7 Things That Make Me Stop Reading A Book

Dislike Thumb Down Hand Icon Shows DispleasureToday at lunchtime I got a Wi-Fi hotspot working so I can now use my I-Pad at work—YAY!

I proceeded to do some net-surfing and ended up on Chuck Wendig’s site Terribleminds. (Seriously, if you’re a writer and have never been there, take yourself over right this minute—well, after you read this—it’s a great site and Chuck is a riot.) He had a post where he asked people to reveal what would make them stop reading a book.

Because the keypad for the I-Pad is still a bit awkward to use, I found my response took the form of a very spare bullet list—and I thought, hmmm, this looks like the beginnings of a blog post of my own. So I’m adding to the list I posted on Terrible Minds with a few expanded thoughts.

These are also reasons why I’ll stop watching a TV show or movie—story is story for me, regardless of format.

1. Front-loading the story with too much exposition. This is why, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get into The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The first chapter is two guys going over not only events that pertain to the story, but almost the whole friggin’ economic history of Europe for the past 30 years. I was practically pulling my hair out in frustration, wondering when people were going to stop talking ABOUT things and start DOING things. It didn’t happen by Chapter 2, so I stopped reading. I found out later than the first book in the trilogy is almost entirely exposition.

Clearly, for many people, this was not a problem, but I can’t stand it.

2. Characters the writer makes so precious/adorable/perfect s/he dares you not to love them. The writer needs to let me fall in love with the characters organically, not push them at me practically screaming, “AREN’T THESE PEOPLE WONDERFUL? DON’T YOU LOOOOOVE THEM?!”

I don’t actually need to like characters—much more important, in my view, is that they be interesting. You don’t have to make me adore them, you just have to make me interested in them.

3. Self-consciously clever dialog. I love good dialog, but when a book (or movie or TV show) has characters speaking in an overly-clever way no human being on earth would ever speak, it’s a turn-off for me. This is kind of connected to #2, as it’s usually another attempt by the author to get me to LOOOOVE their characters. It’s especially grating when the characters are children or teens.

4. Preaching of any kind, even if I agree with the point of view. This is not to say that I don’t want stories to have a point of view—I do, and hope writers are passionate about what they are writing and what they have to say.

What I don’t like is when a writer stacks the deck, or trivializes or ridicules the other side of the equation. A story doesn’t have to bend over backwards to be even-handed.But in most instances absolutes turn me off. It’s just as annoying—maybe moreso—when the views put forth are similar to my own.

5. Dull or poorly conceived concept. (I usually catch that before I pick up the book, but blurbs can be misleading.)  If the basic concept of a story is weak, there’s not much a writer can do to recover from this. There are probably writers who can spin an interesting yarn from a lousy premise (I can’t think of one at the moment) but in most instances, a bad concept is going to result in a bad story.

6. Figuring out exactly where the story is going very early on. Predictability kills a story for me. I love stories that go in directions I never expect. If I’m reading and realize that the story is pretty much a straight line from “Point A” to “Point B” it’s over as far as I’m concerned.

7. Characters with no complexity. Worse if the characters of one gender are complex and the characters of the other gender are not. I can’t stand one-dimensional characters! While it’s unfortunately not that rare for female characters to be one-dimensional (and shame, shame on female writers who create them—yes, they exist) I see it with male characters, too. Especially in certain made-for-TV movies on a certain channel aimed at female viewers.

What kills a book for you? Add your thoughts in our comments section (and add them to the ever-growing comments section on Chuck’s site, too).

29 thoughts on “7 Things That Make Me Stop Reading A Book

  1. To comment on your #3, I don’t remember now who it was – the writer was a pretty famous and prolific crime/fiction writer though. Anyway, she drove me crazy with her dialogue. Not once did her main character use a contraction in her speech, not even a single “I’m” or “you’re”. It got very tiring to read though.
    I think what stops me dead in my tracks the most is when an author repeats himself. Whether it be the same thing from the narrator’s POV and then the character’s or 2 different character’s POV – do it enough and I’m out.

  2. I agree with your comments on number three. I have found that dialogue is delightful if done well, but if it isn’t, I simply cannot finish the novel. It grates on my nerves. I almost prefer books with no dialogue after many bad experiences. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson is a good read, focused more on thought, and she keeps the conversations between characters simple and to the point. Empire Falls by Richard Russo, one of my favorites, has quite a bit of dialogue, all very clever and intriguing. Just a couple suggestions for a summer reading list!

    1. I don’t mind a stylized approached to dialog (say, like in a David Mamet play) but I don’t want to feel like it’s being overdone simply to impress the reader. Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. Hahaha you had me giggling at the way you put it. But number is definitely my major one. Although in most cases I won’t put the book down, but too much description of anything is a problem for me, which becomes a problem when I write because then I do the opposite, too little description lol! Love the post.

    1. I’m exactly the same way about description. I’m always worried that I don’t write enough. It’s the part of writing I struggle with the most. Thanks so much for your kind comments!

  4. What a great post.! Will hop over to the other blog and check it out too. I concur with most of what you say above – I can’t get into a book if it’s badly written and I dislike books that feel ‘rushed’, where the writer has lots to say but hasn’t expanded on them enough. Dialogue I am usually fairly forgiving of as that is most definitely the hardest thing to write, but I do hate it when the book goes in a direction I don’t want it to. Sometimes that’s enough for me to hang up my Kindle! 🙂

    1. Thanks! My mom and I used to call books we gave up on “dumpster books” because we would toss the ones we weren’t going to finish in a dumpster on our way to work. Now with Kindles, we can’t do that anymore!

  5. Ditto on Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I got about a third of the way through that book and had to put it down because absolutely nothing happened. My friends were all, “But it will get better soon! Just power through!” to which I replied, “I shouldn’t HAVE to power through.”

    1. I was told the same thing! I don’t believe in waiting for a story to start. Start from page one and feed me exposition as the story progresses.

  6. Great list! Sometimes when there’s too much exposition and I know the story will get better, I’ll just skip through the expository parts :). But my biggest pet peeve are characters that are far outside the bounds of the suspension of my disbelief. Like the Harry Hole of Jo Nesbro novels, they drink too much, face death and survive too much, bed the beautiful women too much. Yet I like Nesbro’s writing so I persevere but Harry does seem too fantastic a character for me. On a side note, you might want to get a portable keyboard for your iPad. Thanks to my Logitech keyboard, I was able to write a large chunk of a novel when I was out of town.

    1. Yes, I also don’t like characters who seem invulnerable (like they get beat up over and over again and hardly have a scratch on them). I’ll suspend disbelief up to a certain point, but beyond that it makes it difficult to get into the story.

      Thanks for the tip about the portable keyboard. I had one for my Asus, which died on me. It was kind of heavy and I didn’t like dragging around, but the iPad is so much lighter, the keyboard shouldn’t add much more weight. I’m going to look into getting one.

  7. Humour and irony work for me in almost all aspects of a good novel. Salmon Rushdie, who is capable of long descriptive sections that would almost certainly kill a story for most mere mortals, manages to include remarkably ordinary people capable of extraordinary, and sometimes insane, thoughts, words and actions. Somehow, he doesn’t ever let it get pretentious, he keeps these characters firmly planted in their humanity, and I think that is a key to his success.
    Excellent post, well, it sure got me thinking! 🙂

    1. I love writers who avoid pretentiousness, especially when they are literary writers. I’ve been meaning to give Rushdie a try, now you’ve convinced me to pick up one of his books!

      1. Midnight’s Children or The Moor’s Last Sigh are similar and mix fantasy and reality in plausible ways. Either one would be a good place to start.

  8. Really liked this post! Agree with all of it, except for the backstory bit as I actually like backstory. What makes me stop reading is the thing you’ve put, and, in indie books, amateur writing, grammar errors, and most of all LACK OF FEASIBILITY. Can’t stand it when people put in things that wouldn’t really happen, just to push the plot to where they want it to go.

    I also like the name of your blog! Mine’s in Virgo – mercurial, too!

    1. Definitely,the amount of exposition people prefer is a very personal thing. I know SO many people who love The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the exposition doesn’t bother them one bit.

      Moon in Virgo is often associated with very successful people, i.e. J.K. Rowling, Madonna and Gordon Ramsay. Bodes well! 🙂

  9. Ah those pitfalls. The top ten of wanting to drop the book, not to mention making the character damn too perfect, without adding a flaw or two on a character.

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