Why one doesn’t finish a book can be varied. A lot of it is subject to taste. I had to close the book, 2001: A Space Odyssey, after reading a whole chapter describing in detail this person’s trip to the moon. Others love that level of description. It bores me to tears.
So while recognizing that fact, here are my top eight reasons, in descending order, why I’m likely to put a book down and stop reading.
8. When I’m Lost
If the writing is such I have a hard time figuring out who’s head I’m in (usually due to a poor attempt at omniscient pov), the list of characters is so huge I need a program to keep them all straight, and/or it is simply hard to decipher what is going on, or have too many run-on sentences like this one, I’ll be so confused I’ll give up.
7. When I Can’t Understand.
I don’t mind learning a few new words, but if the author has a penchant for using rare, archaic words without context to show off his knowledge, it punctures the story with blank holes that are likely important to following the story.
I’m looking for entertainment, not an education. If the later comes along with the former, great! The moment it eclipses the former, I’m finding a new book to read.
6. When Reading Becomes Work.
If your story is more like a puzzle, trying to figure out what the author meant to say because of bad grammar, misspellings, or typos, consider your story toast. It is rare, even among traditionally published books, to not have a typo or other minor problem. But too many such problems, primarily due to a lack of editing, and I’m reaching for another book.
I’m reading a story to be entertained. The moment it becomes work, is the moment I’m no longer going to slog through the author’s meaning maze.
5. When the Story “Jumps the Shark.”
For those not aware, that phrase originated with the TV show, “Happy Days.” The show had such high ratings when Fonzi jumped a series of cars on a motorcycle that the writers couldn’t help but milk it. To up the stakes, they had Fonzi jump a confined shark on water skies. It backfired. The stunt looked so ridiculous that ratings took a nose dive and didn’t ever recover. The term is used to indicate when any story, show, movie, takes a down turn in popularity, usually due to some unnatural gimmick that doesn’t fit, causing people to lose interest.
Unless a book is written by someone like Dave Berry, going overboard on a plot concept or a character can lose me and send me into reason #4.
4. When Plot Holes Destroy the Suspension of Disbelief.
Plot holes in and of themselves won’t ruin a book for most people. The public regularly rave and enjoy movies full of plot holes.
Case in point: Star Trek, the reboot. (Spoiler alert!) You’re telling me that a planet like Vulcan with warp capability, long before Earth, couldn’t have sent a squadron of ships to shoot that chain in half like Spock did at the end? Instead they’re hiding in their cave, seemly ignorant of what is going on. Earth has planetary defenses but not Vulcan?
However, when the plot holes reach a certain level that makes me say, “That would never happen that way,” too many times, I’ll be kicked out of the story and stay that way.
3. When I Don’t Relate to the Characters.
Whether it is because they are stereotypical, one-dimensional, or lack proper motivations, if I can’t in some way relate to them, get into their head, I can’t care about them. I might as well be reading a history book.
2. When There’s No Conflict Within the First Four Chapters.
Either because the story doesn’t have any conflict, or it doesn’t really start until several chapters in. In either case, I’m less likely to wade through backstory, vivid descriptions, and tedious world-building facts without a promise that this is all leading me into a story. No hint or introduction of the plot’s conflict early on, I’m likely to bail.
1. When the Story is Boring.
When I don’t care about the conflict, I don’t care about the outcome. When I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care what happens to them. When I don’t care, the story is boring. If that doesn’t change within the first four chapters (hey, I’m generous), I’m highly likely to close it and move on. I did this with a novel recently by a big-name author.
Those are my top eight. What would you add or not include in your list?
For any publishers and authors who happen to read this, keep these points and those in the comments in mind the next time you write/select a story.
Happy New Year!