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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.
Overlong (and seemingly unnecessary) descriptions.
Boring/unrealistic dialogue.
No obvious problem for the main character to overcome.
Uninteresting or unrealistic action.
The story wasn't what the title led you to believe it would be about.
Uninteresting and/or unrealistic characters.
A cheat or pointless ending.
No proper ending at all.
Something else, which I'll explain in the comments.

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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( 112 comments — Leave a comment )
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Aug. 18th, 2010 09:55 pm (UTC)
Can I chose "bad writing" in general? I can live with a lot as long as a story is decently writte, style wise. I can even cope with long descriptions and the story maybe not moving on as long as it's written nicely.
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:45 pm (UTC)
Lol, I guess they all fit into that category.

Thanks for sharing, Craig :)
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:47 pm (UTC)
A slow beginning in a short story is a real killer for me, because it's a short story, so at least theoretically a writer doesn't have that much space to tell the whole thing in. Unrealistic anything is also a turn-off. On the other hand, for short stories, I will put up with not much of anything happening, because it may be more about the characters & relationships.
Aug. 18th, 2010 10:57 pm (UTC)
Just about every slush reader and editor I've heard speak has said that slow starts are a big no-no for them.
Aug. 18th, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC)
Long, pointless descriptions do it for me. I couldn't finish Fellowship of the Ring. I got halfway and gave up when - once again - the scenary was described in minute detail over a ridiculous number of pages.
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
I've read LOTR dozens of times. It's the poems that always have me skimming on to the next bit. Thanks for sharing :)
(no subject) - ladysaotome - Jan. 5th, 2011 05:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 19th, 2010 12:31 am (UTC)
Title misleading - bigger prob if title, cover art and blurbs are all misleading. If sign up for a mystery, I don't want a bloody romance!

Cheat/pointless ending: Esp because I tend toward SF/F Adventure flavor and mysteries - those endings are REALLY a violation of the author/reader agreement. Mysteries and Adventures need to have solid endings of SOME sort.

Something Else:
Breaking Character: Set me up a character and SUDDENLY s/he does something TOTALLY out of character (OOC) because writer is lazy/sloppy/unable to get out of box/doesn't realize it's OOC - that'll throw me RIGHT out.
Breaking continuity: I'm a Trek fan for heaven's sake - i can take a lot -but if we Last Left Our Detective in a Restaurant at dinner, we cannot find him in Grocery Store for dinner on the same night! (or whatever)
Anachronisms: Assuming they aren't supposed to be there as hints (See: Pern - BRILLIANT) - then if you set me up at a certain level of tech, that's what you're stuck with. No Deus Ex Machina. Either find another way or change your level of tech. No Cheating.

So, basically, being inconsistent irritates me to death ;>

Edited at 2010-08-19 12:33 am (UTC)
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:45 pm (UTC)
I'm a Trek fan for heaven's sake - i can take a lot

Lol, but not as much as those poor engines, right? :)
Aug. 19th, 2010 12:37 am (UTC)
A lack of narrative structure: the story meanders around without a sense of cohesion.
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I hate that. I don't mind not knowing the end destination, but if I start wondering if the writer doesn't either, I'm out of there.
(no subject) - rowyn - Aug. 19th, 2010 08:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 19th, 2010 12:50 am (UTC)
Not researching your topic. Portrait of the Serial Killer as a Young Woman lost me about a chapter and a half in when a cop, for no apparent reason, decides to tell a complete stranger about the one key piece of evidence they're keeping from the press that only the killer will know... Because, it's not like they'd want to keep that a secret or anything.

Ok, I realize not everyone grew up in the serial killer capital of the world, (Pacific Northwest), but still, hadn't the author ever watched an episode of Law & Order or NYPD Blue for goodness' sake?
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. It's almost as bad as the convenient coincidence thing.
Aug. 19th, 2010 12:52 am (UTC)
Ooo, one more...
The creepily sexualized description of a five year old girl ostensibly narrated by a character who absolutely WASN'T a pedophile.

That one falls under breaking character, I guess.
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Ooo, one more...
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:33 am (UTC)
For me having characters I cannot relate to, meaning their voice or comments grate my nerves or their attitude about things grates my nerves. Now, there is always going to be at least one character I don't identify with, typically the antagonist, but even they should be interesting, intriguing.

And I am ALL for lyrical descriptive language. BUT it needs to serve a purpose. (I am guilty of being a bit purple, but I have seen worse offenders.) If you spend one page describing a plaid shirt . . . I just feel like the author is speaking down to me. It makes me mad.

If a book is part of a series and one of the books does not move the characters forward . . . ugh! I feel ripped off. I need to see growth, development, something. Otherwise, I feel like I am spending time reading the chart of one of my resistant clients. I read to escape real life drama.

I am excited to see what your post for Apex. Can you make it controversial like Gustavo's. Geez! That poor guy. (Not that I want to throw you to the wolves.)
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC)
Can you make it controversial like Gustavo's

That wasn't controversial, that was picking a fight for the sake of picking a fight :P

Edited at 2010-08-19 01:49 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - Aug. 19th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:39 am (UTC)
it should be noted that i don't read much in the way of short stories - mostly because the ones i actually DO read pull me into a world where there's nothing else to be read but the words of the story in question - succinctly put, good short stories ALWAYS make me want to read more

i honestly can't remember ever putting down/walking away from a short story in the middle of the reading (unless i was in a doctor's office/etc.) - and i can tell you that i've honestly forgotten any short story that i haven't read all the way through

my selections were things that would make me put just about anything down - like babarnett, i'm willing to put up with a few isolated things if the piece on a whole is still well written (plot stretches, irrational character actions, etc.)

on the whole, i'm kinda turned off by short stories because it's so hard to make them COMPLETE for me - but i read fantasy fiction and paranormal fiction (specifically vamps/werewolves) more than ANYTHING else BY FAR - that should be taken into consideration when it comes to my comments and my selections above
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:56 pm (UTC)
If you like paranormal, I'm pretty sure you'd enjoy babarnett's 1,000-word, DUMPING THE DEAD http://www.everydayfiction.com/dumping-the-dead-by-barbara-a-barnett

Thanks for sharing, Rebecca :)
(no subject) - roninangel - Aug. 19th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 20th, 2010 01:46 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:45 am (UTC)
If someone makes a mistake about something I am knowledgeable about, ie horses, it kind of jerks me out. I catch it, go wtf... and then have to reread to make sure I was right, or that see if I missed something.

Lots of things I can let slide, but out and out mistakes, that bugs me.
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:57 pm (UTC)
I confess that everytime some gives the order for archers to 'Fire,' it bugs me more than it should :)
Aug. 19th, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)

"no proper ending": There are some stories where the ending just seems to come out of the blue. Leaves me wondering what it was I didn't understand. Some endings are so cryptic or, even worse, esoteric, that it leaves me feeling like the guy NOT in the In-Crowd.

"something else" and "unnecessary descriptions": Here, it is the blatant over-use of profanity. This will kill a book for me!

My one and only exception: I recently listened to (although not a Short Story) In the Woods by Tana French.

Nearly every character uses the "F" word, in every situation, no matter to whom they may be speaking. From the most casual character that has one line, to the two main characters, Irish Murder Detectives who are the worst! Even when they are at the seaside, some woman with twins in a stroller yells, if you don't stop it I'm going to tear your f***ing head off.

Now here in American, I would expect a qualified and professional Detective to pay a bit of attention to her, to see if she is about to do them any harm. But these two just chuckle and instantly walk away, still bleeping.

I will say however, that I stuck it out because the plot was not one that has not been over-done. Serial Killer? Kidnapper? Runaways? "Ancient mystic demons"? Current Druids? Pedophile family member or neighbor? One of the members of the Archeological Team?

I even stuck it out through looong passages of excess information, rabbit trails and casual talk. I keep saying "get on with it!" The secondary plot surfaces and the main plot remains unanswered! This, I liked!

Would have been a great, Short Story, "And that's the truth! pffffttt" [Edith Ann (Lily Tomlin)]


Aug. 19th, 2010 01:59 pm (UTC)
I don't think of myself as a prude, but I have to say, too much swearing kicks my eyes of the page.

Thanks for sharing, Warren :)
Aug. 19th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
I am, and pretty much always have been, a character junkie (which is why I like series fiction and fan fiction - because once I'm hooked on particular characters I'll follow them pretty much anywhere :) so the uninteresting/unrealistic characters and dialogue, being closely intertwined, are probably my pet turnoffs (with the proviso that 'unrealistic' is what the author makes it - a character can be wildly OTT but still make you 'believe' in them, while another can be on the surface true too life but too cardboard to believe in).

One of my problems with much modern fantasy is that I find 'feisty kickass' heroines utterly dreary (just a personal taste in characterisation)... so any story that is centred on one is pushing it uphill to pull me in from the minute she steps into view.

There is, too, one more aspect, and that is the actual prose - being also a words-and-language junkie, someone who uses language in a way that catches the mental eye and ear will keep me reading even when the rest isn't really my thing (raymond Chandler and Clark Ashton Smith are too examples of writers whose sheer gift for words appeals to me)
Aug. 19th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
I love a good narrative voice. Some folks seem to have a natural gift for narrative. I'd be jealous if I wasn't so sure that their 'gift' only came after much hard work.

I don't mind 'kickass' heroine types (or heroes, for that matter) so long as there's more to them, if you know what I mean.
Aug. 19th, 2010 02:27 am (UTC)
It isn't necessary for me to be able to relate to the characters, but they definitely need to seem real for me to keep going.
Aug. 19th, 2010 02:08 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. If they don't feel real, the story doen't either.

Thanks for stopping by :)
Aug. 19th, 2010 03:00 am (UTC)
When I think about it, the most frequent reason I've put down a book is blatant racism, sexism, etc. I can think of a few that I haven't finished because, while it was an excellent book, I just wasn't okay with the women being told to get back into the kitchen.
Aug. 19th, 2010 02:05 pm (UTC)
Except for that one about the female chef who kept coming out into the dining area to argue with customers, right? ;)

When you say 'blatant racism, sexism, etc.' do you mean from one of the characters or from the narrator?
(no subject) - misha_mcg - Aug. 19th, 2010 02:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 19th, 2010 02:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - misha_mcg - Aug. 19th, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 19th, 2010 03:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - misha_mcg - Aug. 19th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 19th, 2010 02:13 pm (UTC)
One of my pet peeves is the 'Magic telegram,' used so often in Conan Doyle/Agatha Christie books - where the reader can't possibly know that motiveless character A is really character B, who stands to inherit a fortune from the crime in the story (something which the hero has confirmed by telegram, just before gathering the suspects to unmask the killer.

In her medieval Brother Cadfael novels, Ellis Peters also did that a lot, although not actually with telegrams, of course ;)

Mind you, all their books are so much fun, I still love reading them :)
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