I’m knee-deep in revision right now, so here’s an older craft post that seems fitting.
I’ve been having great luck with books recently, but for a while I was in a serious reading dry spell. I’d pick up book after book and not get more than a few chapters in. After reflecting on all those books I couldn’t get through, I’ve come up with a list of things that make me stop reading – and how to avoid them.
1. I can’t connect to the character. No matter how important the conflict feels to the character, if I don’t care what happens to her, I won’t care if the conflict is resolved. That’s why when a story starts with action, it needs to clue us into the character very quickly, otherwise we’re watching things happen to a person we have no reason to care about.
Solution: Make us connect with the character right away; we don’t necessarily need to like her but we need to care enough about her that we’ll be upset if she’s crushed by an asteroid.
2. Nothing has really happened, and it doesn’t feel like anything is going to happen anytime soon. If I’m on chapter five and I’m still not sure what the story is going to be about, chances are I’ll give up on it.
Solution: Story is about conflict, and that conflict should at least be hinted at in the first chapter. Beautiful writing or a great voice will only get you so far; ultimately, your story needs to be about someone struggling.
3. The telling doesn’t do the story justice. I was excited to read a particular book because of the premise, but it was structured as a series of reports that were supposed to recount the events of the story. This approach kept me so far away from the characters that I just couldn’t get invested in the story, no matter how interesting the premise was.
Solution: Experimentation is great, but you still want to draw in your reader. If you want to keep some distance between your reader and your characters, for example, give us some other compelling reason to keep reading.
4. The story doesn’t make me care. Sometimes there’s a general “So what?” that I feel when I’m reading; why should I care what happens in this story? Often this is because the stakes aren’t high enough or the characters’ motivations aren’t believable. I want to care about these people and what happens to them, but if it feels like their struggles aren’t genuine or necessary, then I probably won’t keep reading.
Solution: Make the stakes high but also make them believable. If the character is taking big risks for something she doesn’t care about and that doesn’t really affect her, chances are we won’t care about her struggle.
5. The story is too derivative. Of course all stories are inspired by others stories, but if I start reading a book that is trying too hard to be like something else (Twilight, perhaps?), I usually find that distracting. Often I get the feeling that I’ve read this book before, and it was better the first time.
Solution: If you’re writing a story that’s been told many times before, you have to find a way to make it your own – find that special twist that makes your story unique.
6. It’s just not my personal taste. This isn’t a fault as much as it is a reminder. Your story will not be for everyone. My husband absolutely loved a book and encouraged me to read it; I got about halfway through and had to put it aside because it was just too gory for me.
Solution: Keep your ideal reader in mind and write for him. Of course, you want your story to have a broad appeal, but it’s impossible to cater to everyone.
So that’s my list of “deal-breakers” and some possible solutions. Now it’s time for yours. What makes you stop reading a book? What are some possible solutions to those problems?