Not long ago, I asked you to tell me what elements in a novel are most likely to pull you out of the story and keep you from finishing it. That’s a rather difficult question to really get into, if you think about it. For one thing, people are all different with respect to what bothers them. For another, we all have different ideas of what counts as ‘too much’ (violence, sex, profanity, suspension of disbelief, etc.).
Still, I found out some really interesting information. Many thanks to all of you who took the time to respond to the poll. There were 76 total responses (and remember, you had the option of voting for more than one category, so these are votes, not individual people). Let’s take a look now at what I learned from you.
Here are the results I found when I asked the question: What’s most likely to make you stop reading a book?
To me, anyway, the most interesting finding here is that no one element dominated all of the others as the reason you stop reading books. It’s true that plodding stories got the most votes (16). But that’s only about 20% of the total number of votes. We could say the same about the element of extreme violence, which got 14 votes (roughly 18%).
If you look at the other elements, you see a similar pattern of no one element standing out. Each of them (except for ‘Something Else Entirely,’ which I’ll return to shortly) got between 8 and 13 votes (10-17%), with none really dominating. That in itself is an interesting pattern.
One thing it may suggest is that no one of these elements is more off-putting than another. To put it another way, you folks have about as much dislike for, say, characters you can’t warm to as you do for, say, too much suspension of disbelief. You may notice (and therefore really dislike) plodding story lines a bit more than you do those unappealing characters. But overall, none of these elements is the one that everyone resoundingly dislikes.
There were a few votes (4, or just over 5%) for elements that I neglected to put on this poll. That’s what that handy catchall term ‘Something Else Entirely’ represents. And each of those votes might represent something different. What that tells me is that, for the most part, you folks are all put off by similar things, the things on this list.
There are, of course, plenty of complexities in the issue of what puts people off a book. Just to give one example, there’s the matter of sub-genre and type of novel. What people consider ‘extreme length’ might vary depending on the sub-genre or topic of the novel. The same might be said for violence (too much violence for a thriller is not the same as too much for a cosy mystery, for instance). An ‘ism’ that offends you in a contemporary novel might be more palatable in a novel written during an earlier time.
It’s also worth noting that there were 76 responses here. The data might look different if I’d found a way to include everyone who reads crime fiction. The data might also look different if I’d added more elements.
That said, though, I’ve drawn a few very tentative conclusions. One is that there may be a constellation of things that drive people to stop reading a book, with none of them really being an awful lot more significant than any other. Another is that there seems to be a common group of such things. That one’s a bit more tentative, though, since as I mentioned, I only included seven elements. Oh, and finally…you folks are most helpful, and you taught me a lot here. Thanks.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Manfred Mann’s Tribal Statistics.