Book Fail part 2: How to lose readers anytime.

Hi, there, everyone. It’s Sher again, being a pain in the book for authors everywhere. Actually, I’m trying to help authors keep readers interested all the way through a story. Last week, I posted problems that lose readers right at the start or early on. This week I’m focusing on why readers stop reading farther along. Some of these problems came from one book I thought could have been great but wasn’t. Others came from multiple books, but no matter where I encountered them, they’re problems other reviewers have complained about. In public.


  • Problem: Main character avoids taking the hero’s journey or never takes it. This leads to a loss of readers’ sympathy and interest in following the non-hero’s activities.


  • Solution: If the protagonist is told or otherwise finds out about some missing object or important goal, the search can’t be delayed long. Even a reluctant hero shouldn’t ignore the call to action for days, let alone weeks. Rather, things should interfere with the search, building tension. Any important task should remain foremost in the mc’s mind. Pacing suffers if the protagonist takes a “go with the flow” attitude. If pacing suffers too much, readers, especially reluctant readers, put the book down and never pick it up again.


  • Problem: Action happens around the mc, not TO him or her. Yes, in real life, adults tend to protect children and do the hard stuff when kids aren’t around. This CANNOT happen in a book if the author wants it to do well in a children’s market. Okay, it can happen once or twice, but then…


  • Solution: The mc must find a way to find out what’s really going on and get in on the action. This is called “upping the stakes” via putting the protagonist in physical danger, which increases tension. It’s not only a critical part of good plotting; it’s the best way to make readers want to turn pages. It’s also the best way to make readers identify with the character enough to feel the same emotions, i.e. fear for their lives. They should be afraid NOT to turn pages.


  • Problem: Copying with a crayon. If you’re going to write the next Harry Potter, don’t include a sport like quidditch — with no magic. Imagine football in a magical world, but using a ball that doesn’t even have feet, let alone sprout wings to make use of the old saying, “when pigs can fly!” Boring.


  • Solution: Don’t copy Rowling unless you have a great imagination. It’s a fantasy, for Pete’s sake. Make every aspect fantastic! I have a friend whose fan-fiction meets this guideline, and I relish every chapter.


  • Problem: Incomplete plot arc. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come to an unexpected end and wanted to throw a book across the room. Yes, I finished the book, but I always feel cheated by the flawed story structure. If there’s no denouement, it’s a serial, not a novel.


  • Solution: Even if it’s a series, a book needs to tie up the vast majority of loose ends. So maybe the villain gets away and the characters discuss a couple of remaining mysteries or problems leading into the next adventure, but that’s about my limit. Most of all, telegraph the ending before it happens! Denouement, people!

    Okay, that’s it. Or is it? What did I miss that makes you put down a book?

Share A Heart

Indie author-friendly freelance editor, children's book blogger for picture books through YA, kid lit, SF/fantasy lover with special fondness for middle grade, pun-loving SCBWI member, meter-maid for poetry and rhyming picture books.

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