Friday, August 25, 2006

The Poll--Results

Thanks to those of you who responded to yesterday’s poll. At the time of writing this post, we had 26 respondents. Here are the results, with a couple explanations:

1. Some gave more than one answer to a question, so answers won’t always tally to 26. (For example, numerous respondents said they quit reading both because of poor characters and boring plot.)

2. I’ll just give major results here rather than list every answer that received at least one vote.

What is the number one reason you stop reading a novel?

Poor characters—can’t connect with them, don’t care about them: 17

Lack of plot—boring/formulaic: 10

Poor writing—head hopping, bad dialogue, etc.: 4

About how many pages will you give a novel before you stop reading?

2-3 chapters: 7

30-50 pages: 3

50-80 pages: 4

half-way: 3

What percentage of novels do you choose not to finish?

0-5%: 13
5-10%: 3
33%: 3

What’s the number one reason you keep reading a novel?

Characters—like them, have to see what happens to them: 15

Good plot—hooks: 13

One interesting result to me—in question #1, poor characters outnumbered poor plot pretty significantly (17 to 10). Yet in question #4, caring about the characters and plot received almost equal answers (15 and 13, respectively), with numerous people noting that the two are hard to separate. When you think about it, this makes sense. As the book goes on, good plot and characterization do become harder to separate. But at the beginning, connecting with the characters clearly rules.

Thoughts on these results? Do they make you examine the beginning chapters of your work in progress any differently than before? We’ll pick this up next week.


Kristy Dykes said...

Sorry I missed yesterday's poll. I was busy making cherry desserts for our women's event tonight at church. Theme: Life Is Just A Bowl of Cherries...with God's Help!

Oh, the poll. :) Hope I'm not too late.

1. To be honest, my TBR (to be read) pile is huge. So I have to take this into account as I answer. If the story doesn't grab me, I won't continue reading. However, sometimes I force myself to continue reading because I want to study that author's writing. For instance, Peace Like A River was like that for me--I'm talking about the back cover blurb and the plot at first didn't interest me (two children and a father on the run). But when I read that grabber opening, I knew I wanted to study this author's (Leif Enger) style. I wasn't disappointed!

2. It varies.

3. I'd say half and half. I'm not married to finishing a novel. I once heard a minister say, "If you glean one nugget from a book, it's worth the price." 'Course he was talking about nonfiction, but I think that applies to novels too.

4. A grabber opening, like in Peace Like A River. Man, when his father commands him to breathe in the name of the living God, well, it gets you in your heart (lightly beating on chest then wiping misted eyes).

Becky said...

There's a certain book called Getting into Character that deals with the importance and how-to's of developing characters. ;-)

I like Donald Maass on the subject as well--his comments about larger-than-life characters and what makes them is helpful.

I can really see a difference now, between putting a character in jeopardy and putting a character the reader cares about in jeopardy. It's HUGE.


jess said...

. What is the number one reason you stop reading a novel? Be as specific as possible.

Unfortunaely, and much to my daughter's dismay, I give up on books much quicker than I used to. The characters have to grab me immediately.

2. About how many pages will you give a novel before you stop reading? Not much more than two chapters, and sometimes I won't make it through the first chapter. I know it's not fair--I'm probably missing out on some good stories. There again, I'm getting too old to waste my time "finding out" if the book is good or not.

3. What percentage of novels do you start and choose not to finish?
Too many. Way, way too many.

4. On the reverse—what’s the number one reason you keep reading a novel? Just like you said, the characters. I want to learn something from them. I want to get involved in their lives to the point I think about them during the day. I want to laugh and cry with them as if their dear friends. I don't want a contrived plot. Not asking for much, am I?

Grady Houger said...

Very interesting poll. Nobody had the reasons I do (although Stuart got the closest). Plot and characters? Sounds like studying, not reading. I should try that sometime.
I can't remember a single book I quit. I mean I do sample lots of books, even start reading them, but I don't choose to remember what they where or why I stopped. When I read a book I cease being me, I become the characters in the story. When the story ends I come back to myself; changed, informed.
I don't choose to enter stories when they lack interest (plot, characterization).
I stop reading a story (as fast as possible, so I can start forgetting) is when it is too lewd, violently depraved or morally corrupting that I don't want to be there any more.
I keep reading a book, even enjoying lousy ones with dumb plots and throwaway characters because I want to complete it, to see the story shape through to the end so I can take the lessons to be learned and forget the rest.

The most important part of a story is the worldview philosophy it portrays, and the knowledge it imparts to the reader. All else is just proper technique to keep'em hooked.