wheel of Time series. (I’m only on the first book, maybe it gets better later, Idk.) It was Rand’s pov for almost 200 pages, then suddenly, with no warning, and no indication until four or five paragraphs into the next chapter, it’s Perrin’s. Another character has only had it in her pov for one chapter out of the whole book. It’s like he really wanted to write the whole thing in Rand’s pov, but couldn’t figure out how to do that and still make the story work, so instead of changing it up periodically from the beginning, he just switches it when the characters aren’t all together. That’s another thing going against the possibility of me reading the second book when I’m done with the first one.
A ‘fakeout’ first chapter that’s really a prologue and ends with the character you thought was the protagonist dying, only to pick up with the *real* protagonist in chapter two. OR IS HE??? I once read a book that had a prologue with a baby being born, then a first chapter with a protagonist “19 years later” (who was not the baby), then a second chapter with a different viewpoint character and I gave up.
Sloppy writing/editing. Read a book a while back where a character changed names halfway through.
I’m usually in the “if I started, I will finish” club.
Usually, because sometimes you just have to stop.
One reason is bad translation. When you that the translator just – well, not killed it, because you can still see the potential, the text is still living, it just bleeds and cries and begs you to please close it and never open again.
Another is clichés. I love clichés. There are books which I read and enjoy just because they use clichés, and the writer works on how to use those clichés in a new or at least entertaining one.
In a recent book, however, it looked like the writer wasn’t ever trying. We are in a fantasy world, with fictive nations and fictive names and fictive everyting, and they have gypsies? Gypsies who are fortunetellers? With a golden ring in their ears? And stealing children?
Also, sometimes it is not the book’s fault. With audiobooks, especially mp3 ones it is too easy to loose where you have been. If the story is interesting, you won’t mind listen to some of it again. But if it wasn’t so, and you just put it away, and then you feel that you have to start it again – it just doesn’t worth it. Sorry, book.
I will not finish a book where the characters are willfully clueless. Recently I was reading through a series of books with my son, where we quit midway through the second book after becoming frustrated with a character who is repeatedly given reasons to trust the protagonist and distrust the antagonist, but almost steadfastly refuses to do either. The reader sees countless, obvious reasons why one is the hero and the other a villain, many of which occur in front of this particular character, but we still have to read pages of him doubting even after it’s plainly obvious he has no reason for this doubt. It’s only there so the author can write scenes of handwringing and vacillation, neither of which are attractive traits even when they’re justified.
I’ve set down two books recently and it was because of the writing style both times. The first was Sword of Shannara. I’m not sure I can adequately describe why I put the book down other than I just felt it was poorly written. It felt very amateurish in such a way that the prose was distracting from the story.
The second was When True Night Falls, the second book of the Coldfire trilogy. Again, it was the style of the author’s prose that bothered me. In this case the books have decent plot and amazing world-building, but the author hammers you in the face repeatedly with her character interactions.
In the books a devout priest, Damien, is forced into an uneasy alliance with a vampiric necromancer, Gerald. Over the course of two books, the theme of their relationship goes like this: Gerald does something terrible. Damien wants to object, but can’t because without Gerald their mission would fail. Gerald continues to do terrible things. Damien laments this and prays, vowing to end Gerald if they make it out alive. Rinse, repeat.
And I mean HOLY FUCKING REPEAT. The author feels the need to insert this dynamic into every single chapter and practically every single interaction between the two. I don’t know if it’s a lack of trusting the reader to understand or if it was just her favorite thing ever to write, but the repetition became so prevalent that I couldn’t even look past it for the admittedly stunning world she had built around her characters.
I can’t stand when an author doesn’t trust me to understand something they’ve set up. Move along with your story! If I’ve missed something, it’s probably my fault, but don’t endlessly repeat it and/or dwell on it.
Bad writing is mainly what makes me drop a book and not pick it up again. Bad writing for me is bad style. Things like awkward sentence structure, using words that don’t mean what the author think they mean, or convoluted, unclear prose will always put me right off.
If the plot or SOME of the actions of characters seem stupid or illogical, sometimes I can still get through the story. But bad plotting makes me less likely to pick up another book by the author.
The last book I abandoned was because I couldn’t tolerate the sense of increasing dread that the author was building. I don’t fault the book for that! For many readers, that would be a feature, not a bug. But in these latter days I just can’t tolerate too much dread or horror. 🙁
I don’t like extreme violence or excessive swearing–I know, it’s like I was born over fifty years ago, right? I’ll also ditch a book if I get bored–Casual Vacancy, are you listening?
Chuck, I like your blog posts. You’re funny, which is great, but when I read your sample monkey story it was so intentionally icky that I’ve stayed away from your books. If you put together a collection of short, funny pieces, I’d probably buy it.
I don’t have any exact turn-offs that come to mind. I thought I did but after reading all of these posts that put angry voices in my head – I think I’m going to stop writing and get a job at the Walmart. :O
Don’t do that, I’m writing too, and I see this as constructive criticism Before I make those mistakes. There’s a lot of angry voices, but most of them say about the same thing. And if like me, those are things you are, on some degree, guilty of, it just shows where you can improve 🙂
I agree with you completely. I am guilty of all of it with my first novel and hope not to make those same mistakes with the next one. However, there is not a writer out there who has perfectly written anything where every single reader was completely satisfied. As a reader, I refuse to let the joy of reading be sapped away by my inner editor and I think it comes from the scars of critical thinking classes carved into my brain.
Very simple: the moment I’m thinking more about the book’s flaws instead of being lost in the story, I’m done.
Nice. Though some of us seem to be born with a hard-wired, always-on EDIT THIS mode. I think I have the curse.
For me it’s when I’m confused. There’s a balance between too much exposition (and I’m bored out of my skull) and going through the whole book feeling like the author has left out a key piece of information. Or maybe they’ve inferred it but done so in such a clumsy way that I’m never quite sure that that’s really what they meant.
I can’t handle tragedy.
And I don’t mean tragedy in that “BAD STUFF HAPPENS” because that’s okay, that’s a plot, that can be fine. I mean the classical sense where you SEE the Bad Stuff coming and the characters are doomed to fall into it, because of who they are.
I know, I know, it’s one of the classical forms. I don’t care. Can’t hack it. It’s just too wretched to be able to see the character about to make the horrible mistake. If I care about the character at all, I don’t want to watch their doom approaching, and if I don’t care about the character, I stopped reading already.
(I am fine with bad things happening if it’s unexpected, it’s the dread that gets me. I’m also fine with serial killers in the attic dread, but not tragic dread.)
In practice, this pretty much means that noir and anything billed as “gritty” is right off the table. I don’t even pick up books with that on the blurb any more. I’m just going to get depressed.
I also can’t hack any book where I hate everybody. Phillip K. Dick writes a fine plot and I have loathed every one of his characters in every one I’ve ever tried to read. I don’t care if their flaws make them more human—their flaws also make them raging assholes and I won’t hang out with them.
Characters who wander without clear goals, or who let the plot happen to them. I get impatient very quickly with characters who just noodle around their environment.
Over-reliance on weak tropes will sour me very quickly I picked up a fantasy novel recently where the protagonist got knocked out or fell asleep and slept through the action five times in the first six chapters. After the fifth time they got clubbed on the head and knocked unconscious, I put it down and I’ll probably never bother with anything that author writes again.
Constant, soul-blasting negativity and gloom will also turn me off. I don’t read to have my optimism crushed.
It all varies on the book, I think. Sometimes the writer too. I want something drastically, weirdly new in the books I read and if I’m not getting the oddity I drop the book. Since I usually read 6+ books at the same time a writer who can really keep thoroughly engaged is doing a pretty good job I think.
It’s rarely anything specific, it’s usually something triggered in the narrative or something else that looks a lot more fascinating. Mike Carey’s Castor books, 3 through 5, kept me glued to them the entire way. 3 was the start of it, and I literally could not stop reading it. That doesn’t often happen to me. The same thing happens with most of Alastair Reynolds’s books.
The thing that really fascinates me is when a writer knows /exactly/ when to move on to something else. Dan Simmons’s Hyperion was /amazing/ at that, knowing exactly when to switch POVs. Believe it or not, the Marvel miniseries Annihilation did that just recently and finished when I wanted to read something else. I don’t know how that worked. It’s unusual for comics to be that precise in their plots.
I hit a hiatus in the middle of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, almost all of the time. It’s because he’s on Book 14 right now, and I’m way too familiar with the series and with his voice. For me, it’s hard to keep a serious momentum on it when there isn’t the same level of /weird/ as there was at the beginning. Not to say it’s a bad book… it’s just not as amazing.
Unfortunately, none of those quirks really help a writer to figure out what I want out of their work, I think. The only suggestion I could find to help that would be to write a whole lot of things in as many different genres and with as many different characters as possible and always keep pushing ahead to the next crazier more weirder thing.
I guess it isn’t surprising that’s what I’m trying to do with my stories.
(Sorry for double post, but there seems to be a word buffer.)
I went though a Dresden File feast and then hit a brick wall. I found the pattern. But lately I picked up Dead Beat and read it as comfortable, comforting soul food. Good guys get battered but they win. So not like real life, but comforting. Dresden Files are my little happy place.
Unneccessary romance crammed into the middle of a story because … uh … damnit, what was it that happened between my kick-ass action beginning and my mind-blowing finale? Not every story needs romance and it often feels like something thrown in “for the ladies”. The same goes for unbelievable romance. I hate it when I don’t feel the chemistry between the characters.
Also: When none of the female characters have agency independent of a male character and/or if so, do unbelievable stupid things because … emotions!
For me, the fiction writing turn-offs all come down to one thing: they make the story boring.
Sometimes I wade through novels that are boring to me, because they are mainstream bestsellers or Pulitzer prize winners, etc. and I want to see what the fuss is about.
But once I feel I’ve got the gist, I might put it down if it’s really insufferable.
So, I’ve unpacked what it is that I find to be “really insufferable”and I’m wondering whether these are universal insufferables?
I have trouble getting through books that are completely devoid of any sense of humor.
Not to say every book needs to provide pee-your-pants-Chuck Wendig-belly-laugh humor all the way through. For me, humor is also about pacing, tone, and voice.
Some of the darkest novels are made all the more so because their tone has an inherent sense of humor.
I’m thinking of A Clockwork Orange, for example, where the narrator’s depiction of his sadistic exploits ups the ante of the horror I feel precisely because he’s so charming and witty in his storytelling.
On the other hand, the humor may not be in the overall tone, but in a few moments here and there.
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, for example, is relentlessly morbid. Yet, there are a few moments of dark humor that bring things to a whole new level of bleak. Like when the protagonists discover a severed head under a glass dome under a cake plate on the counter of an abandoned diner in post-apocalypse cannibals vs. non-cannibals famine land. Not ha-ha funny, but sick-funny.
#2 Slow Pacing
Good pacing can sometimes make up for a humor deficit in a novel I’m feeling antsy about.
Meanwhile, slow pacing can drive me to set a book down indefinitely. No matter how thick or thin the plot gets, if it “feels” slow I lose interest.
I’m not sure how to articulate what “slow” means to me. I think it’s less about the actual speed of events in a story’s timeline and more about the illusion of slowness that can happen when there’s a lack of focus on the part of the author.
#3 Protagonists that lack agency (also called “facelessness”).
Other characters and even the author herself can tell me over and over how mysterious/spirited/unique/charming the main character is and I just don’t believe them.
The most atrocious, fantastic, crazy plot can unfold around them and somehow they still manage to be boring. Somehow I don’t care if they live or die. How is this possible?
I think this happens when a protagonist is not truly confronted with believable choices/conflict. Things happen to them and around them, but they mostly react. Often, this can be saved by a cast of awesome supporting characters…but not if those characters are there only to provide exhibits A, B, and C in the defense of the protagonist’s lack of agency.
However, if the humor, pacing, tone, and originality of all the rest makes quibbling about the main character irrelevant, I’ll happily stick it out.
Novels of ideas, Issue of the week books, books wherein characters are there to channel the author’s theory of everything. Boring. Unless it’s a non-fiction trade book. Lots of people love issue novels. But I have trouble engaging in characters, plot devices, that have been summoned there simply to illustrate a point. Again, it comes down to agency – without it, there’s really no story. Sometimes there’s not even entertaining melodrama.
So my turn-offs indicators of personal taste or of weak story-telling craft?
Plot that is too predictable is a great way to make me put down a book. I don’t need a bunch of twists and turns but I don’t want to spend time on something like that.
Characters whose parts don’t make sense cam make me put a book down to. For instance I read a book where a character was described numerous times as an ‘angry young man’ but when he wanted to get revenge he built a bomb, located his enemies whereabouts, executed a plan to perfection, and had time to torture the man to death. That kind of planning and bomb making does not describe any angry person I have ever met. Now that character thinks that about himself which is fine since I don’t mind characters lying to themselves, but then every other character also treats him like he was just an angry young man. Even characters that should know better.
Other than that my only real hang-up is when stories are so dark and hopeless that all the characters should just give in to spare themselves further harm. And if there’s no hope then I know how the story ends again.
Just my two-cents
For me, I get annoyed by authors that are writing weapons-based fiction, and who don’t have a clue about weapons.
1) People ARE NOT blown off their feet by shotguns, let alone pistols. That’s pure film. It’s also simple physics, i.e. if the person being hit by the weapon is blown off of their feet, then the shooter should also be blown back.
2) Clips and Magazines are completely different entities. A simple Google will explain why.
3) Assault rifles are assault rifles, don’t ever bloody refer to them as ‘machine guns’. It’s so sloppy it’s ridiculous.
4) You can’t get bolt-action assault rifles. If it’s bolt-action i.e. you have to work the bolt every time to eject the spent case/shell and load another round, it’s a bolt-action rifle. If it has selective fire and can fire semi-automatically, burst fire and fully automatically, and has detachable magazines (see 2)) then it’s an assault rifle. Simple.
5) Anything which says ‘he launched a flurry of blows’. Piss-poor laziness. Work out the fight in your head and describe it. I want to SEE the fight. Not imagine some bloke wafting his sword around until he gets lucky.
6) Don’t confuse a bullet with a round or a cartridge. They are different. A simple Google will explain why.
7) Covering missiles, rockets etc in flaming material will not cause them to explode in a matter of seconds. Again, that’s piss-poor Hollywood schlock. Work out a different way to remove the Mark 4 Behemoth Battle Armour (copyright Matthew Sylvester 2013 :))
I could go on, but these are just some of the pet-peeves that really spoil stories for me, especially if the authors thanks someone for their ‘military expertise’. Just in case you’re wondering ‘WTF do you know?’, I have been in the OTC Royal Engineers, a Special Constable, and a Door Supervisor. And I’m also a former cadet marksman.
I read a bestselling crime thriller in which the protagonist, while in pursuit, is described as drawing a revolver, then handling his pistol, and firing his automatic. Sigh. And no, he wasn’t carrying two-handed. What’s worse, it was a Glock, and he released the safety catch. Try to picture these details together.
So you can get it published, but you expose yourself as not knowing what you are talking about, which seriously impacts the author’s credibility everywhere else. I decided to stop suffering the author (and the movies made from his books).
As a corollary, totally gratuitous name placement for defense hardware is like totally gratuitous nudity or sex. It’s no substitute for a real story, and seeing it used that way just convinces me the author has stopped working and thinks readers will happily pay to be played. Some, maybe. Not this one.
That first paragraph nearly ended me! OCD kicking in big time. I need to get my fully automatic revolver and kill people with lots of rounds and never have to reload my magazine every time the clip runs out! 🙂
That is also the editor’s fault. And the BETA readers. Man, there are a lot of people out there that need a serious kicking!
Like the T-Short says: I have CDO. It’s like OCD, but in alphabetical order, like it’s ought to be.
But back to our regular programming. This lesson on technical accuracy also teaches us something else: the audience for a story isn’t the audience that knows the field, and the things that make the book sell aren’t the things that make it accurate. People read about Alex Cross and his pursuit of serial killers for some other reason.
Still. External safety mechanism on a Glock? Why didn’t he tell someone to give him the name of a weapon that would have an external safety? And that’s the problem: it never occurred to him there was any other kind. The revolver/automatic thing is admittedly worse.
I get these kinds of head-pushed-out-of-story moments all the time when data security is a plot point. You have to suspend disbelief, or it’s hard to read/watch a lot of stuff. Maybe Clancy cares about the plausibility of the techniques and tools placed in protagonists’ hands, but how many are so attentive to those details?
The fact that Patterson can sell Cross stories despite being utterly oblivious to the facts that anyone in Cross’ field would know tells us that the key to selling well isn’t factual accuracy but something about the characters, plots, etc. Honestly, what stopped me from reading more was actually a character issue rather than the weapon safeties, though the technical details helped put me in the mood to throw in the towel. A villain consistently two steps ahead and repeatedly putting Cross in to mind games turned out to be (if I recall) a screwed up teen who couldn’t have accomplished any of his earlier getaways except by dumb luck. Suddenly, the whole plot looked like one big game – not driven by characters at all. It was disbelief in the plot, not the equipment, that killed Patterson for me.
And that is an interesting lesson.
I can understand not knowing whether a glock has an external safety or not. But mixing revolver and pistol is like mixing truck and car. Or bicycle and motorbike. They are so fundamentally different that it just smacks of pure laziness. I bet that a lot of LEO read these books and facepalm just as much as me 🙂
There’s suspending belief, then there’s having to read through sheer laziness on both the writer’s and editor’s behalf. And the bloody proof-readers as well!
Grrr, I just want to get my crossbow and shoot them in the head with arrows until my longbow runs out.
Yeah, the automatic/revolver thing really bent my brain. Then the rest of the details started piling up. When I finally hit a plot issue I decided it wasn’t a little slip, it was a major-time failure to care about building a story consistent with the world the author promised the readers.
You can have implausible stuff, so long as it’s consistent with the world promised the readers. The promise isn’t explicit all the time, but there’s a difference between a Fantasy and a police procedural (unless you promise both in an urban fantasy, which is a whole different promise) and when you tell the reader you’re doing one they’d better get a “reality” consistent with it.
This is more for my own consumption; I won’t change what established authors write, but I’ll make a pact with myself not to disappoint people in the way some of them have disappointed me.
What gets me to put down a book I’ve started reading?
Abysmal writing AND typos, misspellings, words misused.
Stories that end in the middle. The writer just walks off saying ‘look for the sequel’, or ‘that’s all Folks’. This writer goes on my No Read List.
E-books over $5.00. Price set by publisher. Give me a break. Not until they’re all over $5.
Too much talk, no action or story development.
Too much description in the beginning of the book. Here I will say that I have persevered (and finished)through respected trad pub books for hundreds of glorious pages of description, looking for the kernel of story to discover the merit of the book; that special magic that caused some editor to allow this hefty tome entrance to the land of ink. In one particular instance I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the architecture of Atlanta, but sadly, totally forget the tiny grain of actual story. No wait! I remember… no, no. Gone. In my old age, I no longer persevere. I drop the book by the second chapter. Sometimes the second paragraph.
If the book is boring. This is subjective. What may bore one person, will probably enthrall another.
Too much flowery language, rambling on about self.
If the writer comes through as a narcissist, I stop, drop and roll. Too gushy is not a trip either.
There is a magical way of writing that can engage any reader in any genre. I wish I had it.
That’s all I can think of for now.
I sometimes wish it possible to say to some writer, ‘Hey. Quit doing that. It sucks.’ When I have given the slightest negative feedback in the most diplomatic terms possible, it’s either laughed off, totally ignored, or results in a nasty attack.
If you want to write better, listen, really hard, to the little voice in the background, quietly giving suggestions.
One thing I have learned in life is that we learn more from our failures than our successes. That’s why there are editors.
I recently dumped a book because the author did not trust me, the reader, to understand the scene. She took six paragraphs describing a short walk through a cutting garden to the kitchen door. She took four pages to describe a Victorian sitting room. I know what a Victorian sitting room looks like, shut up about the damn velvet upholstery and marble tabletops. Also, I will stop reading if the grammar is poor, or if there is cruelty/violence that does not forward the plot or character development, it’s just there as cheap shock value. That’s lazy.
I can (and do) muddle through a fair bit of craptastic writing, but only because I owe the library a god-awful amount of late fees and find myself mindlessly poking around in the free self published section.
1) I’m not a grammarian and I can ignore the odd error here and there. But if you’re shit makes me wince, because its you never readed grammer rules or hit spell check I have two put it down.
2) If the character smirks more than average and revels in everything.
3) Cliffhangers. Hate them. Finish the damn story and then write another. Don’t make me come back to find out if she reveled in his smirk.
I love cliffhangers! (But only if there’s a sequel and I know that going in…)
Cliffhangers in books are tricky. If the book feels more or less wrapped up and then there’s a “Wait a minute, what the hell?” moment at the end that remains unresolved, fine. If the book just fucking STOPS before any of the plot has actually been resolved (most recent example for me was Pegasus by Robin McKinley, which I was really enjoying until I realized how few pages were left), then I’m probably going to be tempted to throw it against the wall.
Don’t pick up Blackout without All Clear ready; they’re not two books with a cliffhanger Act One, but one book cut in half. It’s a wonderful read, but be prepared in advance with the second half of the book.
So many things can go wrong…
First, I have to be in the right mood for a particular book. I tend to like Dean Koontz because he challenges his style by adding humor, unusual plotting, subtle (or not so subtle) genre twists. I like intelligent writing that moves. But, if I’m personally in the mood for comedy and someone is killing me not so softly with the undead, I ain’t gonna read it.
I can take slow beginnings, if they are setting up characters or scene, but they must serve a purpose other than allowing the author to polish his prose to a refined purple hue. Since I enjoy a sense of place, a slow beginning needs to be establishing me in the book by tone and drawing me in by promise.
To keep reading, the book must promise something and keep promising it at regular intervals. If it’s promising a mystery, don’t spend pages defining attributes of a character that blows the mystery. Like why would you spend all that time defining those attributes if this character wasn’t critically involved with the plot? Surprise me. Don’t give it away.
If the author seems insane I won’t continue reading the book. I recently picked up a book by one of my favorite sci-fi authors (of old) and the man is off his nut. The narrative voice was so egregious I hurled it into the next universe.
Blather. I hate blather. I loved Stephen King when he first came out, but quit reading him years ago due to blather. Some of his characters sound too much like people I know who–blather. For pages.
Patronizing language. I enjoy wit, tongue-in-cheek humor, and irony. When an author spells out his meaning constantly, I feel like he’s speaking to my younger, dumber brother. However, as an author, I know why he does this. It comes with writing pulp and feeding the lowest common denominator. But it does not make a good read for me, personally.
Sex scenes that feel like I’m watching through a zoom lens into some cold, dry, porn movie. I don’t wanna see it that closely. Honest. Never.
Sluggish over-thinking on the page.
Rape. I have a very hard time reading books that use sexual violence as a story-telling device. If it’s central to the story, then I can get past it, but if it’s repeated or a cheap narrative device used only to convey a female character’s weakness of some sort, I’ll generally chuck that book in the donation pile. I’m not squeamish, and I understand why it’s used, but my imagination is fucked up enough already without entertaining thoughts of those kind.
This one’s a bit more difficult to answer than what makes me pick up a book. For one thing, I’m unlikely to put down a book I’ve started reading. When I do, though, I’m usually pretty disgusted by it. (Not meaning offended by its content (though that does happen), but offended by its writing.)
Characters who don’t seem to act genuinely. If I find myself frequently disbelieving that a character as thus-far presented would do what he is doing, then I get frustrated and put down the book. That’s not saying don’t surprise me, but make sure the surprise makes some sort of sense.
I tried reading a book on squid recently that kept repeating itself, word-for-word, within a page or two. It was clear the author either banged it out without thinking or did a whole bunch of cut & paste from her notes. Sometimes instead of repeating herself verbatim she’d contradict herself. Again, within just a few pages. Added to that the writing had no verve to it — it sounded like the stuff I turned out in high school.
Another book I quit was a true-caper book about a diamond heist. It was one of those where the author puts in every little detail on the mistaken assumption that it adds contour. E.g. the tile pattern (chessboard, as I recall) of the tiles in the bathroom where the mastermind was renting during the planning phase. Too much of that simply slows the action and seems like filler. So: be careful about how you use details if you want to keep me interested. Detail is not always bad: I still remember the main character in “Dhalgren” sucking his teeth in one scene. But you need to know what’s useful or interesting detail, and what’s not.
“Characters who don’t seem to act genuinely. If I find myself frequently disbelieving that a character as thus-far presented would do what he is doing, then I get frustrated and put down the book. That’s not saying don’t surprise me, but make sure the surprise makes some sort of sense.”
This. Very this.
I gave up on a UF in which I liked the character and the world and so much about the story, because the characters kept doing things that made the plot exciting – by doing things that weren’t believable for the character. Great plot, but hard to pick up another.
Maybe a series whose main character was really possessed and had character changes on purpose would be interesting, but this ditching-character-for-the-expedience-of-today’s-plot stuff was retch-inducing. Then, after the strong female protagonist sees the antagonist isn’t just a bad boy but genuinely evil, she falls for him in the next episode? For real? Now she’s expediently acting in accord with the needs of the plot? Despite supposedly doggedly sticking to her principles? Sorry, no. You have to sell that better, make it clear why it’s consistent with the character, or show how at least one of the characters has changed. Can’t just make a mask of the character and change who’s underneath, without provoking a reader response.
1) Bland and samey plot synopsis. I have this problem a lot with books that are billed as straight thrillers. You could have the best book but if it can be summed up as ‘X thought they were safe! X suddenly finds a problem they must solve! STAKES ARE SUPER HIGH BECAUSE DEATH MIGHT HAPPEN. READ IT’ I don’t care. I will put your book back on the shelf and never look upon it again. It goes for other genres too.
2) Really slow pacing. Some people like that but I am a person that requires things to happen. Mostly. Lulls are fine, slow starts are fine but if I’m not somewhat interested by page 50 you’re out. This also explains why I don’t get along with many of the classic novels.
3) Character I cannot get behind. If I no longer care what your character is doing, I no longer care about your book. I don’t have to like the character but I need to be interested. A good example of this would be A Complicated Kindness or Mercy Among the Children. I hated all the characters but damn if I didn’t see those books through to the end.
These are the three big ones. I mean there are other reasons too, for example the book is boring (or in nonfiction cases needlessly dry), it’s poorly written, the well-used plot doesn’t have a spin to it, there is so much political intrigue with people that are only introduced for a few pages I can’t keep it all straight and other smaller things.
When nothing happens for long spans of time. I don’t mean characters staying in one place, acting and reacting to situations. I mean that if I read 20+ pages and I can’t tell you one actionable thing that has happened in those 20+ pages, I’m done.
First Mayfair Witches book did this. I got to page 100 and the only thing that had happened was me throwing the book down in disgust and boredom. Literally nothing progresses in 100 pages.
George Lucas / Chris Claremont’s Willow books also did this. The second book, in particular. Like right in the middle of the story, the characters reach a new part of the world / new city, and then you are subjected to something like 15 straight pages of description. Fifteen. Straight. Pages. No action, not told from a character’s perspective so you get their take on what they’re seeing, no dialogue. Just description, for page after page after page.
I didn’t put that one down, but God did I ever wish I had after I got through that part. It’s sad because there’s a lot of really interesting stuff in those books that I really enjoyed, but I just can’t imagine ever reading them again.
I gave up on LOTR repeatedly because of this. I only read it so I’d have read it before seeing the movie. Great story (and no need for the movie to change the characters appearing in various scenes, or rewrite good guys into bad guys, it was fine before) but I sometimes had the impression the author wanted readers to FEEL the length of each trek by dragging readers through descriptions of every tree.
Myself, I’m trying to avoid doing that to people 🙂
For me to put down a book, there has to be one of two things. First is awkward writing. When I read, it’s as though I am not seeing the words but watching a movie in my head. Awkward phraseology or incorrect use of a word or phrase will pull me out of my movie. Once is okay (unless it is on the first page or two) but more than that and I get frustrated and put the book down. Second, is right wing politics in my fiction. I love C. J. Box’s writing style and characters. However, so many of his books are filled with right wing politics that I cannot read any more of his books.
I wouldn’t draw the line at objectionable politics. I’ve groaned at books that reveled in pet peeves I actually shared, when there was no object but titillating readers’ jones to have the pet peeve placated. Same with preachiness: characters can be preachy on some topic close to their hearts, but when the book reads like an editorial the author comes off as having driven off the road into the weeds for self-amusement rather than to further the work. Sometimes a third-person book will suddenly begin delivering details with a strong narrative point of view on some subject, and you have to check the cover to see if it’s the same book you started.