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 to read.
I wasn’t always so hard to please! There once was a time when I finished reading almost every book I started.
But these days, my shelves (both real and virtual) are overflowing. 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.
Here are just some of the reasons why I may end up putting a book down and not going back to it:
1. Not enough conflict and tension. If the story doesn’t drop me into 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 non-essentials), 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. If the characters are abrasive, boring, not heroic, 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 clichés, 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 Austen, “If a book is well written, I always find it too short.”
What about YOU? What makes you put down a book?
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