Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What are some of the reasons a book disappoints?

I just finished a book I expected to like a lot more than I did. It took me a while to suss out what disappointed me--now it wasn't a bad book by any means but my expectations were high. Here's what I came up with

The initial premise of the book turns out to be a red herring. I don't mind red herrings but if the reason the book intrigued you turns out to be nothing clever at all, it's a disappointment.

The denouement goes on too long. Try the last thirty pages. And what if you have arrived at most of the explanation before the detective does? I think a writer has to assume this has happened to some extend so a long exposition or even dialog explaining it is a bad idea.

The murderer is a serial killer with Mommy issues. And we get a long explanation of how this came about. Either his mother was a bad one or his mother was a victim that needs to be avenged.

Too many of the characters seems to share the same basic traits: angry, sarcastic, sad.

What are some of the reasons a book disappoints you?



21 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, interesting question! I've been disappointed when a book seems to be building up to something...and that something doesn't happen. It's also disappointing when I find none of the characters to be appealing in any way - when I simply don't care what happens to them.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Incredibly obvious plotting, especially when the reader knows where it is going early on and the detective has no clue. The worst recent offender I can think of was Andrew Grant (Lee Child's brother)'s second book, DIE TWICE. I saw the killer from the beginning but the detective (sic) not only didn't get it, he never even considered it as a possibility.

Unlikable protagonist, especially if it is first person narration. If I hate the character why would I want to read a book about him/her? (Margot mentions this too, I see.)

Too long for the plot. If the author has fallen in love with her story to the extent of publishing 500 pages when she should have edited it down to 300, I quickly lose patience and move on to something else.

Jeff M.

George Kelley said...

I'm with Margot and Jeff on their reasons. But I always get exasperated when the author "Kills the Woman." Whether it's a girl-friend or an important female character, when the author needs another corpse to move the story ahead--and he/she chooses a woman (90% of the time it seems)--I become annoyed. It happens a lot.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Meandering. That drives me crazy. When you can see the author is filling the story out. Every scene should either drive the story or tell you something about the character you need to know.

Deb said...

Too much telling not showing. Also related: characters who are given massive amounts of exposition to relate. Here was an exchange between a brother and a sister in a book I recently gave up on: "As you know, when Grandfather died, our aunt contested his will and hired the best lawyer in the state to represent her...." Have any siblings in history spoken that way to each other? And wouldn't the sister already know the details of the family in-fighting? Pick a better way to communicate the backstory!

Another thing that drags a book down for me is obvious anachronisms. Not so much in objects or styles of dress, but what I think of as "emotional/social anachronisms." This is especially true in historical novels in regard to women's morality. Until very recently, few women flouted sexual conventions and those that did, especially if they got pregnant, paid a hefty social price.

Of course, a crackerjack plot can keep me interested even with some of these drawbacks; however, I find that it's rare to encounter the writer with that level of plot finesse who doesn't also have other elements of his/her writing in hand.

sandra seamans said...

I hate when a writer treats the readers like they're stupid. In Stephen King's Duma Key he told me at least six times in the first two chapters that Edgar had lost his arm. Really? You didn't think I understood that the first time you told me? I tossed the book.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, that's a good one, Sandra. I just read one where almost a whole paragraph had been repeated. Not just one fact.

Dana King said...

All of the above, encapsulated into one thing. Any book needs to create--in John Gardner's words--"a vivid fictional dream." Take me out of that too long or too often, and the books fails for me. Everything cited above can do it. Stiff dialog also pops to mind. I won't say I have to forget I'm reading a book--I love Chandler and Ellroy, who both use language in such a way you're always aware you're reading--but the book has to pull me in at some level so I can pretend this world is real, and I care about it.

(Pet peeves from above, in addition to stiff dialog, are serial killers in general, and going for the cheap thrill by threatening or killing a woman. Not that those are never appropriate, but they are too often used as conveniences for the author.)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Excellent wrap-up, Dana.

Cap'n Bob said...

Murky writing. Prose should be clear and flow effortlessly.

patrick said...

I am new here, Patti, but have enjoyed your blog forever. Congrats on your new novel and the continued success of your daughter, Megan.

One of the main disappointments to me is when a book ends with an obvious set-up for the next book in the series, essentially a cliffhanger. It's fine if the book stands well enough alone on its merits, but, when there are seemingly dangling plot elements which make you wonder how the author will wrap things up, the novel ends without resolution, that's a big disappointment. I bring this up because the latest in Ace Atkins's Ranger series, The Redeemers, is out, and I have loved that series. But last year's entry, The Forsaken, essentially ended with a cliffhanger, and that really let me down.

Todd Mason said...

And not a little of what is described here is a large part of why I like short fiction at least as well as novels, usually. Some of these sins are possible in shorter fiction, but all of them, essentially, can be indulged in at greater length, obviously, and with fewer publication consequences, in particularly bug crusher novels.

Lecturing and that the author makes it too clear the three chapters or so that sold the book to the editor were the only ones where serious work was done, where the writer loses interest or has to rush to get to some other task, are among my least favorite aspects of flawed novels. Aggressively stupid plotting offered as clever twists don't help...I'm thinking of, say, THE WASP FACTORY here.

Todd Mason said...

Is there a non-repetitious, not sloppily-written King novel after CARRIE?

pattinase (abbott) said...

And when a movie does that too, Patrick. You can feel it coming a mile away. I can take a cliffhanger if it essentially doesn't ruin the current story. If the one you are reading has a definite conclusion, that's OK. But if you have to wait until the next one for a finale, that's called THE KILLING, which made me so mad I never went back.
I haven't read much King, Todd. Only MISERY, THE SHINING, SALEN'S LOT and CARRIE. Oh, and the one about the dog, which I hated.

sandra seamans said...

I'm not a big fan of King's novels but I did enjoy Carrie and Dolores Claiborne which are both short novels. I much prefer King's short story work, that's where he really shines as a writer. The Green Mile was good also but that was a novella.

Todd Mason said...

CUJO, Patti. At least, that's the iirst doggy. I liked, but didn't love CARRIE.

Sandra, agreed...some of his short work ranges from good to brilliant, such as "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" or "The Night Flier" or "The Children of the Corn" (definitely don't judge it by the film trash). Then there are the stories such as "The Cat from Hell" or the Gunslinger stories as they were first published in F&SF starting in 1978, after King had failed to sell them anywhere in his early days, that are some of the worst fiction of any kind I've read.

That he can be such a good writer is much of what so annoying about most of his fiction I've tried. The incredibly free pass he keeps being handed by people who set their opinion of him when he was the first and only adult novelist they'd read is enervating, but resolutely not his fault. His laziness is. (Well, perhaps they read him and V.C. Andfres. And Anne Rice. I haven't seen actually good work from either of them. )

Todd Mason said...

How the spell-checker turned Andrews into that thing above, I dunno. Spell-checker loves Andrews, perhaps.

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Too often when watching television crime shows you can see the solution from the start, We have a joke about CASTLE that also holds true for many other shows: look at the cast list. The biggest name among the guest stars is the murderer a large majority of the time.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

I'm always disappointed when, after plodding along waiting for the book to get better, the ending is lame. I ponder, did the writer just run out of creativity and trail off?

Yvette said...

I'm pretty basic when it comes to why any book disappoints, Patti. 1) The dog dies. 2) I don't like any of the characters. 3) No surprises. Everything that happens is forecast early on. 4) The dialogue is wrong. 5) The writing is clunky.