I put down a book the other day. I tried to like it; I really did. I gave it a lot of chances, but in the end, I chose to abandon it for a different read. There are just too many books on my TBR list and far too little time in each day for me to spend hours struggling through a book when I feel no connection.
It always pains me to shelf an unfinished book, but I have to remind myself that there is no way I can like everything (I’d be a pretty boring person if I did), and that this is precisely why there are so many diverse, amazing books on the market. Different people dig different stories, and while this one read wasn’t for me, I’m sure it was the right read for others.
Anyway, after moving on to a new book, I found myself still thinking about the one I had abandoned. I was trying to pin-point what it was that made me give up on the story. It wasn’t the premise (it was intriguing) and it wasn’t the writing (it was solid, and in some areas, the prose was even lovely). After much contemplation, I decided it was a combination of things that turned me off. And when I look at other books that I have abandoned in the past, the same issues ring true.
For me, a book dies when the following things happen…
The voice is not authentic
Before you get into the bulk of the story (the conflict or the setting or the characters), voice is apparent. Instantly, usually. I’m pretty certain you can get a feel for the voice within the first several pages, if not paragraphs and I end up highly frustrated when the voice feels fake, forced or unauthentic. If our MC is a hip music artist in and up-and-coming band but sounds like a conservative grandmother, we have a problem. If our MC is a passionate poet but recounts his/her world with stark, bland and literal descriptions, we have a problem. The language, tone and overall flow of the story needs to feel real and natural to the person telling it. If it doesn’t, it sticks out like a muggle at a Quidditch match, at least to me.
The plot drags (or rambles, or stalls)
Pacing! So much about a story that leaves me dying to turn the page comes down to pacing. If a serial killer breaks out of jail and isn’t mentioned again for 100 pages, I will start to bore. If the zombies are attacking and I have to read 7 chapters documenting how the characters are barricading their home in preparation for the apocalypse, I will fall asleep. Get me to the action. Get me to the next big “thing” that pushes the plot along. Of course there are plateaus leading up to the final climax, but they shouldn’t be dragged out forever. The arc of a page-turning story is one that constantly baits and feeds. Tease me, reward me a little, and then hook me again with a new slice of mystery. Lather, rinse, and repeat…all the way ’til the end!
The characters are flat
I’ve read several stories with rich and well-imagined supporting characters, but a main character that is a hollow shell of a person. This is always so disappointing. Why can’t the main character have ticks and traits like the supporting cast? Why must they be so dull? When a character is bland only one thing is a guarantee; I never connect with them. If I am expected to care about the MC, feel their pain, root for their success and lament their decisions, I better know what makes them tick. Characters that fall flat leave me believing that nothing is at stake. If I am not at the edge of my seat praying for the character to get the guy, or survive the apocalypse, or solve the mystery of the serial killer, why would I even care to finish the book?
Those are my major gripes. If a books struggles with one of these things, I may struggle through its pages. If it struggles with all three, there’s a pretty good chance I will abandon it. What, if anything, makes you put down a book?