I think we’ve all got those dealbreakers, those things that a story can do that will make us drop it like a hot potato. These vary from person to person, and what wrecks a story for one person will be something another can let slide. Some people will finish a book no matter how much they hate it; others won’t give it more than a few pages before they toss it into the “did not finish” pile and move on to something else.
I used to be in the camp of “finish the book no matter what,” but in the past 5 years or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that life’s too short to read books I don’t like.
Here’s what tends to throw me out of a story:
Head-hopping, or: poor viewpoint switching
Few things drive me to distraction more than jumping between viewpoint characters without even a scene break between them. At one point, we’re in one character’s head, and in the next sentence, we’ve hopped to someone else’s. Or the beginning of a scene will make it seem like we’re in one character’s head, only to find out three paragraphs later that it’s someone different.
It’s so difficult to keep track of who’s thinking what (or who’s doing what) that I get a headache and have to reread a page three or four times to figure it out. It’s so confusing and beyond frustrating, and I’ll usually put down a book fairly quickly if this is a major problem.
Note: This is not omniscient viewpoint. This happens when people mistaken multiple limited third-person viewpoints for omniscient, or when they do omniscient poorly.
Keeping viewpoint changes to scene breaks or chapter breaks is the best way to switch viewpoint without losing your readers.
Poor characterization, or: unlikable characters that aren’t supposed to be unlikable
There’s a difference between “unlikable characters that are supposed to be unlikable” and “unlikable characters that are supposed to be likable.” I enjoy a lot of characters who are absolute assholes, either because they have enough redeeming qualities to make them well-rounded and interesting, or because, well, they’re just assholes and the story likes to make them pay for it (see: Black Books).
That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about characters who are absolutely awful, but the story doesn’t treat them that way. They treat their friends terribly, but their friends still love them and they never have to apologize. They make fun of other people, but are never called on it. They’re hypocritical, doing things that they would eviscerate another person for doing.
I can’t get behind a character like that, and I think a lot of it is that the character is just poorly developed. Give me someone with flaws, yes, but let them grow. Let them realize when they’ve screwed up and apologize. Let other characters just plain not like them. (Not everybody has to get along.)
Poor editing and proofreading
To be fair, I’ve gotten a bit more lenient about this than I used to be, but a book that’s riddled with grammar and spelling errors won’t keep my attention for long.
First off, it’s confusing, and clarity is important when you only have the written word to tell a story. Second off, it shows a lack of care put into the book itself. If you don’t care enough to make sure you’ve put out the best product, why should I care enough to spend my hard-earned money on it?
I cannot even begin to articulate how tired I am of this trope. It’s most often seen thusly: Two guys vie for a girl’s heart, and everybody starts asking if you’re Team Edward or Team Jacob or Team Peeta or Team Gale. Because obviously the most important part of any woman’s story is the guy she ends up with, right? She’s just a prize to be won.
Spare me. It’s gotten to the point that even the hint of a love triangle will make me jump ship.
The only way I’ll tolerate a love triangle now is if the two guys end up together and the girl gets on with her badass self, or if it ends in polyamory.
Now, there are exceptions for every rule, obviously. Nora Roberts jumps between characters like she’s on a trampoline, but she does so much else wonderfully that I’ve been able to forgive the head-hopping. And just because something drives me up the wall doesn’t mean it can never be done well (like the love triangles).
But normally these things signify a story that’s going to be too confusing for me to read without a headache, or that’s going to irritate me with the same old sexist trope rehashed for the billionth time. And really, why waste my time on that?
What about you? What are your dealbreakers? What makes you drop (or throw) a book?