Friday, April 26, 2013

What Makes You Stop Reading?

As you know we had the issue of the fonts this week on the cover of the book and map. We have come to the conclusion that rather than argue if we can use certain fonts, we will be changing them next week. It would be this week but Mikey is out of town until next Tuesday. That really is the only problem we have left to fix and then back to formatting. It does put us back a few more weeks, but it will be worth it.

In the mean time I was reading a blog the other day and even though I had touched on the same subject at hand in the past, I thought it would be a good one to bring back up again. The subject of what makes you close a book before reading all of it.

I think it's an important topic mainly because those of us that are writers need to come to terms with what we really need to fix before we put our babies out into the world. You don't want to get a lot of negative reviews, and let's face it, none of us are perfect and we need to be honest with ourselves if we want to sell our books. So I thought I would put my list out there and hopefully you will put yours down in the comments section so I can get an idea of what drives you crazy enough to possible close a book.

1. One thing that really drives me crazy is when the writer puts an added thought "column"  after every dialog. I know sometimes you want to add thoughts of the POV character, but every time they say something, or even when the other character answers? So in other words, a dialog sequence takes several pages. I know that is a way for you to bring out the personality of your protagonist, but every time? And then to boot, it's a paragraph of basically mumbling.

2. Info dump can be really annoying too. I know I have been guilty of it myself, but that's why I have critique partners. They keep me in line. You can take the information you want to portray and insert it here and there so as not to put it all in one place. And you can use dialog to get out the information.

3. Head-hopping is another one. You really need to stay in one characters POV within a scene or chapter. And you really should only select a few characters throughout your entire book that you will go into their view. You should have one protagonist (your main character) and one nemesis (your bad guy). Of course you have other characters (secondary) and sometimes need to go into their thoughts, but keep it to a minimum. The story is your main character's story.

4. Telling instead of showing. This is a tough one, but is completely annoying. I know there are times you do need to tell, but really very few. Try to describe "what" the character is seeing, instead of telling. Bring us into the scene. The same goes with their thoughts if it's an important scene in the book.

5. If the story is boring. This is where you want to look at stronger verbs and telling action. Limit the amount of dialog between characters. Not pages and pages of a conversation. Make people want to care about the characters. Come up with action scenes that put the readers at the edge, you can even do this with love scenes. And watch your redundancy.

6. Understanding what your reading. There are certain writers who try to write above the heads of typical readers by using words that most people would never have in their vocabulary. You need to stick to the character's POV profile. If the character is a young girl, would she really use those words? Another one is, and is used a lot in my genre, making up a different language. I have one in my book(s), but I try to make sure that at least 90% is understandable by using the word in "their" language, and in ours. And using made up words that are an inch long so that no one can pronounce them is frustrating because it stops the reader in their tracks.

I think this is the most important point. If you are stopping the reader, they will end up putting your book down. You need to keep the story moving along. Sure there are points where you will slow down, but not for long.

I have put down books for a few of the reasons I listed. Mainly because it will drive me crazy trying to read it. I really hate skimming, but I seem to do it a lot lately. 

7. And the last, but not least, is the 3 page chapter writers. There is no depth in their story. It's simply, this happens, than this. Sure, it moves along, but I have not become invested in the characters. There are quite a few "famous" writers now who have started doing this. They want to pump out the books and don't care how the reader feels about their work. They figure the more books they pump out the more money they make and if they were, at one time, a good story teller, then people will buy them. Or if they have a big name because at one time they were great writers. In my opinion, not any more. 

Well there's my list, what's yours? I'm sure there have been times where you have stopped reading a book. Let me know what drives you crazy, I'm all ears!

Until next week, have a great weekend and I will see you next Tuesday!

Love, Lisa


  1. This might take me all day, but I'll first respond to your points before adding my own list.

    1. Absolutely, this can be a problem in writing. It's a problem of character voice. Things that are typically high in character voice are Young Adult books. That's part of the genre. The characters are teenagers and they have an opinion about everything. Some authors take that a bit too far in having them have an opinion on everything around them. How many of us have a chance to formulate a thought in intense conversation? If it's boring, laborious conversation, we might. But then we'll be distracted and our responses will be more "Huh, what?" than anything else.

    2. Info dumps. Oh man, you see these all the time with beginning writers. My own trick is, unless the information is absolutely necessary, don't even mention it. Let a character mention it, let a reader infer it. Unless you have an incredibly detailed setting or whatever information you need to transmit is absolutely required, there's no need to include it. Keep it in your notes in case you need to refer to it later (when it is necessary) and move on.

    3. Head-hopping. I saw this in a Nora Roberts book (I'm an author; I'll read any genre once). It drove me insane. She'd switch from the woman's POV to the man's POV in the same chapter and it just drove me nuts. Why couldn't she just end the chapter and then switch over, huh?

    4. This is always a tricky balancing act. The think critique groups will often attack is telling when telling is actually appropriate. And then the author will re-write a scene that had good pacing with added detail and showing instead of telling, and then it's just too slow for the reader. We don't need the author to show us the character making breakfast. If it's not relevant to character development or moving plot forward, keep it brief.

    1. I seemed to miss something regarding #3. The number of characters. I don't make any such limitations because I write series. So one episode might focus on some characters, another episode will focus on others. That's one of the benefits of writing series like they were TV shows.

      As a writer of shorter fiction, they usually say to really limit the number of characters, but I don't follow those guidelines. I think they're ridiculous. I like to tell big stories with lots of characters, each with their own enemies. It's more real that way, in my opinion. My stories aren't about individual characters, though. They're about groups. :D

  2. 5. This is not so much, for me, boring as it is an issue of pacing. We as readers don't like having our time wasted. for me, if something moves too slowly, it feels like exactly that. Too much description, not enough dialogue and action. Dialogue and action move story forward, where as description makes it stand still. You have to strike a good balance.

    This is where I have nightmare visions of combat action told in lengthy, flowery prose. It takes 10 pages to move through what would, in real life, be 20 - 30 seconds of action. It shouldn't take me ten minutes to read through 30 seconds of action.

    It's OK to describe things, but don't overdescribe them. I see a lot of books where the texture of someone clothes are described in two or three sentences. What does the texture of their clothes matter? How is it relevant to the characters, to the plot, and to the setting?

    6. Literary fiction. The art of focusing on words and style instead of story. I've never understood the desire to write or even read in the genre. It's purple prose. It makes my physically ill to read it. Worse are the people who say it's "true literature" and "not that genre trash." Every time I see one of those people, I get murderous thoughts in my head. I write that genre trash, and it makes a heck of a lot more money that "true literature."

    As for words above people's heads. I don't know who hear has read Les Misérables. I should have grabbed the abridged version, since the author often goes on 50-page tangents, describing the history of things, throwing in the occasional paragraph about the characters in the here and now so that you can't just skip the entire chunk. You have to skim through it.

    Anyway, I digress slightly. The word "lugubrious" must show up 2-3 times per chapter. Talk about overused.

    Myself, I generally try to avoid writing new languages for books. I don't like reading fantasy languages, why would I want to suffer my readers with them. I'll describe how the language sounds once or twice and then italicize any conversation that's had in that language (unless the POV character doesn't know it, then I'll just describe how it sounds). for me that keeps things moving faster. Nothing slows down a reader faster than landing on something they can't pronounce and have to consult a dictionary for. Most will just invent a pronunciation and move on.

  3. Thanks for all your thoughts on my list. I agree with 99% of what you said. But deciding to create another language adds richness for me. When I decided to do this I wanted to make sure they were words that could be pronounced easily and a way to let the reader know what they mean instead of just throwing the words out there. One of my beta-readers said she fully understood them by the way I added them to the story, so that made me happy! I loved the new languages that were created in Lord of the Rings and in Startrek, believe it or not. I can't imagine that a strange world would have the same language as us. It might be a universal language, but not outside our world.

    I have not read Les Miserables, and I probably won't. Not really my cup of tea. But I did read Edgar Allan Poe years ago and the extreme words he used threw me off. There have been other, more recent books, that I've read that through in impossible words and I read a lot. There is no reason to come up with words that aren't in our usual everyday language. I have learned some new words though, lol!

    1. Les Mis isn't really my cup of tea, either. Well, the book, anyway. Love the musical. I'm going to see it when it's here in Calgary at the end of June/early July.

  4. 7. Don't confuse short chapters with bad storytelling. ;)

    I prefer the shorter chapters. I don't like leaving a chapter unfinished and most of my reading I do before bed in varying states of tired, so I don't always have 30-40 minutes to spend with a single chapter.

    I read all sorts of books. Science fiction, the occasional epic fantasy (though the genre is usually too description-laden for my tastes and has excruciatingly long chapters), the occasional romance (writers should read all genres, so they say), urban fantasy (The Dresden Files by far being my favourite), horror, thrillers, mysteries, some YA here and there.

    I can remember as a kid, always saying "just five more minutes." Now before bed, it's "just one more chapter." So if you're really tired, but you want one more chapter, which would you prefer? One that takes 20-30 minutes to read (and you might fall asleep midway) or one that takes 5 minutes? For me, it's the one that takes 5 minutes.

    I'm grateful that my Kindle (thanks to a recent update) tells me roughly how long it will take to read the next chapter in a book I'm reading.

    I've often been disappointed to see "49 minutes left in chapter." because I don't want to stay up that late and wake up exhausted from a night of reading (though that hasn't always stopped me from staying up until 2:40 in the morning reading). Often those 49 minute long chapters could have been broken into 2-3 smaller chapters. In fact, they might even have scene breaks!

    Of course, why can't I just stop reading at the scene breaks? My obsessive nature. I have to finish the CHAPTER.

    Which gets to this point from my writer's perspective. A lot of books will have scene breaks within a chapter. I don't, typically. I think I used scene breaks in one book, and it sort of went against the style I had already established with the first two (neither of which had anyway). I might change one of those for the print version (and subsequent update to the e-books), because it wasn't as necessary as I felt the others were.

    But I digress.

    In my writing, I typically won't use scene breaks. I'll just start a new chapter if there's a change of scene. If it's the same scene (common in searching montages), I'll tell my way to the next location (unless something about the journey is somehow relevant) and then we'll be back to showing.

    For me, a chapter is no more than one scene, though the occasional scene will span more than one chapter. I do that if a cliffhanger is called for. If something dramatic is happening, I will absolutely break chapter for that dramatic tension so long as there is enough of a reaction to make a decent length chapter.

    My chapters are typically 1,000 - 1,200 words each (3-5 pages). They've been as low as 376 words (very brief mini-scene from the antagonist's view) and as long as 4,000 words (well, that I can remember in recent years; I probably have a longer one here or there in my unpublished material).

    You'll find short chapters most commonly with thrillers. They require them. Short chapters, clippy prose, paragraphs rarely more than three lines long. They're rollercoaster rides. Style and plot are paramount to thrillers. Character comes after, but a lot of authors will still make an effort to develop them.

    Me, I try my best to make my characters interesting, give them lives all of their own. You can certainly do that with short chapters. Short chapters do not hamper the story at all and they don't necessarily hamper the depth of the characters. That's the storytelling and writing. That's the development of the story, not the style it's written in.

    Short chapters can improve pacing. Nothing kills a book faster than pacing that allows a reader to put it down.

    1. I know that there are writers that use short chapters, but I mean writers like James Patterson and Steve Berry. Although, I really like Steve Berry's stories, he doesn't use the short chapters as much as JP. I know there is a name that describes his type of writing but I can't think of it right now. Something like, commercial writer. Where all they do is pump them out, ignoring if it's a good read or not.

    2. You might be searching for the word prolific, but there's nothing wrong with being prolific and producing a lot of content. Genre fiction is entertainment. A good night (or several nights) entertainment. Like a movie. Writing and storytelling is art and like all art, it's all subjective. What's a good read for me does not necessarily hold true for you or the next person and vice versa. But Patterson's books are clearly good to some people. He makes 80 million dollars a year selling millions of copies of his books. Somebody has to like them. :D

      I've read the first two Alex Cross novels. They're OK. I'll probably read another one, and if that one's good, I'll read another, and probably continue until I grow tired of the formula or until I'm really disappointed. I've never even heard of Steve Berry, but it looks like I'd probably read his books.

      My boss loves the Cross books and Patterson's Women's Murder Club books.

      I know a lot of people who hate Patterson. Stephen King said he's "a terrible writer." But I like to make a distinction between writing and storytelling. One can be good at one, the other, or both. A good writer who is a terrible storyteller will sell few books, but a good storyteller who is a terrible writer will sell many books. One who is good at both won't necessarily sell more than the one who's not as good a writer. Because when it comes down to it, most people read a book for the story, not the writing. That's the mistake many beginning writers make. They're too focused on the words to realize that there has to be a story behind it.

      I have great respect for Patterson in his ability to put out so many books each year. Nora Roberts, too. She's equally if not more prolific. If you can write 4,000 words a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, you have written 1,000,000 words. There are not too many authors with that level of discipline.

    3. I guess I have read too many other author's books that are really good so when I read Patterson, I find the books need some richness to them. You do know how he pumps out so many books don't you? He has a list of smaller time author's who he has write the rough drafts and then he goes in and revises and edits and sends them off. I don't know about Nora Roberts, but I have liked some of her books, even with the headhopping. She has great stories with richness and following through so that you get the complete feel. I prefer Steve Barry, John Sandford, Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston, Brad Meltzer's older stuff, Jeri Smith Ready, and I have read quite a few newer author's lately and have enjoyed their books as well.

  5. My list. There are a few things that will make me put a book down.

    1. Purple prose. You know the stuff. It's overly flowery language. Too many metaphors, way too detailed and poetic descriptions of mundane things that have no relevance whatsoever to the plot or characters.

    2. Killing dogs. You can go ahead and kill people. Children even (though I'd prefer you didn't). But as soon as you kill a dog, I'm gone. I will crap on your book and set it on fire.

    3. After a major cliffhanger in the middle of the book, switch to another person's point of view for 200 pages. Easy way to kill my reading of your book. You switch me to a character I've never seen nor give a damn about an expect me to carry on for 200 pages before getting back to the one I invested in through the first half of the book? No thank you.

    4. We get that your bad guy is an asshole. You don't have to have him act like an asshole, kill one of his buddies and laugh with his asshole friends, rape someone, and then kill a dog, too.

    Ironically, I managed to withstand 3 for a while with one book (I did want to see how the cliffhanger resolved). Then 4 happened, which included 2, which killed the whole damned book.

    1. HaHa! I actually laughed out-loud! You are a funny dude! Yes, I agree with the dog issue! I would never kill off a dog! I will always pull for the dog, or the wolf even. I am a canine lover! As for the other three points, I too agree! To me there is nothing worse than a 'B' rate bad guy. I tried really hard to not have mine be the typical asshole like you described above. I hope when you do read my book you let me know what you think of my nemesis Torren. I also agree with the cliffhanger and leaving you hanging way to long. And number one, all I can say is WTF?! I am not the chick flick type, especially when I read a book lol!

    2. It's not even chick lit. Literary fiction is notorious for purple prose.

      I don't mind if there are violent, graphic villains. But if we already know the guy's a total piece of crap, the author does not need to keep illustrating how nasty a character he or she is.

    3. I guess this isn't a genre I read too much. I prefer historical fiction, mystery and thriller, fantasy and sci-fi, if it's good sci-fi. I've read some that leaves little to be desired. I agree with your assessment with the bad guy, mainly for me don't make him/her sound like a 'B' rated crappy movie.

  6. I have a weird reading rule which means I must finish a book if I start it - as a result I am careful about which books I start, so nothing makes me put a book down half way through. But the things which would annoy me about a book and make me want to bin it are similar ones to those on your list. Essentially it's just examples of bad writing - and there are many more of course. I'd agree with all of yours. I don't have a particular problem with difficult words - we have Google now, if we don't understand a word we can look it up, unless we are too lazy to live. But innapropriate words is a different thing - if they sound wrong in the context then they are wrong.

    1. Hi Chris! How are you! Great to hear from you. I know, i need to read some of your blog posts. They are saved in my email and I have had a hard time getting to them, along with about a dozen others. I promise to read your latest today. Most of the time I can continue to read if the book is a good story, like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the other two with that one. Although terrible with the boo boo's in those books, it was a great story. I do agree you can look words up, but again it stops your reading and I try not to do that to my readers. I hope all is well with you and your book. Now that I have a kindle I will order it! ;-)

  7. Thanks Lisa! Kindle makes checking words even easier of course! I'm very find of mine now I have it and do read books on it - though I still prefer the traditional paper kind!

    1. I started reading your book Chris! So far so good! I'm with you though, I still prefer paperback too!

    2. Wow thanks Lisa - will be fascinated to know what you make of it! Do let me know always very interested to hear the opinion of a fellow writer.

  8. I don't think I've started a book of fiction that I've not finished since college and those were 18th and 19th century novels that were tedious reads. I am fairly selective about reading only books I really want to read and once I've started a book of fiction, I'm intent on finishing it. I have not had much problem with books that were grammatically distracting or too poorly written so finishing has not been too much of an issue with fiction.

    I do prefer shorter chapters in books--10 pages max with maybe 8 pages ideal. This is because I prefer to read in shorter increments of time and don't like to have to stop reading mid-chapter.

    You've covered the biggest problems I think and have done well in explaining them. For me a big factor is realism and the ability for me to put myself into the story. This is probably one reason I avoid reading fantasy or extreme out-there sci-fi. I want to believe the story and not have to stretch my imagination to unrealistic limits. Maybe a super writer could win me over, but more than likely I won't even start reading a novel if it seems overly fanciful. Same goes with too much obscenity or profanity. If I don't feel like I'm going to walk away feeling enriched, uplifted, or at least entertained without being overly disgusted, then I'd rather not waste my time reading something.

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

    1. Arlee, good to hear form you! I did email you about the blog tour. I'm still gathering people to do it. I have 4 so far. It will probably start later in May. Now onto the list. I don't mind chapters with about 15 pages, 10 is a good number. But what I've noticed is when you format for print your chapters get smaller. I don't, however, like the 3 page chapters. It doesn't leave much room for building your characters and enriching the content. I was hoping you were going to give my book a read, but it is fantasy. Maybe you would be a good person to read it since you are so picky about fantasy. You could let me know what you did/didnt like. Let me know if you would be open to it. Thanks for your comment and I will email you again when I have a few more people for the blog tour.

  9. Lisa, you know we agree on about 99.999% of what you said. One you didn't mention is bad editing. That one will get me to put a book down almost 100% (although I just made myself finish one that I promised a review on, and no, it was not yours Marilyn Rice, I don't have to force myself to read yours :)).

    Words. Hmmmm. I love rich and archaic language, so most "ornate" words don't bother me. I love the classics, love Poe, but you know all that. However, overuse of the same word (Janet and I discussed this with her friend Alexandra the other night and had a good laugh) will send me over the edge. Repetition has its place, but not too close to me. Remind me to tell you my new, favorite word :).

    Boring story. 'Nuf said.

    I think those are my top picks.