What Makes You Stop Reading a Book?

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?

19 comments

  1. Judy

    Right on sister! I like the ‘immature voice’. and totally agree with you on this being a problem with self pubbers. I feel it is vital that we Indies keep getting those critiques, beta readers and reading writing books. Donald Maass just came out with another great one. I have also found a great value in reading screen writing books on impact writing. Wow they made a difference. d(I’ll never write a screen play)
    But another issue is willingness to be critiqued. I’ve found that in trads and selfpubbers. But that ‘s a growing thing too. as in confidence. One thing I do know is…I’ll never perfect this art and will have to keep on working on it. But art is like that. That’s the journey. That’s the fun
    J

    • Carrie Slager

      A willingness to be critiqued and to actually listen to that critique is incredibly important, both in traditional and self publishing. What makes it hard is when the author has a Diva Complex and thinks their writing is absolutely perfect.

      The good thing about teenagers writing is that they will eventually mature and get better. It’s just the whole practice thing. Everyone needs practice, even the greatest of writers!

  2. Carly Carson

    Something interesting has to happen to a character I care about in the first chapter, or I give up. I put down books much more easily now than I used to. Although, truthfully, the halfway point is where I give up most often. I don’t know why. Hmmm I should figure that out. I’m not a book blogger, so if I don’t like a book, I quit. Also, it doesn’t matter to me if I bought or borrowed. Even if I paid for it, I don’t want to waste my time if I don’t like it.

    • Carrie Slager

      If I truly hate a book I will quit, but being a book blogger I’ll stick with it more than the average person would. There has only been one time an author has sent me their book and I have refused to read any further. That was an exceptional case, though.

      You’re absolutely right about the characters. Part of what makes them relatable is seeing them in a situation immediately at the start of the book and watching how they react. Then you can watch the character grow and you as a reader can grow along with them. But if nothing ever really happens to the character, then you’re not going to give a crap about them. At least that’s what I find.

  3. Sharon Ervin

    Dropped off to sleep this morning reading the third chapter of a new book. Realized the problem. Too many characters––15 or so in the first chapter. More new names in the second. The plot is good, but I couldn’t stay with it trying to recall the names of step-children, exes, couples, references to absent family members, personal women friends, personal men friends, former friends, coworkers…. Whew! I read novels for enjoyment. Real life provides enough stress.

    • Carrie Slager

      That’s one point I forgot to add! I can keep up with large character casts, but I do have my limits. 15 characters in the first chapter would most definitely make me throw the book at the wall.

  4. terriponce

    Well, fancy meeting you here! I agree with your deal breakers, too. There definitely isn’t one thing that stops me from finishing a book, but it CAN take only one thing to do it. I agree with Judy’s input, too, about the need for indies to make sure their story and their writing is as good as it can be before the book is published/available for sale. It really is true – don’t rush the story! Your readers will appreciate you and your writing all the more if you polish until it’s at its absolute best.

    • Carrie Slager

      Absolutely! There’s nothing worse than writing a story you aren’t ready for in terms of maturity. If you know you can’t pull off certain elements (I find teens have trouble with suspense and emotion), then wait a while. Practice in the meantime and one day you’ll be able to pull it off.

      By the way, thank you for all of the publicity! I really do appreciate it.

  5. CeliaHayes

    For me – dialog which sounds like nothing that any real human ever said. And my particular peeve – errors in historical fact. Styrofoam in 1943 German-occupied France. Deep snow in the Hill Country of Texas during spring (or any other time!) 20th century social practices and characters dressed up in period costume. That kind of thing.

    • Carrie Slager

      Dialogue is definitely one of my more minor dealbreakers, but I once read a book where one character used ‘duck’ or ‘ducky’ a lot. 225 times in 255 pages, if I recall correctly. I can put up with linguistic quirks, but that was incredibly excessive.

      Anachronisms and errors in historical facts aren’t usually dealbreakers for me, but they can hint at other, larger problems. If the author hasn’t done their research (or doesn’t give a crap) then it may be a sign of lazy writing and overall poor writing quality.

  6. Don Maker

    I enthusiastically agree with all you’ve written. So much of modern Hollywood is action above character, which to me is one of the definitions of “literature”, in that the story has to express something about the human condition. I don’t know if age is such an issue in maturity of writing (many great writers have been quite young, or wrote their best when young) as it is experience and … well, wisdom. Not sure about “Mockingjay”. Collins may have been rushed, but I think that’s one of the potential dangers of deciding to write a trilogy (or more) where the last is not the climax, but only tacked on to complete a story that (in this case) was already complete. I would love for you to review my HF novel, as I know you will be honest and would be very interested in your opinion.

    • Carrie Slager

      Yes, there have been some great young writers. However, the majority of young writers are not great, which is why you hear about the successful ones more. In my article I was definitely generalizing, but I find that most young people do lack the maturity or necessary life experience to pull of certain elements in a story.

      If you want me to review your novel, please check out the FAQs to see my Book Reviewing Criteria and follow the directions there.

      • Don Maker

        Read your criteria. Fair enough. My book is currently in the HNS contest, but will publish (either way) afterwards. Will contact you again then. Cheers, Don
        PS – yes, I also review

  7. BC Brown

    I have to agree with much of what you’ve said here. Dialogue can carry me through a story that might be overall lackluster. BUT a good character dynamic is imperative. Mary Sues and Gary Struts, also cliched appearances/archetypes/personalities, really stick in my craw. I often book blog (on an amateur “for fun” basis) and will try to give those books more leeway than one I’ve picked up for pleasure, but only just a little. I have more than a time or two returned a book to the author with an apology that I can’t finish the book so can’t review it. My pleasure books are a different matter entirely. One chapter, that’s all they get to catch me with something. But bad characters tends to be my biggest issue, next to unrealistic dialogue.

    • Carrie Slager

      You’re definitely my complete opposite: Unless a book is really, truly mind-numbingly terrible I will usually finish it. But I definitely agree with the one chapter test if you’re just reading for pleasure. Thanks for posting your thoughts!

  8. Maggie Anton

    Pardon me for stealing real estate lingo, but for me it’s characters, characters and characters. If I don’t connect with them, if they seem cliches rather than real people, if I have no idea what they’re feeling or why – I see no reason to continue reading about them. One pet peeve of mine is excessive, unnecessary, violence – there’s enough of that I can read about for free in the news.

    • Carrie Slager

      Characters are definitely important in a story. I’d have to agree with you: they can make or break the story. As for violence, I don’t mind a bit. But when it happens so often it seems gratuitous I have a problem.

  9. Pingback: Monday Mentions: Cat Basket Winner, Paralysis Cure & Virtual Choir « Amy Shojai's Blog

Leave a Reply