Part of my ongoing thing on Thursdays to revisit some of the older posts that are still valid. This one dates back to Nov 22, 2011.*
I read Chuck Wendig’s 25 things that will make me keep reading your story and it made me think, I have WAAAAAYYY more things that will make me STOP reading your story (Okay, I might have overstated that, it’s only 5 things). And of course he posts about that very thing this morning. ARRRRGGH! Anyway, not to copy, but I had this idea in my head, so I’m going with it.
If I see a blurb that I like or a nice cover or get a recommendation from one of my friends, I will pick up your book and give it a fair shake. Unlike Chuck, I’m not standing in the doorway with a gun in your face waiting to not like it. If I’ve gotten as far as cracking the cover and reading the first page I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. I want to like it. But there are a few things that will make me drop your book like a hot rock, or hot potato or anything hot. You get the idea. Here we go:
- I picked up a book recently that had a great blurb and interesting ideas, but the language was unique for a lot of things. It was hard to follow because of this. It’s nice and all that you went to the trouble to try to make this futuristic place, with newfangled words for everything, but If I have to read the page three times to catch what your drifting then something’s wrong. My shooting hand starts to twitch. It’s a fine line to make it “feel” all futury but overdone, it will just lose the reader.
- I don’t mind if a book has lots of characters, as long as the POV is consistent. And by consistent, I mean not jumping from one head to the next as the paragraph changes with no warning, no break or any sign that will clue me that we just switched heads. You might get away with this once, but keep doing it and it’ll get my ire and I’ll drop you book like, let’s say it together, HOT POTATO! (i.e. I’m putting the book in the donate box in my basement).
- Most of us are willing to suspend our disbelief when we pick up a book. But every now and then something will break the mirror that holds the illusion together with facts that are SO blatantly wrong that I can’t get over it. Like in Iron Falcon Eagle. A movie about a kid, whose father is a downed F-16 pilot, who goes out and saves the day by flying an F-16 Fighting Falcon and they call the jet by the wrong name. Or perhaps something less obvious, that I happen to know is true, like poisonous tarantulas. No such thing. My suspension of disbelief comes to a screeching car wreck of a halt … book in the basement box. These things are incredibly simple to determine, even a 30 second Google search will show the error of their ways.
- I’ve read a sizeable number of books and have a baseline of expectation for prose. They don’t have to be Nora Roberts great, but it should be slightly better than my 10 year old can do. (He’s 17 now)* Okay, that’s not even fair, my 10 year old is an exceptionally smart kid and can write pretty well, but something at least close to that level. Your writing style is so simplistic that It’s like vanilla icing on cardboard. I’m not a fan of vanilla icing. I know some of you might be, so let’s make it dog poo icing on cardboard. I’m gonna pass on this. It lacks hardly any description and the sentences are all the same length. It just lacks something. This alone will often not be enough to make me put the book down if I have nothing else to read, and by nothing, I mean I’m stuck in the airport for five hours and have no other options. My reading list is usually ten books deep at a minimum, and I will forget to pick this one back up at some point and move to the next on the list.
- The opposite of the previous problem is too much love of the world. Paragraph after paragraph of description. I enjoy envisioning a new world as much as the next geek, but it can be overdone. I’ll end up skipping past a lot of the descriptive and do this enough and I’m skipping the entire book. I can appreciate how much work went into building this lovely world you’ve created, but I don’t need to know every single detail that crossed my field of vision as I turn my head. Keep it pertinent to the story and let my imagination fill in the blanks. I like a little description, but once you’ve gone past the first paragraph describing how the sun hit the old church building and tell me about how the door used to go into a basement that is covered over blah blah blah … I don’t care. Unless that door leads to a torture chamber or a secret path to an underground hideout or something at least partway useful to the story just skip it. You can chop these prose off and save it somewhere to put in later. Or in a different story. But it doesn’t belong in this story if it’s not moving the narrative along somehow. I’LL DROP IT LIKE A HOT POTATO!
Other than that I’ll probably gut it out and try to finish your story. That’s only 5, not 25, but that’ll have to do.