The Authors of Writes of Passage

The Authors of Writes of Passage

Saturday, March 22, 2014

7 Reasons Why I Stop Reading a Novel


I've noticed over the past couple of years that I've developed an especially bad habit–I'm having a harder and harder time finishing novels that I pick up.

I wasn't always so hard to please! There once was a time when I finished almost every book I started.

But these days, my shelves (both real and virtual) are overflowing. My audio book club points are waiting for me. And I also have books regularly coming in for influencer or endorsement purposes.

I have plenty to read. But not enough time.

And to be perfectly honest, the longer I write, the harder it gets to find books that I like. My internal editor often comes out in the middle of books and gets impatient or too picky.

If I had to list the top 7 reasons why I stop reading a book, here they are:

1. Not enough conflict and tension.

This is absolutely the number one reason why I put down a book. If the story doesn't introduce me to the central problem and the ensuing issues right away, I'm likely to get bored. Even if the conflict is introduced right away but is weak, contrived, or non-cohesive (ebbs and flows with nonessentials), I still might yawn. Every time I set a book down, I need a compelling plot line that makes me want to return.

2. The characters don't make me care. 

This is the second main reason why I put books down. If the characters are abrasive, boring, unheroic, or simply haven't done anything to make me like them, then I usually have a hard time staying tuned to the story.

3. Too slow moving. 

Even with good conflict and tension, and even with characters that I've grown to care about, if the story begins to slow down or the author slips in paragraphs/scenes that don't move the plot along, I often lose interest. This includes backstory dumping or internal narration with very little else going on.

4. Overwriting.

If the writer describes too much, has verbose dialogue, has large paragraphs, is redundant, overuses adverbs or dialogue tags, or is just plain wordy, I usually start skimming. I like to get to the heart of the story and only need to know those things that truly add flavor and character.

5. Lack of depth. 

If a major part of the story happens at a very surface level or if the writer doesn't take me deeper into the passions and emotions of the characters, then it's harder for me to engage with the story. This is often connected with the development of the character and the lack of past pains and motivations that usually drive the emotional current of the story.

6. Subject matter doesn't appeal.

Yes, sometimes, for whatever reason, the subject matter of the book or the themes don't hit me deeply enough. Or perhaps the character growth/issues seem superficial. Or the whole plot of the book centers around something that just doesn't hold my attention.

As much as we want to give weight to all topics, subjects, and settings, there is some truth about universal commercial appeal and finding themes most people can relate to on some level.

7. Amateur writing. 

This could take on the form of a number of things including not writing by scenes, too much telling and not enough showing, underwriting (not giving me a sense of setting or character), over-dramatizing (so that the story isn't believable), or even making beginner mistakes (using clich├ęs, stilted dialogue, too many characters, etc.).

So those are my top reasons for putting a book down and not picking it back up!

On the other hand, I have to agree with Jane Austin, "If a book is well written, I always find it too short."

Now YOUR turn! What are the main reasons YOU stop reading a book?

32 comments:

  1. Hey, Jody. You and I are on the same wave length. I just wrote a post two days asking readers what makes them give up on a book (http://www.robinleehatcher.com/makes-give-book/). The answers on my blog and on my Facebook page were really interesting.

    I used to finish every book I started. Stubborn, I guess. Waiting for the story to prove to me why I should read it or even why others loved it. No more. Time is too precious. I gave up this week on a novel I'd highly anticipated reading and was so disappointed that I didn't get caught up in the characters as I had this author's other books.

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    1. Hi Robin!

      Great minds think alike! ;-)

      I hear you on disappointment. There are times when I can't wait to get my hands on a particular book, and I hate that feeling of disappointment when it just doesn't live up to the hype or to the author's other books. It's a let down for sure!

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  2. Not to be a stinker, but I'd rather think about what KEEPS me reading a book...*wink* Of course, it's basically what you said, only in the positive: Lots of believable tension and conflict, characters who engage me, etc. What you don't have on your list that stops me every time is foul language (I don't want it in my head) or intense sexual tension (I have a very sensitive spirit and this makes me uncomfortable).

    I have to agree it's harder to get lost in a book these days thanks to my irritating internal editor, but it still happens, and when it does, I'm in bliss. :o)

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    1. Hi Kim,

      I had a very difficult time reading for the RITA this year due to the issues you mentioned. In all good conscience, I just don't think I can do it again in the future, even if that penalizes me. That's another reason why when I read general market books I tend to stick to YA. For the most part they're fairly clean. (Although I recently read The Book Thief and it was loaded with swearing!)

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    2. Kim, those are the same reasons that bug me when I'm reading. I used to read John Grisham all the time, but there are lots of swear words in his books. Then I discovered Christian fiction. I'm not even sure how that happened, but I'm so thankful God led me to these clean books. They've been such a blessing, and I've joined the other side now in writing them. One of these days, I'll be published and somebody will discover my books to be a blessing to them.

      Blessings,
      Andrea

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    3. I agree with you, Kim -- profanity and explicit sexual content definitely bothers me. When it comes to the latter one, I've even read Christian romances in which I found that the author went far in their descriptions. To me, true love goes beyond shallow romance and infatuation. I am quite found of stories that leave me in awe of genuine, Christ-Centered, beautiful love. That's why, aside from school reads, I scarcely read secular novels on my personal time. I would also add to your list too much violence/gore and/or dark/depressing content. Yikes! I, too, have a very sensitive spirit and am prone to get very involved in stories I read.

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    4. Jody, I just happened to have watched the movie, The Book Thief, today. I found it very powerful and moving and beautifully acted (and no swearing that I can recall). But maybe I won't check out the book version. :)

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    5. Lori, I'm looking forward to seeing the movie! This is one book I really liked in spite of all the swearing. To be fair, most of the cussing was in German! :-)

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  3. Hi Jody,

    I currently have three books on the go and am not even close to finishing them. I hasten to add ,they are NOT written by any of the authors on WoP .
    I have developed a love for historical fiction, so maybe that is my problem. I'm looking for something in the books that isn't as apparent ,as it is in my historical reads:)
    I also wonder if it is an age related thing, because I'm either slower doing things therefore leaving less time to devote to reading, or is it that I'm not really in the right frame of mind at the time, to relax ,because I'm thinking of the next pressing thing that I am required to do .....at the moment I have a fair bit on my plate.

    I plan to allocate some time for reading, when we are on the plane..one can only watch so many movies ,before one becomes goggle eyed. LOL. I have some great books on my TBR pile and I don't think I'll have any problem reading those, or finishing them.:)

    Take care dear lady.

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    1. Hi Rosie!

      Great point! Genre can certainly play a role in whether I finish a book too. I definitely have my favorites, and thus it's much easier to put down a book that's not within my favorite genre.

      I hope things are starting to settle down for you! I haven't heard any updates lately and have just been keeping you in my prayers! You take good care too! :-)

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  4. Happy Saturday Jody!
    Thanks for this post today, and I have to agree with the reasons you gave---especially about the characters. I like to really care about a character, and what happens to him/her.
    I also agree with Kim's comments about foul language and intense sexual tension - - I do NOT like swearing or "graphic" details at all (yes, I'm still a kindergarten teacher at heart *smile*) but I think some things can certainly be left to the imagination!
    Thankfully there are so many wonderful books out there (especially by W of Pass. authors) that offer great reading without those "undesirable" words and details. : )
    Hugs from Georgia, Patti Jo

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    1. Hi Patti Jo,

      There are SO many wonderful books, aren't there? We are blessed to have so many choices! Hope you're doing well! :-)

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  5. Jody, at one time I read every book I started, but not anymore. I agree with your reasons, but I would more than likely add one more. I think there has been a shift in the writing/reading community. It seems so many writers rely on sex to sell their books. That is one of the first reasons I put a book down. I am more selective in my choices of books I buy. If the author is unknown then I check reviews, their websites, and ask authors I read alot about them.

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    1. Hi Katrina,

      Very interesting observation. I've noticed a huge shift in covers lately too. There are many with half naked couples on the front. At least with those we don't have to wonder what's inside! :-)

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  6. The first thing that makes me put a book down...and typically the only reason....is bad language and as the above mentioned when sexy scenes alone sell the book. The only book that I didn't finish that didn't have those two problems was War and Peace. I've read incredibly long classics and loved them...this one I found down right boring. Lol. I like to learn something from a book so superficial books are always a disappointment. Thanks for the post. I suppose I should point down books that drag, but so far I've stuck to finishing them. :)

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    1. You are a superb reader for not putting down most of the books you read! If there were an award for "Best Reader" I think you'd deserve it! :-) I do think every author and book deserves a chance, and so I usually give new books/authors an opportunity to grip me before I set them aside.

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  7. Sometimes I can narrow down why I stop reading a book but more often the reasons are elusive. For instance, I may begin a prize-winning book and just not get past the first chapter, then straight away pick up a similar genre and style and not stop to the end. Neither is amateurish, I just plain old preferred one over the other. And, I don't suppose that is at all helpful, either.

    Most often, what stops me (outside of profanity and sex) is a psyche that feels contrived or overused. Saying that out loud makes me feel like a bit of a snob and I have pushed through many a dreary book to be nice. After all, who am I to judge a published author? But, since you asked ... that is my greatest pet peeve. Unless it is when the character does not overcome this overworked internal conflict until the end of the book. If I have to endure it that long, chances are I may not read the author again. An internal conflict that carries through the entire plot needs to feel real, personal and fresh. When it feels borrowed, I just can't read it.

    Does that make sense or do I just sound like an overly-critical reader? :)

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    1. That makes great sense, Amy. When plots are overused or contrived, it's difficult to stay connected to the story. At least it does for me! And yes, I agree. A character's growth needs to be gradual throughout the story, not all at once at the end. Great points! Thank you for sharing!

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  8. Like Robin and Katrina, I used to finish every book I started (unless it turned out to be "sleazy") but when I hit 50 I decided life was TOO short––and my TBR pile was too tall––to finish a book I wasn't enjoying! I give a book 50 pages to capture my heart. And I've had several books that didn't grab me at first end up being wonderful! I think my list would look a lot like yours, Jody. Great post!

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    1. Sounds like I'm not alone in my itch to finish every book I start. But since I started learning all the writer's tricks, I just can't keep reading bad writing. It rubs raw all the skills I've taken time to hone.

      I'm with you Deb, I give 'em 5 chapters to hook me. Because sometimes, slow starters end up being fabulous. And if they flop, then I'm not wasting my time. There are still times I want to know the ending, but then I just weigh out the positives against the negatives.

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    2. Hi Deb,

      I like your 50 page rule too. I've read a few books in recent months that took a little while for me to enjoy. I'm glad I didn't give up too early or I would have missed out on a really great story.

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    3. My rule of thumb is 100 pages. Either I have to love the book or know the author so I'm willing to hang in there with her. I found that rule works well for me.

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  9. I used to feel so -- and I mean SO very -- bad when I didn't finish books. I've read a good number of stories I ended up liking but found slow at the beginning. Whenever I give up on a read, I reason that it could get better... What if I was missing out on a good story? Nowadays, I just can't worry about that anymore for the sake of my peace of mind. I have too many books I want to read and many responsibilities. I do, however, admit that I still worry about that from time to time *sheepish smile*. I recently gave up on two books highly acclaimed by the Christian Fiction community. Both were too slow and I couldn't understand/ connect with/ care for their characters. Those are two of the major reasons why I give up on books. I pay A LOT of attention to character development and when characters are well fleshed-out, I am one happy reader. Interestingly enough, I am a teen and I do not like YA novels. Most of those I've read so far had good characters but they weren't mature or deep or didn't evolve enough for my taste. When it comes to structure and content, the story should be at least interesting if not admirable. The writing style should be engaging and beautiful. The story (or romance in the case of Inspirational romance -- my favorite) should be deep and believable and NOT too predictable! Some of my favorites stories show the beauty, meaning and wonder of marriage. They have made me laugh and/or cry-- the latter one is not easy to do. However, if the author takes it to another level and ends up blowing my mind with the message conveyed, then I'm goner and power to them. * Cough, cough The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund ;-)*

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    1. Hi Ganise! Yes, I love stories that make me laugh and cry. As you said, that's difficult to do. But when it happens the book gets a special place in my heart. I'm glad that The Preacher's Bride did that to you! :-)

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  10. Such a good post and such good comments too! I totally agree...I have become much pickier and while I hate to put away a book and give up on it, I sometimes do. Perhaps we should all do more recommending of our very favorite "top ten of spring" or "top two" in my case. We could save ourselves some disappointment. Reviewers on blogs should perhaps be more discerning, I don't know.

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  11. Loved your 7 reasons, Jody! I'm not good at verbalizing what makes me want to stop reading, but I certainly know when I like a book. Outside of the Christian market, I don't read much contemporary fiction - rather more classic authors like Taylor Caldwell, Belva Plain, etc. What frustrates me most about a lot of Christian fiction (Not you, Jody! You know what I think of your writing!) is a lack of character depth and lyrical, more literary-style writing. I also see a lot of repetition/rehashing of thoughts, character monologues, etc., which slow the plot down and are downright boring. These are what I walk away from if I'm not required to review them. Fortunately, I'm getting better at selecting some real winners!

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  12. I have found in my busy life, that sometimes when I can not get through a particular book,
    that putting it away and giving it a second chance at a later date makes a difference. Some of my favorite books were "second chances" . The exception to my policy are the books that suffer from rated x syndrome and potty mouth overload. They are destined to be exchanged...

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  13. Hey Jody! I love to read anything and everything that I could get my hands on and I still am that way. Because, I was always taught to finish what you started and now I am finding myself not that way anymore. There was a particular book that was being hyped up as a great read and I was anxious to read it and was able to obtain it through NetGalley. It was so over the pages from the very beginning that I put it down and I just could not get into this particular book. I usually take book reviews as the readers opinion and I do find that some books that don't get good reviews end up being my favorites and some that end up with great reviews end up being my not so good favorites. The one thing that is disheartening is reading a Goodreads review when the author is a Christian and the reader is a non-Christian and that is when they nic pick at the "religious" undertones in a book. I am like what do you expect from a Christian author.

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  14. Jody, just last week I returned a book to the library without finishing it. I felt terrible. I rarely do this. After several chapters, I still didn't know what the book was about. What kind of journey was I on? Who should I care about? I still didn't know. This surprised me, because the author is well known.

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  15. Great post, Jody! Definitely "not a enough conflict" is my pet peeve. That and slow pacing. Life's too short and there's too much else to read.

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  16. Very interesting. I definitely put down books that bore me after the first couple of chapters. I also lose interest quickly when the conversations are emotionless; too "he said", "she said" and I want to "get to know" the characters. Flat, flimsy, descriptions add to my boredom.

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