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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. 19th, 2010 04:44 am (UTC)
Head hoppping. In a short story, please, please choose a POV and stick with it.

Info dumps, no matter how artfully disguised.

Inconsistency/incontinuity. You'd think these things wouldn't exist in well-edited short stories, wouldn't you?

Other than these things, I have a high tolerance for the other things in the poll, as long as the basic story premise is interesting.

Aug. 19th, 2010 02:16 pm (UTC)
Once you've noticed it, head hopping's rally distracting.

It's funny how some writers try to disguise 'As you know, Bob' info dumps by making them 'You may not know this, Dave.' It never works, at least not for me.

Thanks for stopping by :)
Aug. 19th, 2010 04:44 am (UTC)
Among the three points I selected was "Uninteresting or unrealistic action." I guess uninteresting *anything* is bad (characters, dialogue, etc.), but what I don't like about uninteresting *action* is that it often seems to me as if the writer feels that, by virtue of putting in a scene with a few punches and kicks, s/he's accomplished excitement and reader thrills. But fight scenes can be very dull--I don't want to read something that sounds like a radio narration of a basketball game.

Uninteresting characters are bad because if you can't become interested in the characters, how are you going to care about the story?

And a poor ending just leaves you scratching your head.
Aug. 19th, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC)
Bad endings always feel worse to me. Probably because it's too late to stop reading :(
Aug. 19th, 2010 06:52 am (UTC)
I didn't check the ones about endings, because that would mean I had finished the book. I will say that both are pet peeves of mine and I HATE it when authors do that. The ending can completely ruin a book for me, but by that point I've already finished it, you know?

Stale writing really annoys me, too. There are authors I can't stand to read anymore, because all their books are the same.

Characters doing a 180 really piss me off as well. One of my favorite series did this in the last book and it really ruined it for me. Also plots doing 180 annoy me, unless there's a good reason for it.

Stereotypes/cliches are not an automatic stopping point, but there are some that are SO overdone. And brand name dropping in YA fiction can really get on my nerves...which sort of factors into the stereotype thing. Sort of, because while it's not really a stereotype, so much of YA does it, or has these upper middle class/rich kids lamenting over such lame shit that I cannot bear it and I throw the book across the room. If an author wants to write about upper middle class/rich characters, fine by me -- but please stop the rants on how Brand X is better than Brand Y and woe is me, my friends will totally disown me if I show up wearing Brand Y. Also popularity is NOT everything.

...I rambled. Point is, there are a lot of factors that annoy me, but most of them become annoying through repetition.

Aug. 19th, 2010 02:53 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. It's a cumulative effect.

Thanks for sharing :)

Aug. 19th, 2010 06:54 am (UTC)
I hate slow beginnings, but most of the time, if that's the only problem with the story, I'll just speed read until something more interesting happens. It's the same with over long descriptions. I skip them mostly, or speed read, or just read the dialogue.

What normally makes me give up on a story is boring/unrealistic dialogue/action or characters. If the plot isn't somewhat plausible, then I won't read it. The same with the others.

I feel really bad when I give up on a story, and generally it's the combination of a few different factors that make me do it. Even then, I still speed read or read the ending, just to see if it gets any better, but it usually doesn't.
Aug. 19th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
I used to feel bad when I gave up on a book or story, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Of course, writing stories that other people enjoy reading to the end is not so easy either ;)
(no subject) - thelittleroad - Aug. 20th, 2010 11:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 21st, 2010 10:19 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thelittleroad - Aug. 22nd, 2010 12:05 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 19th, 2010 05:27 pm (UTC)
One thing that kills a story for me is Trytooharditis. When the text is overwrought and desperate, I become hyper-aware of the AUTHOR, and I'm unable to see the story-forest for the author-trees.
Aug. 19th, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
'I'm unable to see the story-forest for the author-trees.

Excellent! :)
Aug. 19th, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC)
A couple of things
Hi, Jon....haven't been able to be around for awhile. Like the poll, and lots of good comments. I have designed my own blog for creative writing and have been writing, too, so "I don't get out much any more."..that is the way the song goes, right.Wanted to tell you I'm putting your link on my blog as one I highly recommend. Don't know how many readers I'll have, but you're there. 'Til later, Marni T.
Aug. 19th, 2010 10:07 pm (UTC)
Re: A couple of things
Wll thank you. Any and all links are much appreciated :)
Aug. 20th, 2010 12:53 am (UTC)
My "something else", which applied to one novel I'd read and also applies to short stories, is where the protagonist doesn't actually do anything, and neither do his or her compatriots. Things just...happen. Characters do not influence them, and the events have no real impact on emotion. Actions and events are flawed, pointless, have no purpose. The story is just a sequence of events with no real substance, story-wise.
Aug. 20th, 2010 01:48 am (UTC)
I think I know what you mean. Like when none of the characters have been changed by the events.
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Aug. 20th, 2010 07:18 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Aug. 20th, 2010 07:19 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Sep. 4th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 21st, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
I find that a title is very important and when it misleads you (like the blurb in the back), I'm rather disappointed and annoyed to find myself reading something that usually turns out to be something I most likely wouldn't have picked up in the first place.

A cheat ending is annoying, because most books are predictable anyways. To not even give a good ending on top of that is puts the book in the never to be read again pile and off to donations soon thereafter.
Aug. 22nd, 2010 11:32 am (UTC)
I like a good twist ending, especially in short stories, but only if it's done in a way that when I read it again, I see it coming, if that makes sense :)
(no subject) - worldmaker_13 - Aug. 25th, 2010 03:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 22nd, 2010 11:35 am (UTC)
Re: Conflict Abandon
I know what you mean, it's hard to care about someone in a story if he/she hasn't got a problem to overcome, especially if you don't know what's at stake).

Thanks for sharing, and good luck with that fantasy story :)
(Deleted comment)
Re: Conflict Abandon - jongibbs - Aug. 23rd, 2010 10:20 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 5th, 2011 05:25 pm (UTC)
Supposedly intelligent characters doing stupid things - or having no clue what's going on when it's painfully obvious to the reader.

Lack of plot can be annoying - I just finished a book and found out at the end that what I thought was just the initial premise from the blurb on the back was actually the entire plot. It was in a compilation volume and I kept reading because it was interesting but I was wondering when the plot was going to finally kick into gear (not realizing due to the other stories how many pages were actually left)- and then it ended and I realized what I had thought was set-up was the entire story!
Jan. 5th, 2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
Lack of plot is a definite blacklisting offence, as far as I'm concerned.
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