Thursday, August 24, 2006

Why We Stop Reading--The Poll

Recently I’ve started to read a number of novels, then put them down after 80 pages or so—and didn’t pick them up again. A couple were secular authors whom I really like, but for whatever reason, these particular stories didn’t grab me.

So I got to thinkin’ . . . Why exactly did I put these books down? And what can I learn as an author from this?

All you writers our there, you’re readers, too. (At least, you’d better be.) So let’s see what we can learn together as writers from our reading habits. Please take a moment to answer these poll questions—the more who answer, the better. Answers can be short. If you want to elaborate, that’s fine too. I’ll tabulate the results, and we’ll take the discussion from there. (By the way, if you answer through “anonymous” or initials only, please note if you’re male or female.)

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

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

3. What percentage of novels do you start and choose not to finish?

4. On the reverse—what’s the number one reason you keep reading a novel?


Domino said...

1. I stop reading because of head-hopping or other story confusion. I hate it when poor writing skills pull me out of the story.

2. It depends on where I get pulled out of the story. After the second instance of really poor craft - wherever that may be - I choose a different book.

3. I'm picky when I choose books in a store, so I finish all of them eventually. However, when I get preselected book club novels, the percentage of unfinished books starts to pick up.

4. I keep reading novels that present a likeable character in an interesting predicament, but it's really the characterization that keeps me reading.

Chris said...

1. I'll put a book down if it isn't drawing me in. I've put down some admittedly good stuff, but if I'm not connecting with it I'll put it down and try again later.

2. I'll usually go two or three chapters. What is that, 30-50 pages?

3. Maybe 1 in 10 this year (okay, percentage: ... carry the ... regroup ... aha! ten percent)

4. I'll put up with almost anything, even a bad book'll show me what not to do. Though I prefer not to have to go the masochism route too often.

Michelle Pendergrass said...

1. What is the number one reason you stop reading a novel? Be as specific as possible. Bad/flat characters. Even if the story isn't all that great, with great characters I can and do keep reading.

2. About how many pages will you give a novel before you stop reading? I seem to make it about half-wayish through the book.

3. What percentage of novels do you start and choose not to finish? I used to put down a lot more than I do now. I'm learning that I can learn from the novels I don't like. I used to read for enjoyment, but my focus has changed so I've begun forcing myself to finish.

4. On the reverse—what’s the number one reason you keep reading a novel?It's all about the characters for me. If I feel like I know them and fall in love with them (or dislike them) I'll keep reading.

Karen said...

1. Characters I can't care about, and a plot that doesn't go anywhere will make me stop. Add to that first person, present tense and I'll stop sooner.

2. Depends on why I'm reading. I stop at the second or third chapter usually but if I'm reading for the library discussion group, I'll go at least halfway and maybe skip around the rest.

3. I probably don't finish about 5% of what I start. I hate wasting money so I'm really picky about what I buy to read. Library books are another matter.

4. I love characters that make me care about them deeply. I find myself rooting for them. "Please, Brandilyn, don't kill her off." Plots are almost secondary but they are what show off a character's "stuff."

sbaar said...

1. Number one reason I stop reading a novel is boredom. Specifically, I think my boredom is from either a) a weak plotline b) characters I can't connect with and/or c) I'm just not in the novel reading mood (very rare). :)

2. It depends how many pages I give a novel before stopping. Some it's two. Some it's twenty. If I read for more than 1/4 of the book, I'm much more likely to finish it simply because I've already invested so much time.

3. A very low percentage will I start and not finish. 5%? 2%?

4. Well, I keep reading a novel because I like it. The number one reason I keep reading a "boring" novel is because I've already invested the time and I'm stubborn and don't want to give up. :)

Sarah (female)

C.J. Darlington said...

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

I'm not into the characters. It can be a rip roaring, speeding ahead like a runaway train plot, but if the characters aren't engaging, then it's just action.

But I also sometimes put down a book if the plot doesn't grab me. This would be purely subjective, I suppose.

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

I have a really hard time putting a novel down, even if it doesn't engage me. However, I've read just a couple chapters of some books (20-25 pages?) and put the book back on my shelf. I might return to it, but I probably won't.

3. What percentage of novels do you start and choose not to finish?

Very few (5%?) because I'm pretty darn picky on what I pick up at all. I know what I like, so when I pick something up I'm usually not terribly disappointed. I'm one of those type of people who think about things for weeks sometimes before going out and buying it.

4. On the reverse—what’s the number one reason you keep reading a novel?

Unique plot is first, but that closely follows liking the characters. I just finished a novel that had a unique plot and a fast pace, but I really had trouble relating to the characters. So the enjoyment factor was cut way down. This doesn't mean every character has to be similar to me. Not at all. I've loved characters who are as far from me as humanely possible.

Cara Putman said...

1. What is the number one reason you stop reading a novel? Be as specific as possible. I don't care about the characters and the plot isn't moving fast enough to keep me engaged.

2. About how many pages will you give a novel before you stop reading? It depends. A real sleeper about 25, one from an author I usually like 80 or so. I rarely don't finish a book, I just start skimming so that I catch highlights only.

3. What percentage of novels do you start and choose not to finish?
A small percentage because I turn on the speed reading and skim.

4. On the reverse—what’s the number one reason you keep reading a novel? I care about the character, the book is set in an engaging/real setting and the plot has unexpected twists.

Linda Fulkerson said...

1. Reading a novel is an investment of time taken from my busy schedule. I do it for enjoyment. If it's boring and/or predictable, I put it down and try another one.
2. I give most books about three chapters before calling it quits.
3. Probably about a third.
4. Number one reason to keep reading--when I HAVE to know what's going to happen next. Hooks. I bite every time. Number two reason to keep reading (I know you only asked for one...) is if the author is a friend of mine.

Jerome said...

1. Because the plot is boring.
2. Two chapters at the most. The writer had better hook me early or back on the shelf it goes.
3. Very few. Probably less than 5%.
4. Fast moving plot.

karen said...

Wow a test!

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

I stop reading if I cannot get into the characters or if I start to feel like I have read the book before (too much formula)

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

I will usually start to feel for the book after the first chapter or two - if the book hasn't grabbed me by that point then I will often lay it down.

3. What percentage of novels do you start and choose not to finish?

Maybe 10% or so

4. On the reverse—what’s the number one reason you keep reading a novel?

I am hooked on the plot and the characters. I cannot wait to turn the page and see what happens next (even if I 'know' there is a spider filled room on the next page - joking)

margie said...

1. I quit reading a novel when I can't connect to the characters. Poor writing also makes me stop.

2. I'd say 50–75 pages. I may skim other sections to see if it gets any better. Another way I judge when to give it up is if I've picked it up several days in a row and don't go further than a few pages in it. I always have another book somewhere in the house that does grab my attention. So I'll go get it :). Then it's time to quit on the one I can't connect to.

3. I'd say 5–10%.

4. Great characters that I connect with in the first few pages which leads to a great story.


Stuart said...

1. When something shiny distracts me and the story doesn't nag my brain enough to come back to it.

2. At any point where the story loses my interest. Could be the first few chapters, could be halfway through. After the 1/2 way point though I'd probably just muscle through.

3. Despite my distraction level, it's very low. Probably 1% overall. It might take me a while, but curiosity almost always has won out.

4. I keep reading a book when I want to know what happens next. The level of how much it holds my interest is in direct proportion to how quickly I can read it.

Hayley Gardner said...

1. I stop reading a novel if the main character has nothing at stake in what she's(he) trying to achieve, because then her(his) goal is boring to me.
2. I usually will read half a book, but like someone else said, I'll leaf through other parts.
3. Rare. Maybe 5 percent. I usually finish books, even if I skim and selective read the rest. (If that counts as "not finishing, then maybe 20 percent.)
4. If the character really seems to be multi-faceted.

Sally Bradley said...

1. The main reason I put down a book is poor writing technique, in particular head-hopping and flat characters.

2. I'm usually reading about 4 books at a time so if a book keeps getting put down after each chapter, after about 5 chapters I'll either give up or skim big time.

3. I start and don't finish about a third of the novels I pick up, which sadly has made me more careful in what authors I buy because I hate paying for a book and disliking it.

4. I love the characters and must know what happens to them!

D. Gudger said...

1. Lack of plot, lack of suspense, predictable plot, an outlineish/formulaic feel borning characters who become overly predictable, just plain bad writing and the ultimate peeve: tacky dialogue! Sappy romance really gags me out as do Barbie-like characters; YUCK!

2. I try to give the author the benefit of the doubt and FORCE myself to read 1/2 way before I drop the thing

3. The more I learn about the craft, the more I put down part-way through. I'd say between 10-15%. My tolerance level is dropping.

4. Murder and mayhem... hook me on the FIRST page (okay, at least the first chapter), fast paced plotting, unexpected twists, belivable characters who are more than mere pawns of action, great storytelling skills that rev up the projector in my brain (I really could relate to Annie Kingston in that respect)

I'm a girl :)

rose mccauley said...

1. If I don't feel as if I can identify with the characters.
2.30 or more
4.the characters--I want to see what happens to them.
PS. I made myself answer the questions and then went back to read the responses, but I definitely see a pattern here, esp in ?? 1 and 4. great idea, brandilyn! rose

Nicole said...

1.I haven't given up on one yet although I've really, really wanted to do so. (I no longer read secular fiction, though.)
2.On the ones where I wanted to stop reading, I'd guess it was probably around 50 pages into it.
4.The number one reason I would continue to enjoy to read is a character(s) that intrigues me, but it's very often inseparable from the plot.

Becky said...

1. unrealistic anything, from premise to characters, dialogue, motivation.

2. I generally finish books I buy or check out of the library, so I'll say 2 or 3 pages. Once I've looked that far and still want to read, I'll almost always finish.

3. .5 percent, if that. I may WANT to stop, but I have this closure gene that won't let me! Hahah.

4. Suspense, definitely. And not just the kind of fright-inducing suspense you write, Brandilyn. I mean that combination of tension and curiosity that makes me what to know what's going to happen next--even if I have a pretty good idea. In the latter instance, I keep reading to see if I guessed right or not.


C. Schroeder said...

1. For me it's usually one of two reasons: I don't connect with the character and don't care what happens to them--even if a murderer is chasing them--or tension doesn't start to build until somewhere after chapter five. A third one, although not number one, is a too dark or deeply emotional first three chapters.

2. The first three to five chapters, depending on the length of the book and chapters. Most of the time, I've found that when I've forced myself to finish a book that I wasn't hooked within the first three to five chapters, I usually decided that book wasn't worth the time reading--except as an example of what I shouldn't do as a writer.

3. A very small percentage--maybe five percent. Mostly because I finish the bad books to figure out why they didn't work for me.

4. I'm not sure what's number one. Either I've fallen in love with a character and she/he is in danger and I want to know what happens (I've a terrible sense of suspense) or because something unique--whether style, idea, character, or plot twist--grabs my imagination and I'm curious to see how it plays out.

C. Schroeder said...

Oops. I forgot to sign my post.

Chawna (female)

lindaruth said...

1. It's usually if the characters aren't grabbing me. I don't mind taking time to get into the story, as long as the characters are engaging.

2. I can go pretty far on a first reading. I got maybe 1/3 of the way into a novel recently and put it down for the night and didn't pick it up again -- it wasn't poorly written, I just realized I didn't care about any of the characters enough to find out what happened to them.

3. I finish most novels (and nonfiction) I start -- probably 80 percent. But I'm pretty choosy about what I start.

4. It comes back to characters, usually. The novels I love have vivid, engaging characters. It doesn't matter much what they do -- as long as the people are interesting when they do it.

Jane Lebak said...

1. The number one reason I stop reading a novel is flat characters who aren't doing anything.

2. Usually if I stop, it's between 60 and 80 pages into the novel.

3. I finish about 98% of the books I start, lifetime, but in the last year I've stopped reading three because they were just flat-out boring.

4. I keep reading a novel because the characters or the situation keep me thinking about it after I put it down, or because it appeals to my current situation in life, or because it's funny, or because time stops for me while I'm reading it. But mostly because a good book keeps me thinking about it.

Jane Lebak said...

I want to add to my previous comment, if there's a very tense scene where something dramatic and dangerous happens, and I burst out laughing because it's so poorly written...well, that's an immediate put-down-the-book moment for me. -Jane

Becca said...

1. Boring characters are the number one reason I put down a novel.

2. Sometimes a few pages is all I can take of bad writing. Mediocre will often receive a chapter or two.

3. I've experienced really bad reading periods where 50 - 75% of what I've chosen from the public library isn't worth my time (at least in the mood I'm in at that time) but usually it's closer to 30%. I'm not a mean reader, honest. ;)

4. I'm hooked by intriguing characters, along with a good plot idea and decent writing.

Katie Hart said...

1. Boring plot and characters I can't relate to (will read through one but not both), awkward prose that keeps pulling me out of the story.

2. Usually just a chapter or two - if I get too far into it I'm likely curious enough to finish it (I read fast anyway).

3. Probably 1% or less. Since I review books, I have to finish many I wouldn't normally. I do put some of their authors into the "rather not read" file in my mind.

4. To find out what happens.

William G. said...

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

Bad writing.

Yes, it's subjective. Yes, it varies from book to book, writer to writer. But it gives me that same sensation that most people get from nails on a chalkboard, a squeeky power steering hose, or State of the Union address.

But since you asked for specifics, I hate it when the writer is so obviously insecure about his/her writing abilities that they try to trick the reader into taking an interest in the story, either through a sensationalism opening, melodrama, or by forced tension. You can tell when it's genuine just like you can tell when it's manufactured. The genuine stuff is gold. The other is pulp.

An elementary useage of the language also turns me away from a book. Too much "he said", "she said", "he did this", "she did that" really grates on my nerves. Likewise, an anal-retentive mode of description will also make me slam a book shut. Fast pace or slow, it has to be organic and it has to be integral to the story or I get that chalkboard scrape feeling in the center of my forehead.

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

Sometimes one. Sometimes a whole bunch. I've put books away that I was within a hundred pages of finishing just because the writer ran out of talent somewhere around the half-way mark.

3. What percentage of novels do you start and choose not to finish?

I'd say I finish about 25% of the novels I start. And that's being very optimistic.

4. On the reverse—what’s the number one reason you keep reading a novel?

It has to pose a challenge in some way. Either the story is so good that I have to know how it ends, or the writing is so high-level that I can barely process it, or every time I think I've figured out what's happening next, the author throws me for a loop.

Brian Reaves said...

1. If I'm not invested in the characters or the story, I won't waste my time with it. I usually need something in the first few pages to grab me either with an action sequence, or the promise of impending doom within the next few chapters. Also, any author who starts to ramble too much gets put away fast. I read one book recently where THREE CHAPTERS were devoted to the internal struggle one character was going through WHILE CROSSING A ROOM! Needless to say, I have no clue whether they made it or not. :)

2. I used to get halfway through before giving up; now I usually won't invest more than 50 pages at the most. If I'm a big fan of the author and have loved something they've written in the past, I'll give them more based on previous works.

3. I probably finish about 20% of the books I start. Am I to blame for the short attention span, or is the writer to blame for not crafting a good story?

4. First lines set the stage for me. If I love the first line of a book and it grabs me, I go into the story optimistic. For the most part, writers who start with a bang can hold me for the remainder of the story. As I said before, characters and suspense are what I look for. If the character has a quirky characteristic, that just gives me another reason to like them.

Patricia W. said...

1. In recent memory, it's been because of poor writing. One was so bad from a technical standpoint that I wondered how it got past an editor. This from a multi-pubbed author. Another because the technical part (grammar, spelling, punctuation) was okay but there was so much head-hopping and passive voice that it was painful.

2. On average, about 50-60 pages, although I did stop one (the first I mentioned above) on page 3.

3. Probably 1% or less. I read very broadly and try to give everything a shot because even if I don't care for that particular story, I can learn some things. The categories that I know I can't read, I don't even try. And in the categories that I do read, I use the back cover blurb (or flap on a hardcover) to tell me whether I might be interested before I purchase or take out of the library.

4. Great writing. If the characters become real, the narrative sings, and the plot is riveting, I'm in there to the end, even foregoing sleep, chores, time with family. I'm reading in the car (while hubby drives), while I cook, etc., whatever it takes to finish. Then, I'm on a hunt to find more by the author.

Pammer said...

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

If it takes forever to go anywhere. I hate to be bored or teased. I'm a busy person, so I don't have time to slog through a book that doesn't hold my interest.

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

At least 100, maybe 150...I like to give them a chance to redeem themselves.

3. What percentage of novels do you start and choose not to finish?

Only about 1 percent of the books I read. Like I said, I like to give them a chance.

4. On the reverse—what’s the number one reason you keep reading a novel?

The story is gripping, the characters make me care (I don't have to like them I just have to be interested in what happens--I learned this recently. I couldn't stand the heroine, and I just had to know what happened next. By then end of the book she'd redeemed herself, but I cared whether I liked her or not.)