Plenty of writers’ websites and blogs have a wealth of information about writing craft. This isn’t one of them. Although I’m comfortable with my own writing process, I don’t have a reason to post about it. However, I’m prompted to reflect on what I look for when reading books. Or, more accurately, what puts me off books.
Since I enjoy reading (and writing!), it’s not usually difficult to meet my soft target of reviewing a book a week. That’s despite finishing only around 20% of the books I try. The small proportion is partly because I borrow widely when I have Kindle Unlimited membership, and I go in expecting to DNF (do not finish) quite a few. Still, each borrow helps a little with the book’s ranking, even if I don’t get very far.
If I don’t finish a book, I don’t review it. I don’t believe it’s at all wrong to review a book you DNF, since your reasons for not finishing may help other potential readers. Personally, if I’m not enjoying a book enough to continue, I don’t want to spend even more energy stating why in a public space such as Goodreads or LibraryThing. I do make notes for myself as to where I stopped and why. It’s often just a matter of taste: eg too gory, too young, too much romance. It might be my mood at the time that makes me bored or irritated at the characters. Or it might be something more technical.
On looking at my “why I stopped” notes, my reasons for DNFing have some common factors. These probably say more about me than about the books.
#1 is errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation. The odd typo is understandable—it’s a rare book where I don’t notice any (and I don’t even deliberately look for them)—but writing mistakes put me off straight away. For me, they’re far worse than a hackneyed or unbelievable plot, cardboard characters or rambling info-dump. If we use the analogy of a book as a meal, dirty plates and cutlery are going to put me off, no matter how delicious the food: and I’ll be reminded of them with every mouthful.
#2 Authorial intrusion. My take on the term is writing where the author seems to be addressing the reader directly rather than allowing the writing to evoke comprehension in the reader. I lump a lot of niggles under authorial intrusion. For example, excessive repetition, as if the author believes the reader might be forgetful. Over-explaining, as if the author is teaching the reader. Head-hopping, in my opinion, often falls into the category of over-explaining. I think a common factor with these issues is that the author either doesn’t trust the reader to “get it,” or they don’t trust themselves to convey their meaning without (metaphorically) tapping the reader on the shoulder and saying, “You see, what I wanted you to pick up was… You get it? Huh? Huh?”
#3. A particular peeve of mine is writing that reads as if the author is transcribing a movie on to the written page. If a book starts with a list of elements in the environment (the room was xx large, and it had two chairs beside the small stone fireplace and a table at the other corner and… and…), goes on to introduce a character, pause to describe them and then gives a point-by-point listing of all that character’s actions and facial expressions, I’m out.
There are my big reasons for bailing on books, and I’m sure plenty of people aren’t bothered by the same things. I’d love to know what what puts you off books—please share your top 3 (or 1, 2, or 5…) reasons in the comments!