Things that get a pass

From Janet Reid’s blog: Query me for anything you want but these almost always are a pass

The reader’s version is of course: I’ll try any novel, but these almost always get a fast DNF.

For Janet, topics that aren’t going to work include: abuse memoirs, pedophilia, serial killers, vampires. Other things too; click through to see the full list plus comments.

There are plenty of things that get a pass from Janet Reid that generally or sometimes appeal to me. Vampires, say. Serial killers, sometimes. Apocalyptic pandemics, though perhaps that’s a bit to topical just at present to be attractive in fiction.

But there are several “pass” categories here that are “DNF” categories for me. The most definite:

5. The novel you wrote to prove a point.
I am entirely story-based. If you have a compelling story, you can make any point you want to, but I’m not going to read your novel to hear how global warming is a problem.

I’ll go further:

I am entirely story based AND I hate being bludgeoned over the head with a message no matter how compelling your story is.

If you have a message, kept it soft and bury it in the story and I’m fine with it. Whip out a club and whap me with it and I’m done, even if I agree with your message and even if the story is otherwise good. This doesn’t include things like “Hitler was bad and Nazis were evil.” That’s not a message; that’s just background.

However, that isn’t the kind of thing that usually stops me, or any reader, in the first chapter. It would be a very odd book if it whipped out a club in the first chapter, right? I can’t think of one that did that.

Let me see, let’s say specifically: Things that make me stop short and declare a DNF if they do in fact appear in the first chapter.

a) Too gritty. Fill the streets of your fantasy city with sewage and start out by dumping somebody in the gutter and I’m too grossed out to continue. Elisha Barber is the example that comes to mind.

b) Start me off with a protagonist, then kill the protagonist in the first chapter, and I’m probably done unless the story is a murder mystery.

c) Oh, here’s one — have the protagonist do something unjustifiably awful in the first chapter and I’m gone. I’m absolutely thinking of The Fifth Season here.

d) Things start off in too awful a place. If the protagonist is in a terrible situation, I may not be able to tolerate sticking around until she pries herself out of that situation. I wouldn’t say that’s always the case, but it can happen. I would prefer that horrible situation to be in the backstory. Let the author build up an understanding of that background slowly, after the protagonist is already involved in other things.

e) I’ve never seen this, as far as I can recollect, but I don’t recommend the author kill a dog or other pet in the first chapter. I doubt I’d get past that scene.

How about you? What’s something that, if it appears in the first chapter, makes you put down a book at once?

Or, is there nothing? Are you’re the kind of reader who always finishes a book if you start it, even if you hate it?

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5 thoughts on “Things that get a pass”

  1. I don’t get into it.

    This can be bad because it may just be me, out of sorts.

    But after the first chapters, I think I’m too slow to wall the book.

  2. I think the fastest I ever decided a book was no good (and then proceeded to read like another 50 pages anyway which only reinforced the point dramatically) was one where the main character was reading a newspaper article that laid out some of the backstory in the driest, most annoying way possible. It was sheer infodump disguised as news. And then the protagonist turned out to be an awful person who was doing drugs and sleeping with someone else’s wife and I don’t care anymore if he even has a redemption arc because I’m already rooting for him to lose.

  3. Yep, Megan, that would do it.

    Mary, I used to have trouble DNF a book if I got a third of the way in or so. These days, at any point I may decide, You know what, I don’t care, and stop.

    It’s definitely true that sometimes a book just isn’t working for me, but I suspect it’s just me and not the book. Those I’ll put back on the TBR pile to try again later.

  4. Most recently I’ve been dropping samples for the writing: it’s clumsy, or trying too hard, or somehow I don’t trust it and the author, a sense that things aren’t really hanging together although I can’t articulate exactly what’s wrong.

    Not scenes or elements thereof. Although I’ve certainly dropped books for those, too. Grimly unpleasant, most definitely drop. And sometimes I get halfway through or more and realize I just don’t care, and stop.

    Looks at Elisha Barber. Thought it sounded familiar. Yeah, I’d’ve dropped it for the focus on filth if I hadn’t for the worldbuilding.

    Which reminds me of one where I did drop it for a scene – a supposedly historical novel, hardbitten warlord type takes enemy camp, frees a slave girl of peasant upbringing who promptly asks for books to read because she loves them. … Huge worldbuilding and setting failure. Fortuantely it was in the first 20 pages.

  5. Clumsy writing or if I don’t find the characters compelling, illogical, bad worldbuilding… I’m not a lineal reader though, so if I have a physical copy or an ebook I can flip through without paying more, google books, online library, etc, I would do that to see if it improves later and/or read the end to see what happens.

    I almost put down Captive Prince by Pacat because the initial premise seemed to be complete nonsense:

    “Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the rightful heir to the throne of Akielos. But when his half brother seizes power, Damen is captured, stripped of his identity, and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave.”

    Everyone in Akielos believes him dead, it’s in his half brother’s best interest to kill him, because if he escapes (warrior hero after all), the whole plan is ruined. But it was a free online serial at the time and I liked the writing, so I kept reading and eventually it turned out to be a bit similar to The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, with intrigue upon intrigue and there were actual reasons to keep him alive for the time being.

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