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What throws you out of a story?

Today I've been working on my next article for The Apex Book Company's blog.  

This month's subject is short stories, and more specifically, some of the less obvious mistakes  writers make which scupper our chances of getting our work accepted at all, or (in the case of more than a few published stories) lose our readers sometime between the first and last lines.  

I have my own opinions, of course (no surprise there), but I'd love to hear what kicks other folks out of a story.  With that in mind, if you've got a minute, I'd appreciate you answering some questions.

Poll #1607218 What throws you out of a story?

From the following list, please select anything which has caused you to give up on a story before the end, or wish you hadn't bothered reading it:

Slow beginning.
41(9.3%)
Overlong (and seemingly unnecessary) descriptions.
54(12.3%)
Boring/unrealistic dialogue.
69(15.7%)
No obvious problem for the main character to overcome.
33(7.5%)
Uninteresting or unrealistic action.
44(10.0%)
The story wasn't what the title led you to believe it would be about.
21(4.8%)
Uninteresting and/or unrealistic characters.
65(14.8%)
A cheat or pointless ending.
56(12.8%)
No proper ending at all.
38(8.7%)
Something else, which I'll explain in the comments.
18(4.1%)
 



Once you've made your selections, if you could explain why those things put you off, that would be even more helpful. 

 

 



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Comments

( 112 comments — Leave a comment )
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darkspires
Aug. 18th, 2010 01:15 pm (UTC)
I happen to have read a huge number of shorts. Anything I noted would have stopped the read right there, or it would have me sorry I had set eyes on it.
jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 01:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Elizabeth :)
a_r_williams
Aug. 18th, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC)
What throws me out of a story is one with jagged writing. Either its not fluid enough or it's written in a way that's all over the place. I think a good story has a balance to it, a smoothness that pulls you in deeper.

It may have certain elements which are in greater(or lesser) supply, but it should not have too much of any one thing that tips it in an uncomfortable direction.
jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 01:22 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. If the overall telling isn't smooth, I get distracted.
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Aug. 18th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
krylyr
Aug. 18th, 2010 01:37 pm (UTC)
Hey, thanks for posting this!

Nothing kills a story for me like bad dialogue and bad characters.

If the dialouge doesn't sound real, I don't believe in the characters, and if I don't believe in them, I pretty much don't believe in the story.

If the characters bore me or feel unrealistic, then the story probably does, too. I don't have to totally agree with or sympathize with the characters, but if I don't care about them - then the story doesn't work for me.
jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 02:12 pm (UTC)
When it comes to stories, I think the bad dialogue thing is my personal pet peeve. I find it all-but impossible to get into a story if the characters' voices don't ring true.

Thanks for sharing, Dave :)
latteya
Aug. 18th, 2010 01:39 pm (UTC)
The only author who can get me to hang around for a slow, overly descriptive, laborious beginning is John Irving.
msstacy13
Aug. 18th, 2010 01:42 pm (UTC)
Up through The Hotel New Hampshire
I would agree.
I haven't been able to get past the first few dozen pages
of anything he's written since then.
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 18th, 2010 02:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
msstacy13
Aug. 18th, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
Well, yes, there is a HUGE difference between
a slow, well-paced beginning
and a turtuously tedious one...
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Aug. 18th, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 18th, 2010 02:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
msstacy13
Aug. 18th, 2010 01:45 pm (UTC)
Okay, to me,
uninteresting and unrealistic are very different things.

Unrealistic characters, settings, plots, whatever
can be excused if it's still interesting,
but no amount of realism can save uninteresting
characters, settings, plots or whatever...

also, all of the things you list are reasons why
I'm always on about having at least a sememster of
News Writing and Reporting.
You do learn to avoid all of those things in Journalism.
jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 02:14 pm (UTC)
'You do learn to avoid all of those things in Journalism.'

At least, that's the plan :)
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 02:18 pm (UTC)
I get what you're saying, but just because someone else decided a story was worth publishing doesn't always mean it should have been.

I've given up on a fair few published stories (and books) because of things on the list. I'm willing to bet other folks have to.

Of course, that's not to say I'm guilt free either :)
(no subject) - ladysaotome - Jan. 5th, 2011 02:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 5th, 2011 07:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ladysaotome - Jan. 6th, 2011 12:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
mnfaure
Aug. 18th, 2010 02:15 pm (UTC)
Perhaps all of these are things that could make me stop reading, but the ones I checked are the ones that really make me feel like I wasted my time with a story (assuming I make it to the end).
jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 02:20 pm (UTC)
When I was younger, I don't think I ever gave up on a book or story, but now I'm old and cranky, with a much lower attention span :)
karen_w_newton
Aug. 18th, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)
A slow start can make it hard for me to get into a story, but when I talk about something "throwing me out of the story" I usually mean that I was in fact, immersed in the story, and then something made me remember that I was reading. Some very specific things make me do that:

1) one second I'm deep in the POV character's thought processes and the next I'm somehow getting a mini-lecture on the culture or history of the setting.

2) a character who is supposedly speaking Elvish or squuirth or whatever, makes a joke that works only in English.

3) a character does something anachronistic (e.g., someone in a medieval setting walking into a tavern and ordering a brand name ale).

Any of those things makes me instantly conscious of where I am, and it's not in the story. Now, things that make ME throw the story are different. If I get mad enough to pitch the book across the room (no longer an option with an eReader!) it's usually because the ending pissed me off.

jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC)
Lol, it's still an option with an eReader, just not advisable :)
(no subject) - peadarog - Aug. 18th, 2010 03:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - karen_w_newton - Aug. 18th, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 18th, 2010 03:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - karen_w_newton - Aug. 18th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ladysaotome - Jan. 5th, 2011 02:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - karen_w_newton - Jan. 5th, 2011 03:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
kmarkhoover
Aug. 18th, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
Slow beginning does it for me.
jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)
I don't mind slow so much, providing the story's at least going in a clear direction, but long descriptions of scenery or personal appearance soon have me flipping through the pages for the next story.

Thanks for sharing, Mark :)
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 03:12 pm (UTC)
It does indeed. That and the old 'Talking heads' problem :)
mary_j_59
Aug. 18th, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC)
I am really frustrated by stories which are (1) just plain badly written - in careless, sloppy English. (2) Have characters I don't care about, or (3) where the author violates the rules he or she has set up within the story.

I have to admit, these days, I may stop reading a story if I think I've read it a dozen times before, unless there is an unusual character or setting or beautiful language to engage me. I also get turned off by violence or gross-outs for their own sake. There's all too much of that around, I think.

My two cents! I guess it comes down to violence and gross stuff, sloppy writing, and nasty characters.
jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC)
Violence is okay for me, but I need to be invested in the story first.
(no subject) - mary_j_59 - Aug. 18th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 18th, 2010 05:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
bogwitch64
Aug. 18th, 2010 03:44 pm (UTC)
I hate to see a good story gummed up by sloppy writing. I could forgive a little for a really great story, though.
jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
Oh absolutely. Things have to be pretty bad before I give up on a story, but it does happen, and more often than (I think) it should.
valdary
Aug. 18th, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC)
I don't tend to get "thrown out" of short stories because they very rarely take more than two to five minutes to read so I don't have time to get bored.

What I dislike is stories that have no discernible "tone of voice". If a story is just, this happened and then that happened, it feels very flat.

I like to have the sense that there is a real human being (or possibly intelligent space squid) who is telling me the story. That although they may withold their own comments from the text in favour of having the characters show me the story, the storyteller has opinions and emotions that they want to share with me.

Have I expressed that understandably?
jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. The narrator should be like an extra character almost, right?
bondo_ba
Aug. 18th, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC)
Actually, as a reader, what seriously annoys me is when the characterization gets in the way of the story. This seems especially serious in SF. There used to be stories where the concept was central, and the characters were just there to make it flow. They were competently constructed, but that was it.

Now we have to read about the mental anguish of the engineer who designs the thing, the neurosis of the scientist who generated the original idea and the unhappiness of the love life of the wife of the janitor. The true, sparse writing of yore has all but gone from the scene.
jongibbs
Aug. 18th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
Of course, 'Yore' and science fiction aren't exactly natural bedfellows ;)
(no subject) - bondo_ba - Aug. 18th, 2010 08:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - twilight2000 - Aug. 18th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bondo_ba - Aug. 18th, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - twilight2000 - Aug. 19th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
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