Five Reasons Why I Set a Novel Down

Having had some disappointing reads lately, here are five reasons I usually will set a promising novel aiside.

Frustrating Plotlines

Sometimes, it seems like the plot is too frustrating. I read for entertainment. I don’t need frustrating plotlines to elevate my already-high blood pressure. I especially hate it when I figure something out, but the author refuses to let the character figure the same thing out. I am now reading a book where the character has come to a conclusion that I just know is wrong. But the character is convinced she is right. I just know she is going to spend the next four hundred pages clinging to her mistaken conclusion only to figure out she was wrong at the last minute, and then save the day. How do I know this? Because that’s what happened in Book One. Retread. I’m not sure if I want to finish the book and see if I am wrong.

Amoral Characters

I finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I started reading the second book, but I set it aside. Why? Because I’m having trouble feeling any empathy for the main character. She is totally amoral and is now sleeping with a sixteen year old boy. Romance publishers would never dare go near such a plotline. The only thing that seems to fire up her sense of right and wrong is brutality toward woman. Which, of course, she experiences for herself. Which brings me to another set-aside reason …

Excess Brutality

The first book in the Millennium Trilogy almost got set aside because of the sexual brutality. I’m only a few chapters into the second book, and already I can foresee the author upping the brutality for book 2. I’m just not sure I want to suffer through it.

Monologues

I recently rated a book a 3 on Goodreads instead of a 4 because in the end, the character didn’t figure it out. Instead, the reader had to be served up the explanations of the plot in the form of villain monologues. The really good writers always have their characters figure out the mystery, thus avoiding this trap. Monologues rarely cause me to actually set aside the book, because hey–I’m almost at the ending anyway. But still. Grr.

Authorial Over-Indulgence

Sometimes, when the author becomes more and more successful, they over-indulge. Their stories become longer, but not with added substance–with added fluff. Tension is still important even if you are a successful author. Every scene must still count. You can’t drag things out–neither the tension of the story’s climatic resolution, nor the plot itself over book after book after book. Are these authors in love with their own words? I think nothing of abandoning a series at book 5 and toting the entire set to the used book store once the plot starts flatlining. Conversely, after reading an entertaining trilogy, I’ll always check out the author’s next series. So really, there’s nothing to be afraid of in actually, yanno, getting to the end.

In order to end on a more positive note, I promise to do a companion post on “Five Reasons I Keep Turning the Pages”. In the meantime, please share some of the reasons you have set some recent reads aside.

41 thoughts on “Five Reasons Why I Set a Novel Down

  1. A great post! All of those are reasons I will put a book aside as well.

    I will sometimes put aside books that I know are meant to be good due to my own post-awesome book funk or simply that I wasn’t into reading it at that moment…put it on my shelf…and return to it at a later date.

    But yes, there are some books that simply are irredeemable and therefore off to the used book store they go!

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    • I do that–where I’m just not in the mood for that novel, right than. And I have successfully picked them up and enjoyed them at a later time. That’s why I’m not really a fan of an author’s books releasing one month after another.

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  2. Preachiness is a pet peeve of mine. I might agree with what a person is saying, but if they ignore good storytelling and expect me to keep reading just because we have the same values, that’s kind of arrogant. It makes me want to disagree with them, just because I’m contary and don’t like being told what to think.

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  3. I think nothing of abandoning a series at book 5 and toting the entire set to the used book store once the plot starts flatlining.

    I started reading the Wheel of Time series a few years ago and made it to about Book 4. The characters became annoying with their little tics – and when was Mr. Jordan (RIP) going to get on with the story? I never finished that one, even though I was looking forward to it. A real shame.

    What other reasons? Hmm…I put down Neil Gaiman’s American Gods because one of the main characters (a god, I guess) was having sex with every human woman that came along; combine that with an overreliance on brand names (cars, you name it), and I couldn’t take it anymore. I managed to finsh the second chapter because I was waiting for the ending; at least in the first 2 chapters, Mr. Gaiman talked about a sort of mini mythological story that was more entertaining (to me) then the main story. Another shame, as I really, REALLY enjoyed his Neverwhere.

    I totally agree with you on the sexual brutality; there’s only so much you can take when you see or hear about on the news almost every day. Yes, there’s some violence in most of the stories I read, but at least those make sense within the context of the story; there’s some violence in the stuff I’ve put up, but again, I try to keep from going over the top just for the sake of going over the top.

    I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve chosen very well lately; I never going to the bestseller lists or “see what everybody is reading,” because I usually won’t like what everybody else likes. ;-)

    http://nancy-beck-fantasy-stories.webs.com

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    • I made it too book 6 in Wheel of Time. After that, I was done. I thought I’d pick them up and read them when he finished the series … but he never did.

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    • [i]“I never going to the bestseller lists or “see what everybody is reading,” because I usually won’t like what everybody else likes. ;-)”[/i]

      That’s exactly my experience. If it’s on the bestseller list, I generally assume it won’t work for me, although there are exceptions.

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    • I never got through `American Gods’ either, for much the same reason (well, not the cars.) I love his spin-off book, `Anansi Boys’, which I read first.

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  4. I’ve heard mixed views regarding the Dragon Tattoo novel. I still haven’t felt a need to read the book or watch the movie.

    You’ve got some pretty good reasons. The last book I actually just put down and passed on to someone else was the second book in the Inheritance cycle. Though I loved Eragon to bits, the second book flatline for me by paget 200. I just couldn’t pull it back together.

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  5. I quit reading The Wheel of Time because Jordan’s depictions of female characters were starting to make me to think some very misogynistic thoughts. Like: “He needs to take the uptight Bleep out back and Bleep the Bleep out of her.” Not the kind of stuff that usually goes through this feminist’s head.

    I don’t mind amoral, so much as utterly unlikeable. I have a nasty habit of glombing onto villians–If-They-Are-Funny. I detest characters who take themselves too seriously. I have not read The Girl with…. series, but I found the original movie utterly tedious because both characters take themselves so f*cking seriously. Grinding, unceasingly grim characters bore me, whether they are immoral or moral.

    As for author indulgence, it seems a thing that happens to many successful writers. In their earlier books, some of their worst impulses–rambling for instance–are reined in by their editors and agents. But in later books, the editors seem to be phoning it in. I’m thinking of Robin McKinley’s Dragonhaven, here. I love many of McKinley’s books, but that book, with its rambling, incoherent protagonist, was just excruciating.

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    • Another thing that got to me about WOT is how all the women had the same thought patterns. Elayne, Nynaive and Egwene (and I know I am spelling them wrong–sorry) had exactly the same personality, with Nynaive being just a bit sharper than the others, and Elayne being a tad gentler. I kept losing track of whose eyeballs I was behind.

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  6. My number one reason to put down a book is if it simply doesn’t grab me. If I get to chapter two and I still am not into the story, I’ll put it down. My second reason (which is usually the core of reason #1) is if I don’t like and/or care about any of the characters. I understand the point of the “anti-hero,” but I want to LIKE the protagonist(s). If I get to ch. 2 and couldn’t care less what happens to anyone in the book, down it goes. #3 is excessive violence/grossness. Also, I get put off by just plain bad writing.

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    • I’ll let a book that’s not grabbing me have a few chapters as long as the blurb hooked me, or if it came with a strong recommendation. That’s the only reason I got through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, because my Dad said to give it 70 pages.

      But yes, an unlikable protag is the kiss of death.

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  7. I’ll put down a book if it’s excessively plot-driven with cardboard characters. I’ll also put down any book where the characters and their relationships aren’t working for me for whatever reason. Characters make a book for me.

    It bothers me if the writing is ugly (excessively sparse, poor grammar, that sort of thing), but not enough to make me put down the book if I’m into the characters.

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    • Interesting how you’ll put up with poor writing if the character grabs you. I think I’m much the same, to a point. I’ll start losing respect for the author if the obvious mistakes are too frequent.

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  8. Oh! Just thought of another one! Books where the comic relief is two dimensional and the other characters bully him. It makes me stop sympathizing with the hero. If he’s the leader of the group, he should see what’s happening and step in.

    If everyone genuinely hates and mistrusts the comic relief, why is he even part of their group? Shouldn’t the hero find a nice safe town to leave him in so he won’t slow them down, or get kidnapped and/or be forced to betray them?

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    • Yeah, I wouldn’t like those plotlines much either. However, I can relate to being bullied. Comic relief characters are so easy to mess up. I think it works better when each character provides a bit of the comic relief. It works especially well when a normally serious character comes up with a howler. In Dragonlance, this worked great with the semi-evil character, Raistlin.

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  9. Great ones!

    Character comes first for me. She’s gotta grab me on page one. I don’t want her to be perfect, powerful, and fully mature, because I simply cannot relate. I enjoy growing with a hero or heroine. Strength comes in many packages, so I’ll take a Bella or a Buffy any day of the weak. Just don’t feed me too many clones of either. She’d better have a moral compass. It doesn’t need to be the same as mine. In fact, that would be boring. I already know about mine.

    Plot comes next and must be there from the start and tight as a whip.

    Finally, if it’s going to be a Happily Ever After, it’s not enough to hit all the romance genre points. The author (wait for it, here’s the key) *Needs to Make Me Believe This Couple is CAPABLE of Living Happily Ever After.* Example: A swinging bachelor doesn’t instantly learn the finer points of being a faithful mate simply by falling in love. Anyone can fall in love. It’s like falling off a long. Not many can *stay* in love.

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    • “The author (wait for it, here’s the key) *Needs to Make Me Believe This Couple is CAPABLE of Living Happily Ever After.* Example: A swinging bachelor doesn’t instantly learn the finer points of being a faithful mate simply by falling in love. Anyone can fall in love. It’s like falling off a long. Not many can *stay* in love.”

      This.

      This is why I roll my eyes at the young virgin/womanizing rake combination so popular in historical romances.

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      • I honestly don’t know why anyone would want a womanizing rake. Really–he’s a guy slut. He probably has diseases.

        (BTW, I tried to account for this in The Sevenfold Spell by making my tart of a character attracted to homely, inexperienced men.)

        Rakes and Radishes is a huge exception. But the rake there wasn’t really a rake, so maybe he doesn’t count.

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  10. These are all really good points. Elaborating on what someone said about Elayne, Egwene, and Nynaeve, I would like my multiple viewpoint characters to be different from one another, or I’ll drop the book. But my real pet peeve is books that don’t bother to have major female characters at all! If I’m on chapter 3 and I’ve met 5 male characters and no females, I’ll stop reading.

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    • I recently came across that, but it was a book meant for young teenage boys. So it was forgivable, but I still didn’t make it through the book.

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  11. I’m reading a book right now that suffers greatly from authorial over-indulgence. This author’s books are usually sharp, witty, and concise; it’s rather dismaying that this one is rambling and didactic. But I’ve followed this author since my teenage years, so I’m hanging in there for loyalty’s sake.

    I’ve put down a few other books recently. One had a protagonist who was such a ninny. She was swept along by events, protected and led along by the men around her, and her whiny inner monologue just got annoying. I couldn’t stand being around her anymore. Another book I put down because the author was coddling the protagonist too much. Things were going much too smoothly (in an unbelievable way) for the main character, who found himself in a fish-out-of-water situation, which I usually love. The book wasn’t bad, just ho-hum.

    Amoral protagonists are also high on my list for putting a book down. Same with excessive brutality (thanks for warning me off The Girl With… series). And TSTL characters. And bland characters. A plot I’ve seen a hundred times or more. Or bad writing. Or… These days I’ve gotten a lot more picky about the books I choose to finish. After all, there are a so many more I can give my time to.

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    • I’m wondering if I know which overprotected female character you’re talking about. Hmm.

      I’m totally with you about getting pickier. As you get older, time gets so much more precious, and you just don’t want to waste it on a book just so you can say you never set aside books.

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    • “These days I’ve gotten a lot more picky about the books I choose to finish.”

      Like you and Tia, I’ve noticed that in myself as I’ve gotten older. I now see life as too short to waste time on books that aren’t working for me, especially since I have limited spare time to devote to reading.

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  12. Awkward writing can throw me out of a story. I set down a book I really wanted to like because the author kept using words that just weren’t quite right. After the third or fourth instance of, “I don’t think that word means exactly what you THINK it means,” I started wondering why her editor had let her get by with it, and the story lost me for good.

    Inaccuracy bugs me, too. Not that I nitpick every tiny little detail, but if I get the sense an author hasn’t done her homework at all, I won’t enjoy the book. E.g. I once set aside a baseball book because the author obviously knew less about baseball than I do. Now, I’m a serious fan. We have a 16-game plan with the Mariners, and to me the first sign of spring is when pitchers and catchers report. I follow my team. But if I ever write a book with a baseball player hero, I want to learn a lot more than what I know now about what the game is like for people on the inside before starting Chapter One. So I couldn’t enjoy a book where it felt like the author had less passion and understanding for her subject matter than I, the reader, had.

    Last but far from least, I’ll put a book down if the characters feel wooden or stereotypical to me.

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    • The same with me and music! I can always tell when an author is faking it when it comes to a character with great musical ability. Anne McCaffrey’s musical character books were a joy to read because she obviously knew what she was talking about.

      But I don’t mind if an author has a musical character and doesn’t pretend expertise. Just don’t jolt me out of the story with something that’s obviously wrong.

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  13. Bad writing will make me put a book down. And, yes, there are a LOT of books out there that are written badly. Even NYT bestsellers.

    Too much sex. I know, I know, this is the antithesis of what publishers are saying readers want. But I get tired of sex scenes. I mean, come on, you’re in the middle of running away from the villain and you can’t stop yourself from jumping her bones? Unrealistic. I want a plot. I want a story. I want emotion from my characters–not pages and pages of sex.

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    • One problem with sex scenes is often the story stops while the characters have sex. If that’s going to be the case, the author should close the bedroom door and just pick up again where the story restarts.

      Slightly off-topic, but I have the same problem with the songs in musicals. The story stops so the characters can sing and dance. :(

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      • I had that problem when I was a kid! I like it when the song continues to tell the story, though. That’s why I like opera. The story is in the song, and opera usually is nothing but song. No dancing, though.

        The best musicals also continue to tell the story with the music. Hairspray is fun for that reason. Almost all the songs advance the plot.

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    • I prefer sex scenes to be short and teasing. I try to write them that way, too. After all, there is a story to get on with. Still learning when enough is enough, though.

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