“Nope. Not Reading That.” Bookish Deal-Breakers

BrokeandBookish recently made a post about deal-breakers — elements of a book that snap that final straw on the camel’s back and turn you off reading a book for good. I commented over there with a few of my deal-breakers, but thought I’d share the rest of them with you!

It used to take a lot for me to put down a book after I’d gotten a good ways into it. I had this stubborn idea that I must soldier on and finish everything I’d started, no matter how much I hated it.

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After suffering through one too many mediocre books, though, I’ve made my peace with leaving novels unfinished. In fact, now I’m a little too zealous about dropping a book if it ceases to interest me. I try to give every story 25 pages to make a good impression, but if I can’t even get through the first few paragraphs … down, down, down it goes.

Here are some of my most notable deal-breakers:

1. poor writing.

If I open a book only to find it’s actually borderline incomprehensible, I’m definitely let down. So many published novels feel like someone’s first-ever fanfic, it’s incredible they ever made it to bookstore shelves. If the writing is riddled in typos, if it’s a grammatical carnival ride, if characters are contradicting themselves in the space of a single paragraph, or if the writing just makes it really, really obvious this is Baby’s First Time Picking Up A Pen, I’m outta there pretty fast.

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2. Corny, unrealistic dialogue — ESPECIALLY DIALOGUE THAT TRIES TO BE FUNNY BUT ISN’T

Dialogue is super tricky to nail down, but it is essential if a book is going to be … you know, not embarrassing and awful. If characters are speaking like robots, I’m unimpressed. If they’re making really bad jokes that are meant to be hilarious but aren’t, I’m mortified and hiding my face with secondhand embarrassment. I need to believe a character is a real, living, breathing person in order to get invested in their plight — and dialogue plays a huge part in that.

3. Vulgarity and Needlessly Sexual Stuff

Story time: both my cousin and sister really really wanted me to read a certain author. I picked up one of this author’s books and skimmed the first chapter. Then my eyes landed on the following sentence —

She gnashed her semen-greased teeth

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— at which point, I promptly snapped the book and decided, yeah this book isn’t for me. 

Believe me, I’m not a prude. If you printed out every NC-17l fan fic I have ever read, you would probably have to mow down the Amazon to get enough paper. But for some reason, bad sex in a published book is so much more unforgivable to me than bad sex in fic. For instance, Maria McCann’s As Meat Loves Salt has some of the subtlest, sexiest, shortest descriptions I’ve ever seen in literary sex scenes — steamy without going overboard, poetic instead of vulgar.

There are so many authors who throw in super sexual stuff for shock value, instead of for, say, literary value. It always sticks out, it always sounds awkward, it’s always too much for me. If I open a book and the words penis or vulva are in the first chapter, and it’s not a medical textbook, then … consider the deal broken, and the book shut.

4. miscommunication as a plot device.

This one drives me up the WALL. By “miscommunication as a plot device”, I mean books whose plot solely relies on the main character blatantly misunderstanding EVERYTHING. Every conflict is based on one character misinterpreting what the other character said, and then NEVER ADDRESSING IT, JUST STAYING ANGRY.  The twist in the plot is kept secret from the reader only because the main character makes an obviously incorrect assumption and forges on as though there’s no other possible explanation. (The Hunger Games trilogy is a terrible abuser of this trope. Katniss will always assume something that seems so obviously incorrect to the reader, it reads like a clunky, purposeful attempt at misdirection.)  Just. ARGH. *pulls out hair* I like books where the characters aren’t massive idiots who don’t listen to each other, thanks.

5. Plot? what plot?

And now, my final deal-breaker: a book with no perceivable story. I’ve put down so many books because I just couldn’t stay engaged. Because it took three chapters for anything to happen; because there are tons of action scenes, but never any consequences; because whole pages were devoted to needless descriptions of things that end up having no connection with the plot.

Life is too short, reading time is too sacred, to waste time reading a book I’m not interested in, just in the hopes it might pick up a hundred, two hundred pages in. I like tight, concise, gripping writing, where from page 1 it’s clear the author has a story they’re telling and they’re sitting you down to tell it. If I start to distrust that the author knows where they’re going, then I know where I’m going — to a different book.

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So, what are your bookish deal breakers? Are you the type of reader who presses on even when a book isn’t so good, just for the sake of finishing it? Or do you fling books to the ground right and left the moment they displease you? Leave a comment, let’s talk!

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5 thoughts on ““Nope. Not Reading That.” Bookish Deal-Breakers

  1. I completely agree with you on number 4. It’s okay for short conflict, or even for a little bit of humor every now and then, but miscommunication driving the plot forward, especially when the reader knows that the main character is being and idiot, is lazy writing. If the reader was also kept in the dark the whole time, it could be a useful twist at the end, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this done effectively. This happens a lot in classic literature, too–I recently read Jane Eyre for the first time and I felt like this happened everywhere, even though Jane was supposed to be a pretty educated person.

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    1. miscommunication driving the plot forward, especially when the reader knows that the main character is being and idiot, is lazy writing

      Totally! It almost feels like an episode of a sitcom, like Three’s Company or something. It’s fine maybe once in a novel, but if every source of conflict comes from characters not understanding each other (and making NO effort to clear things up) it just gets obnoxious.

      Unobservant narrators have their place, but not if it doesn’t jive with the rest of their character. Like you said with Jane Eyre — if the character’s meant to be intelligent, having them blatantly misunderstand something just for the plot to move forward is pretty frustrating!

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  2. Liza Barrett

    I have pretty much the exact same dealbreakers. The big one that I’d add is the dialog that is clearly there just to convey information to the reader — like when characters have a conversation they would never ACTUALLY have just so that it’s a convenient way to introduce a concept to the reader. That drives me nuts. Numbers 4 and 5 are high up there too.

    ~ Liza @ Classy Cat Books

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    1. Oh, yeah, the old “as you already know…” dialogue trick. If one character is confused about a topic and another character explains, I can see an author getting away with a sneaky info dump. But how many people walk around reminding each other of information they both already know??

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  3. Pingback: April Mini-Reviews and May TBR | christina writes

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