I still remember the first book I’ve ever abandoned. It was only a few years ago – three at the most.
I’m the kind of person who values finishing things. I value having things wrapped up, done, decided. Checkmarks on checklists are deeply satisfying to me. I do not like intentionally leaving things undone.
I have abandoned books I’m writing for various reasons. Usually, I tend to say “I’ll have to come back to this later” and leave it be. That isn’t abandonment, that’s waiting until the time is right.
Until three years ago, I had never before abandoned a book mid-way through. I would whine to Brett about how much it bugged me. I’d read him passages. I’d tell him what I disliked about it. He – who has no problem losing the checklists without checking one thing off – told me to put it down. He introduced the idea to me that I didn’t have to finish reading it.
What a concept!
In the end, I did have to put it down. I have never picked it back up, nor have I gone back to read anything else by that author. I know I should give her another chance – it was probably her very first work. I’m sure her writing has improved by now. But I can’t bring myself to do so. At least, not yet.
Now, I abandon books all of the time. Sometimes I give up on them and really give up – getting them out of my house, off of my shelf. Some of them go back onto the TBR. “Not now, maybe later”.
I’ve decided to examine why I abandon books, to see if it can shed any light into my own writing. So here it is – my list of reasons why I put books down (either temporarily or for good):
- The tone and voice aren’t what I’m in the mood for right now. This is a temporary reason to put off a book, not a permanent one. Sometimes I’m in a brain-candy place and the book is hard and dark. Sometimes it’s the opposite. This may be an indication of a mistake in terms of cover art and marketing, honestly. I also know a really good book when I want one thing, get the other, and still can’t put it down. (That’s what happened with Anne Bishop’s Sebastion – looked like smutty brain candy, read like dark, heady high fantasy.)
- I just don’t care about the characters or their plight. This was the case of the first book I abandoned. I had nothing to latch onto in the protagonist. I couldn’t find her interesting, lovable, or hate-able. I just didn’t care about her. As her conflict crew, I cared less. I didn’t care for the way she responded to situations. I didn’t like her internal monologue. I just didn’t care. This is my number one reason for permanently stepping away from a book.
- I care too much about the characters. This is another temporary reason – I will certainly go back to ensure that the characters I adore get their happy endings. But if the conflict is too high, if’ the author piles too much too fast on a character, I really will get too stressed out to continue reading. I know this is weird. But it’s true. I have to take at least 4-6 weeks between Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels because they exhaust me. The pacing is so fast, and I’m so concerned about the characters, I end up stressing myself out until I get to the end. This is also what has happened smack in the middle of Kim Harrison’s Hollows series. I adore Rachel. I really really like her. I root for her SO MUCH that I couldn’t take the pressure she was under and I had to stop reading. In my little fanfic world, Rachel is on a beach somewhere getting sunburnt and having hot sex. As a writer this tells me how I feel about pacing and conflict. I need resting spaces between big scenes. I can’t just tumble from one big conflict into the next. I need for Mercy to bake cookies. I need comic relief. I need for Harry, Ron and Hermione to have some time camping and just plain not knowing what to do. This helps me calm down, it keeps me grounded. I’m less likely to bug out. I read as an escape. I have a lot going on in my life. Stressing myself out over beloved characters is a little hard to manage sometimes.
- The writing bugs me. This is a personal style question. There are some people who don’t like the way certain authors write. Melanie felt this way about Jim Butcher and about Anthony Burgess – two authors I like to read. This is super personal and subjective and has nothing at all to do with the authors themselves. It’s how their words hit our brainwaves. Sometimes the words and waves are compatible. Sometimes, not. That first book I abandoned suffered this issue as well. Not only did I not care about the characters, I hated the writing style. It was the perfect case for abandonment.
I still feel guilty when I abandon books. But as I get older, and my life fills up with more and more stuff that I have to pay attention to, I place a higher premium on my free time than I ever have before.
Don’t get me wrong, I will still plug right through a book I hate. The reason I will echo the same stuff above. If I hate the writing, but love the characters, I will make sure they come out alright. If I hate the characters, but love the writing, I will stick with it. I do think there’s value in reading everything and anything, regardless of quality. I can always learn what not to do from bad fiction. I can learn how to avoid my book being abandoned some of the time.
I won’t be able to avoid my book being abandoned all of the time, though. People are going to give up on me. People are going to dislike my style. I’m okay with that – they weren’t who I am talking to, anyway.