The Dreaded DNF: 10 Things That Make Me Close a Book for Good

That sad moment when I don't care how it ends
This is a revamped post from a while back, but since I had two books back to back this weekend that I couldn't finish, I thought it was a good time to freshen up this post since my reading habits are constantly evolving.

Up until a few years ago, I had this problem when I started reading a book. Once I peeled back the cover of one, I was compelled to finish it. No matter if I was fully enjoying the book or not. It felt like starting a book was like signing some contract. I bought this book. I've chosen to read it. And now I must read it all. I was the Chronic Finisher.

But then a lot changed in my life. I got published (yay!) and started writing 2-3 books a year on tight deadlines. Everything got infinitely busier. And my reading time shrunk to this minuscule sliver of time. So I found myself putting down books that didn't capture my interest. And then I wouldn't get any reading done because I felt like if I was going to read, I needed to finish whatever book I had started. But I wasn't into that book so didn't pick it up at all.

Well, finally, I came to the conclusion that I had to put the Chronic Finisher in rehab. I was missing out on good books by forcing myself to read ones I didn't love. My reading time is too short and my TBR pile too big to be doing that. So if a book hasn't grabbed me by page 50 or so, I'm probably putting it aside. And sometimes even sooner if it's clear a book isn't working for me. 

And each time I put down a book in the DNF (did not finish) pile, first--I am sad. I want to like every book I pick up. But I know that's impossible. But second, the writer in me wants to evaluate WHY I didn't feel compelled to finish it. What put me off? (And how can I avoid making those mistakes in my own books.)

Here's what I've discovered:


What Makes the Chronic Finisher Put Down a Book:

1. Didn't connect with the characters

If I can't relate to the hero or heroine at all, if I don't like them, or if they're not interesting enough, I find it next to impossible to get into the book. I must be emotionally connected by chapter 3 at the very latest. And it's fine to have a not so likable character as long as they are compelling and interesting enough to take a journey with. But this is probably the most common reason I put a book down. 


2. There was no chemistry or not enough build-up between the hero and heroine in a romance.

Obviously, I write sexy romance and enjoy reading it. But nothing will bore me quicker than throwing two people together when there hasn't been any tension or chemistry set up beforehand. This doesn't mean you can't have the characters get together quickly, but the author better have done a fabulous job building up that tension. 


3. This feels familiar...

Tired plots and clichés. Post-Twilight, this has happened in the YA paranormal genre for me. Now it's the 50 Shades effect. If a book is going to have a girl meeting dangerous, mysterious billionaire--there better be a helluva twist to make it different from all the other stories out there like that. (And I'm saying that as someone who writes BDSM books with rich guys.) I'm also starting to see this in New Adult with the setup of the girl with the big tragic secret who is broken and needs to be fixed by the hero (or reverse it with the hero as the broken one.) It can work really well, but it can also get really tired if not done with a fresh twist.  


4. The BIG secret is the only sense of tension in the book.

I am fine with a secret in a plot. That can be great. (And by secret, I don't mean twist we don't see coming. That's something different. I mean we, the readers, know there is a secret.) But what I will not put up with for long is a book that drags out revealing what the BIG secret is to the reader for no apparent reason but to pull you along. This is when characters keep almost revealing what the big, bad thing is, but then someone walks into the room and interrupts them. Gah! I'm much more a fan of where the reader may know the character's secret early on, but the hero or heroine is keeping it from another character for good reason.


5. Bad writing

I know I'm picky. I'm a writer so I'm going to see things now that I wouldn't have probably picked up when I was only a reader. For instance, an opening scene where the character is looking in a mirror and describing herself is cliche. Writer me groans. A reader may not care. Or if there is lots of telling and no showing, I'll get turned off by it. A few of these things here and there won't necessarily make me put down a book, but a consistent appearance of things like that will make me close the book. (And if it's exclamation points on every page, I'll close it regardless since it's a pet peeve of mine and usually indicates beginner writing.) With all the publishing options out there, I've grown a bit more careful and am reading sample pages. Because some books are edited and some you can tell are by a first time writer who let their Aunt Ruth "edit".


6. Nothing to get passionate about

This one is new for me and a little harder to define. I've started to read books that were...fine. The writing was good, the characters were interesting enough, there wasn't anything I could point to that was bad. BUT at the same time, when I put these books down, I didn't find myself thinking about the book or that desperate to get back to it. I didn't feel passionate about anything in the book. It's kind of a "I could take it or leave it" feeling. Like, if I had nothing better to do, I'd read it. In the past, these would've been books I'd make myself finish. Now I'm at the point that I just move on. The TBR pile is too big to waste time on something I'm ambivalent about. (This is also the one that drives me most crazy as a writer because I want to know WHY I'm ambivalent so that I don't make those mistakes in my own writing.)


7. Can't Suspend my Disbelief

So I am *really* open-minded when it comes to stories. It can be out there. I mean, I write books that can be out there sometimes. But if a book tries to push too far with coincidences or crazy stuff or has obvious inaccuracies, then I get pulled out of the book. 


8. It Has Things That Make Me Worry In a Bad Way

Making a reader worry is good. Will the bad guy be caught? Will they survive? Will these two people be able to be together? That's all fantastic. But there is also bad worry. For instance, in a BDSM book, if the hero and heroine barely know each other and haven't discussed any limits and have no safewords and then jump into a scene where the heroine is gagged and bound, I'm worried in a bad way. And I'm thinking a) the heroine is stupid to put herself at this kind of risk and B) the hero is a jerk for not taking care of safety issues. It can ruin a story for me. 


9. *Yawn* Boring....

This one is obvious I'm sure, but I need a book to hook and excite me. If I'm at page fifty and I don't give a crap what happens, then you've bored me. You should have me by chapter one. If the book goes on and on with description and setting up characters and not giving me any true action or conflict, I'm bored. Or if there's not enough plot (like a book with a bunch of sex scenes but not a lot of substance in between.) Maybe that's a result of our fast-moving culture, but it is what it is. A book is entertainment, so entertain me. Dance, monkey, dance. :)


10. Just not my cuppa...

So in some cases, there may not be anything wrong with the story. The writing may be good, the characters fine, but it's just not my thing. I like what I like. Yes, there may be the rare (awesome) occasion when a book outside of my normal genre preferences wins me over, which is why I still try books outside of my typical tastes. But usually, I can tell pretty quickly if something is going to be one of those books that just isn't my cup of tea. And that's fine. I'll close the book and give it to someone who I hope will like it.


All right, so those are my top reasons for putting down a book. What are some of yours? How long do you give a book to hook you? Are you a chronic finisher?