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5 Reasons I’ll Stop Reading Your Book

Every reader has pet peeves, things that will make them drop a book in a hot minute. If you harm or kill a dog, I’m done. I also dislike the device in which the hero or heroine is set up to look guilty of a crime. For some reason, if that goes on too long without resolution, I get very anxious and either skip ahead or stop reading.

Every reader brings their own life experience, with their own hot-button issues, to the table, and there’s no way you can write to please everyone. But some things are more general and wider in scope. It’s a safe bet any of these things will earn an author a higher than usual number of “did not finish” reviews.

1. Starting with a large amount of backstory.

This is called an “info dump,” and it does nothing to pull readers into the story. If a book begins with the main character reflecting through the whole first chapter about what it was like growing up in the small town to which she is now returning, I’m bored before the story gets off the ground. If she is having a conversation, then spends five pages inside her own head summarizing the bad relationship they’re discussing…bored. I don’t need to know your character’s life story in the first chapter. Kick off your opening scenes with action, with things happening in the current story. All those details, while they may be vital to the overall plot, should be revealed bit by bit throughout the book.

2. Bad editing.

There is a lot of wiggle-room in contemporary fiction editing, and no two editors will approach a book in exactly the same way. Commas aren’t set in stone the way they might be in academic writing, and some grammar rules can be bent a bit to reflect current common use, especially in dialogue. And even with the best editing and thorough proofreading, typos happen. But if I feel the urge to find a red pen on every page, that’s pulling me out of your story. I’m soon reading for errors rather than following your story. It also tells me the author didn’t care enough about the work to hire a qualified editor, and if they didn’t care, why should I?

3. Black and White Characters.

No good guy is 100% good, and no villain is 100% bad. Your hero can’t always be right, always make the best decisions, be purely unselfish, or never make a mistake. Be honest. You know someone who acts that way…and you don’t like them, do you?

Unless you’re writing horror in which he’s the embodiment of darkness, your villain has some chink in his evil armor. There’s something he cares about and would fight for, or some line he won’t cross. Humans are complex, and there are no absolutes. Give your characters layers and depth. Make them real.

4. Too many flashbacks or dream sequences.

Sometimes a flashback or dream can add drama or fill in significant information. But bear in mind that each one temporarily halts the forward progress and pulls a reader out of the story, so make sure what it adds is worth it.

5. Not enough on the line.

For the finale to be satisfying, be it a happily ever after or a victory over an antagonist, the characters have to earn it. They need to face obstacles, roadblocks, and challenges along the way. The bigger, the better. If their journey doesn’t offer enough incentive by about halfway through, I stop caring about whether they succeed and find something more interesting to read.

I try to give every book I pick up a fair shot. The author clearly put work into it—some more, some less—and something made me choose it in the first place. But my To Be Read pile is high, and my patience and free time much shorter. What about you? What will make you stop reading a book?