A woman in my book club claims she has finished every book she has ever started. It's a personality tick of hers. She has to know what happens. It doesn't matter how bad the writing is or how uninteresting the story, she will slog through hundreds of tedious pages until she gets to the very end.
I must confess: I don't have that type of dedication. If a book doesn't grab me within the first four or five chapters—okay, sometimes even within the first one or two—I'm outta there. Often it has nothing to do with the quality of the writing. Sometimes I just don't like or connect with the main character early on. Sometimes the storyline just isn't my cup of tea. And, okay, sometimes it is the writing. Let's face it, we all have certain writing styles we like better than others.
I recently started a new release that came highly recommended by friends and had strong online reviews. But it was a genre I don't typically read—science fiction—and I really struggled through the first fifty pages or so. Several times I nearly walked away from the book altogether. Generally, I don't believe in sticking with a book you're not enjoying. Time is precious. We all have other things we could be doing—spending time with family, working on books of our own, reading something we actually do like. Why waste your time on a book that just isn't speaking to you?
As writers, I think we need to keep in mind that the first several chapters are crucial. A slow or uninteresting beginning or a story that takes too long to take off can be a deal breaker. I've heard some people describe a book by saying, "Well, it gets really good if you stick with it about ten chapters" or "about a hundred pages or so." In my mind, that's a problem. Because let's face it, many readers (and editors and agents) aren't going to hang around that long. And especially in middle grade, where attention spans can be a bit tenuous, a story needs to snag readers pretty quickly. This, of course, is the reasoning behind the often-heard advice that a book should start as close in time as possible to the main action of the plot, to avoid overly long beginnings or unnecessary tangents. Other good techniques for those early pages: start with a bang (or a shock), offer up a particularly colorful or intriguing or amusing character or voice, raise a mystery or question that compels the audience to read onward for answers. The goal is to create a story that the reader will find it very hard to walk away from.
Of course, sometimes I have to eat my own words. That book I was struggling through? Around page 65, it gets really good. Some characters come together who have wonderful interaction and chemistry, and the action picks up considerably. I flipped page after page and flew through the rest of the book.
Okay, I guess some books are worth sticking with until the end :)
At what point do you walk away from a book? And what makes you do so?