The passion I have for books and coffee are almost the same. Well, not really. I'd much rather be without coffee than without books. But I can be very picky about both of them. I can't stand reading a book that isn't well-written, and it's the same with coffee - I don't even enjoy a pot of coffee that isn't fresh.
And I can usually tell if I'll like a cup of coffee by the first sip. Same with reading. Most of the time, I can tell whether or not I'm going to like a book just by reading the first chapter.
Sometimes when I read, I can tell if an author did a lot of studying on the craft of writing before seeking publication. Just because someone loves to write doesn't mean they're an automatic genius at it. A writer who seeks publication without learning the craft first is almost the same as someone auditioning for American Idol because it's their dream. Most people who have never taken voice lessons before auditioning (or just don't have the gift for it at all) end up walking away with no golden ticket in their hand.
If you want to see your name in print one day, having the passion for writing is just not enough. You must study. And if your book ends up getting published despite your bad writing (yes, many "bad books" are published nowadays), you most likely won't end up with good reviews. Some of your readers may even stop reading before getting to the last chapter.
So what are some things that make me put a book down within the first few chapters?
- The book starts with a descriptive sentence or paragraph that's filled with several adjectives/adverbs. Movies and television have caused people to become more impatient when reading. Most of your readers will want to get dropped right in the action of the story. Dialogue is often the best way to go about doing this.
- The dialogue is saturated with "he murmered" or "she demanded", etc. on almost every single dialogue tag. This is probably my number one pet peeve when I read. Not only do these distract me from the story, but they cause my focus to be shifted from the dialogue to the dialogue tags. It's lazy. Instead, why can't the author show how the character said it without telling? It also bothers me when the author uses a normal dialogue tag (he said, she said) on almost every line in the dialogue. Try your best to make the tags invisible to the reader.
- Bad dialogue. The dialogue should not be a normal, every-day conversation. Instead, your dialogue should have a purpose and be important for the plot and/or character development. If it has nothing to do with anything, then cut it out. Avoid making it too wordy also.
- A character's appearance is described all in one sentence, filled with adjectives and adverbs. This is a very cliche, lazy, and uncreative way to describe what someone looks like. I usually have to memorize the character's appearance when an author does this. Show what a character looks like in a creative way, and try not to do this all in one sentence.
- Perfect characters. It frustrates me when I read a book where the main character is popular, beautiful, a "good" Christian with the perfect Christian family, cheer captain, straight A student, and is perfect at everything she does. Some of you may argue that you really do know some "perfect" people (I think I just described my sister when she was in high school...). However, everyone has flaws. And realistically, not everyone is going to be amazing at everything. No one wants to read a book where the MC is perfect. Why? Because readers like to read about characters that they can connect with, not characters that the author made up because it's someone they wish they could be.
- Unrealistic scenes, scenarios, dialogue, and/or plot. I usually close a book when I'm reading a YA novel where I can tell that the author is no longer a teenager and has no idea what it's like to be one anymore.
- The writing lacks voice, and it's really just boring to read. Every sentence sounds the same as the one before. They all have the same length and structure. Might sound choppy. Or it might sound like a run on sentence that just keeps going and you have absolutely no idea what's happening anymore or why the sentence has yet to end and why you're even still reading this book because the writing is so terrible.
- It's repetitive. This is something that I struggle with. It's hard finding new ways to say things such as "she smiled, he laughed, she bit her lips", etc. But it bothers me when an author is repetitive. Either find fresh, creative ways of saying something or cut it out if it's used too much throughout your story.
I think that by figuring out the reasons why you stopped reading a book can help improve your book if you avoid those things in your own writing. The same can go the other way around. If you try pin-pointing the reasons why you kept turning the pages of a book, then you can weave those elements into your books as well.
What are some things that make you close a book? Why do you think so many "bad" books get published? Are you as picky as I am when it comes to books and coffee? =)