What makes you DNF?

Woman reading.I recently went through a period where I struggled to finish several books. A few of those ultimately landed on my DNF (Do Not Finish) list. This got me thinking: what makes me abandon a book? And, alternately, what keeps me hooked? I came up with a few things:

1. The characters. I am very much a character-driven reader. If I like a character enough, especially if their voice is distinctive, I will follow them anywhere. I would read the phone book if it was written in Baz’s voice (from Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On). Alternately, if I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about the book. No matter how exciting that car chase is or how cool that world’s magic system, if the characters aren’t invested in said car chase or magic system — if they don’t have personal stakes in what’s happening — I’m not invested either.

2. Research. If a book takes place in another country, or another time period, or both, I expect the author to know what life is/was like there. One of my recent DNFs takes place in Australia, but the narrator sounds very American. Aside from using kilometers instead of miles, and mentioning tea, there’s no indication this story is set in Australia. All of the pop culture references are to American bands and American TV shows. There’s no Australian slang or phrases. I’ve never been to Australia, but I spent a summer working with several people from different parts of Australia, and there are definitely colloquialisms that are unique to different regions (as you’d find in any part of the world). Also — and I understand this isn’t something the author could control — I was listening to this as an audiobook, and the narrator has an American accent. The inconsistencies were jarring enough to take me out of the story.

3. Personal preference. Sometimes I’ll be really excited for a book I’ve heard great things about, but it’s just not for me. The voice or the structure of the story doesn’t resonate with me. Usually I can recognize that these are well-written books, and often I’ll try to finish them, but sometimes I’d rather set them aside in favor of a book that will work for me.

What makes you DNF a book?


2 thoughts on “What makes you DNF?

  1. rbrothers

    Research is important to me as well — if I can tell that the author has no background in a particular region or topic, s/he loses my interest.

    Also, over-the-top character reactions will make me drop a book. If the character’s love interest looks at her, and there’s a solid few paragraphs about how that makes her feel, they’ve lost me. I much prefer understatement and nuance.

    1. Liz Osisek Post author

      Yes, I’m a big fan of subtle romances. Too much description (or the same descriptions over and over — heart racing every time the love interest smiles, etc.) will pull me out of the book. Though if I’m invested enough in the rest of the story, I’ll probably keep reading.


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