Once I learned to read in kindergarten, I was unstoppable. Books became my life. Or at least my escape from real life for a while.
For many years I read a book a day—everything from the classics, to sci-fi, poetry, fantasy, horror, non-fiction, the greats, thrillers, serious literature, dystopian YA, bestsellers, and all kinds of romance. I’ll read most anything…If it’s good.
Until about five years ago, I prided myself on having only ever DNF’d one novel (The Brothers Karamazov, if you’re wondering. One hundred plus pages to basically introduce your characters? Seriously?).
That has changed. Partly because, as I get older, I value my time more. I simply don’t want to waste it reading bad, or even mediocre writing. After spending fifteen years in marketing, communications and journalism, I have little patience for poor grammar or lazy writing. Or books that clearly need another round of editing–and not just to hunt out a few more pesky typos.
The other reason is, as an author, I’m constantly breaking down the technical aspects of a book as I read. Not just the grammar, but the plot, the character arc, the amount of tension, etc. A book has to be pretty damn good to keep me hooked despite my constantly peering behind the curtain.
The best books make me forget I’m reading and sweep me away to another world.
1) Info Dumps and Backstory Bonanzas – Too much backstory, especially in the first chapter or two (or even three) and I’m done. You stick even three sentences of backstory in that first chapter and you’ve probably lost me. Any more and you’ve definitely lost me.
I want the story I’m reading to unfold, I don’t want to know about all the past stories and incidences leading up to it—at least not right out of the gate. That stops the momentum of the current story (the one I bought the book to read) instantly.
Consider Netflix’ “Stranger Things”. If they had explained everything about the Upside Down and Eleven at the start, there wouldn’t have been much reason to stick around. It’s all about creating more questions than answers, especially in the beginning. Answers come much later.
2) Clunky Prose – So many examples of clunky writing exist in the world. I’ve been guilty of plenty of clunky-ass writing in my day (what writer hasn’t?). But clunky writing is only allowed in early drafts that no one gets to see. Editing is what fixes that, whether it’s self-editing or hiring an editor, or both.
By the time a book is published, the writing should flow smooth and easy, taking you along for a fun ride akin to going down a greased slide in the springtime (before the metal gets butt-blisteringly hot), but different.
3) TSTL Hero or Heroine – Do not open the basement door. Seriously, don’t do it. We all know you’ll die. (She blithely opens the door, despite the horrible screams coming from the other side, annnnnnnddd…I’m done.)I cannot handle it when the hero/heroine is Too Stupid to Live (TSTL).
Maybe they lack agency, so everything always happens to them and they’re the perpetual victim, never taking action. Or they keep “finding themselves” doing this or that. Or going here or there.
Maybe they take action, but it’s always the worst possible action for the dumbest of reasons.If 99.9% of their decisions don’t make at least some logical sense based on the person and their likely past experiences, I can’t read any further. Sure, their logic can be flawed, leading them to poor decisions, but they need to have some kind of logic I can follow.
4) Consent Issues – If a story has a serious power imbalance and/or makes me feel one character is taking advantage of another sexually—that’s a hard no from me. Ditto not using condoms with new partners. Even worse if they don’t even talk about it.
This has also made me less enamored of people getting together—especially for the first time—when they’re drunk or high. It’s even worse if only one of them is drunk or high.
Consent is sexy. I want to know that all participants are willing and excited—even if they have some reservations about the person or relationship.
5) Unbelievable Attraction – You know those romances where the man is kind of a dick, and the woman decides she’s in love with him anyway. Where they have absolutely nothing in common, and barely talk to each other, then decide it’s true love. Yeah, no.
I find this can be even worse in M/M romances, where chemistry or attraction doesn’t appear to always be a prerequisite for sex. Fine in erotica. Not fine in any other genre (Including the Oscar-nominated Call Me By Your Name. Seriously, zero chemistry there. Uggh. Ruined an otherwise lovely movie for me.)
Do you ever DNF a book? Why? Do you agree with my reasons? Have others to add? Please leave a comment below.