At what point in time do you give up on a story? Some people don’t put books down, even if they’re terrible, they just persist.
Bad could be terrible for several reasons, and only you, the reader, know the answer to that question, and everyone is different.
I’ve compiled a few reasons why I’ve DNF’d the last few books I’ve tried to get into.
I won’t name authors or books because I’m not doing reviews on this site.
White Wall Syndrome – The situation where nothing is described.
Is nothing a thing? Can I describe it? Maybe we go with ‘the situation lacking detail.’
The pain where something described happens at a location, and the scene isn’t defined.
The first book I tried to read recently had this. People moved in and out scene, and from the title of the book and the names of characters, I saw castle walls, a large fireplace and a bear-skinned rug or something. The traditional fantasy type story setting. The problem was, none of that description was in the story. The next chapter had what I could only guess was the main character going to a school.
That made the idea of the setting I had built up in my mind very confusing.
WWS could work if the POV is hog-tied and blind-folded or is blind, but then the story needs to introduce other sensory information like smell, taste, touch or hearing to bring the reader into what the POV can experience. Even if the character is in a sensory deprivation tank, you still have something to say about their surroundings.
It’s always a good idea to bring in those extra senses anyway, but not to be overdone, like…
Excessive Worldbuilding – Complete opposite of nothing is everything.
Worldbuilding can make or break a story. Too little, like WWS can place characters into the Matrix loading program, but too much can detract from the story’s events.
He kicked open the door and brazenly stood there in the doorway, waiting to be attacked. Nobody waited for him except the fluffy white cat, startled, hissed and stood with its back arched on the plaid winged back Ikea branded armchair on the short-pile green rug. The room was filled with that 1970’s timber furniture and walls, and its record player crackled while the needle skipped at the end of the Pink Floyd album. Tile-looking lino stretched throughout the apartment, right up to the fridge in the kitchen through the narrow doorway closed off by saloon doors.
Like the living room, the kitchen had that same 1970’s feeling. The dirty plates filling the grotty sink looked like they’d been there since the kitchen was new.
Only a carton of milk sat in the large, bulbous, ancient noisy fridge. Its used by date was two weeks ago.
Satisfied nobody waited for him, he closed the apartment door and continued down the hallway.
I had to really stretch to think of that much detail, and maybe it might be the right amount of detail, if that apartment was used for a setting, and like a Chekov’s gun, someone tried to drink the milk later. But for a scene where the person could see around a corner to the sink, and knew the used by date of the milk in the fridge is too much detail, especially when the person didn’t leave the doorway.
I am trying a few different types of books. One in the sci-fi genre had this problem of too much worldbuilding, and I got bored reading half a page of characters doing their thing and chatting away and then, the rest of the chapter involved describing the workings of the ships weapons, shields and how they could be combined in combat against another ship with the same type of shields and weapons.
Head-hopping – You’re not the person you once were.
That sci-fi book had head-hopping. Start of the chapter was the Captain (the main character) talking to someone, then all the worldbuilding and right at the end of the last chapter, I read something like – ‘I didn’t know that could happen,’ the pilot thought.
I closed the book at that point.
When our book, Burn the Sky was in its early development, we had feedback from the members of a critiquing group; we jumped heads too often in a chapter. We reduced this before the book was released, and by the time we came to edit Burn the Sky part2, we reduced it even still to only one POV shift, if required, per chapter.
If POV shifts are required, they’re required, but for the love of your readers, make the change stand out, so we know it’s happened and who we now are riding along with.
POV characters – Important or just some dude?
Some people are worthy of being our point of view into the world, and others are, well, not.
The more POV characters in a story, the harder it is to follow along with. This part can fall into both worldbuilding and head-hopping.
Doing a quick internet search, the best number of POV’s is between 2-5 characters, depending on the story.
A romance might only have two, but a large scale sci-fi or fantasy might have five or more. If there are too many heads to follow, maybe it needs trimming.
Our earlier drafts had just a chosen one in the scene to be our POV. We edited part2 to the point where Amanda wanted to remove a tense scene with our antagonist and another character. We kept it in because it gave depth to a previous scene that would have been missing otherwise, and adding a location-based POV character would have changed the events. We did use his POV again, but he was written 3rd person, distant.
Use of 1st Person – I turned to see, boring.
I have written about point of view and voice before, and I even see big authors doing this. Each book I pick up and smell is a new adventure, but when I read first-person written like this, I can’t help but cringe. I try to push aside in my mind the constant press of the author to make me see what the POV is doing, but when “I smell the campfire,” and I’m sitting in my favourite chair, and there is no fire near me, I get reminded I’m reading a telling of someone doing something.
I have to say, our earlier versions of Burn the Sky had this kind of 1st person writing, and the story reads so much better when the environment interacts with the POV, rather than having the POV realise their environment.
Over-simplified context – You can still drown in a shallow story.
The current book I’m reading is from a big-time author, and the story is very straightforward.
The main character is written 3rd person, distant, and all the other characters are written the same. You can tell who the main character is by the “camera” following that person the most. It’s not a turn-off as much as the other points above, but even though the story is action-packed, the main character could be killed off, and I wouldn’t care if he was replaced by Marvin, the paranoid android.
The book is written like a movie and has no depth to a certain degree. It’s not even omniscient.
From the information I have read about readers preferences, this type of writing is falling out of favour.
And then, suddenly – the blog post is nearing its end.
Sometimes a “suddenly” or one of its synonyms could contribute to the story, but (and just like that but) it tells the reader something is going to change the fortune of the MC.
Max leapt from the rock face and landed hard on the stone surface of the ledge. All of a sudden, the rock crumbled, and suddenly the darkness in the crevasse below shouted out just like lazy writing and a cliché had a child.
Okay, so the “suddenly” in that context could work, but the “all of a sudden,” or replacing that with any “suddenly” substitute gives away the change in pace for an adverb.
There are exceptions to all of this, but personally, I haven’t read anything that could break these rules.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on why you have given up on a book, or have I been too harsh on my reasons above?
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