We’ve all been there: You’re in the middle of reading a book, and you’re just not that into it. This predicament is never more fraught than when you’re faced with the existential crisis of whether to keep reading in the hope it gets better, or put it aside (and the hours you’ve already invested) to be branded with those three damning letters, DNF (Did Not Finish). To help make your decision easier, fiction authors share what makes them stop reading a particular book — and why you might need to DNF the book you’re reading, too.
1. You’re not connecting with the characters.
Not sure if you like the story you’re reading? Maybe the issue isn’t with the writing style or the plot, but with the characters. Readers tend to gravitate to characters they find likable or relatable in some way, and/or those who have remarkable traits such as special powers, brilliant detective skills, or a wicked sense of humor.
For Clarissa Harwood, author of Impossible Saints and other historical novels, characters can make or break the books she reads. “What makes me give up on a book after the first couple of chapters is a protagonist who is either completely depraved or uninteresting,” she says. “If I find the protagonist interesting and they have at least one positive quality, I’ll keep reading!”
2. You’re not in the right mood.
We’ve all heard that cliché breakup line, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Whether or not that’s true in dating, it can certainly be true with reading. If you’re anxious or stressed, you might need to set aside a thriller for the comfort of a heartwarming romance or humor book. If you’re headed to the beach, a sea-set women’s fiction novel might feel like the perfect fit. And if you’ve already watched the second season of The Witcher, devouring some epic fantasy may fill that void in your life.
Jessica Arden, author of the paranormal cozy mystery Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, mentioned being “not in the right mood” as a reason she DNFs particular books. Of course, she adds, “If it’s a book by a beloved author or has a killer premise that got me excited, I’ll hold out longer for things to pick up.” But you can’t always force yourself to read a book when you’re not in the right mental space.
Feeling guilty about shelving a book for this reason? Remember, you can always come back to the book later when you are in the mood.
3. The story is just too slow.
Different books move at different speeds, and that’s OK. But while sometimes we savor the language, scenery, or character development of a slower-paced book, other times it’s like we’re stuck in a bumper-to-bumper commute, frustrated by lack of progress. Especially in our fast-paced world, readers — and even writers — want to feel momentum. “I usually know if I’m going to continue reading a book by the end of the first page,” Toby Neal, USA Today bestselling author of the Paradise Crime thriller series, admits. “I need to be grabbed by the voice of the writing, a gripping scenario, or a colorful or unique character, regardless of genre.”
This is also true for contemporary romance novelist Mia Sosa, author of The Worst Best Man — and it’s true throughout her entire reading experience. “My reasons for choosing not to finish a book depend on where I am in the story,” she says. “If a book’s opening pages don’t grab me, either because it lacks a compelling inciting incident or the author’s voice is flat, I generally stop reading and move on. Later, I might choose to set a book aside if there’s no tension or conflict.”
If you haven’t made it through a chapter in your current book in some time, or you’re struggling to remember the plot or main characters’ names, you may need to move on to something more riveting.
4. There’s too much going on.
Much like books which progress at a snail’s pace, some novels are bogged down with too many elements — too many characters or too much backstory, for instance. This is a common reason historical romance writer Piper Huguley, author of The Preacher’s Promise, puts books aside. “Sometimes there are multiple points of view too early,” she explains. “Three is the max. When I get to a fourth point of view, then I wonder what kind of story this is.”
Of course, some novels are richer because of all their details and points of view. But if you find you’re distracted by too many details or a character’s long backstory, it might be time to ditch your book. As Huguley points out, “Some authors get so wrapped up in making beautiful language that they forget about telling a story.”
5. It violates your personal dealbreakers.
It’s good for books to challenge our assumptions, beliefs, and thought patterns at times. But occasionally a book veers too far down a path we don’t want to follow, whether that’s due to a big moral issue or personal pet peeve.
For Clarissa Harwood, “an animal being hurt” is a reason to stop reading. For Heather Novak, author of the magical romance Hunting Witch Hazel, the way sex scenes are written can be a dealbreaker. “Safe sex and consent matter a lot to me, and a poorly done intimate scene can make me walk away,” she says.
These sensitive plot choices often affect how we feel about the characters. Sosa also mentions problematic intimate content being a reason to close a book, specifically naming dubious consent. Why? Sosa explains that such content “yanks me out of the story and makes me question the basic goodness of the protagonists.”
6. You’re just not enjoying it.
If none of the above reasons fit, but you just aren’t relishing your reading experience, it’s probably time to open up another book. “I don’t get to read for pleasure very often,” Heather Novak mentions. “I want to be invested quickly, but clearly. I want to live in the pages. If I can’t dive in and get lost, I’ll move on.”
With so many great books out there, you’re destined to find your next great read right around the corner. Just ask Jessica Arden, who compares books to people. “Some I click with right away,” she says. “They make me laugh, intrigue, or surprise me, and I know we’re going to get along like old friends.”
In the end, author Clarissa Harwood sums it up perfectly, “Life is too short, and there are too many books!”
About the Author: G.G. Andrew
G.G. is a freelance writer and author of romance and women's fiction, including the short story "Everything Left Unsaid" in the collection A Million Ways: Stories of Motherhood. A Texas transplant, she lives outside Houston with her husband and two sons, both of whom are on the autism spectrum. In her spare time, she enjoys browsing bookstores, yoga, paper crafts, cooking, genealogy, and anything related to Halloween. She's probably drinking tea right now.