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Friday, February 5, 2016

What makes a book a DNF?

How often have you come across the dreaded syndrome of a book being a DNF i.e. Did Not Finish?

I used to pride myself on finishing any book I started as a matter of principle, and because even if I wasn't taken with it at the early stages, it might improve and become a favourite.

Well not any more, I'm afraid!

I don't know about you, but I have 100s of books in my To Be Read pile, whether in paperback or e-format. There are 100s of new ones appearing every day. And - to be honest? - I'm getting on in years *cough* and life just feels too short to waste on an endurance tussle with a book that doesn't engage!

I really like the modern way of giving excerpts when you go to buy a book online. I can immediately tell if I'm going to enjoy the style - and so often I'll read an *author* I love, whatever they write. And I confess I've often initially passed on a book, then returned to it later and found it to be a hidden gem. But that's less often than it used to be.

I recently revisited a fellow blogger's post from some years ago where readers discussed what would make them give up on a book. In the spirit of full disclosure, here are my particular reasons:

 * Writing style is stilted or overly melodramatic.
 * Dialogue isn't realistic (a biggie for me).
 * Neither protagonist engages my sympathy.
 * I have a strong feeling I want to 'slap' a character because of their behaviour or attitude (though that may be due to my occasional(!) lack of tolerance *g*)..

I know I also don't like to read too many similar themes in a sequence. And I also know for the more heavyweight topics - even if I'm looking forward to reading the book - I need to have the time and mindset ready for it.

Here are some of the other issues raised by fellow DNF-ers:
- Unbelievable/implausible situations for our hero(es).
- Factual errors.
- Too many characters or too much head-hopping/confusion as to whose story it is.
- No conflict (excluding slice-of-life stories that can have their own charm).
- An author's soap box showing through too often.
- Poorly crafted or unimaginative writing.

My favourite comments? From the two ends of the reading spectrum:
* I just have to give them all a fighting chance!
* some books are so bad I just have to finish and see how bad they can get!

We all know that one reader's delight is another reader's dread. That's human nature, and thank heavens for the variety.
But what are YOUR deal-breakers?

PS this is not to be taken as criticism or finger-pointing at any book or author in particular. Please make sure your comments relate to styles/plotting/characters in general :).

Clare London


Anonymous said...

The Present Tense in an historical setting.

Just can't get my head around it :)

Tam said...

My usual reasons are

- I realize after I bought it that it's really not my cup of tea (no matter how well written)
- I just lost interest, for some unknown reason, the premise, plot, characters no longer appeal to me

Now that's really it for a complete no finish. I too have so many books that if I'm not sure the characters will appeal I don't even start. Now is it a DNF if I run across TSTL characters, or poorly written, or repetitious dialogue/sex/etc. and I don't READ the book but I skim through stopping at maybe a few key scenes so that I can see how it ends? Maybe reading 1/10 - 1/4 of a book? So not really a true DNF, even in the first case I'll sometimes flip through it (electronically) to see what happens. But then I'm one of those people who will read the ending of a mystery first, so just because I know who the bad guy was or that yes, they really do fight it out in Walmart and then end up happily married, doesn't necessarily encourage me to read the first part of the book. I'm content with the ending alone. Weirdo. :-)

Anne Marie Becker said...

Oh thank goodness I'm not the only one who's changed her ways. I wasn't sure if it was just me getting older, or starting to have pre-teen kids, but my patience (and reading time!) is at a premium, so I have also become the sort of reader who will put a book down, when I used to finish everything.

Reasons? It can be anything. Sometimes (due to that limited time thing I mentioned), I just get out of the mood or forget what's happened in a story. I figure if I could put the book down for a couple days and not miss it, then the story and characters didn't grab me enough. :)

Rita said...

I was sooo looking forward to a book last year and returned the puppy because it was clear the guy who wrote it was a misogynist. Not to mention it was poorly written and though it came from a huge publisher, in dire need of editing. And if I can tell there are editing errors you know it must be bad.
Using clich├ęs to describe characters is a chuckawalla book. (chuck it against the wall)
I have an odd DNF. I listen to a great many books and bad narration is a deal breaker. There are two narrators I will not put up with. They absolutely ruin a book. RUIN it! When a favorite author switched to one of the ‘ruiners’ I was crushed.
What about when the blurb is amazing and the book isn’t.
The first chapter is polished and great. The next 250 pages are drivel.
What I call literary fiction. The characters start out whining about how horrible their lives are. They follow the rule of insanity and keep doing the same thing expecting different results and the book ends with them whining about the same things. GAH!!!!!!!!!
Like Anne said my reading time is precious. Now, if a book is off the wall bad, I return it. Because, even before Amazon took umbrage with me reviewing, I will never write a bad review. I feel the only way to tell the author and publisher something is wrong is return it. Mercifully, I can pretty much tell if it’s for me by the ‘look inside pages’.

jean harrington said...

I think what impresses me about a book--pro and con--is voice. If the voice has style, tone, wit, charm, go-to-hell throw-away elan,or any of the above, I'll keep on reading, even if, to be honest, it's science fiction which is not a genre I adore. On the other hand, if the voice is stilted, overly formal, or too pedestrian, I let the book slip to the floor.

An example of a voice I've been in love with for years is Nelson DeMille's. His John Corey character speaks to me in the middle of the night, and, oh, the things he says. I also have a thing going with Pat Conroy. His every narrator, combined with the voice of his main character (perhaps they are one), is mesmerizing.

Elise Warner said...

Empathy. There has to be some sort of connection. Since we can't read every book that's written, we have to make a choice.

Sharon Calvin said...

Hallelujah! I used to finish a book no matter what, but those days are long gone. There are too many good books waiting to be read to waste my time of something I'm not enjoying.

I will say I finished a book for the Rita's that, if it hadn't been required, I would have given up on--but oh I'm so glad I had to finish it! I LOVED it! However, the writing was excellent, I just had a hard time connecting with the protagonist. Once I did, it was a complete turnaround (for me and the character).

Besides not connecting with a character, my reasons for DNF is poor dialog, TSTL heroines and heroes, whining, weak heroines, indiscriminate head-hopping, whining , and characters that constantly use the person's name they are talking to in their dialog--especially when there are only the two of them in the scene! Seriously, just stop it!

Jordan Castillo Price said...

I've noticed distracting style pushes me into edit mode, and then it feels like too much of a chore to keep going with the book. I was reading one full of bizarre similes, for instance, that intruded on the action to the point where I gave up.

Elin Gregory said...

I've got two TBR piles - one is 'business', books I have to read for review or betaing, and the other 'pleasure', ones I've chosen for myself. I can't DNF the business ones so I've got a bit more choosy with the pleasure ones. This means I rarely buy anything I'm not fairly certain that I'll enjoy but there are a couple of things that can make me 'forget' to finish. One is where the blurb promises masses of exciting plot in interesting settings but they are just used as a very light framework for masses of relationship angst and explicit boinking. Eventually my attention wanders and next time I pick up my kindle for pleasure I'll start something new rather than go back to it. The other is a protagonist that I can't admire. There has to be something about him that makes me care about his welfare otherwise what's the point in keeping the file open.

Clare London said...

Tam! I think you were with me, commenting on that original post at Kris'. And he we still are :D. But yes, the same reactions apply.

Anne-Marie - I think it illustrates what an emotional thing reading is, not just a logistical one. A book needs to appeal to us in all sorts of ways and moods.

Rita - God, it's heartbreaking isn't it, when you're looking forward so much to something? I try not to hype myself up, but especially in series, the pressure is on the poor author to keep me entranced! And how many of us have left series later on because the attraction's no longer there? There's a lot to be said for keeping an overall thread fresh as well as each episode.
I read a post about how the first 3 chapters of a book are often better, because the author's honed them for submission.
And like you, I find self-indulgence very tiring to read LOL.

Jean - you read my mind! LOL As I've often said, I'll read some authors whatever they write because I know their voice resonates with me. And I'd confess to being a Jack Reacher-creature for that particular character voice, but you'd all laugh *blush*.

Clare London said...

Elise - I think that sums it up, doesn't it? And also describes why two books that may look the same have different impact on the reader. It's shockingly subjective :D.

Sharon - you've picked up on so many of the things that stop me too. Yet there ARE books that, if we persist, become favourites. Sometimes a book is just a slow burner; sometimes it's dependent on the mood of the reader.

Jordan - that's another post (or 10) in itself, isn't it? how difficult it sometimes is to relax into a book when you're an author, and can't turn off your inner style guide LOL. I read a PI/crime book recently that was full of head-hopping, brackets, odd punctuation - but the plot and characters still luckily grabbed me.

Elin - oh so true! Sometimes I stop because I don't LIKE any of the people. They don't have to be overtly heroic or "nice", because I like a good redemption story *lol*, but they do have to grab my interest and make me care what happens to them. Oh, if we could bottle that as authors :D.

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