Tuesday, June 28, 2011

what makes you put a book down?

so that whole thing i said last week about making time/sacrifices for your writing?
yeah, i forgot to mention - i also sacrifice internet time for writing. that's just my little way of saying, between BILLY D revisions and BUTTER edits (and hopefully writing GRIM or something new), i'm probably going to be down to 1 or 2 blog posts per week throughout the summer. but i'll be around on twitter, so say hi! :)

on to today's post:

i want to know: What Makes You Put a Book Down?

i was asked that question the first (and only) time i ever attended a book club. i embarrassed myself by misunderstanding the question and said something like, "oh, you know, when i have to go to work and go to sleep and stuff..." o.o
what they meant was, of course, when do you put a book down FOREVER and decide not to finish it?

this question shocked me at the time. i was very much a "finish what you start" kind of gal, and it seemed wrong somehow to not see a book through to the end, even if you were reading it for pleasure and not enjoying it.
but that's the whole point, isn't it? pleasure? enjoyment?

i've since learned it's okay to not finish a book. or at least, i've gotten better about setting aside stories i'm not enjoying.. for now. some of the books in my "to be read" pile could easily be added to a "try try again" pile. i always tell myself i'll pick up the book again later and give it another shot. however, i rarely do this.
that's probably part of the reason i badgered my beta reader, K, to tell me any and all points in the current WIP where it could be put down - put down for now or put down forever - because we all want to write a page-turner, right?

and it got me thinking about what makes ME put down a book for good.
#1 - sloooooow pacing. maybe it's because i read so much YA these days, but i have little patience for a turtle's pace. if one page doesn't pull right into the next, i'm likely to fall asleep or get distracted and, ultimately, put the book down.
#2 - boring. not in pace, but in storyline. if it's not something new and unpredictable, or if the characters are just ordinary with ordinary things happening to them, i tend to walk away. i mean, if i want ordinary, i'll just look at my own life. why read about someone else's?
#3 - lack of plot/tension. i may love the characters, but if i'm not on the edge of my seat yearning for them to get what they want, then why would i keep reading? i have cool "characters" to hang out with in the real world. i need a story too.
***disclaimer: i may or may not personally struggle with one or all of the above issues in my own writing. (hence the badgering of my beta.)

other things that could lead to me skimming or altogether skipping the rest of a book i've started:
- unlikeable characters
- poor writing, small vocabulary
- elements or scenes i find personally disturbing (everyone's got their thing they'd rather not read about.)

and there are exceptions to my own rules, naturally. Vonnegut, Kerouac and Thompson have all sucked me straight through stories despite a lack of plot (#3), thanks to amazing writing.

so, as those book clubbers once asked me, What makes YOU put a book down?


E.J. Wesley said...

Ya know, I very rarely put a book down. Once I commit to reading, I tend to be very forgiving. I've just had too many books get good-to-great in the last 1/3 to give up. I'll quit watching a TV show, but it's hard for me to give up on a story. I just think the more I read (and write), the more I understand that there are many, many ways to tell a story and convention isn't always correct.

So what if a story doesn't 'hook me' in the first couple of chapters? I read as much for the thoughtful slow-burn as I do the rush. If I want to be titillated at every turn I'll go watch Transformers this weekend. (I will, btw.) If I want to experience something I'll be thinking about two years from now I'll re-read The Stand. A good recent example of this for me was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I read it and loved it, but couldn't really tell you why until I'd finished it. Had I stopped halfway through I'd probably have wondered what all the fuss was about.

Now that I say that, there's one series that I started reading (there's like 12 books in the series) and only made it through the 2nd book. I do plan to go back to them at some point, but reading them is such a slog. Too many cliched characters, the writing is a bit stilted, and half the scenes seem somewhat pointless. Plus there seem to be an inordinate amount of typos. It's totally the author's world, meaning they don't seem to be written with readers in mind whatsoever. I do think there can be value in such stories--Lord of the Rings comes to mind as a story written for the author, and not so much the reader--but the themes, etc. have to be pretty epic for that to work.

Thought provoking stuff, as always, EJ! :-)

E.J. Wesley said...

Ha! Just spotted my own 'typo'. What the heck do I know?

erinjade said...

EJ, that's a good point about books that pick up in the back half - like a payoff for taking the time to get to know the characters and the world. GWtDT is a great example. (though i admit i nearly put that one down several times for more than one of my 3 reasons listed above.)

and hey, typo? what typo? ;) haha!

Heather Anastasiu said...

Love this. What a great question to ask oneself as an author (and to ask betas!)--what parts of this book are put-down-able!!! Awesome! One big part of why I love YA so much is the pace and continual tension. Focusing on keeping this high pace/tension as a writer has, I think, resulted if far better story-telling.

erinjade said...

Heather, agreed. one of the reasons i love YA is the constant page-turning. not that there has to be constant action - but, as you said, TENSION - whether between characters or in the plot, etc... something to always push the reader forward.