I have spent my fair share of time looking through the science fiction/fantasy section at book stores and browsing through Amazon trying to find that next author to read. The one where, no matter what they write, you’re going to want to buy every single novel because they are just that good. And when you do find a writer who exhibits the signs of being decent, you have to stand there and cross your fingers that as the series progresses they remember their own premise, world building and don’t go off into the badlands of ‘bad fiction tropes.’
I try to give every author I try a good three books (if they’ve got 3 books published) to hold my attention. Sometimes, I make it to four books. However, by the third book usually I can tell whether or not the author writes the types of stories that I want to read. (The first book is usually their best effort and doesn’t always translate into the second or third books. Sometimes writers do improve.) Or, other times, I figuratively throw the book across the room and into a box for Becca to read and review later. I try to give the authors a fair shake. If by the third book, I’m not happy and they have more published. I’ll go ahead and read the summaries for the next stories to see if they get any better. So far, this actually hasn’t worked.
Here are some of the reasons of why some books just don’t work for me:
They’re a knock off of a better writer.
Look, no one owns the basic building blocks of a fantasy world. If a writer wants to write a noir style detective in an urban fantasy world, then more power to them. But changing the name and changing the color of a coat doesn’t an original or an engaging story/character make or else, you’re just a poor rip off of Jim Butcher’s Dresden files without Butcher’s spark. I already own the Dresden files. They’re long. They’re engaging and you have to have more than an interesting title to keep my attention. Or else, I’ll just put it back down on the shelf and go buy the latest Jim Butcher book.
I’m no longer in high school. In fact, I never observed this behavior even in high school. So, the love triangle just confuses me completely. I understand the fantasy aspect of it. But past the age of sixteen, whether or not you’re dating two guys at the same time isn’t really that big of a deal as long as they both know about each other. In fact, usually, by the time we’ve met both guys. I don’t care for either one of them because they’ve been so obviously set up to be the main female character’s perfect mate. It feels so forced and stilted. Characters first, relationships second, love relationships third, please.
Serial Love Interests.
This is the next step after love triangles. I want to be able to root for somebody romantically. I don’t like picking up each book, having the same main female character and then having to get invested in a totally new male love interest. Only to find out from the next book’s summary that they’re not even going to be in it anymore. It makes me wonder what is wrong with the girl that she can’t keep a guy! I can understand that it is somewhat realistic for women to date several men over the course of their lives. If we must have several love interests over the course of a series, let them stick around for a few books so we can figure out exactly why they’re not any good for the main female character.
(I suppose this can be said about male characters too, but I see this more with female protagonists than I do male protagonists.)
Premise that Doesn’t Fit the Plot.
I chalk this up to poor research or the “and they solve crime,” meme. A lot of the books in the urban fantasy genre in particular I’ve noticed seemed to be shelved in the wrong section. Because, honestly, they’re really mysteries. And while I like a good mystery, sometimes the premise of the stories don’t actually fit with a mystery conclusion. Or, the premises would be much more interesting than the ‘they solve crime’ that the writer defaulted to. I have seen this multiple times. Basically, if you choose a profession for your character, then make sure your stories actually follow that professional line of work.
Look, if you’re going to write a bounty hunter. Then read and watch stuff about bounty hunting so you actually know what a bounty hunter does. They tend not to work for the type of people they actually hunt and security work isn’t their forte.
If I see a story where the premise is the main character is a nurse in a supernatural setting, I’m really hoping for a Grey’s Anatomy, House, ER style story lines where we have an interesting hospital staff diagnosing and curing interesting diseases and dealing with distraught families. I don’t want to see the nurse solve crime. That’s not what a nurse does! Leave the solving crime to the police detectives and private investigators. Please. There are so many more interesting stories than just ‘they solve crime.’
Also, if I do pick up a book about “they solve crime.” I want the books to be about “they solve crime” not the zany life, lack of character growth and whacky love life of only one of the characters. If the premise is two kickass female characters start an agency to solve crime, then make sure it’s a story about two kickass female characters, not one mildly kickass character.
Unqualified Main Characters.
You’d think I’d be talking about the mechanics, bounty hunters, security agents and nurses running around with a note pad and a camera solving crime. But I’m not. I’m talking about the private investigators who don’t know how to investigate or creatures who don’t know about or don’t want to know about who they are and the type of people they’re investigating! If you are a vampire and you are a private investigator that is supposed to solve vampiric problems, it is in your best interest to know a bit about vampires! Otherwise, I end up flipping to the back of the book to make sure the character survives. (Of course they survive, there wouldn’t be the next book if they didn’t, but I’m still morbidly going “how in hell are they going to get out of this intact?)
I swear, there was one book I read where the main character was so under qualified for what she was doing, she spent half the book bawling. Look, even I like dropping characters into absurd situations where they are unprepared, but there is rallying and trying to do it and then there is hysterical sobbing in a ball in the corner. One makes for amusing reading and the other does not.
Basically, I don’t really care what profession your character has, but unless they are still in college or first two weeks on the job, make sure they actually know what they’re doing, especially if they are supposed to be solving crime.
Contradictory Main Characters.
Okay, have you ever been reading a book where the author tells you one thing and then as the story progresses she shows you something completely different? Sometimes it’s a corollary of the above. The author is sure that their main character is a kung fu master, but really they’re just going hiyah, hiyah to a mirror in their bedroom?
Now when this happens around a female character, it usually involves her love life. I like to call this the princess/nerd syndrome. You see, on the outside the female character is a nerd and nobody wants to date her, but on the inside, really she’s a princess waiting for the right man to come along and see her for who she really is. Well, over the course of the story it isn’t just the ‘right man’ who comes along, it’s four or five ‘right men’ all at the same time! So much for no one wanting to date our helpless, socially awkward, powers pariah, nerdy female.
Usually later this is explained away by some random hand waving power of bullshit that the character has no control over. No. She’s not really that great of a girl. She just smells good, has fairy charisma, she can bear the man’s children without her or the baby dying or is the ‘chosen one’ of prophecy.
I understand this is a fantasy. No. I don’t get it. I don’t want to get it. It drives me crazy. I stop reading.
This is what happens when I’m reading along in the book and things are going fairly well. We’ve got a strong character and suddenly I turn the page and the character is being brutally raped! Shock writing is when the writer uses something horrible an awful (rape, kidnap, murder, character death, false accusations, power loss) to grab the reader’s attention and “shock” them into keeping reading.
Some writer’s go overboard with it. You can pick up a book start reading and discover that everything that could possibly go wrong with this character will. It’s shock writing over saturation.
I personally don’t read books to be led through a sewer. Scenes such as sudden rape in an effort to appear edgy in what was previously a book I could recommend to my mother really turns me off. And if everything possible has to go wrong with your character for the writer to feel the story is interesting and good (often the character stops growing at this phase), then I’m not going to bother to pick up any more of their stories.
Flat Main Characters.
A lot of times, I’ll stop reading a book because I just can’t get invested into the main character(s). Sometimes this is because the writer just hasn’t allocated enough book space for their character to shine. This might be the difference between plot driven and character driven stories. Just, no matter how much I like the plot or think the premise is interesting. If I can’t get behind the main character and feel some sort of empathy for them, then there’s no way I’m going to be able to stay interested in the story. Sure, there are plenty of writers willing to tell me in their books about the likes and dislikes of their characters, but they never take the time out away from their main plot to show me.
Some writers are so focused on their action. They forget that the characters they’re working with aren’t plastic puppets on strings. That these characters should have hopes, dreams, likes, dislikes, things in their pockets and thoughts before they go to sleep. In an action fueled plot, there has to be pauses and that is when you learn about the characters, in the pauses. I find plot driven works to either be boring or exhausting. And a lot of times when I finish the book, I don’t know anything about the main character or they haven’t grown at all.
These are just some of the general trends I’ve come across while searching for new books to read. So, while the books were readable, they just didn’t fit what I was looking for in a story.