I embody my worst fear as a writer. I’ve got books on my shelf with bookmarks in the middle and I don’t have any idea when or if I’ll pick them up again. If I’m abandoning books, other people are too. But why?
Give me plot. Give me progression. I want to feel like I’m on a journey. I want to discover something new every chapter. If not, I’m finding something else to do.
Names and concepts are being thrown around. I don’t know who’s who and what’s what, and that means everything is meaningless and I have no reason to care. Dedicate time to new characters, help me recognise them when they pop up later. Help me care.
The biggest plot twist is on the blurb. I just wrote a quasi-intellectual rant on why less is more when it comes to writing blurbs. Sometimes it helps to be in the loop on what’s going to happen to a character before it does, but if I’m waiting pages and pages for this ‘big event’ with nothing good in between, I’m going to wonder why. A lot of thrillers rely on revealing a big climatic event early on, when chronologically this event doesn’t take place until the middle or third act. If it was that far ahead, why spoil it? Is it because the rest of your book is boring? Ugh.
This goes hand in hand with number 1 & 3. Give me plot, give me hints. Tell me there’s something to discover but don’t tell me what. Yummy, yummy plot is goody, but just throwing events at me takes away the participation. I want to feel like I’m learning. I want to feel like there’s something to sit up and pay attention to. I want that light-bulb moment.
There’s nothing better than an interesting character to get be turning those pages. Someone whose story I can get invested in. If I don’t care about someone in the story, then I’m more likely to put down the book.
This might seem a little harsh… but I once put down a book because the nerdy girl trope tried to insult someone by calling them an invertebrate. I did it because no human character, nerd or not, would ever say that – especially in the context of what was happening, which if I remember right was the nerd was watching two characters physically beat each other and she was trying to ‘defuse’ the situation…by calling the attacker an invertebrate. That’s a level of dumb I cannot handle.
I’ve written a post on how sometimes writers go too far. Same thought here – a character, usually the hero, makes a choice that reader cannot support. That may choice lead to the death of an innocent, or involves victimising someone in some way, or even if the decision is completely out of character or downright dumb. The reader has been disconnected from the character’s motivations and cannot support the character anymore. Their story becomes frustrating to read.
I’ve seen some fellow writers on Twitter rebuke this but… I am a firm believer that books should be very careful about their POV. You cannot kill off your protagonist if your book is written in first person, past tense – unless that character becomes a ghost. You cannot switch between first and third unless there is a damn good reason. Books need an internal logic, a format that makes sense, otherwise I’m putting that book down and finding something that doesn’t make me scratch my head.
I love some good tropes. Stories are built on tropes. But sometimes tropes mean a story becomes predictable and there’s not enough ‘new’ to make the story interesting. Last year, I read Wayfarer by KM Weiland and while I enjoyed it, there was nothing in the book that I hadn’t seen somewhere before. It’s superhero tropes made it somewhat predictable. Wayfarer was saved by its action and speedy plot, but not all books will be so lucky. Tropes, like all things literary, should be used with care. It’s best for a story to have something surprising, unique, or new to keep a fickle reader like me hooked.
Sad truth is sometimes books just don’t hold my interest all the way through. Sometimes it’s because something new came along. Usually another book with a great premise that’s just begging to be read and I just can’t wait. The good news is if your book avoids everything else on this list, I’ll be committed to reaching the end before that happens.
What about you? What’s your number one reason for putting a book down? Have you ever put down a book then gone back to it? Tell me your thoughts and opinions down below.