Book Reviews · Non-Writing · Reading

How Not To Do It

I used to have a nearly impossible time giving up on a book I was reading, even if it was awful. But as my reading time has gotten less and less, so has my tolerance for bad books.

Recently, I gave up on a romantic suspense I was reading. At first, it was just interesting enough to keep me reading. Which, in some ways, annoys me more than when a book is so bad I stop reading. But tonight, just shy of the halfway mark, I gave up.

Because reading tastes are so subjective, and because it is not my intention ever to bash another author, I’m not going to say the book’s title or author. It is a best-selling, multi-pubbed author. This is the first book by her that I’ve read. It wasn’t so awful I threw it at the wall, thinking, “I’ll never read trash by her again.” I simply wasn’t engaged. The book wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good. Maybe she had an off book. Or maybe the things I found wrong with it are things most readers don’t notice or care about. She obviously clicks for many people or she wouldn’t have multiple bestsellers. Maybe the problem is simply when I read, I’m also a writer. Many writers I know have the same problem. We can’t turn off our mental editor and therefore can’t read a book without part of our brain critiquing it.

So, instead of bashing her or her book, or lamenting about how her crap is selling and mine isn’t, I want to talk about what didn’t work for me. Hopefully writing it out will 1) help me internalize these lessons so I can make my own writing stronger and 2) do the same for you. Keep in mind, this was a romantic suspense. So as a reader going in, I expected a suspense plot along with a romance.

What I found problematic:

-tension must rise, but it has to exist in some form at the beginning

-red herrings with neon signs

-no dead body for 50+ pages. This means the suspense plot doesn’t get going until after 50 pages.

-barely any hero (love interest) in 75+ page

-the 2 above, taken together, means the 2 key elements of the book – romance and suspense – are almost entirely absent from the first 50 pages.

-no 2nd body until midpoint – yet from reading the back cover the reader knows it’s a serial killer

-by the midpoint, the romance is lukewarm and the 2 characters haven’t shared so much as a kiss. While this isn’t strictly necessary, there should be some tension building between them, and at least the desire for kisses by halfway. This was lacking.

-More time was spent developing the heroine’s continued (platonic) relationship with her ex than her relationship with the hero.

-slow as molasses pace, even after the suspense and the romance are introduced.

-scenes written in the unnamed killer’s point of view are cliché. The vague references to his motives aren’t strong enough to justify serial killing, even in a disturbed mind. They display a misunderstanding of mental illness and how it intersects with criminality. Which not all readers will pick up on. But a writer who is writing about characters like that has a responsibility to understand that.

-scenes written in the victims’ points of view don’t make them sympathetic characters. I felt like “eh, so they died. So what? It was probably better for humanity this way.” Personally I’m not a huge fan of scenes from the victim’s point of view. But if the writer is going to do it, they need to make me care enough about this person to care when they’re killed.

So, at the halfway mark, I was almost certain I knew whodunnit and if it wasn’t him, it was the other character screaming “Pick me! Pick me!” I couldn’t handle it, but I wanted to know if I had guessed right on who the villain was. So I read the last few pages. I will admit, it wasn’t the one I was almost certain about. So at least there was that. But it was #2. And his motive was weak. The kind that if I’d gotten to it sooner, before I gave up on the book, would have been a give-up-and-throw-it-at-the-wall moment.

As I said, I’m not giving up on this author. Could have been an off book. But if the adage about how the opening sells this book and the ending sells the next book is true, this author didn’t do her job selling me her next book. As a writer, I’m more critical of the books I read, but I also try to be more forgiving when there are mistakes, because I know how hard it is.

What are some of the things that make you give up on a book? And what will make you keep reading even if there are obvious flaws?


2 thoughts on “How Not To Do It

  1. I used to try to finish everything I started reading, but now I have the philosophy, “Life’s too short to read a bad book.” Any of these things can get me to stop – a heroine who is constantly down on herself to the point of being pathetic, a love interest who is such an Alpha male that he’s a bossy jerk, and super slow pacing!

  2. I used to finish all books, too. I think being a writer ruined that for me. I’m more analytical now. Like you said, less time, less tolerance. I love when I find a book that makes me want to make time. Recently I’m stuck in Laura Griffin’s Tracer world. Twisted was A-mazing and I’m in Scorched now. Love. Them. Great post!

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