writers / writing

#IWSG Why I Don’t Finish a Book

This post is for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group (click the link for details on what that means and how to join. You will also find a list of bloggers signed up to the challenge that are worth checking out. The first Wednesday of every month, we all post our thoughts, fears or words of encouragement for fellow writers.

This month’s question — Being a writer, when you’re reading someone else’s work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people’s books?

That is a good question. I used to finish every book I started but not so much anymore. There are too many options and with KU (Kindle Unlimited), I can get a lot of targeted stories for free. So now, I finish maybe 90% of the books I start. Except today. In an effort to clean up my TBR pile, I deleted about five books that have been languishing there.

Why do I quit early? I wrote on this topic about a decade ago and dug out that old post. To my surprise, little has changed except the year. Here are my top reasons:

  • Characters aren’t likable.
  • Plot develops too slowly
  • Plot is too complicated. I don’t understand what’s going on. There are too many pieces that don’t seem to be connected well enough. I can’t keep up.
  • Plot is unrealistic (and it isn’t a science fiction story. Even those should inspire me to willingly suspend my disbelief)
  • No hook. It’s a dazzling plot with great believable characters and set in a perfectly-described scene but the author forgot the hook. Why do I care?
  • Author is preachy. I don’t want the author’s opinions on a subject for more than a paragraph (or less). If I wanted preaching, I’d attend a sermon. Same goes for politics. For me as well as many others, reading is an escape from politics. Let them escape (unless of course, it’s a political novel like Alan Drury. Then by all means, go get ’em)
  • I can’t see what’s going on. The author hasn’t sufficiently fleshed out the scenery, nor filled my senses with the world inhabited by the story’s characters
  • Author didn’t do his/her research. I’ve caught too many errors and no longer trust what the author is telling me. This is especially important in historic fiction. A writer can make one mistake, but two is a trend. Three is an end.
  • A character has red hair one scene and black the next. It was a drizzly day when the chapter opened and the characters dress for summer–for no reason. Attention to detail, please!

How about you? Why do you quit reading?

#iwsg #amwriting

@TheIWSG

More on writing that doesn’t work

10 Tips to Rescue Your Story

15 Biggest Writing Blunders and How to Avoid Them

Hundreds of Writing Tips


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Man vs. Nature saga, and the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021.

86 thoughts on “#IWSG Why I Don’t Finish a Book

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  4. A great list of reasons to give up on a book, and a good reference for things to be avoided as a writer. I’ve always tried to persevere with books, even if I wasn’t enjoying them, and now I wonder why. There are far too many great books to be read to waste time on the ones I’m not clicking with. In future I’m going to just make a note of why I’m not enjoying it and then move on to something else.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. UK high schools used to have a ‘ clean your plate’ attitude to books – studied for exams down to the last semi-colon.
    Distance teaching, since before Covid, in the UK Open University, all tutors are required to score assignments for spelling, punctuation, syntax. Tutors are graded too – Checking your grade is nerve racking.
    In academic writing, fine, but in fiction, so long as the grammar is accurate, does it need to be rigorous – as in ‘It is I ,,,’ Only Hamlet, surely ?
    I want to like people, or at least, know more about them, might give up too quickly now. .

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Hi Jacqui!

    Our time is too precious to be wasted on books that don’t do much for us. I notice all your reasons have to do with the content and not with spelling or grammar, which sometimes put me off. But, usually not enough – so far – to quit reading a book.

    I could especially relate to the last item in your list. The book I’m reading now has one of those mistakes in it. Beta readers should catch that. I like your quote “A writer can make one mistake, but two is a trend. Three is an end.” It’s a good one to go by as a reader. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t notice that I downplayed grammar. Something subconscious maybe because I would have said it was important. I think those are the books I don’t review. I don’t mention the mistakes, just remain silent.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great list Jacqui and I find that it is character likeability and pace that get to me after about three chapters.. I am like that with films too.. if they don’t hook me in the first 15 minutes they have lost too much valuable time.. I have added to the Blogger Daily on Monday to ask others to come across with their thoughts.. Have a good weekend,. Sallyx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I leave a book for a lot of the same reasons. I used to make myself read to the end to see if it got any better. Also, learning from bad books can be as important as learning from great ones. After all these years though, time grows shorter, and I think I’ve learned enough. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jacqui, I agree with all your reasons for not finishing a book and reading the comments I’m surprised by how many have started to read books with lots of typos, errors etc. Luckily I haven’t come across that … one of the main reasons on giving up a book is if it is just too vague and going nowhere. I am patient to a point but then will just have to give up. As others have said, one learns that life is just too short and LOTS of other books I’m keen to read!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is a great post, Jacqui. I have saved your points as a personal checklist. I have to watch out for points 3 and 6. I get my mom to read every word I write as she is a ‘normal’ intelligent reader. She tells me when she can’t follow my thought processes which can get complex, and I rewrite based on her feedback [usually to simplify and clarify]. She also makes me take out my strong opinions. Ha! Hooray for mom.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You compiled an excellent list that authors should check their manuscripts against, Jacqui. Your Crossroads Trilogy certainly didn’t contain these mistakes. I LOVED your trilogy and can’t wait to read more of your writing. A good editor is worth her weight in gold. Take care, stay well!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. These are excellent points, Jacqui. I can’t disagree with anything that you wrote. Imagination is a wonderful quality but creating implausible plots that make me feel like I’m watching professional wrestling is a dealbreaker for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Yep, all those reasons, plus a biggy for me, is when the author didn’t do enough editing. I’ll forgive a few grammatical issues, but if they keep occurring enough to pop me out of the story, it’s a DNF I’m afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Good list of reasons, Jacqui! For me its been confusion, lots of repeat information and disliking the story. I can overlook a few mistakes but too many at first, make it too hard to read. There are too many good ones to read the bad ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Excellent, thought-out answer to the questions. I agree with all of the above. Life is too short to read a book that does not keep one’s interest. I also stand by the saying, Life is short. Eat dessert first.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I had a hard time finishing The Great Alone because I grew to hate one of the main characters. He started off somewhat sympathetic with the hint that he could turn his life around, but soon the sympathy vanished. Right after that, I knew he’d never redeem himself. However, I did love the setting and I was rooting for the MC, so I finished. This was a mixed bag for me.

    Here’s to more good books in 2021, Jacqui.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. This is such an interesting topic, Jacqui. I also used to finish every book, but it wasn’t a good use of my time… or enjoyable. I can relate to ALL your points. One challenge that you mentioned and stood out for me is an overly complex plot. I struggle with those reads too. If I have to take notes, it’s too convoluted. Right now, I’m reading a beautifully worded book with amazing worldbuilding, but I’m lost and may abandon it. That makes me sad. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi Jacqui – like you … if I get bored – I’m off; if it has a weak ending then that finishes me with the author. And the other things you and the others have mentioned. All the best – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Excellent reasons, Jacqui. I share many of these. Another of my dislikes is a book that begins with one compelling incident, ignores it, swerves to follow another, and never returns to resolve the original. Unfortunately, I’m often well into a story before I realize I’ve been duped.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I no longer finish every book I read either. There are two many titles on my TBR to force myself to read something I’m not enjoying. That’s my major reason for DNF-ing a book. If I’m not enjoying something, the reason usually comes down to lack of character development, or clunky writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I agree Jacqui all good reasons not to continue reading a book. These points are why indie authors get a bad name in publishing. If only writers would hire editors and writing coaches to help them indie authors would be a go to for readers who want a good story. Just writing something and throwing it up on Amazon has created bad writing and burned readers who hesitate to take their time and money to read a new author’s work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. I have started and quit a few too many of those. Sadly, I’ve also found those types of issues from big publishing houses. And from the authors that take over a successful author’s franchise. They’re trying to copy what he did, not write a good story.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. I used to force myself to finish books I hated, too. Now, I don’t. Life’s too short and there are too many books out there that I want too read that I know I’ll never have a chance to. It still leaves me with an itch in my soul, but I deal with it. If I’m bored, if it’s been poorly edited (or not edited at all), I move on.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. I’m with Darlene – all of your reasons, plus hers, and I’ll add in excessive typos and incorrect use of words (my biggest bugbear is people who ‘reign’ in a horse, duh). I can put up with some, but too many become distracting.
    Like you, I used to finish anything I started, but no longer.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. I think you’ve nailed the main reasons for me, too. Though sometimes I don’t finish them because I get distracted. If they were compelling enough I’d always go back to them later – sometimes, much later.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Good question Jacqui. In the past have also tended to struggle through a book if I started it, even if I did not like it. Perhaps out of some sort of feeling of guilt for the author. Of late, I think I have grown out of it and am open to not completing a book. But I think mostly that has happened with non-fiction.

    Liked by 3 people

  27. All good reasons. I stop if the book is poorly written, poor grammar, spelling punctuation etc. A few mistakes are OK. They get missed, but too many is just sloppy writing. I also stop reading if there is too much unnecessary profanity.

    Liked by 4 people

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