what makes a book a dnf?

I’ve talked about the dreaded DNF before and in other forums have outlined some of the reasons why I’ve not finished a book – such as a failure to connect, predictability *yawn* of a story, or because (I thought) it was just plain crap – but what I want to know is if you have a “tell”?

What I mean by this is whether there are any warning signs particular to you, which mean the book will be a DNF or a struggle to read.

My clue to a DNF is when I ‘put the book to one side’.

I know if I do this and if it’s left there for more than a couple of days the chances are slim to none that I will be picking it up again. *Of course it sits there mocking me, but that’s a topic for discussion with my shrink for another day.*

Do you have any tells??

About Kris

Reads, rants, randoms & R+s. You've been warned. BTW, don't follow me if you're a GLBTQQphobic wanker. It won't end well. For you.
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30 Responses to what makes a book a dnf?

  1. orannia says:

    I don't really put books to one side. I keep reading until I can't force myself too any longer 😦 For me it's usually a feeling – am I interested, or could I put the book to one side, not finish it and not care that I never know what happens. If I get that feeling then the book gets returned to the library and I move on to the next on the list.

    That wasn't very much help, was it?

  2. Jenre says:

    I have to admit I rarely DNF a book. When I do it's for the same reason as you, Kris. I stop reading it (for whatever reason) and never pick it up again.

    There's one book I did that with recently and I keep meaning to go back to it because it was a good, well written book. The themes were quite heavy though and I just wasn't in the mood for a book containing such hatefilled characters. One day I will so I'll finish it then.

  3. Clare London says:

    I used to take great pride in the fact I would read any book I chose all the way through, even if I decided at the end I hadn't liked it for certain reasons. Nowadays there are so many other things grabbing my time, I have to be drawn in within two chapters or I give up. I may go back for another look if I read a good review or re-discover the author through another book. But rarely.

    Impatient cow, aren't I? LOL But that's why I love the excerpts on ebooks. I know some people don't use them for decision making but for me they're all-important. If I can't connect with the author's style, it doesn't matter what the subject matter is, I won't get through it. I have to *engage*.

    And reasons I'm not drawn in?
    Writing style is stilted or overly melodramatic.
    Dialogue isn't realistic ( abiggie for me).
    Neither protagonist engages my sympathy.
    I have a strong feeling I want to 'slap' a character…

    Oops, getting carried away there.

    On my plus side (I hope) – I never make decisions based only on the theme or even genre – it's all about the writing for me. I can enjoy all kinds of fiction.

  4. Clare London says:

    ooops, meant to include a note on Jen's comment there.

    I agree completely – some books you have to be in the right *mood* for.

    I don't like to read too many similar ones in a sequence.
    I also know for the more heavyweight topics – even though I'm looking forward to reading the book – I need to have the time and mindset ready for it.

  5. Tam says:

    I don't have many DNFs in my life but if I can stop reading it for more than a couple of days that's probably a good clue, although I have gone back and finished it as long as he reason I stopped reading it was a) I wasn't in the mood for that type (as Jen noted) b) I had toy poodle flu and just couldn't focus on a book longer than 34 pages.

    If however I put it aside because a) I was joining Clare in a slap fest of one or both characters b) a particular theme started up that I just can't stomach (religious fundies and one character buying into the crap) then I'll never ever go back and I even deleted those two slappers last week. 🙂

    I can set aside a print book more often and go back to them because I'll toss it in my purse if I know I'm going somewhere I have to wait (orthodontist appointments, kids' lessons) so I'll read a small bit and it may be a couple of weeks later that I'll read some more. I suppose in a way its a reflection of the book because if it really caught me I'd be glued to it after I got home, but I eventually finish them.

  6. K. Z. Snow says:

    Poor or even mechanical, workmanlike writing will always be a deal breaker for me. And if a story or characters strike me as derivative, I'm done.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Some books are DNF for me if they bore me, but some books are so bad I just have to finish and see how bad they can get. Of course by the time I finish it my blood pressure is usually high and my heart beats fast. Case in point, 'A taste of Honey' the way it started with the guy trying to masturbate IN HIS MOTHERS BEDROOM was just the beginning. The ick factor just kept rising.
    Anyway my point is some books are so bad u just have to go on reading them even though they should be DNF's.

  8. This is a really interesting question. As far as DNF goes, I think I might be sensitive to issues of believability:

    (1) I start reading the first page and the scene feels completely unbelievable. No one would really act like this.

    (2) Too many weird factual errors

    (3) No clear-cut character to identify with (maybe too many characters or too much head-hopping make me wonder whose story it is).

    (4) No conflict. I'm okay with those slice-of-life stories, though, if the characters and setting are vivid.

    (5) I get the feeling the fiction is intended less to tell a story and more to serve as therapy for the author or a way for the author to educate the reader on his politics and causes. I have to admit that #5 is an immediate deal-breaker for me.

  9. Kris says:

    Orannia: Yep, it was a help. 🙂

    “I keep reading until I can't force myself too any longer.”

    You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din! I'd fear adding to the dents in my wall if I forced myself to read past my 'I gotta stop reading this RIGHT NOW' cut off point. LOL.

    Jen: I've also done that with books that I'm not in the mood for, but I know I'll get back to because they are very good. (Actually I have one sitting on my kitchen table right now. LOL.) I have to admit that I don't do this very frequently though because of the 'put it to one side' thing. If I do it with a good book it tends to pysch me out a bit from getting back to it… and now I sound even more weird than usual. *snort*

  10. Kris says:

    Clare: “Impatient cow, aren't I?” Umm, possibly not the best person to comment as I've been known to give up after a couple of chapters myself. LOL.

    Like you, I need to feel that connection to the story – obviously pretty close to the outset. I can forgive a lot of things (in terms of writing style and what I call Dawson Creek dialogue), but I MUST connect with the characters. If I don't… well, it's to the secondhand book shop or back up hard drive for 'em.

    Re: excerpts – I now find myself reading more excerpts if I'm wavering about a purchase or if it's a new to me author. As some of us have commented elsewhere, quality is a bit hit and miss at the moment so I prefer to save my frustrations for something other than wasting money on crappy ebooks.

  11. Kris says:

    Tam: I'm beginning to get the sense that we're not half-demanding when it comes to our reading material. LOL. I think you're more tolerant than I am when it comes to 'things that make you go slap', Tam. Nothing that would make you nicer than me though. 😉

    K Z: “And if a story or characters strike me as derivative, I'm done.” Oh yeah. And there've been a few of those around at the moment let me tell you. Let's try and keep it fresh, people!

  12. Kris says:


    “… some books are so bad I just have to finish and see how bad they can get.”

    I've only had one like this – I just don't have the patience otherwise. It was such complete shit it was like reading a trainwreck. I couldn't stop. It was an extremely icky version of western yaoi. I can't even remember the name of it now so I've obviously managed to supress as much of the memory as possible. BLECH!

    Obsidian Bookshelf:

    Believability is one of the major reasons why I don't read as much m/f any more. If it's historical romance I can *sort of* handle TSTL chicks, but when it's contemp… NO!!!

    Actually, thinking about it, I wonder if it is my issues with believability in contemps – m/f or m/m – that have made me more of a fan of spec fic where suspending disbelief is pretty much a given. Don't get me wrong, I do read comtemp but there have been many a time when I've muttered a 'oh, come on. as if'. Hmm, something for me to mull over.

    BTW, I'm also trying to think of a book that I've read which is your #5. I really do have a selective memory, don't I. LOL.

  13. Tam says:

    #5 Just read one. I thought I was in a medieval history lesson and a fictional history lesson at that. I'm assuming because it was never a theory I'd heard before. I was kind of wondering if it was someone's thesis idea that got shot down so they wrote a book about it to fulfill their destiny. It wasn't bad I guess but I kept wondering “why?”.

  14. K. Z. Snow says:

    Tam, what books have you read where religious fundamentalists played a role? That stopped me dead in my tracks! Were they inspie romances or what? (I ask this because you mentioned characters “buying into the crap.” Made me chuckle, but I couldn't imagine what genre these were in.)

  15. K. Z. Snow says:

    As long as I'm up and it's warm in here and I'm getting cranky, I might as well mention oddball character names.

    These usually turn up in fantasies. One or two don't bother me if they're infrequently mentioned and easily pronouced. Hell, in a fantasy context, not all characters are going to have names like Fred.

    But if I read an excerpt that makes me pole-vault, repeatedly, over apostrophes and other punctuation marks in characters' names, or the names are made up of unearthly combinations of vowels and consonants (Xczighzk) that even the Polish language would reject, I immediately flee. I flee, I tell you!

    Seriously, I couldn't read through the first chapter of a book like that without some rather extreme homicidal impulses surfacing.

  16. Kris says:

    Tam: Are you talking about the one from the DSP anthology?? Ok. I can see how that would be a #5.

    K Z: *Getting cranky???* Was it Douglas Adams who had unpronouncable names in his stories as a parody of the EPIC names in high fantasy??

    Reading *and LMAO* about what you said about excerpts really rings true to me and is one of the reasons why I've started to use them more and more. A number of times I've read the excerpt and thought 'Good God prob'ly not the BEST choice from the work'… which has made me think of something I want to post about. Thanks K Z!

  17. K. Z. Snow says:

    Did I just do something right?

    Y'know, it isn't only high fantasy in which those damned alien names show up. I've seen plenty of them in paranormal and fantasy romances. Now how the bloody hell can you murmur your lover's name at the height of passion if you can't even pronounce the damned thing? Nothing too romantic about sounding like you're a.) gargling, b.) about to vomit, or c.) fixing to launch a loogie.

    Gawd, when will people learn?

  18. Kris says:

    Maybe they're formal name is Xczighzk but their nickname is Fred??

  19. K. Z. Snow says:

    Time to take off your wig, Kris. I think it's starting to pinch.

  20. Kris says:

    Awww, you know you love it. 🙂 Prolly just as much as you love my grammar. LOL.

  21. orannia says:

    You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

    Ahhh, thank you but I don't think I deserve the praise 🙂 You did see my rants last month over a particular book that took me 13 1/2 days to read….?

  22. Kris says:

    LOL. True. 😉

  23. Tam says:

    KZ: It was a book called Runaway Star. A space book. Hero A grew up on a religious fundie planet so felt conflicted about being with Hero B but when he is parents died and told him they wanted him to raise his little sister on fundie planet, he dumped the boyfriend and was prepared to raise his little sister with a bunch of fundies. Yeah yeah, I flipped ahead and they get back together but just the fact that he even made that decision made me so freaking furious I refused to finish the book. Not that it was bad, and lots of people loved it but I just couldn't get past the fact that he gave into his parents – even considered it for 2 min – (though they were dead).

    Kris: Yep, that's the one.

  24. Ingrid says:

    It's not good when I find myself checking my email, or the news or whatever else on the net when reading.

    But I will finish my book in 99% of the time. It's different for library books, if I don't like it after first chapter then they are returned un read.

  25. Tracy says:

    I usually finish every book whether I'm loving it or not. I have to be incredibly bored and can't possibly force myself to read another word to not finish a book. And even then I'm usually 3/4 of the way through it. I just have to give them all a fighting chance. I think I've only had about 5 DNF's in the past 2 years.

  26. Kris says:

    Ingrid: Cos if it's something you've purchased yourself you're already invested in it and therefore feel obliged to read it, Ingrid?? Is that what you mean as opposed to a book from the library??

    “It's not good when I find myself checking my email, or the news or whatever else on the net when reading.”

    Umm, no. That WOULD tend to be a dead giveaway. LOL.


    “I just have to give them all a fighting chance.”

    Did you see what I said to Orannia?? Ditto for you. I would think by the time you're already 3/4 of the way through a book you prob'ly think you might as well just finish it, right??

  27. Tracy says:

    Yes, you'd think I'd just finish it but usually by the time I'm 3/4 of the way through I've been telling myself to stop reading for about 100 pages. Oh the agony! lol

  28. Tracy says:

    Oh! I keep forgetting to say: LOVE the picture you put up for this post!!

  29. Ingrid says:

    I guess its something like that.

    Books from the library are mainstream so there are a lot more them where it came from.
    Although I am disappointed when a new sci-fi book doesn't work for me.

  30. Kris says:

    Tracy: LOL. Silly!

    It's a great pic, isn't it. 🙂

    Ingrid: *nods* I'm with you now.

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