What Makes You Stop Reading a Book?

I know. This is a loaded question, right?

This came to mind because it’s Cyber Monday here in the U.S. and lots of online book buying is going on (not to mention Kindle and Nook sales), and I’ve been thinking about all the books I’ve read and intend to read and about recent conversations I’ve had with other readers. Here’s the thing, though. There are lots of readers who are just readers. And then there are readers who are writers, like me. And trust me when I say that writers read differently than the average reader. A writer, because of their very nature of what they do, sees more on the page than the everyday reader. Many writers look for how a story is structured or will dissect a scene or a chapter to see what makes it work (or not). They’ll look for mistakes (and find them) and they’ll search for inconsistencies and errors in writing or details.

That’s not to say that writers don’t enjoy reading because they do. They just have a more critical eye. But in the end, there are things about a book that will drive readers of any kind to stop reading the story before they’ve finished, or even throw it across the room. So, with that visual in mind, I’ve put together a few of the things that will absolutely, positively make me stop reading a story and maybe even toss the book away.

  1. Head hopping. OMG, this is my biggest nitpick about reading anything. I expect to read a scene from one point of view and one point of view only. The minute the writer head hops and switches to another character’s point of view in the very same scene, I’ll stop reading and never pick up the book again. Yep. I’m that fanatical about it. I know other readers don’t feel this way, but for me this is a writing violation in its purest form. And I hate it.
  2. Half-hearted writing. I don’t know if it’s a time pressure issue or not, but some stories feel rushed or are written in a way that feels meh to me. I love a writer that cares about every word that goes onto the page. I love to be pulled into a story with such force – because the author worked that hard at their craft – that I can’t put the book down no matter how hard I try. I’m a true believer in the old writing adage: do not publish any story until it’s ready.
  3. Characters that do something out of character. It’s one thing to have a character arc in a story – which is another way of saying that a character learns something by the end of the book that makes them grow – like an introvert who, because of a series of situations, becomes a strong and confident extrovert. But it’s another thing to have a character do something they’d never ever do, even when pushed to the limits. This often happens when a writer manipulates a story to get it to where they want it to be, rather than letting it happen naturally.
  4. Lack of suspension of disbelief. When you read a book, there’s an implied promise that you, the reader, will be whisked away to another world. It could be a fantasy world, or a science fiction one, or one filled with threats and gunfire, or even love and lust. But no matter what it is, you have to believe that you’re there with the characters and that the things that are happening really are happening. Of course we know that so much of what’s in fiction could never happen in real life, but that’s what suspension of disbelief is all about. Making the unreal so realistic that you are happily sucked right into the story to the point that you forget there’s a real world outside of it.
  5. End of book infodump. I see this often. It’s where we get, in a few simple paragraphs or, if we’re lucky, an entire chapter, dedicated to solving all the suspense, mystery or romantic elements of a story. This makes me nuts. The idea of a story is to tell it! Not to string us along and then resolve everything at the end of the book. I get no satisfaction out of that, thankyouverymuch, and trying to resolve everything in a few paragraphs will ensure I never read anything by that author again.

So what about you? What makes you stop reading a book or, worse, throw it across the room? I’d love to know!

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · TerriPonce.com

About Terri Herman-Ponce

I write about twists, turns, past lives and suspense
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21 Responses to What Makes You Stop Reading a Book?

  1. Duane Patterson says:

    I find that a poorly edited book will divert my focus from enjoying the story quicker than anything else, and eventually I abandon ship. Unfortunately, this is a reality of self-publishing and the 99 cent e-book. I’d still rather pay the $7.99 and keep an editor in business, but I think I’m in the minority with that opinion. It just makes me worry that bad grammar is going to become the acceptable norm.

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  2. Terri, I think the thing that bothers me the most is having to wait too long for the book to grab me. I like thrillers, so I am sensitive to that first scene where a big event makes me wonder what has caused it to happen and what will happen next. All that doesn’t have to happen in the first two sentences of paragraph one, but ten pages in I need to see what is at stake in the story.
    Thanks for the great post.

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    • terriponce says:

      Stephen, I’m so with you! The first scene has to grab me, too. I don’t have the patience to wait pages or chapters for anything to happen either. And I find that I’ve become more sensitive to that over the years. Stakes should be set in any genre, right up front.

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  3. It takes a lot to make me stop reading a book, even a hot mess of a book, because I’m always hopeful that somewhere the author will have found his or her stride and pull me in.

    Head-hopping doesn’t bother me, but weak plotting does, and I see it in a lot of YA or from inexperienced writers. Maybe it’s because I struggle with plotting myself and am very dedicated to make my own plots work, but when I encounter stories with characters whose reactions seem tailored to the plot, rather than true to themselves, my attention wanders. It speaks to a disconnect between the plot’s direction and the direction the characters want to go.

    I don’t mind so much an infodump at the end of the book if the infodump makes sense to the rest of the book. Show me where I missed the logical steps from start to finish, but don’t rely on a dropped bomb at the second-to-last page to tie it all together.

    Anyway, I found you through an email about a tweet about another blog who credited you with the inspiration for that post (yay, social media), and if you’re into past lives and second chances, you should check out Diane J. Reed’s “Twixt” – I adored it and I’m looking for more like it, so this is serendipity. :)

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    • terriponce says:

      Yes, Athena! She contacted me yesterday about my post and the inspiration for hers, too. Made me smile. I’ll have to check out that read you suggested – I love the paranormal and adore past life theory. Thanks so much for stopping by!!

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  4. Mia Marlowe says:

    If I stop caring about the characters, whether through poor writing or stupid actions, the book is in serious danger of becoming a wall banger. If I’m invested in the characters, I’ll slog through a lot.

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  5. You pose an interesting question. I hate to give up on reading a book and mostly struggle through to the very end.

    War and Peace was hard to read. Mostly because the plot is so complex with so many characters — it’s hard to keep them all straight. I ended up taking a 10-year break between the first time I read it and the second time I read it. Hoo, boy.

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  6. Pingback: What Makes You Stop Reading a Book? | The Mad Reviewer

  7. Nora Roberts does head hopping very well. I don’t mind at all as long as the hopping is clear and doesn’t leave you feeling confused as to who is talking. I often think readers don’t mind as much as writers do as we’ve had to become more critical thinkers as we plot and craft our work.

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  8. I agree completely. Since I began writing, I’ve become much more critical of the books I read. I would add the following: 1) A whole lot of back story too soon, or all at once rather than distributed throughout the story as needed. 2) The use of would – eg. When I was a kid I would go to the corner store … instead of When I was a kid I went to the corner store. And like you I hate an ending that suddenly wraps up the loose ends in one (usually implausible) info dump.
    For a wonderful read that avoids all these errors try Domingo’s Angel – it’s lovely on all levels.

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  9. caitlinstern says:

    Many of the above…
    Also, characters that I don’t care about. If I can’t find anything to relate to, and I realize I wouldn’t mind in the slightest if something horribly gruesome happened to the protagonist, I’ll put a book down.

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  10. Penn says:

    1. Oh yeah!

    2. Don’t we know it. Thump!

    3. Snerk. ::eyes skyward, whistling::

    4. I’m very open to belief suspension.

    5. ‘by’ not ‘buy’ – Oh yeah, I edit your posts too. Didn’t I tell you it’s compulsive now!!? :-D. Lol.

    Good post!!

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    • terriponce says:

      Oh come on now. I’ve never written a character out of character. Ever.

      At least one that’s made it to print. But before going to print? That’s entirely another matter, and part of the editing process. Ahem. LOL

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