I have to be completely honest with you guys. I don’t always finish a book once I’ve picked it up. In fact, sometimes I don’t finish it at all.
While I know this is common practice for most people, I’m not most people. I’m a writer, right? I shouldn’t be quitting on books. I should have the patience and attention span to stick with it too the end, right?
Wrong, so wrong. If a book fails to do what I expect it to do, I owe it no more of my time. And, since I am a writer myself, I am exceptionally critical of other authors who fail to do their one job. That job, of course, is tell a compelling story. I wouldn’t expect someone to finish my book, much less pick up another one, if I fail to tell a compelling story. There are too many stories, too many authors that deserve my attention.
Here, then, are a few reasons I will abandon a book.
I don’t care about the characters.
I am all about a character driven story. That is to say, a story about a person, rather than an event. That’s a personal preference, this is true. I know a lot of people really appreciate a plot driven story. I will also enjoy a plot driven story.
But the characters still matter. I need to care about the character, and what happens to them. Even if they’re an antihero, I need to care!
I can’t take the sad anymore.
This one might be cowardice on my part, but I have stopped reading a book because it was too depressing. Actually, no, it’s not cowardice. There comes a point at which it becomes self-care. I’m thinking, specifically, of 1984. I am afraid of this ending; I know it’s nothing good. The book was not only sad, it was repulsing on a very basic level. I’m a very food driven person, and the thought of not having enough food to feed my children, of intentionally allowing one of my children to starve because there’s not enough food for both of them, makes me physically ill. In that way, I guess I understand how the people in the book might have been led to give up all of their freedom.
Now, please, if you’re a writer, don’t take this to mean that you shouldn’t write about difficult topics. I’ve read countless books about really dark and difficult topics that have greatly impacted my life, in a good way. The Giver, Number the Stars and Maus just to name a few. It just so happens that 1984 hit one of my personal demons, hard. And I’m not inclined to throw myself into a depression fit just to finish a book, no matter how significant it is.
Something better distracts me.
Look, there are a lot of books coming out every week, and I’ve only got so much reading time. So if I’m in the middle of a book, and I get my hands on something that I want to read more, I might just put the first book down. If the story isn’t enough to keep me interested, it’s in danger of being replaced.
This is basic survival of the fittest. And it’s totally understandable. The problem is, from a writer’s perspective, it’s damn hard to defend against. Everyone’s subjective, and what I find riveting might bore you to tears.
I don’t care how the book ends.
This, though, is the cardinal sin of writing. I have forced through some pretty awful books because I had to find out how they ended. There’s some sort of mystery, and the whole book’s been leading up to finding out the answer. That’s the most powerful incentive to keep turning those pages, read one more chapter before bed, sneak in some extra reading time after dinner. ‘I want to know how this ends’ trumps terrible writing, shitty characters and any other crime a bad writer might commit.
But if I don’t care how the story ends, I don’t care to waste my time. I don’t make this decision lightly, though. I got halfway through Dances With Dragons, for instance, before I realized that I just didn’t care anymore.