I've Started So I'll Finish…Or Maybe Not

This post, by Jenny Hillborne, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective blog on 9/26/12 and is reprinted here in its entirety with that site’s permission.

Confession: I watch reality TV.

Some of the shows are fun to watch, although I find it often takes time to get acquainted with the cast and build any sort of connection to the players. If the first episode is weak or uninteresting, my attention drifts elsewhere and I’ll switch channels. I’m fickle, and I’m busy. I’m also not likely to come back. When a great group is thrust together, the connection starts right away and I’m immediately hooked.  

It’s the same way with books. I want instant action, strong characters, drama, and a great plot. I want to be drawn in from the first page, held to the story, and care about the cast. I’m at my most critical right after I finish a great book and start a new one. At the end of a great book, I’m vested in all the characters and don’t want it to end. This makes it tough for the next author. Like a new job, I have to get to know all the new people and find out if I like it in this world. Unlike a new job, I don’t have to stay long in the fictional world if it sucks.

Some readers persevere with a "bad" book and read it to the end. I’ve done that once; a) because the book was short, and b) because I couldn’t believe how truly bad it was. The book was penned by a well-known author and I convinced myself it had to get better. After I finished, I was annoyed with myself for wasting the time, and struck said author off my to-be-read list for good. According to the reviews, so did lots of other readers. With so many great books, who has the time? 

So, what draws me in? What keeps a reader reading?

A Big Brother series just ended in the UK. Normally, I don’t like Big Brother, but the cast in this series had all the right qualities and reinforced what I want to find in the books I read (what I expect most readers hope to find): drama, shock, great character interaction and strong personalities. Likable members of the cast brought out the better side of the uglier personalities, added humility, redeemed them for the audience, and brought a wonderful balance to the house.The mix created a good level of intrigue and excitement. It played out like a great story that held my interest. I had to know what would happen next. But most of all, what really kept me – I cared.

Instant intrigue draws me in to a book, but I’m a wriggly fish and the hook alone is not enough. What keeps my interest is the growing suspense and the character dynamics. I want to see the flaws exposed in the heroines and heroes; the virtues of the villain. I want conflict, both external and internal, humor and humility, a little chaos. I can’t identify with perfect people, not even in the fictional world. Unbelievable characters are one of the fastest turn-offs for me in books. I don’t care about them. 

Here are five reasons I continue reading a book: 

1) Hook – it’s got to be there or it’s all over from the start.

2) Immediate intrigue and growing suspense. I want to have questions as I read.

3) Character dynamics – I must care about the characters, even the villains.  

4) Volatility. I love the unexpected, especially when I’m not prepared.

5) Good dialogue. Make it believable.

 

and 5 reasons I stop (and I haven’t even mentioned typos):

 

1) Weak plot – nothing more boring.

2) Poor motive or no motive. If the book fizzles, I’ll never read another by the author.

3) Unnecessary filler and long clumsy sentences. Okay, that’s two. Both drag me out of the story.

4) Unanswered questions. You can string me along for a while, but give me my answers.

5) I can’t identify with either the characters or the story. Most fiction is grounded in some kind of truth. I want to relate to what’s happening. 

I’m not as patient as I once was. If I’m not at least partially vested within the first two or three chapters, I’m done with the book, and probably the author. What makes you continue reading? And what makes you stop?

 

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