To DNF, Or Not DNF: That Is The Question!
So I’ve never really picked up a book and not finished. I mean, I can probably count the books on one hand that I haven’t finished. Even if it takes me years (Yeah, Brisingr, I’m looking at you!) I will go back to a book and finish it because it’s just the way I am. I’m a naturally curious person and I cannot explain how utterly frustrating and annoying it is to start something and then not know how it ends. It’s the reason why if someone says something but I didn’t hear them and then they don’t tell me what they said because “it was nothing” or “it’s not important” I will hound them until they tell me even if it was really unimportant. I just gotta know! I could really dislike a book and still push through it just because of that. It’s like an itch I gotta scratch.
That being said, however, there are also the handful of times that I haven’t been able to finish a book and it just ends up in the black hole that is my DNF pile. I recently had this happen (*grumbles*) with an ARC that I received. It’s actually the first ARC I’ve had to sincerely give up on (and I’ve read other ARC’s that I really didn’t like but still read). It’s kinda upsetting for me since I liked my always-finishes-an-arc-streak that I had going but it made me ask myself: under what circumstances or what reasons would I DNF (Did Not Finish) a book?
If we break this down into categories, I think the writing is a pretty good place to start. More often than not, this would be a reason I would decide not to finish a book or just decide I don’t like it in general. This is the most basic aspect a book should address, and if it doesn’t it’s a big no-no for me. Things I would put in this category are:
- Issues with grammar or spelling
- Overused/repetitive wording
- Overly descriptive or little/bland description
- Language is too elevated (it sounds like they’re trying too hard to sound sophisticated)
- The style, voice, or point of view (maybe it’s a first person and the main character uses a lot of slang or has an accent that bothers you/makes it hard to get into the story). Maybe it’s not bad, but it’s just something that isn’t for you
Often times, we get to know the characters better than we do the overall story. I feel like characters are the employees at a store. You don’t know if the store has what you’re looking for, but if they’re the first thing you see and they’re rude or have a crappy attitude then you’re probably not going to want to stick around. When you first walk into a store you don’t get to see all of it (just like we don’t get to know the whole plot and decide if we like it–you know, unless you look up spoilers). If you don’t like the employees (characters) it’s fairly easy to just find another store where the people are friendly, warm, helpful, and kind of just enjoyable to be around. These are some issues I might take with characters:
- When the characters keep making the same mistakes over and over (like trusting the villain even after they know they’re a villain)
- When the main characters are special snowflakes (maybe they keep “dying” and being brought back one way or another, they’re the “chosen” one, or nothing bad ever happens to them)
- Pretty much related to the one above: when characters are made to really fit a certain stereotype or fill an overused trope
- Characters with certain traits: really whiny, overly emotional (usually them crying over everything), helpless/overly dependent on others (Princess Peach complex anyone?)
- Characters that are really flat, they have basically no personality
- You feel like you never get to know the characters (maybe there’s just too many)
- Characters that have like a million love interests (Definitely talking about House of Night here)
If even after all this you’re still sticking around, then the story is probably what’s going to be the deciding factor. I think it’s the thing that tips the scale because maybe the premise of the story is really great and it’s what made you pick up the book in the first place (or maybe it was the pretty cover *is totally guilty of it*) but as you’re reading along it doesn’t unfold the way you’d hope. Here are some things that might turn me off from a story:
- Too many ideas going on all at once and it ends up being and overly complicated plot
- The story’s synopsis is off and it’s just not what you expected
- The plot spends way too much time building up to conflict and it just feels like it’s not going anywhere
- The pacing is too slow or too fast
- You have no idea what’s going on or it just doesn’t make sense
Besides the book itself, there might be some other things that may influence your decision to finish or not finish a book. Like:
- Genre, maybe you wanted to try it out but it’s not your cup of tea
- Your TBR pile is really long and you have others books that you like, and you’d rather not waste any more time on a book that doesn’t seem to be good
- Maybe the book sets off some personal triggers and talks about sensitive topics like self-harm, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, etc.
The Perfect Storm
So which of these things make you DNF? In most cases, it’s probably not just one thing. I think that for me, at least, it’s usually two or more of these things coming together and creating the perfect storm. I dislike the writing, the main character is unlikeable, and the story is going nowhere. That’s the most common combination for me to take forever to read a book or decide to not finish it. It’s all about your personal threshold I think. We all have a different limit of how bad a book can get before we decide it’s not worth finishing. For some of us, it’s really low (you’re pretty picky). For others, it’s pretty high (you probably dislike leaving things unfinished).
Whatever that limit may be for you, I think we can all agree as readers that we’re disappointed when we end up tossing a book into the DNF category because when you pick a book up you’re honestly hoping you’ll like it.
Finally, here are some books that have made my DNF pile:
- Shadowland by Alyson Noel: I dislike this series with a passion
- Dracula by Bram Stoker: I actually plan to go back and finish this one eventually since I loved most of it
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: Read most of it for school but ended up just looking at online summaries for the rest
- Legacy by Jesikah Sundin: I just had no idea what was going on and I didn’t like the writing, plus with other books, I really want to get to I didn’t feel like struggling through it
Like I said, my list is pretty short because I really hate leaving things unfinished, haha. Sometimes I’ll leave a book there for months or even years and then eventually go back and finish it just so I can feel justified and fully informed on why I dislike it (and to know how it ends).
As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. What makes you DNF? What are some books that have made your DNF pile?