Why I Read to the End

I am the world’s worst about abandoning novels I read for leisure. I’ll give a book a fair chance, but as soon as I find I don’t like it, I have no compunction about tossing it aside to pursue a different story. And believe me, as a literary agent, I have many books to consider. In any room we spend time in at home, several books stay within reach. Authors must earn my time and effort. So how does a novelist compete?

I like the characters.

If I can relate to a sympathetic character, I’ll stick with the story. Or if I’m supposed to hate the character and the book will show me his comeuppance, I can deal with that. The main task for you, Dear Writer, is to emote. Why does the character feel this way, why does she act this way, and why should I care? Make me feel emotions, and I’ll stay.

The characters are familiar but not stereotypes.

I don’t mind seeing well-known types for comfort and the sake of shorthand. We all know the helicopter mother, the wise elder, and the prodigal, for example. But don’t make me feel as though I’ve happened upon a terrible “B” film from the forties. If you start with the familiar, add dimension to show why the character fits the stereotype. Unless you’re writing broad comedy, don’t rely on the stereotype alone to carry the story.

I believe the plot.

I’m willing to suspend disbelief, but only to a point. Know your genre so you know how much unreality your audience will endure. For example, fantasy fans will go along with a wild universe much more quickly than romance readers will believe that two addicts spending an afternoon in a shooting gallery is a firm foundation for a happy, long-term marriage. Authors who do want their readers to go along with an improbable plot must display a high level of skill to keep readers invested in the story.

I think about the book.

I’ll stay with a book if I’m thinking about it when I’m not reading it. I’m thinking about the characters as I make dinner and fold laundry. I’m wondering what will happen next.

I can’t wait to get back to the book.

When I’m plotting when I can make time to get back to reading, you’ve won me over. I’ll stick with you until the bitter – or happy – end.

Your turn:

How many pages or chapters do you give a book before you abandon it?

What makes you stick with a book?

 

 

44 Responses to Why I Read to the End

  1. Brennan S. McPherson May 17, 2018 at 3:09 am #

    I give a book a chapter. If it hasn’t interested me yet, I put it down. But really, all you have to do to make me stay is have one little interesting hook that I know will pay off later. Or make me feel some real emotion in the first chapter.

  2. Loretta Eidson May 17, 2018 at 5:31 am #

    If the first chapter doesn’t capture my attention I put it down, which confirms the necessity for a strong hook in the first paragraph.

  3. Karen Saari May 17, 2018 at 5:40 am #

    Recently I’ve been reading bestsellers in my genre, to see what makes them bestsellers and learn from them. I don’t always want to continue reading them but I have this need to find out what takes them to the bestseller list. I’m a pretty picky reader, so some of this work is excruciating. Some book, I still don’t know what took it to the bestselling list,

    If it’s a read for pleasure, I give it 2-5 pages and then I’m done. Unless there is something unique and then I give it a few more pages.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 17, 2018 at 5:57 am #

      You’re right — sometimes it is hard to see why a book or author hits the bestseller list. But when you find a body of books that you can relate to and hold your interest, strive for that level of excellence.

  4. Shirlee Abbott May 17, 2018 at 5:52 am #

    I have two types of “not finished.” There are books I give up on because the story doesn’t grab me or the writing annoys me or the characters lack depth (hit two of these three hot buttons and I’m done–doesn’t matter if it’s page 2 or 200). And there are books I don’t finish, for now, but stay on my to-read list. Grim but true history, in fiction or non-fiction, requires strength of spirit. I don’t read it when I’m enmeshed in a real-time grim mess. I usually have at least one non-fiction book going at a time, for information, analysis or inspiration. If I have two in progress that are too similar, one has to wait. Otherwise my brain entangles the two to the detriment of both.

  5. Sandra Ardoin May 17, 2018 at 6:12 am #

    I’m not one to abandon a book easily, especially if I’ve invested any amount of time in it. About the only thing that makes me put it down and not pick it up again is if the story or the writing bores me. If I don’t really care for the story, but it holds my interest in some way, I’ll finish it. I guess I don’t like giving up. 🙂

  6. Sharon K. Connell May 17, 2018 at 6:30 am #

    I don’t abandon books. Not unless the language is such that I simply can’t endure it.

    When I pick a book to read for leisure’s sake, it’s usually because someone has recommended it in one way or another. Even if I’m not that interested in the characters or the story, I finish the book. Besides being a reader, I’m also an author, and there’s always something I can learn from the writing.

    The author took the time, and sometimes at their own expense, to write that book. The least I can do is give it a chance all the way to the last page. Even stories I’ve read that didn’t thrill me had some parts in it that were interesting. I’ve yet to read a book that thoroughly disappointed me. And if nothing else, I remind myself while I’m reading, “Don’t do that in your own writing.” It’s a learning thing, and I will always have things to learn as a writer.

    If you don’t read a book to the end, you may miss a very interesting part of the story. I’ve never read a book that didn’t hold something in it of interest to me as a reader or a writer.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 17, 2018 at 6:37 am #

      Very good observations, Sharon! A book wouldn’t be published if many people didn’t feel it was worthy.

  7. Jeanine Lunsford May 17, 2018 at 6:41 am #

    If I can begin to imagine the character(s) in my mind by the second or third chapter, the book has me.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 17, 2018 at 6:48 am #

      Yes, by then you feel as though they are your friends — or fictional enemies to be conquered!

  8. Cele LeBlanc May 17, 2018 at 6:42 am #

    Great reminders for writers. I almost always stick with a novel even if I’m analyzing what I don’t like about it. I gave up on one and came back to it later because I love the author and found it to be one of my all time favorites.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 17, 2018 at 6:50 am #

      It’s funny how your perspective can change over time.

      When reading the Bible over and over, for instance, I see new things. The Bible hasn’t changed, but I change over time, so old passages seem new.

  9. Sharee Stover May 17, 2018 at 6:46 am #

    I can definitely relate to all you’ve said. I have the motto that life is too short to read bad books. If the author hasn’t caught me by chapter two, there’s little chance of recovery.

    But I’ve also experienced the book where I detest the characters. I mean really, really detest them. That tells me the writer’s done a great job of making them come to life.

  10. Rebekah Love Dorris May 17, 2018 at 6:52 am #

    Of necessity I’ve put my novel on the back burner to finish other things, but you’re stoking those embers making me want to get back at it! The only thing better than being a reader wanting more is being a writer hearing readers want more!

  11. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 17, 2018 at 7:10 am #

    I’ll keep reading as long as I want to see what happens next.

    For me, it’s a bit like life; I’ve been strongly encouraged to consider assisted suicide (legal in my state) by some people who really care…but I want to let this story unfold to the end. As Auguste Renoir, crippled by agonizing rheumatoid arthritis, said to his friend Henri Matisse, “I paint through the pain because the pain passes, but the beauty remains.”

    God’s the author; I won’t cheat Him.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 17, 2018 at 8:42 am #

      Oh my, Andrew! You are such a vital part of our blog community and so active is so many ways! Please hang in!!!

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 17, 2018 at 9:05 am #

        I’ll be here to the end, Tamela. Community keeps me going. Well, that and cheap cigars.

        • Judith Robl May 17, 2018 at 3:00 pm #

          Andrew,

          I am absolutely certain that I’m not the only one who reads this blog who prays for you regularly. You are such a vital part of this community.

          I’m delighted that you chose for life and God. He is, after all, the ultimate authority. You may never know this side of heaven how many authors you have encouraged and inspired.

  12. Janice Harshbarger May 17, 2018 at 7:23 am #

    I just read a book that I felt had no redeeming features to it at all, plus a lot of morality issues. I finished it because it did give me some insights into the politics of that time period, which will give me a little better background if I read another book about the same era. But the next one will be non-fiction, I promise yhou!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 17, 2018 at 8:46 am #

      There is good and evil in every time period, for sure. It can be disconcerting to be reminded, though.

  13. Elena Corey May 17, 2018 at 7:38 am #

    I appreciate the points you made & appreciate that you gave time, attention & effort to share them.
    I will keep reading a novel, even if the writing isn’t witty-sparkling, if the main character shares my values. I guess that translates to: I want to see what people who seem to have a strong belief that God is sovereign and He should be the leader will do in the story–particularly when circumstances are abysmal.
    If I pick up a fluff novel and the protagonist is portrayed in most every scene as preoccupied w/ what she or others are wearing, e.g., I lose interest quickly.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 17, 2018 at 8:48 am #

      Fluff can be a lot of fun if you’re in the right mood. But if designer fashions and such hold no interest for you, I can understand why you’d want to read about a heroine with other things on her mind. 🙂

  14. Carol Ashby May 17, 2018 at 7:45 am #

    Tamela, I read for all your reasons. I’m very selective before I spend $15, so the only print novel I haven’t finished lately was a 1st person POV by an author I loved in 3rd person. Another thing that might make me stop temporarily is time pressure to complete something by a deadline. (Unless it’s a Roseanna White novel–I just end up reading until 3 am with hers.)

    I have a page on my Roman site listing novels featuring that era, and if I’m going to list a book on a site promising teachers nothing worse than PG-13, I have to find anything that doesn’t stay at or below that level. I read to the end of anything I list so I can give qualified recommendations of best sellers with language or events that are not CBA-compliant but still PG-13.

    I agree that the first 1-3 chapters are crucial for many. Right after the final chapter of each book I publish, I include up to 4K words (1-3 chapters) to set the hook for a future novel whose plot I already know so it’s partly written. Being a plotter lets me write the beginning and bring it to the same high level of polish as the completed novel that I’m putting in market. I think that may be contributing to the reviews where readers say they can hardly wait for the next in the series. If Francine Rivers included the first chapter of An Echo in the Darkness right after the last chapter of A Voice in the Wind, I figure it must be a best practice.

  15. Janet Ann Collins May 17, 2018 at 8:07 am #

    It’s a good thing I don’t have your job because I rarely stop reading before the ending. A book has to be extremely bad or offensive for me to do that because I feel like it’s wrong. But I’m a fast reader and usually finish a book in a matter of hours.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 17, 2018 at 10:16 am #

      You have a point — maybe because of my job, I’ve learned how better to discern where I want to spend my leisure reading time. I do love my job!

  16. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D May 17, 2018 at 9:28 am #

    HI Tamela:

    If I really, really like an author, I will give him or her a few chapters. If I’m not emotionally connected to the story, I will put the book aside and eventually give it away (or throw it away).

    I was reading a story recently by one of my favorite authors but he had a character who he was trying to show in a sympathetic light. The character (who was male) was a cheating spouse. I had no sympathy for the protagonist, no matter how nice he was going to be at the end of the book. He could go take a long walk in my book….I put the book down and can’t remember what I eventually did with it (I suspect it went in the trash, though).

    Best,
    Sheri

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 17, 2018 at 10:18 am #

      Like you, I really have to care about characters to stick with a book. You have every right to discard a book asking you to spend time with characters you don’t like!

  17. Edward Lane May 17, 2018 at 12:30 pm #

    Could you give an example of what is the main trait which makes a character sympathetic to you?
    Thank you!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 17, 2018 at 12:39 pm #

      I like to see an honorable character be thrust into an impossible situation. I want to know how the character will respond and what will happen. Hope that helps!

  18. Angela Carlisle May 17, 2018 at 1:58 pm #

    I dislike not finishing books, but those that I make it half-way through and have no compulsion about setting aside to go to bed, rarely get picked up again. On the other hand, I will finish a poorly done book that interests me (even if I never pick up that author again).

  19. B.L. Jenkins May 17, 2018 at 2:34 pm #

    I’m put off by a couple things. One is a loss of tension, where the author has me worrying about and rooting for a character, but suddenly the focus shifts to backstory or to a character I don’t care about or to some omniscient “telling” that’s meant to prep me for the next plot twist. Another is a sense of deja vu or cliche where the sense of mystery that’s so important in novel writing is punctured by the realization that I’ve been here too many times before.

  20. Claire O'Sullivan May 18, 2018 at 12:59 am #

    Good posts, all.

    Characters count, well-turned phrases, and the internal thought processes of characters, from serious to silly.

    I want to be captivated by the story, so engrossed in the struggle and in the unfolding mystery of the main character that I am awake until three a.m.

    Other books… when do I put them down? When the plot/characters are lost in a maze. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of good characters, it rests on too many characters. I’d rather have two jumping off the page characters with stick figures around than a book jam-packed with great characters but the book too difficult to follow the thread.

  21. Anna May 19, 2018 at 7:39 am #

    Since it’s hard to begin a new story when I’m sad to finish a previous book, I force myself to read 50 pages right off the bat, to give the characters a fair chance. But even if I find myself bored, I have this horrible delimna where I just CAN’T abandon a book, no matter how uninteresting I find it. (Its another story if I find it too violent or there’s inappropriate material). I wish I wouldn’t waste my time like that – maybe it’s my OCD that keeps me going. I need a rule that if nothing has grabbed my attention by 40 to 60 pages, then I need to choose a different book. Sometimes not giving up pays off and half way through the book I can finally relate to the heroine. But not always.

  22. Pat May 22, 2018 at 7:38 am #

    I’ve written a book that is based on a true story. The action had to be developed slowly as it would have happened in real life. It’s a fiction piece, a coming of age—-so the best is yet to come after the first half. The climax is more than half way through. How do you keep someone interested throughout the whole thing?

    For years I couldn’t get into the play Our Town for that reason. Just recently saw a movie version with William Holden and loved it. I’m guessing this may be along that line.
    Any advice?

  23. Lee Carver May 28, 2018 at 10:48 am #

    If a book is mostly internal monologue and very little action, I’ll probably quit within fifty pages or less.

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