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.
How many pages or chapters do you give a book before you abandon it?
What makes you stick with a book?