Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

It’s First Monday again, time to share your thoughts and ask me any questions you have to do with writing, editing or publishing your work. Today’s first question was inspired by a discussion I had on Facebook with Serena Lockwood Dorman, so thank you Serena for the tip.

She said, “I just thought, Valerie, since you do the monthly advice blog for newish writers, you should do a post on what makes you stop reading a story. I’ve been reading a lot of stories on Wattpad and when I come across certain things I click out of the story right away. It would be helpful to know what instantly turns seasoned authors off.”


I thought for a minute. As a reader, I’m fairly forgiving as long as the story grabs me. But here’s the list I gave Serena:

1. Bad writing. If the story has too many mistakes, spelling, grammar and the like, jumps around from one character’s point of view to another – known as head-hopping – or otherwise pulls me out of the story, then I’m not likely to keep reading.

2. Too much description not relevant to the story, so I skip. As Chuck Wendig blogged recently, we don’t need to see every sip of coffee the character takes. It becomes a distraction. As a reader, I want the words to disappear and have the story run like a movie in my head. When a character enters a room, I want to see what they see, not every stick of furniture as a judge on The Block sees it, but what’s relevant to that particular character. Put yourself inside their head and show us what they notice and why, as it relates to the story, and I’ll keep reading.

3. Good character doing bad things, even if for good reason. For example, a hero is broke and needs medicine for a child. He stumbles across the proceeds of robbery and decides to keep it – this still makes him a bad person IMO. He may be sorely tempted to keep the money. Another character may think he has – there’s a story in that – but ultimately, torn and tested, a good person will do the right thing.

4. One character out to despoil the environment the other character loves. For some reason this conflict appeals to new writers. Apart from being predictable, someone has to lose. There’s no solution where one or the other doesn’t have to give in. Think of another conflict.

5. Any story where the ending is obvious early in the book. Writers are your toughest audience. If you can keep us reading and wondering, you’ll keep any reader.

I’m also not fond of a heroine taking up with her late husband’s brother, or issues like spousal abuse, miscarriage or loss of a partner not treated seriously. They can provide powerful motivations, but do your homework and have a care for readers who’ve been there.

Now over to you. What stops you from reading or finishing a book? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you want your comment to appear without moderation, click on the “sign me up” button to subscribe. I don’t share your email details with anyone.

About the author
Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance Award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. She loves connecting with readers via her website @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook. She is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd


Comments on: "First Monday Mentoring for May: what stops you reading a book?" (6)

  1. Great blog, Valerie! And so true. One of my pet peeves is when everyone in the story is too perfect. Everyone is good looking and great at everything they do — even the villains. If I don’t put it down altogether, I will start skimming, and that’s just as bad, IMO.


  2. serenadorman said:

    *blushing* I’m very thankful you took the time to answer this question. As a new writer it’s easy to get tunnel vision and overlook things that would irritate you as a reader reading your own book or work in progress. You type, type, type and when you look back you realize you’ve just unleashed a whole lot of word vomit. Your thoughts are very interesting and have made me look at characters and plot points more closely. Thank you!

    • Happy to help, Serena. We can’t always avoid writing annoyances into the book. It’s usually better to spill everything onto the screen and edit later.

  3. The use of obscenity just to sell the book (and believe me, I can tell the difference between that and genuine characterization) has me putting a book down so fast its pages spin. I’m with you on the telegraphing of plot, too. I mean, I know in the Romance genre, the Hero & Heroine will be living Happily Ever After, and in the Mystery genre, we hope, at least, that the villain is safely caught & put behind bars, but we want to see a genuine struggle to get there. 🙂

    I also don’t like grammatical errors, but it takes consistent poor grammar in prose (not dialogue) to make me give up. (And if the story is interesting enough otherwise, I’ll at least peek at the end to see how it turned out.)

    What makes me keep reading? A story that I can’t put down, something that pulls me into the pages, sparkling dialogue, or an intriguing plot…great characters… All those things make me want to finish a book. 🙂

    • I agree with all your points, Marion. Also what keeps you – and an editor – reading. I’ll forgive a great many mistakes if the story catches me up so I want to find out what happens next.

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