Results 1 to 21 of 21

Thread: What keeps you reading?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057

    What keeps you reading?

    If I'm reading a whodunnit, I keep reading because I want to know whodunnit. (Duh.)

    If the character is trapped in a seemingly impossible situation, I keep reading to see how he or she gets out of it - or indeed if he or she gets out of it. If someone has built a great life on a lie, I'm potentially interested to see how the other characters will react when the lie is discovered.

    If a character has acquired an unprecendented ability, I'm keen to see what use he or she will make of it. One of the best books ever was Ken Grimwood's Replay. Written long before Groundhog Day or 12.01, it told the story of a man who was reliving the years 1963 to 1988, with the freedom to change anything he liked.

    But some stories don't seem to have anything to keep me turning the pages.

    I recently tried to read Iain M. Banks' "The State of the Art". Not a particularly long story, but in the dozen or so pages I read, I couldn't find anything to keep me intrigued - I had no idea what the main "character" or the ship were trying to achieve, or what might get in their way. I've read crime fiction by such fine authors as Ian Rankin or Donna Leon where I've frankly lost track of whattheydun, let alone whodunnit. I finished Hide & Seek and Death in a Strange Country thinking, "Oh so it was, like, high level corruption that dunnit, but I don't actually care and it's not exactly a startling revelation."

    Does anyone else feel short-changed by some storytellers?
    Last edited by Paul Beardsley; 2009-Jun-14 at 06:15 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Posts
    16,229
    I hate it when authors bring up something that interests me and then have it turn out to be a very minor plot point.

    In the Century Kids novel focusing on the 80s, the mother is stated as reading Carl Sagan's Cosmos. Since the story has an ecological focus, perhaps she'd quote it dramatically at the end? Nope, it's never mentioned again.

    In The Mystery of the Ancient Pyramid, they meet Zahi Hawass at the beginning of the book and his briefcase gets stolen. Since he shows up in every Egyptology documentary made in recent years, surely he'll be on hand to help them solve the case or at least guide them around one site? Nope, he gets a little scene at the end and that's it.

    From the same author, The Mystery in New York City: There's a clue at the Intrepid, but the detectives have absolutely no idea which exhibit it refers to. Will they check out any of the space hardware, just in case? If not, at least their pilot grandfather will mention the Intrepid's capsule recoveries in modest detail, right? Nope, he gives it one sentence.
    The greatest journey of all time, for all to see
    Every mission makes our dreams reality
    And our destiny begins with you and me
    Through all space and time, the achievement of mankind
    As we sail the sea of discovery, on heroes’ wings we fly!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Posts
    18,336
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    Does anyone else feel short-changed by some storytellers?
    That happens a lot. I use what I call the "twenty page rule." That is, I'll read the first twenty pages, and if something in the story grabs me, I'll continue. If I find nothing in twenty pages, I put the book down. I'll sometimes extend that to fifty or a hundred pages for books that have been highly recommended, but if I hit a hundred pages and I'm still wondering why I'm reading the book, I put it down and never pick it up again.

    You mentioned Iain M. Banks. Unfortunately, while I think he has presented some interesting ideas, I just have a lot of trouble getting into his stories. There are some authors I like reading, but in the science fiction field (my favorite for recreational reading), there just aren't many authors today that are fun for me to read. It's a highly subjective issue, though one problem is that most editors don't seem to be doing much editing. Books these days tend to be fat, often with hundreds of pages of stuff that doesn't seem to be relevant to the plot. It's hard to stay interested in bloated stories.

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." — Abraham Lincoln

    I say there is an invisible elf in my backyard. How do you prove that I am wrong?

    The Leif Ericson Cruiser

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    4,181
    One of the reasons I went through a long list of Alastair Reynolds after reading my first just a few months ago, was they all have something in common with WhoDunIts--in addition to being hard SF with strange new worlds, new civilizations, and going where no man has gone before, each book has lots of mysteries introduced throughout, and eventually solved, but with clues along the way that give a reader a chance to solve it first. (I'm about 50/50--half the time I solve it before the solution is given away). E.g. House of Suns, at the beginning, is mention of "The Absence"--look toward where the Andromeda Galaxy should be, and you see black. In a large telescope, you can see stars of Andromeda's halo, but not the spiral portion of the galaxy. It is not till the very end when the reason is given. But clues are given throughout--I solved it about one chapter before the end, right before the "deadline" where he gives the answer. The only thing I'll say of the answer is that it violates Occam's Razor, but if Occam's Razor were preserved, it would take away a big chunk of the story.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Mytho-poetic dreams.
    Posts
    11,944
    Depends on the genre.

    I dislike most fiction, but do like suspense stories. If the author has believable characters (NO stereotypes) and has written a true page-turner, I'm hooked.

    If it's non-fiction it's got to be somewhat reader friendly and written in a "let's discuss this over a cup of coffee" manner. If it's simply a dry bone of typewritten droning, into File 13 it goes.
    Dip me in ink and toss me to the Poets.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Posts
    156
    I read about one novel a week. I go to the library and takeout 2 or 3. I'll read a chapter, maybe two and will stop or continue.

    Random thoughts.

    I avoid cliche characters such as the good looking 30-year-old district attorney who has accomplished blah, blah.... Give me a 'regular guy' or a likeable anti-hero

    I like well written prose ...the more 'Oscar Wildish', the better.

    If I see the word 'CIA' or similar...I stop. I don't need to read about another super smart bad guys foiled by the rogue super smart agent...SNORE.

    I prefer a setting to be small town or rural rather than London, NY, etc.

    I prefer a shorter book (250 etc pages to one longer (400,etc.)...not because I don't mind reading a longer book but because most modern novels get drawn out with repetition. Too slow moving...get on with the friggin plot!

    Please, no car chases, shoot outs, etc. No main characters kids being kidnapped and definitely not the main character being accused of 'the crime'..been done a billion times.

    The plot should be credible.

    I need to like the main character. Nothing worse than not particularly liking or rooting for someone.

    Seems self-evident but it should have a good ending. To0 many books might be well written, hold your attention and then fizzle at the end. It's as if the author got lazy or bored. The worse is Stephen King...just burn the house down or blow up the building...the end.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Posts
    13,886
    Does anyone else feel short-changed by some storytellers?
    Van Rijn mentioned something I tend to agree with: more often I feel long-changed. Too many stories feel padded out to get to the all-important one inch thick binding.

    I read Kim Robinson's story "Mother Goddess of the World" in one gulp and enjoyed it immensely. I never quite finished Red Mars and never went farther. Compared to "Mother Goddess" it just felt so bloated and slow that my mind froze up like a polar icecap.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Posts
    243
    One book that kept me reading was The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. I had to keep on reading because I simply had to find out what the Jackal was going to be up to next.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Olympia, WA
    Posts
    30,882
    Quote Originally Posted by raptorthang View Post
    The worse is Stephen King...just burn the house down or blow up the building...the end.
    Clearly, you're reading the wrong King; that very seldom happens in his work. In fact, the book I think of first that has an explosion has it happen about two thirds of the way in and arguably gets to the most important stuff after the explosion. In fact, I'm quite fond of King myself. For one, I think he's got a good knack for phrases. I think that he understands the inherent morality of the horror genre. I think he knows the history of whatever genre he happens to be writing in--not always horror--and respects it. Oh, there are some books we can do without--mostly what I call the "cocaine books," for reasons that are obvious to anyone who knows the man's history. However, most of his books actually spend a fair amount of time exploring what happens after the triumph over the villain. The Eyes of the Dragon, Bag of Bones, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon are good for that, and I think one of the greatest endings in the history of literature is the ending of The Shawshank Redemption. Phenomenal last lines.

    I can deal with stereotypes; everyone fits at least one in some way, even if it isn't the stereotype of their particular self-identified group. If the character is a cookie-cutter character, however, I'm done. If I can tell by reading the first dozen pages or so exactly what everyone is like and exactly what everyone will do, I'm done. If I spend the first dozen or so pages wanting to track down either character or author and kick them, I'm done. If I can't remember any character's name five minutes after setting down the book, I'm done.

    If the vampires glitter . . . .
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Posts
    156
    I was listening to Ron Howard field a question about the 'cookie-cutter' characters in a movie. He said he didn't lke them but often they are a necessity because the director doesn't need to spend half the movie developing a character...he can get on with the story. This was also the reason for so many cliche roles in half hour westerns which dominated television in the early 60's....as soon as you saw a character you knew he was 'the bad guy'.

    Unfortunately a lot of these cliches spill over into novels. The shady characters even in pre-WW2 pulp fiction had more nuance of character than a lot of modern novels.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Oct 2001
    Posts
    30,022
    I am almost completely incapable of reading a story when I have no idea why I should be reading the story, i.e., why is what these characters doing significant? Where are we going with this? If I don't have an answer, I can't focus on the story and tend to just skip to the next one.
    Everything I need to know I learned through Googling.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057
    Some great answers here, many I can relate to.

    ToSeek - you're describing what I think of as the "why are you telling me this?" problem. I used to get it a lot when I read Interzone magazine. Too many stories had no mystery, no hook.

    Gillian - the last lines of Shawshank - yes, they are very powerful.

    Buttercup - I like the "over a cup of coffee" thing.

    tdvance - when my studies are over in October, I'm definitely going to get my Reynolds books off the shelf.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Olympia, WA
    Posts
    30,882
    Quote Originally Posted by raptorthang View Post
    I was listening to Ron Howard field a question about the 'cookie-cutter' characters in a movie. He said he didn't lke them but often they are a necessity because the director doesn't need to spend half the movie developing a character...he can get on with the story. This was also the reason for so many cliche roles in half hour westerns which dominated television in the early 60's....as soon as you saw a character you knew he was 'the bad guy'.

    Unfortunately a lot of these cliches spill over into novels. The shady characters even in pre-WW2 pulp fiction had more nuance of character than a lot of modern novels.
    The thing is, I think they're a cheat even in movies. No, not every character needs a backstory. But if you can take the character and plunk them down, whole and unchanged, in a different story without either story suffering for it (presumably the characters would be traded!), you need to work on your characterization.
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Posts
    13,886
    I did say what stops me reading, but what keeps me reading is mostly characterization. If the characters are not interesting (and, usually, at least somewhat sympathetic), it better be a really big idea (or an extremely well-realized milieu) to keep me interested.

    A perfect example for me is George Martin's book Fevre Dream. I rarely pick up horror, suspense, that sort of thing. But the character of Cap'n Abner was so well done, and the steamboat background so real-feeling, I suddenly didn't mind it was about vampires.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Posts
    2,930
    Characters are much more important to me than plot. I recently read Joy Williams's The Quick and the Dead, an excellent book with very little plot--but fascinating, if infuriating characters. I love protagonists who keep me on my toes, who can make me root for them one minute and despise them the next, only to bring me back around to their side once more. Even better is a protagonist that I actually dislike, but nonetheless can't help but want to read more about (e.g., A Simple Plan).

    There's one writer in particular who infuriates me on a regular basis, though not for the right reasons. He can spin an awesome yarn to be sure, and when he's good, he's great. But too often, he trots out syrupy protagonists who can do no wrong, only to counterpose them with villains who prefer quiet evenings by the fire, roasting babies on spits. These cardboard cutouts hold no interest for me, and few things will turn me off to a writer quicker than buying into these black-white dichotomies.

    Re OP: For the record, I thought Replay was outstanding, and one of the very best novels I've read.

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Oct 2001
    Posts
    30,022
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    ToSeek - you're describing what I think of as the "why are you telling me this?" problem. I used to get it a lot when I read Interzone magazine. Too many stories had no mystery, no hook.
    That's the perfect way to describe it. I run into it sometimes with some of the artier stories in Asimov's and just skip to the next one.
    Everything I need to know I learned through Googling.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Posts
    12,185
    I wouldn't say there necessarily has to be drama, mystery, or action to keep me "hooked", but I at least have to have a connection with the character. If you don't care what's in store for the characters, then why would you keep reading?

    There's been plenty of stories with contrived or boring plots, but that I still considered "good" because the "actors" were so well developed.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Posts
    1,331
    Mostly what keeps me reading is a desire to find out "what happens next?!"

    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren
    But if you can take the character and plunk them down, whole and unchanged, in a different story without either story suffering for it (presumably the characters would be traded!), you need to work on your characterization.
    While I don't doubt that this is true for a large number of inexperienced, lazy, or untalented writers, I think a case could be made that it's perfectly legitimate for a good writer to lay his hands on well-known stock characters and use them more or less as "props" for a novel and engaging new story. And I'd hate to be down on a perfectly good story, because I mistook a quick and serviceable sketch of easily-recognized archetypes as a lack of "working on characterization" on the part of an author who had other things to spend his creative energies on.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Olympia, WA
    Posts
    30,882
    Quote Originally Posted by stutefish View Post
    While I don't doubt that this is true for a large number of inexperienced, lazy, or untalented writers, I think a case could be made that it's perfectly legitimate for a good writer to lay his hands on well-known stock characters and use them more or less as "props" for a novel and engaging new story. And I'd hate to be down on a perfectly good story, because I mistook a quick and serviceable sketch of easily-recognized archetypes as a lack of "working on characterization" on the part of an author who had other things to spend his creative energies on.
    I've never really felt the need to do that in my own writing. It's true that some of my characters are far more developed than others, but I've never felt the need for "the gruff cop" just like everyone else's gruff cop. A very few lines can sketch one out without necessarily matching everyone else's version thereof.
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    WA state, USA - Seattle area
    Posts
    2,900
    Quote Originally Posted by Fazor View Post
    I wouldn't say there necessarily has to be drama, mystery, or action to keep me "hooked", but I at least have to have a connection with the character. If you don't care what's in store for the characters, then why would you keep reading?

    There's been plenty of stories with contrived or boring plots, but that I still considered "good" because the "actors" were so well developed.
    This is a big factor for me as well. If I am interested in the characters and what happens to them, I'll keep reading. If I find myself not caring about the characters, I'll usually put the book down. For good.

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Posts
    486
    For me, it is definitely the plot and the pace (as in: breakneck) what keeps me reading.
    I am best captured by a "big" mystery (space, archeology, something like that).
    Unfortunately, many novels start well but sag in the middle, and I don't always have the patience to wait out these doldrums. I start to speed-read or occasionally even go forward just to see how it ends.

Similar Threads

  1. What are you reading?
    By Gemini in forum Small Media at Large
    Replies: 4123
    Last Post: 2019-Oct-06, 04:10 PM
  2. Re-reading
    By Trebuchet in forum Off-Topic Babbling
    Replies: 75
    Last Post: 2014-Mar-14, 10:28 AM
  3. What are you not reading?
    By Paul Beardsley in forum Small Media at Large
    Replies: 182
    Last Post: 2013-Sep-30, 06:36 PM
  4. Reading Age
    By Sticks in forum Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy
    Replies: 41
    Last Post: 2008-May-09, 03:59 PM
  5. Reading computer screen is easy than reading books
    By suntrack2 in forum Off-Topic Babbling
    Replies: 53
    Last Post: 2006-May-27, 12:14 PM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •