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What Makes You Put a Book Down Unfinished?

                        Author Cynthia Harris Asks:

What makes you put a book down – unfinished?

    If I were to ask this question of a dozen different people, chances are high that I would get a dozen  different answers. I’m sure it’s a question that teases at the minds of all writers, however: for if readers don’t finish THIS book, will they buy another by the same author? Hmm, probably not (and the author may not be able to eat that week, or worse, feed their four-legged family!).
     I offer my own “absolute no-no” turn-offs, and am curious to hear other people’s. Here goes.
     I read fiction to be amused, entertained, taken away from the ordinary everyday world, soothed after too much stress – so please spare me the darkest dregs of human activity. I just don’t want to know about torture and cruelty (especially if aimed at children or animals) and, though I expect my favourite characters to have adventures and setbacks, please don’t upset or disgust me if you want me to keep reading. There’s a definite line between “How will they get out of this?” and “I feel sick!”.
     Intimate details of someone’s sex life make me feel like a voyeur. Some people get a kick out of this – and that’s their prerogative – but spare me the textbook or the pornographic details. I’m interested in the story, right? Leave the characters a bit of privacy. To me, romance is not the same as sex, whatever they do after the fade-out.
     I can do without the bad language, too, apart from mild and story-appropriate examples of the “Publish and be damned!” variety. As a schoolteacher, I’ve been privileged to have my ears assailed by more obscenities that I’ve ever wanted to hear. Enough, no more, please!
     What about leading characters? My hero can have quite a few human frailties: he can lose his cool when he’s under stress, make wrong decisions, or come to an awareness that his lifestyle isn’t what it should be. If he’s dishonest (different from wrongfully accused), violent towards women (violent towards anyone, really, except of course truly nasty villains), or seriously out to seduce some innocent, I have great trouble believing he can reform – and unless I get some major clues early on, I couldn’t be bothered reading on to find out.
     As for heroines, though I have enjoyed the daring deeds of some female swashbucklers, I can’t believe that every woman should or does fit this mould. We more timid mortals have the right to feature in romance too, don’t we? I find the demand for heroines to be physically strong, feisty or whatever the “in” word is, to be not only unrealistic (yes, I know romance IS often unrealistic, but I think you know what I mean), but also incongruous, when sword-fighting skill is grafted on to the persona of a well brought-up middle class Victorian girl, for example.
     Men can be masterful – but not domineering; women can need protection – so long as they do
show their strengths at some time; and people can misunderstand each other – as long as they have
credible reasons for doing so.
     Do I demand original plots? Not really – come on, how many truly original storylines are still lurking out there undiscovered? What intrigues me is the slant the writer gives to a recognizable pattern: I don’t mind if I can guess the ending, as long as I enjoy the journey. Again, there are limits: if the characters don’t have sufficient individuality to bring their own unique viewpoints to the story, I may well close that book, and return to the version of the story that I already have!
     So there are my major reasons for closing the book in irritation instead of keeping on breathlessly
to the end, sighing with satisfaction, and making a mental note to find some more by that author.
What about you?

Cynthia Harris

Check out Perilous Moon Cynthia's Sneaky Peek at YA Section


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Fritz said...

The article is to me right on the point, there is more than enough artistry in writing left to make fabulous stories practically forever within the guidelines given. I will put a book down for other reasons. I have laid down a book because the editor would not stand up to the author and do what they are paid to do, such as telling the author the continuity was way off, or the word I is in twenty sentences in a row. A good story needs others to find those type of things and an author needs to realize they are paying for an expert critic to help them make it a great story.

Posted May 5, 2012 10:06 PM | Reply to this comment

Kay Springsteen said...

The content that will put me off is blatant disrespect, usually of the hero for the heroine. I'm talking the kind of disrespect that created the bodice rippers of the 1970s. the kind of disrespect that objectifies women and sees them as something to be owned and used at the whim of the man. The thing that will put me off a book in terms of style is present tense narrative. This has become more common and I'm old school enough to want my stories told to me in past tense (I went to the store, not I go to the store). Reading in present tense is supposed to make us feel more "in the moment," but to me it feels sloppy and grammatically incorrect, like a teenager babbling out a story about a trip to the mall. I've probably missed a lot of wonderful stories because I can't get past the first few paragraphs of a present tense story.

Posted May 7, 2012 08:25 AM | Reply to this comment

J. Gunnar Grey said...

The characters must be enjoyable and different enough to keep me reading, and they must not be so heavily, forcefully drawn that there's not a lot of room for my own imagination to come into play. One book I never completed was Stephen King's The Green Mile; a hundred pages in, I realized the heavy-handed characters bored me, and returned it to the library next day.

Posted May 7, 2012 08:42 AM | Reply to this comment

Nell Dixon said...

I read for pleasure, so I hate 'issues' books where the author feels the need to use the story to 'educate' or 'enlighten' me of the evils of some issue or other.

Posted May 7, 2012 10:57 AM | Reply to this comment

Deborah Coonts said...

Unfortunately, I'm pretty shallow. I just want to be entertained. I want to see strong women who aren't perfect, nor who have all the answers, but who can shoot a gun or run a business,etc. So, to answer the question, what makes me put a book down unread: vapid heroines, ego-centric Alpha males, gruesome grisly murders (The my Lucky O'Toole Vegas series, I have one girl fall to her death from a tour helicopter, landing in the middle of the Pirate Show in front of Treasure Island), and no happy ever after (or at least a satisfying ending). Along the way I'd like to be taken to a world different from my own and maybe even learn something. And violence against women? If the hero did this, he's toast. I'll put the book down right then and there. And, if at all possible, I'd love a story that makes me laugh...appropriately.

Posted May 7, 2012 12:56 PM | Reply to this comment

Pauline Baird Jones said...

I sample books before I buy and if the story doesn't grab me fast, doesn't make me want to find out what happens next, if the writing style is pretentious, or it looks depressing, I'll move on. I appreciate tags so much more now and have started tagging my own books on my website, because I don't want readers to be disappointed. If my books aren't their preference, then let's get it over with fast. I would also have to agree with your list. I like my characters believable. I've written kick butt heroines, but also heroines with different strengths. I like a writing style that makes me forget I'm reading, not one that calls attention to itself. And what really bugs me is reading a whole book that promises a smash bang finish and whimpers to an end. Delight me, surprise me, make me care about your book people and you'll have a fan.

Posted May 7, 2012 01:19 PM | Reply to this comment

Jane Toombs said...

Stories that make me feel I've read the book before, even though I know I haven't, are a turn-off. I read for pleasure, not to learn how to glass blow or create a never-done-before art object. I'm open to learning something new if it's sprinkled in, but not if it's too detailed. Arrogant heroes never seem quite human to me, just like some arroogant males I've encountered in a long lifetime. I also can't stand dumb-ass heroines. On the other hand, know-it-all ones don't appeal to me either. If a child or a pet is introduced into the story, please make it because this child or pet has a certain role to play that adds to the story. Tell me enough about horses or whatever other animal you introduce so I feel confident you kmow what you're talking about, but don't overdo it. If an animal takes over your story, I'll stop reading unless you let me know in the beginning that the story is about this animal. Sex is fine, but I don't need every single detail of who does what to whom I do enjoy stories that contain sex if the entire story is not mostly about the sex. Yes, sex is an important part of adult love, but it's not the the only thing love is all about. Ani I do like some suspense as to the the outcome of the story.

Posted May 7, 2012 06:15 PM | Reply to this comment

Heather Files said...

I read many different kinds of stories, from sweet to erotica, but all sex and no plot gives me no reason to care about the characters, so that's an issue. Stylistically, I'm not a fan of present tense, though I can get past it. Second person is rare, but the few times I've come across it, it's been an absolute deal-breaker. Manipulative heroines drive me up a tree-- please don't flirt with or heaven forbid date someone just to get your chosen man jealous! That's an automatic wall-banger. Physically abusive heroes get the heave-ho as well. I recently figured out another no-go area as well-- something to do with a hero's characteristics, but can't remember it right now. I am quite sure I'll be reminded the next time I see it in a book...

Posted May 7, 2012 08:50 PM | Reply to this comment

Pam said...

I am one of those people who have to finish a book. I must say there may be only a few that I have not finished, most likely because I am determined to give the author the benefit of the doubt. Like most of you, violence and abuse in a romance book are not acceptable. If I'm reading a story--suspense/murder that I know is about violence and abuse, that's different but it does not, in my humble opinion, belong in a romance novel. Cynthia, our guest author is from lovely Australia, so her night is our day. She will be with us soon to respond to everyone.

Posted May 8, 2012 11:50 AM | Reply to this comment

Cynthia Harris replied to Fritz...

Fritz, you are so right -I didn't even start to talk about style, because I could be writing for ever! Being devil's advocate, however, I have to say that when I was doing an editing course it was impressed on us that the author had the final say (after all, it's his or her intellectual property)and we could offer advice but not dictate. My pet hate in style (well, one of them)is unvaried short sentences. Variety is the spice of life, isn't it! (Sorry, I love exclamation marks -it's the way I talk too.)

Posted May 9, 2012 03:51 AM | Reply to this comment

Cynthia Harris replied to Kay Springsteen...

Ugh, Kay, I know the type you mean. I once started a book where I was expected to believe it was perfectly normal for the heroine to fall in love with the stranger who raped her. Excuse me? I didn't read any further. Present tense in writing reminds me of schoolkids: "Then I see my friend, then she says ..., she goes to the door, she says..." (all in one sentence, of course). I totally agree with you.

Posted May 9, 2012 03:58 AM | Reply to this comment

Cynthia Harris replied to J. Gunnar Grey...

J Gunnar Grey:you too with the famous writers? I did start a certain book the teenage girls were raving about, thinking it was my duty to keep up with the times. I'm sorry to say that after a hundred pages all I recall was the school canteen and people looking at each other. It may have improved later, but I'm past wasting my precious leisure time. Of course, a character that one person loves will leave someone else cold. Luckily there are plenty of books in the world.

Posted May 9, 2012 04:07 AM | Reply to this comment

Cynthia Harris replied to Nell Dixon...

Nell,I really care about many issues -but, like you, I don't want them in my recreational reading. I know I keep talking about school - sorry! - but English classes are bombarded with novels about kids with tragic issues, nasty people, end of the world scenarios and other delicious themes, clearly designed to push poor teenagers into deep depression. Wouldn't it be better to give them something happy to focus on?

Posted May 9, 2012 04:13 AM | Reply to this comment

Cynthia Harris replied to Deborah Coonts...

Deborah,yes, bring on the light-hearted approach and the happy ending - real life can get you down at times. Not sure about your tour helicopter death dive - sounds pretty gruesome to me! For me, heroines can be timid (because I am the world's biggest wimp) but they can't be stupid, and they need to have or gain strength, even if it is of the quiet variety. (PS In case you haven't noticed, as well as being a wimp I love to chat, and this is a great opportunity.)

Posted May 9, 2012 04:21 AM | Reply to this comment

Cynthia Harris replied to Pauline Baird Jones...

Pauline, interesting comment about tags. I am new to all this, so any information is gratefully received. Browsing for hours in bookshops is a holiday indulgence for me. Libraries are fun too. I will certainly look at your website soon (MUST finish some work tonight). I like that you have a range of heroines. I find I often write romances with two contrasting main female characters.

Posted May 9, 2012 04:29 AM | Reply to this comment

Cynthia Harris replied to Jane Toombs...

Jane - now I'm embarrassed (says she smiling), because horses feature heavily in so much of my writing! Yes, I was one of those horse-mad girls and now I'm a horse-mad, umm, mature person. Arrogance in male or female is not an endearing characteristic, is it, though I have to admit I LOVE Mr Darcy (especially as portrayed by Colin Firth).

Posted May 9, 2012 04:38 AM | Reply to this comment

Cynthia Harris replied to Heather Files...

Heather, you're right, all sex and no plot is dull, dull, dull. And yes, I did plough my way through a couple at a time when I was wondering whether I could write to a formula. That was twenty years ago, and I haven't repeated the exercise. There have to be real (to some extent) people and a real story that needs more than a paragraph to tell it. After that, it's up to your personal preference. Have you remembered your other no-go area? I'm curious.

Posted May 9, 2012 04:48 AM | Reply to this comment

Cynthia Harris replied to Pam...

Pam, thanks for the introduction. And I must be dumb (because I know I'm not colour blind or needing new glasses)- I blush to tell you that I keep making mistakes in the security code! Duh! Back to books: I used to finish everything (unless it scared me). When I was seven I read "Don Quixote", all 600 or so pages, because I knew already about the horse Rosinante. He hardly got a mention. I was so disappointed! These days if I find myself starting to get bored,I stop. Life's too short, and I have many "old friend" favourites to savour once more. I read the classic murder mysteries, the ones where the murder isn't described in detail. A good romance is sheer delight, however, a real lift for the spirits.

Posted May 9, 2012 05:00 AM | Reply to this comment

P. L. Parker said...

I read for entertainment and if I'm not entertained by the first couple of chapters, I put the book away. I admit, I've forced myself to read an entire story at times for whatever reason, but I want to feel connected to the characters from the beginning

Posted May 9, 2012 06:51 AM | Reply to this comment

Cyntia Harris replied to P. L. Parker...

P. L. Parker: me too -although the first chapters don't have to be action-packed to interest me. Sometimes it is fascinating just to get to know characters and also gain a feel for the setting. I've read some books with great pleasure, and afterwards thought: "Hmm, actually, nothing much happened - but it was fun nevertheless."

Posted May 11, 2012 04:12 AM | Reply to this comment

Pam said...

Congratulations. J Gunner Grey is the winner of Cynthia's contest.

Posted May 14, 2012 08:19 AM | Reply to this comment

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