I came across this article by author Terri Ponce via her Twitter feed about what made her put down a book. With her permission I decided to
shamelessly steal borrow her great idea for my own article.
As a book reviewer I like to think I have two great perspectives: one is the average reader and the other is a critical eye for dissecting the elements of a plot, world-building and characters. I used to think I would be a fiction writer so I have read just as much, if not more, than many authors about how to structure a plot, how to build unique fantasy worlds and create believable characters that people can relate to. The fact I am also an enthusiastic amateur historian (very amateur) definitely helps in dissecting historical fiction. At the same time, I am also reading for entertainment and generally know what the average reader will and won’t enjoy.
So what makes me stop reading a book? A lot of things, as it turns out:
1. Unrelatable characters.
This is a personal thing, but characters make the story. I can sort of forgive a terrible premise if the characters are amazing, but I cannot forgive an amazing premise with terrible characters. Characters generally drive the story forward and although it’s not so bad in third person, bad characters in first person are agonizingly painful. Why? Because you’re stuck in their heads with no chance of escaping.
By terrible characters I mean Mary Sues or Gary Stus. In female characters it means they’re absolutely gorgeous (but don’t know it) so everyone falls in love with them and in fantasy they will have all of the awesome powers or abilities no one else does. They are basically vessels for the author’s wish fulfillment and it really is tiresome. As for Gary Stus, think James Bond: beds all of the women, is supercool, always has a witty comeback and knows everything.
2. Poor writing.
‘Poor writing’ is highly subjective, but I include immature voice, bad grammar, lack of relevant descriptions of setting or characters and purple prose in my definition. In self-published books it seems that immature voice is a huge problem because some writers aren’t writing all that much before they publish. What I mean is that maturity comes from age and experiences but also from practice and some writers just aren’t getting enough before they decide they’re ready to be published.
Poor writing can also be a lack of heart, as was the case in Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay. There wasn’t the enthusiasm of the first two books so the whole book was not as exciting as it should have been and the end really came out of nowhere. Maybe Ms. Collins was under immense pressure to finish her trilogy quickly but didn’t have her heart in it anymore and it really showed in her writing. Readers aren’t stupid; they can tell when an author’s heart isn’t in it. Without that enthusiasm, the energy of great authors, even stories with amazing premises will completely fall apart.
3. Not enough background information.
What one of the greatest dealbreakers for me is when I have no idea what the heck is going on in a story. Not enough information is especially annoying in fantasy and science fiction because these are either completely made up worlds or future scenarios far different from life now. Understanding the world is crucial to understanding the motivations and actions of the characters, especially when it comes to the history of their country/realm/kingdom and the cultural tensions that exist.
You’re probably thinking, “Hey, can’t it be the other way and there’s too much information?” No, not usually. I like to read longer, more intricately plotted books when I have the time so I am quite used to info-dumps. I can generally forgive a couple info-dumps, but when they happen too frequently I get frustrated just like everyone else.
These are the top 3 things that make me stop reading, but there are more and each book is unique. In some books I’ll put up with poor writing and others I can’t even finish the first chapter before giving up.
But now I want to know what your dealbreakers are. What makes you stop reading a book? Fellow book bloggers, will you finish a book even if you despise it as I sometimes do? When it comes to bad books, does whether you’ve bought it with your money or are borrowing it factor into your decision to continue or not?