I have a pile of novels on top of one bookshelf consisting of books I started to read and stopped. In fact I have one book from my church library that I’ve continue to renew since January! (No one’s put a hold on it, so I’m safe). At some point, I either have to plow through or admit defeat, but I postpone that decision with my little stack.
Most of these are speculative fiction; some are gifts. I should read these books. They’re my genre and someone I know thought I’d like them. But so far, I’ve not managed to get past . . . wherever I stopped reading.
In this regard, speculative fiction is no different than any other fiction. The author has to grab readers early and hold on. But the challenge might be greater. Speculative writers must give some attention to world-building, so readers will understand the way things work in this imaginative place—whether it’s in space or in a parallel world or in this world some hundreds of years in the future.
In that world-building, the author can sometimes forget that the story needs to move forward if the reader is to stay engaged.
So here are some of the books in my “I tried to read” stack.
* A Game Of Thrones. Yes, yes, I know it’s horrible that I as a fantasy writer haven’t read A Game Of Thrones. I’ve tried three times and the last time managed to get through the prologue. I understand it’s a dangerous world, but from the start, I’m not connecting to a character. I don’t have a reason to keep going (other than that I think I should).
* A Christian science fiction. I got half way through this 350 page book. I had no intention of stopping—my bookmark is actually in the middle of a chapter. But obviously the story didn’t keep me wanting to know what would happen next. I suspect I didn’t find enough tension to drive me on to the next page and the next and the next.
* Adam, Christian horror. I don’t know that I got past the opening page introducing a serial killer. It might be a good book. It might be well written. It might have an engaging character and a plot that pulls readers forward. I just don’t like reading about serial killers.
* Shaman’s Crossing. I should like this book. I don’t remember actually starting it and there’s no bookmark, but the first word is “I.” For a long time I really didn’t care for stories told in the first person. I’ve had to read a number of them now—for contests and critiques and edits and blog tours—so I’ve gotten over my antipathy, but I suspect when I first opened Shaman’s Crossing, I closed it again because of the point of view.
* The Runes Of The Earth. This is book one of The Last Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant. I’d read Stephen Donaldson’s two previous Thomas Covenant trilogies and was so excited to read this one. Until I started. My bookmark is on page 37. I’d have thought by that time I would have connected with a character or been captured by a story question. Nope and nope.
* A self-published fantasy. Wonderful voice, though I had to start a couple times. Each time I got a little farther until I stopped mid-chapter—page 61. As I recall, the character didn’t particularly want anything. Rather, stuff was happening to her. I didn’t have a reason to get in her corner and cheer her toward a victory.
* Another self-pubbed book. This one opened (in first person) with a confusing paragraph. I was struggling to sort out who the I and you and other strange-named characters were.
* Yet another self-published book. This one, I’m not sure I got past the cover. Inside the book looks professional, even has a map (which I consider a must for fantasy), but it looks to be an angels book. Maybe it isn’t, but that’s what it looks like, and I have never cared much for angel books and have truly developed angel weariness.
* Magician: Apprentice. I should like this book. Maybe I will like this book. I got it when I already had a number of other books to read, and the opening simply didn’t grab me. On page one, the character (who I assume to be the protagonist) catches some sea creatures then falls asleep. I should keep going, get further, find out why a friend recommended this book to me.
There are others in my stack, but this is enough. Here’s what I’ve learned from these books I’ve tried to read:
* In fiction, something needs to catch my attention. Sometimes, or maybe most times, a friend’s recommendation will do that—which is why I have these books in the first place and why I gave them a try at all. Sometimes, though, a blurb about the book will sell me. I’m less sold by a cover, but I realize I can be turned off by a cover.
* I need to engage with a character very quickly. If I don’t get a sense of who the protagonist is, I don’t care enough to keep going. (And surprisingly, I find it harder to get to know a first person narrator than I do a third person point of view character).
* I need to know what the character wants, at least short term, so I can hope for his success as he goes after it.
* I need some kind of tension pushing the story forward, generating a desire for me to keep reading so that I can find out what happens.
* I need the first page to grab my interest, and I need the chapters further along to hold it. I realized, for example, that Stephen Donaldson writes with a much more flowery, descriptive style than what I’m used to. I’m sure his early trilogies were in the same style, and I remember skimming passages that were too hard to follow. Now, however, I’m not patient enough to deal with his writing style. I’m not hooked into the story or invested in a character, so I’d rather find something else to read.
What about you? Share your reading duds. Have you started books you haven’t finished? (Please don’t give titles or authors if you think it would embarrass them). Do you know what made you stop reading? Do you try and try again until you get into a book? (I actually think I could finish all these if I’d stick with them—probably why I have the stack I do). Have you persisted with some book and discovered it’s a keeper, one you’re glad you read and would recommend to others (with the caveat that they must push past a slow opening)? Feel free to tell us what books those are.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you.