Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Top Ten Reasons Why I Don't Finish a Book

In preparation for the horrific task of going back over my ms another time, I’ve been trying to pinpoint at what point an agent/editor would stop reading the ms. and why. And along with that I’ve been thinking about why I stop reading books. Hence:

Top Ten Reasons Why I Don’t Finish Books

I only finish about 30% of the books I start and it’s mainly because of quirks in my own reading habits. But sometimes I can pinpoint the reason. I’m making this list mostly to help myself as a writer so I’d be pleased if you added your reasons for not finishing a book on to the list. I have a friend or two that finish everything they start but most people probably put books aside. Why?

1. I put books aside because I find the writing itself unappealing. Either it’s poorly written, too dense or lacks grace. I read because I love language so I need to find some nicely put together sentences.

2. I find the subject matter itself unattractive. If there is too much talk about money, or arms deals or child torture, I will probably not finish it. (Maybe these are the very things that make you keep reading though) What don’t you like to read about?

3. There are too many POVs introduced too rapidly. I need to latch onto one person for a while and begin to see the world through his/her eyes. If each two-page chapter switches POV, I feel uncommitted and at sea. Who was that guy two chapter back? Do I need to remember he’s on a bus? Is the old man on page 5 Romaninan or Ukranian. I hate thumbing back.

4. Someone recommends a supposedly better book, says I have to read it and thrusts it in my hands. And similarly:

5. A book I have reserved at the library comes in and I only have two weeks to read it.

6. I am halfway though the book and it seems too familiar, and guess what, I remember I read it already. Or I didn’t read it but I read a book too much like it. Or a lot of books I’ve read are too much like it.

7. The print is too small or too light. This is a new one and is almost surely a function of my age. Is darker print really that much more expensive? (I also avoid blogs where the print is too small and dense).

8. The book begins to feel inauthentic. Characters start to act out of character. I lose a sense of place or period. There is no psychological underpinning for what the characters are doing. Events seems arbitrary--the reason I stopped watching LOST.

9. The story seems too drawn out or too rushed. Like the author was assigned a certain number of pages for the book.

10. The books is due at the library and I just don’t like it enough to pay the fines. I buy around 100 books a year, but I take twice as many out of the library. Of that 300 books, I probably read 75. Twenty years ago, I read 150 books a year. Largest reason: the Internet.

What’s the worst sin for you?


Anonymous said...

Not enough graphic sex.

angie said...

When I find myself wishing the protag would hurry up and die, already! If I'm that disenchanted, it's time to move on.

Too many damn characters makes me nuts. Do I really need to know the names of every waitress, bank teller and thugs one through 227?

I'm also developing an aversion to incest as a shorthand for ick, particularly in contemporary noir and hard-boiled fiction. It seems to be the new go-to for "look! I'm dark 'n dangerous!"

Sorry...had a longish slog of notso guido reading. Makes for cranky reader syndrome.

Randy Johnson said...

I, too, am not a fan of rapid POV switches. I used to be a fan of James Patterson, but the short chapters and the constant switching from first person and third person POV gets disjointing after awhile. I know that seems to be the current style among thriller writers, but I'm not a fan. One or two I can handle, but if every book features that type of writing, I tend to get bored fast(anathema to a writer).

John McFetridge said...

#8 for me, the authenticity. If I find myself thinking I can't imagine any real person ever saying or doing these things, I usually stop reading.

In Canada our literature has been obsessed with, "the language," for so long (a million Margarat Atwood wanabees) that we've almost completely left storytelling behind. Maybe I should say we've been obsessed with a kind of formal, poetic language, a voice you never hear in daily life, but is taught in every creative writing MFA program.

I like a good solid voice, one I can believe. I'm really turned off by someting that sounds too "writerly," uses a lot of words that only a writer would use. I'm just more interested in hearing the character's own stories rather than the writer's interpretations of them.

Of course, my wife often makes fun of me because I enjoy conversations with all kinds of random people. Someone dressed all in black at a writer's thing once pointed a finger at me and said accusingly, "Your problem is you like people."

I do. I like lots of POVs and lots of characters. One voice for too long starts to get under my skin.

As you can see, Patti, we're very different here, so, um, about that package, you have blue box recycling in Grosse Pointe, right?

Todd Mason said...

For, I'll jump on the inauthenticity bandwagon first...I stopped watching LOST after the pointless Dumb of the pilot (and I gave it another shot and got the golf-course episode), and books can lose me about that fast. Al Sarrantonio and Jeffery Deaver, for two, will never get me to buy a book all their own again, as opposed to an anthology with the bad luck or taste to feature one of their stories, till they can prove that they don't intend to keep insulting their readers' intelligence (I've given the first a novel and several stories, the latter several Very aggressively stupid stories).

Ny other major problem is working my job about 50-60 hours a week, over the last decade, and often working similarly exhaustingly in previous gigs or simultaneous multiple gigs. And I actually like fiction magazines and some other sorts, television, films, radio and other competitors for my "spare" time.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And there's where I'm gonna let you down, Chuck.
I agree with too many characters and incest, Angie. Oh, my god. Did anyone see Medium last night? Tallk about Jumping the Shark-okay maybe for the tenth time.
The POV changes mostly bothers me in the beginning. If it's spread out, it's easier. And John, loving that package so far and I do have one or two local suggestions.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Tiredness really does come into play and if I start a book in bed at night, it really disadvantages my willingness to put up with stuff. If I start it with a glass of wine at five or six, I'm much more forgiving.

Anonymous said...

Some hastily scribbled randoms--Writers so in love with their own voice it drowns out the characters and obscures the story.

Page after page of graphic violence bores the hell out of me and makes me think the writer is lazy.

Graphic violence against children--worse than lazy.

Continuity errors completely ruin a book for me.

Character quirks that come across as gimmicks.

Padding--Heh..if the writing is good I'm fine with a little bit of it, as long as it doesn't deteriorate into a two chapter essay on the difference between a North Dakota and South Dakota accent.
John McAuley

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, yes, I now cringe a bit if someone is said to wear a baseball hat, if a man is a good cook, if a woman can't cook at all or knows nothing about babies, and any mention of designer shoes or kitchens. These quirks have become too commonplace.
And I have to admit, make someone too rich and I immediately root against them. I think this was one of my problems with Iron Man. And why I always preferred Superman and Spiderman to Batman.

Josephine Damian said...

Sounds like someone's been spending too much time with Josie D.

1. Adverbs

2. Passive voice - too much use of "to be" verb.

3. Asking myself: Who is the main character?

4. Mundane people in mundane situations making mundane choices.

5. Thinly veiled autobiographical self-indulgent flashbacks.

6. Derrivative plots I've seen a thousand times before.

for starters.

Patti: you're on the right track - take off you loving writer's floppy hat, and put on the spiked helmet of an editior or agent and make a cold evaluation of your own work.

Most people believe in beta readers and CP's. But not me. I believe in the writer's ability to develop a built-in, shock proof shit detector - to quote Hemingway.

Clair D. said...

I guess I'm kind of in the authenticity camp. I've never not finished a book, but I've definetly skimmed a few after I started wondering "why are they doing that? who does that?" That and blahblahblabh parts of a story that are nothing but people sitting around bullshitting. If I don't see the point, I get bored. =)

pattinase (abbott) said...

JD. You are a riot. I can easily believe you almost never finish a book. (Nor do I).
Clair-you are the generous reader I envy. Or else picking a book is akin to picking a husband. I was pretty spontaneous with both. Luckily the husband worked out better than most books.

Lisa said...

I almost never start a book and don't finish it, but I'm pretty selective about what I choose read. My picks are usually recommended by someone who knows me or I've read enough about the book to know I'll probably like it. I just finished on I found on Forgotten Books Friday. I do sprinkle in books by friends and bloggers that I wouldn't ordinarily pick up and I'll try to power through even if I'm not getting into it. The last book I stopped reading after about 10 pages was fantasy/sci-fi. I tried, but I just can't get into that genre. I like slow reads and I actually am annoyed by books that start out too quickly or that feel formulaic. I don't like books with an excess of dialogue and if the characters aren't multi-dimensional and interesting, I probably won't finish -- this is especially true when it comes to the female characters. If it's a friend's book, I'll skim through to the end.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think Lisa makes a commitment to a book that I don't make. Even if I read a lot of good reviews, it often doesn't capture my interest. Also I think as I've gotten older I am less willing to put time in if I don't think the relationship is going to work out.

Anonymous said...

In no particular order:
- Summary narrative
- Lack of a problem/inciting incident
- Easy solution to the above
- Adverbs
- Exposition
- Starting at the beginning of the story
- POV issues
- Cliches
- Characters who speak in sentences
- Dreams
- Unnecessary interpretation
- Adjectives (particularly in pairs)
- Voicelessness
- Backstory
- Verbosity
- Writing that sounds like writing
- Scenes where the POV character doesn't have a goal
- Scenes where there's no obstacle to the POV character's goal
- Lack of sensory detail
- Repetition

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great list, Al. I might post it on my blog since you're speaking from a writer and agent's POV and it might help some of us. Thanks.

pattinase (abbott) said...

On second thought I won't post it unless I hear from you because it does invade your privacy as a commenter on here.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

You can make the print bigger almost everywhere by holding down the Ctrl key and using the scroll wheel on your mouse. This is for PCs. I don't know it if works for Macs.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I can enlarge online. It's the printed page that troubles me. Especially print that isn't very dark. I have become hopelessly far-sighted since I had my astigmatism fixed during cataract surgery.

Anonymous said...

Sure, Patti, although I'm not sure how helpful my opinion will be, since other writers and agents have quite different opinions. I should say that it's usually a combination of those bugbears I listed that lead to me giving up on a book. A couple, and I'll plod on. And of course there are always exceptions.

Anonymous said...

Great post & comments, Patti. As a reviewer, I HAVE to finish anything I start (if I'm reviewing it). My major complaint is over-writing & writing too long (mea culpa: in my own novels I have done this and always regret it). Years ago Robert Silverberg published an essay about how he had just finished writing his first novel using a word processor rather than a typewriter. He predicted, correctly, that PCs would irrevocably change the way people write, because they eliminated the time-consuming and tedious process of revision that comes with having to retype manuscripts on a typewriter (especially for those of us who can't touch type). Granted, Neal Stephenson still cranks out vast manuscripts by hand, but most writers don't. Silverberg also predicted that longer and longer books would be written.

An embarrassing number of bestselling authors apparently don't edit their own work — repititions are rife, characters introduced more than once (occasionally with different hair or eye color), the same descriptions are used, especially in novels that top out at 500+ pages. All the kind of stuff that a writer probably would be more attuned to if s/he had to retype every damn word of the thing five or six times.

I'd never go back to a typewriter, of course. Revision can be mind-numbing, but so is reading some of this stuff. The hell with T. Rex and Jurassic Park — did anyone save Maxwell Perkins' DNA?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Hi Liz-I have to admit the size of a book weighs in on whether I pick it up (in both ways). I find myself attracted to slim books although it doesn't guarantee less verbose writing in every case. Sometimes there's just less plot or less of things I like (description, complexity, etc). Having to finish a book you detest for a review must be difficult.