Fathoming Books

Fathoming Books: 6 Good Reasons to DNF a Book

The issue of DNFing popped up in the UK mainstream media recently when the novelist, Mark Billingham, stated that you should ditch a book if it doesn’t grip you within the first 20 pages. Now, I wouldn’t say I’d go that far when it comes to DNFing. I’m all for giving a book another chance and waiting to see if it’s going to get any better. My make-or-break moment is about the 25% mark rather than the 20 page mark but I agree with Billingham insofar as you don’t have to finish a book that doesn’t grip you.

Besides, it wouldn’t be fair of me to do a list on bad reasons to DNF a book without listing six good reasons to DNF a book. So, if a book isn’t gripping you for the following reasons, then you can drop the book without guilt.

1 ft – You Found Something Offensive

Fathoming hexagon 1ft

This is the most obvious one. Whether it’s a female character getting fridged within the first few chapters (I’m looking at you, Alloy of Law), an excessive amount of sex (a big one for me) or whether it’s some uncomfortable racist/sexist/classist/homophobic/etc views are being voiced by a character we’re supposed to like, it shocks you out of the story. It makes you do a double take on the page, wondering how on earth the author could have considered doing that. Sometimes, it’s enough to make you stop reading the book right then and there. Perhaps, you’ll continue on. You’ll hope it was just an aberration and that the character or author will learn their lesson. But, no, there’s no sign of it. You can’t stop thinking about what you just read and you start feeling guilty for not doing your research into what you’re getting yourself into. Eventually, you hit a wall and you simply can’t go on like this anymore. You’ll end up feeling awful and tainted for reading this book so don’t let it get further. Push down reader’s guilt and dismiss ideas like ‘but I got this far – I might as well finish it’. If a book is making you uncomfortable, don’t feel like you have to stick with it.

2 ft – You Dislike The Characters (For The Wrong Reasons)

Fathoming hexagon 2ftTo clarify, dislikeable characters don’t have to be a dealbreaker. An unlikeable character that’s intentionally so can become one of your favourites. When it becomes clear that the author wants you to like them but is falling spectacularly short of the mark. Take Bella Swan from Twilight. Critics have stated that, if she was intentionally written to be (quoting the Nostalgia Critic here) ‘the most selfish, male-dependant, uncaring, manipulative, self-centred, pretentious, idiotic, whining little b****-bag you will EVER SEE IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE’, she would be a much more interesting character. She could have topped lists of the greatest villains in fiction, not the worst heroines. At least, if they are unlikeable, the book can make up for it by showing how their decisions are affecting everyone who are trying to help them and force a heel-face turn. So, you may continue on alongside a hero you hate in the hope that their chickens will come home to roost sooner or later. Then, like with the previous entry, it becomes clear that the author isn’t willing to do that. They’re too focussed on forcing the reader to like them no matter what they do or say. Just like in real life, you can’t be forced to like someone against your will and, if the author doesn’t understand that, then it’s not worth continuing with their book.

3 ft – You Know Where The Plot’s Going

Fathoming hexagon 3ftThis could be for a number of reasons. Sometimes, it’s as simple as finding a spoiler and deciding the book isn’t worth sticking with. Other times, you can see the clichés arrayed before you like symptoms of a disease, all lining up towards only one possible conclusion as to where this story is going to end up. On rare occasions, the book will surprise you by going in the opposite direction and all will be well again. Most of the time, however, the diagnosis will be predictable and you’ll be left groaning in disbelief at what you saw coming a mile off. So, if you can tell that this book isn’t going to give you anything positive, don’t feel bad about dumping it. If the book can’t think of something that hasn’t been done many times before, I can’t think of a better way to reward it other than DNFing.

4 ft – You’re Overwhelmed With Info Dumps

Fathoming hexagon 4ftYou didn’t buy this book for a history lesson. Yes, it’s clear the author did their research but you wanted a story, not a collection of their notes. If this is a classics book (the sort that loves giving you a full family tree reaching back ten generations before we even meet the main character), maybe, you can give it the benefit of the doubt. If it was published in the present day, however, don’t give them any such leniency. If at any point you feel like the author is trying to write a lore book rather than a story book (and if the lore isn’t even that interesting to begin with), this is probably the time when you should consider DNFing. Maybe, not on the first offence but definitely on the third. If reading a synopsis of the story is more interesting than reading the book itself, it really is time to give it up.

5 ft – You Feel The Book’s Potential is Wasted

Fathoming hexagon 5ftReading a book that was always going to be average is infuriating enough. Reading something that you know had potential but was completely squandered is even worse. Yes, trying to translate ideas into a good story is difficult but you felt that even you could have done a better job with what you had. When reading a book, you want to be dazzled with the author’s creativity, style and world building. You want to think ‘oh, I never would have thought of doing that’, not ‘oh, why did they think that was a good idea’ or ‘I would be enjoying this so much more if the writing style wasn’t so boring’. Now, this is sometimes the fault of synopsis writers who made big promises that the book itself couldn’t keep or the fault of the marketing team overhyping the book. Still, if you ask yourself ‘would I like this better if I hadn’t read the synopsis/following the hype’ and the answer is no, then it’s time to ditch that underwhelming book.

6 ft – You’re Just Bored

Fathoming hexagon 6ftDo you really need a reason if you’re just not enjoying it? If you’re not connecting with a book, then why drag it out to the end? You know that, even if there’s a fantastic climax at the end of all this, it’s not going to raise a previously two star book to a five star. It might have a great style, there may be some glimmers of originality, there might be an interesting world for you to enjoy and there may even be some characters you really root for. However, it just doesn’t have that one big thing you’re looking for in a book. It’s not the book’s fault. You two are just not a good fit. Best to end things now when things are still amicable than drag it out to the point when you actually do want to throw the thing across the room in frustration.

Have you DNFed any books for these reasons recently? Did you DNF for a completely different reason? Let me know in the comments below!

I hope to see you again very soon.

Cool Text - Laura 319874629599889

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