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).