What makes a reader ditch a novel?
It's rare for me not to read all the way to the end of a novel. I choose my fiction carefully, avoiding genres that I don't enjoy, such as romances. After a lifetime of reading, I know what appeals to me and what doesn't. (Not always, as you'll discover below - sometimes I get it wrong). The other night, though, I gave up on a book after finding some of the content offensive. It got me thinking. What might make a reader ditch a novel? As part of my 'Five' series, I'll be discussing some possible reasons. Let's go!
1. It's badly written
Some novels, whether traditionally or indie published, simply aren't well-written. Poor character development, a failure to round off the narrative properly, plot threads left hanging... the list goes on. Nobody wants to read such books.
Dialogue is a common problem. Some authors struggle with getting it right; their characters' conversations fall flat. Not to mention my favourite bugbear - inappropriate and excessive speech tags. I gave up on one novel partly because the main character rarely said anything. Instead, she chirped and mumbled her sentences, reminding me by turns of a songbird or a sulky teenager. As she was supposed to be a feisty, kick-ass kind of gal, this irritated me. There were other reasons I abandoned the book, but when I read one chirp too many, it was game over.
Speech tags are often unnecessary anyway; if an author has given his/her characters strong enough voices and the dialogue flows well, it should be obvious who's speaking.
2. Bad grammar, spelling and punctuation
A criticism often aimed at self-published novels is that they're full of typos and poor grammar. Not always, of course, but there's some truth in the allegation. Whilst I love what self-publishing has done for the industry, I agree that too many novelists present their work with a disregard for the English language. However, it's also a trend I'm noticing with traditionally published books. It's not unusual nowadays to find typos and even plot errors in novels from big-name publishers. I'm told it's because many publishing houses are axing editors and proof-readers in a bid to cut costs. Whether that's true, I can't say, but it's no longer just self-published authors who have to defend themselves from criticism on this score.
Some people, of course, believe it's not important. They say that as long as the plot flows well and the characters engage the reader, then typos and poor grammar don't matter. I say they do. Language is the medium through which writers create their work; shouldn't they be able to employ it correctly? If a musician plays a wrong note, it grates on the ear. The principle's no different with books. Typos jar on the reader, distracting from the narrative - hardly what the author intended. Would you rather be kissed or pissed?
As for punctuation errors, as Lynne Truss so ably demonstrates in 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves', they can alter the entire meaning of a sentence. Correct punctuation can save lives. Take the following example: 'Let's eat, grandpa.' Miss out the comma, and cannibalism enters the picture - not a happy scenario for our aged relative: 'Let's eat grandpa.' Call the cops, someone!
3. The terrible trio - sex, swearing and violence
I've lumped these together because they all turn off any reader who's sensitive to such issues. Some people don't care for brutality, profanity or sex scenes in novels. As I'll explain later, I ditched one book partly because of its violence. I'm not unduly squeamish, but what I was reading was a step too far for me. When it comes to swearing, I've been told the use of the F-word in my novels has upset some people, and I understand that. I rarely, if ever, swear. Often, though, profanity is necessary in fiction. It would be inauthentic for me to create a character like Adam Campbell in 'Guilty Innocence', and for him not to curse. He's a murderous psychopath - bad language goes with the territory. In contrast, my fourth novel, 'The Second Captive', contains little profanity. It simply wouldn't be right for the characters.
As for sexual content, I love a good bit of smut! I may well write erotica one day. Some people cringe when fictional characters get down and dirty, however, and that's their preference. Each to their own.
4. The novel doesn't get with the reader
Sometimes a novel can be well-written, a popular success, and yet something about it doesn't sit well with the reader. I experienced this with a certain novel, which I won't name as I dislike posting negatively about books or their authors. The book has 53 five-star and 18 four-star reviews on Amazon UK, and has clearly been well received. But I simply couldn't get into it, failing to engage with the characters or the storyline. The author's writing style didn't appeal, either. I read some reviews of the book after I abandoned it, and I'm glad I didn't continue. The book contains scenes of sexual torture along with animal abuse - definitely not my thing. By all accounts, the novel is very well written and has garnered critical acclaim, but for me it wasn't a good fit. My fault - I should have read the back blurb more carefully.
5. When an author promotes his/her own agenda
Sometimes when I read a novel, I sense a personal agenda on the part of the author. This sometimes happens with political or religious issues, and I find it off-putting. As the novelist Iain Rob Wright mentioned in a blog post: 'I would never make my own views entirely obvious through my work, because then I am not creating fiction, I am writing propaganda.' I agree. It's usually easy to spot this one. Typically, a character will espouse a viewpoint that has no bearing on the plot, expanding at length via unnecessary dialogue or narrative. If axing such material wouldn't affect the storyline, then it's likely a spot of personal propaganda on behalf of the author is being deployed. Like many people, I resent being preached at. It may not mean I ditch the book altogether, but it does colour my view of it.
What about you? What would make you ditch a novel?
Apart from the five reasons above, are there any reasons you'd abandon a novel? Does sex, swearing or violence put you off a book? Do typos bother you? Leave me a comment and let me know!
Today marks the release of my seventh novel, 'Silent Winter', which makes me very happy! For the first week of publication, 'Silent Winter' is available for just 99c/p in the US/UK (Kindle version). Either click/tap the image or this link: Silent Winter.
'Silent Winter' is currently available as an e-book from Amazon, and the paperback version should be published within a day. I'm also working on an audio version, but that's a project for 2020. In the meantime, here's a taster of 'Silent Winter' is about:
On an icy November night, Drew Blackmore is beaten unconscious, then abducted. He awakes to find himself in total darkness, naked and chained to the floor. Fed just enough to keep him alive, Drew is unable to identify his captor, or the reason for his incarceration. As reality fades, hallucinations take over. Can Drew escape his prison before madness claims him?
Meanwhile Drew's wife, Holly, despairing of ever seeing him again, turns to his brother for comfort. As the worst winter in decades sweeps the UK, she learns of Drew's tragic past. Could his disappearance be connected with that of a prostitute years before?
A story of how the mind responds to solitary confinement, 'Silent Winter' examines one man's desperate attempt to survive the unthinkable.
A selection of comments from my ARC readers and from Goodreads reviews:
'Excellent storytelling from Maggie James.'
'Blew my mind away… the story kept me at the edge of my seat.'
'Great characters in a complex plot… an amazing read.'
You can watch the video trailer here:
Either click/tap the image or this link: Silent Winter.
Buy your copy from Amazon via this link! Silent Winter
I'm delighted to welcome novelist Peter James to my blog today! Peter is the author of the best-selling crime thrillers featuring Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, which have sold 18 million copies worldwide. Peter also writes supernatural fiction, such as 'The House on Cold Hill', a book I enjoyed very much. Welcome to my blog, Peter! With no further ado, let's proceed with the interview.
To what extent does DS Roy Grace reflect aspects of your own personality?
Roy Grace is based very loosely on former Chief Superintendent David Gaylor of Sussex CID. I was lucky enough to shadow David for many weeks over several years, during which he rose from Detective Inspector to Detective Superintendent. His office is Roy Grace’s office, and one of his areas of specialization was cold cases – also shared by Grace. But there the similarity ends – David is happily married and has no particular interest in the occult – although he is very open minded. I like Roy Grace the most of any character I have created, and there is a lot of myself in him. I’m in some ways quite a loner, too. I have a fascination for the paranormal. I share his views when he attacks bigots, when he attacks horrible architecture, or when, in ‘Not Dead Enough’, he launches into a tirade at the terrible state of our hospital in Brighton, the Sussex County. Roy Grace is a man who believes that we all have an obligation, with our lives, to try to leave the world a slightly better place than when we first came into it. That’s my view and it is partly why I write, to examine and try to understand better the world we live in and why people do the things they go. But I do also love the terrible Norman Potting. He is able to say all kinds of politically incorrect things that can no longer be said!
Out of all your antagonists, who’s been the most fun for you to create, and why?
Jodie in ‘Love You Dead’, and Dr Crisp in ‘You Are Dead’. Jodie is inspired by a woman I met in a prison, who murdered her husband and mother-in-law; she is so evil she makes you smile at her audacity. Similarly, I like Doctor Edward Crisp’s combination of charm, quirkiness and utter evil – modelled on someone I know who is in a different profession.
What’s been your most challenging novel when it comes to plotting, and why?
‘Dead Like You’ because it took place in two different time periods which was very complicated.
How does your writing day shape up? Lark or Owl? Plotter or Pantser?
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