3 Reasons I Abandoned the Last Book I Read

3 Reasons I Abandoned the Last Book I Read

Abandoning books midway through is still new to me. Until recently, I was devoted to seeing a book all the way through to its end. No matter how garbage it turned out to be. But then I realized life is short. There are a million books I want to read, and I don’t get a lot of reading time. Why should I spend a month slogging through something I despise when I could toss it aside and devote that time to something I adore?

I experienced my fair share of reading slumps on the way to that realization. It’s difficult for me to let go of books. I don’t like to leave things unfinished. Some people have a page number or percentage point by which they expect a book to impress them if they’re going to finish. I don’t have any such system, though I try to give a book the benefit of the doubt until I reach the 25% mark.

If I’m a quarter of the way into a book, though, and my negative feelings outweigh the positive ones, it’s time to step aside. I don’t like leaving negative reviews, especially on books I haven’t finished, so I decided to start blogging about reasons I DNF books. Because the reasons readers abandon books can help authors strengthen their fiction.

Inability to Connect to the Characters

One of the biggest debates between writers is which is more important: plot or characters. For me, the answer is characters. I will follow characters I love through a mediocre plot because I’ve developed an attachment. I want a character I can root for, someone I can laugh with and cry for.

If a book fails to connect me with at least one of its main characters in the opening chapters, I’m probably going to set it aside. I once read a book where the main character caught his reflection in a mirror and considered it the only person worth talking to. Barf. I ended up skimming large swaths of that book.

My most recent reading excursion involved a brief glimpse of the protagonist during a prologue. It included few details of her life or desires. Then there was a massive time jump before the next chapter. The protagonist grew up and changed completely – she didn’t even use the same name! The author talked a lot about the character’s morals and decision making process, but almost never conveyed her emotions.

I muddled through the first block of chapters, hoping to receive a few nuggets of insight into the mind of this particular character but, when no breadcrumbs appeared, I eventually gave up.

Inability to Imagine or Orient on the Setting

A lot of writing blogs suggest that world building details should be held until later portions of the book. And while it’s true that too much world building can bog the narrative down, especially if you dump blocks of it into a reader’s lap, the feedback from my beta readers consistently disagrees.

People want to know where a story takes place. They want to know how the world works, especially when the characters are interacting with alien portions of it. Not everyone wants a dissertation. But there are people in the world, like me, who read the Silmarillion, which is basically the bible for a fictional world.

Obviously the trick is to find a middle ground. Personally, I like to see a small explanation of a thing the first time its name drops. Not an entire history, but a line or two that places a building, person or piece of lore in the context of the world it occupies. Tell me what so and so is the god of or, maybe, who worships them. If there’s a curse or a prophecy, tell me what it is and how it got there. This is particularly important if pieces of real world lore have been sewn together like a patchwork for a fantasy world.

Now, it’s also important for characters to understand the way their world works and not necessarily need an explanation at every turn. So this balance can be hard to strike. I might be able to forgive a book with bad characters if the world building is amazing. Just as I can forgive a crappy world for having fantastic characters. But if both of these elements work against the book, you might not get a third strike.

None of the Characters are Likable

Character likability is an important part of story crafting. There are entire tropes devoted to how you can convey the likability of a character in your work. Not every character has to be likable. In fact, not all of them should be. Readers can connect to a character through their dislike of them as well. It’s not a bad idea to have someone the reader can root against.

But in order for me to follow a story, I need to be able to strongly identify with at least one of the characters driving it. If your entire cast is a bag of jerks, I’m probably not going to care enough about their goals to keep following them. Remember the guy who admired his reflection as the only worthwhile person in the room? Not a great choice for a main character.

In this particular case, none of the characters stood out to me as people I cared about. The main character was driven, but she was never open enough about her thoughts or emotions for me to feel like I connected with her. The love interest was a racist jerk – and jerk love interests are a strong turn off for me after having read about far too many. The only character I found remotely likable was the antagonist, and they weren’t in the book often enough to carry me through the lulls.

One of the most prized pieces of feedback I ever received was: give your reader a reason to cheer for your character right from the get-go, even if their motivation starts small.

That’s it from me for now. What makes you abandon a book? Let me know in the comments!

4 Replies to “3 Reasons I Abandoned the Last Book I Read”

  1. Only in the past couple of years have I felt free to ditch a book I didn’t like before I finished it. I, too, stop reading if there’s not one character I can care about in the first 50 pages. If I like the characters I will put up with excess descriptive words.

    The most recent book I abandoned was one by a favorite author that was near the end of a long series. As I read the beginning chapters I concluded the author didn’t care so much about the characters either anymore. I think she just wanted to finish the series and forget them. I skipped to the last few chapters just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything important to the plot. If my library ever gets the final book in the series I may read it just to see how the plot resolves. Note: When I mentioned my feelings about this book on Instagram, I found I was not alone in my disappointment.

    1. It’s the same for me. I used to be hardcore about finishing a book no matter how I felt about it. I think I didn’t like the idea of leaving something unfinished. But I’ve realized now how precious our time is, and it’s not worth it just to be upset and frustrated about the outcome.

      I’m sorry to hear that a book by your favorite author disappointed you like that. I’ve had a few similar experiences myself with long-running series. It’s eye-opening. Makes me hope I can let go of my stories before I stop caring about them. But it’s also made me cautious about buying a high number book in a series, even if it’s by an author I love.

  2. All of your reasons are totally reasonable. I’m hesitant to post negative online reviews, too. Generally, I don’t say anything at all about a book if I can’t think of several good things to say about it.

    1. It’s hard, because I firmly believe that constructive criticism is one of the best ways for writers to learn how to improve their craft. And if I was *just* a reader, I might not feel quite as strongly.

      But also being a writer adds another layer to the exchange. Partly because I know what it’s like to be on the other end and partly because I don’t want it to seem like I’m acting superior. My decision was made even tougher in this case because I never even finished the book, so I couldn’t justify reviewing it, even if I had a lot to say.

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