Sunday, 25 November 2012

Finishing Novels

Fabulously entertaining conversation going on over at Smart Bitches about books we read right through to the end, even though they're really horrid and we know they're not going to get any better . . .

It made me think about my experiences of reading books - why I push on when it's awful, or why I stop.

I used to push on. Back in the days when I didn't have that many books on my TBR pile. These were all paperbacks.
Over the years, the pile of paperbacks has grown, and so has the digital file of ebooks waiting to be read. The more I have in the pile, the less likely I am to finish reading a book that isn't working for me.

The ones I have finished:

#If the writing has pinned me down even if it's not a genre I usually read.

#Some are so bad they're funny. I privately mock these books. One had me laughing so hard (for all the wrong reasons). For example, a couple of years back I read a medieval romance set in Britain, written by an American. Google got a bit of a workout, especially when one of the characters used a nursery rhyme which wasn't documented until nearly 600 years later. It was a recently written book too. I'm telling you, if I can find this stuff out with a quick search, so can the author (and the editor). Potatoes? The humble chip didn't make it to Blightly until Elizabethan times.

(I'm presently re-booting the Robyn Hood legends and although I'm messing with the story, I'm a stickler for historical detail and it's so easy to get it, too! How far is Loxley to Nottingham? Googlemaps shows it's a fair clip. You're not going to walk there in one day.)

#Brand names. Lots and lots of brand names. For. No. Good. Reason. Do you know what I did? I got out bright pink post-it notes and started sticking them on the pages where there was a BBN (Blatant Brand Name). This book was not 'so bad it's funny', it was painful. But I haven't thrown the book away. I've kept it as a reminder of how to annoy readers ... which I must never do to mine!

There are plenty more that I've read all the way through, and when I finished them I've been annoyed with myself. I knew they weren't going to get better, but I kept going. These are the books I want to throw into the wall, a-la Dorothy Parker:

"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."

I don't keep going any more. Too many books that will entertain me if the current one's not working. Too many other things to cram into my day (like writing my own novels, ehem).

There's an equation here: The more books in my TBR pile x hours in a day Ω workload √ bad editing ≈ likelihood of not finishing.

(It's not rocket science, right?)

Here are a few recent examples:

Characters who state the obvious: "We've been friends since childhood, you can tell me anything."Two of these in the space of four chapters, so I stopped reading. There were also other writing/editing faults but when I got to the second example of pure exposition, I stopped.

"Bad" editing: As in, I begin mentally editing the book as I read. 

Too much introspection: Some people love this, but it doesn't appeal to me. Get on with it! OK, the heroine is on her own having a big think about what's just happened. One page of the H&H together, followed by five pages of thinking about it. Oh here we go again, except it's the bloke having a big think. Which never rings true for me. For me, a bloke's brain is "whoa, how about that?" and then they get on with whatever it was they were doing. Not several pages of thinking. Anyway, some people love this, and that's great. It doesn't appeal to me, so if a book starts doing this, I know it will keep doing this. It will end up aggravating me so it's best I stop and move on.
My gut tells me I'm not alone in not finishing books. There are hundreds of thousands of books published every year, and the number is growing. There are more ways to read and more ways to get lots of books for a very low price. This tells me that the more books people have, the less likely they will finish my book if it's not grabbing them the whole time.

I can't give readers any excuse to put my book down for even a moment. I have to grab their attention and keep it; lock them in until the end.


Heather said...

You're definitely not alone. Now that I have an ereader and don't have to pay so much for a book, if I don't like it, I stop reading. Life is too short for bad books and there are too many good books out there waiting for me.

We authors have to understand that and only put out our very best. Because as a reader, if I can't finish a book, I'm not likely to ever buy another book by that author.

Ebony McKenna. said...

True Heather, I figure readers are a lot like me - they want to be entertained and distracted for a while.

You're right too - with so much competition for our time, and so many affordable books available, readers aren't going to keep going with one novel when they have so many more waiting to be read.

Of course, I keep meeting people who don't read that much, but the one book they have read is *that* book which is getting so much hype . . . and they haven't enjoyed it. But they finish it because they don't have piles of other books waiting to be read.

Which is another interesting thing - people reading *that book* aren't then pushing on and reading more.

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