Readers choose a story because they think it will hold their interest, so why do they sometimes skim or stop reading the story? There’s probably a variety of reasons, but I’ve noticed a few trends in comments in my critique group and from my own reading habits that may offer some insight.
Maybe I’m a lazy reader, but when I see a paragraph or a few paragraphs of description that take up a whole page, I groan a little. That means the author stopped the story to describe something in such depth that it took a page to do it. That’s a page where the characters are waiting in a kind of limbo for me to finish reading whatever backstory the author decided I needed to know at that moment. Chances are, I won’t remember most of it. It’s not like I take notes whilst reading a novel. So I skim the description to get back to the story.
I’m not alone here. I would say this is the most common complaint among critique-ers. Readers connect with the characters, not descriptive settings and backstory. Description should be sprinkled throughout the narrative, not presented all at once.
2. Inauthentic Dialogue
I wrote about this more in depth in this post and this post. Bad dialogue is more likely to make me stop reading than to just skim. Dialogue is where the meat of the story is. It’s how the readers know who the characters are and how they respond in certain situations. Sure, you can relay the story with a single character and a single setting sans dialogue, but even Tom Hank’s character in Cast Away had a volleyball to talk to.
3. Failure to connect
With a character, specifically. My yet-to-be-published adult mystery novel has four POV characters, and it’s been really interesting to see which ones the beta readers and writing partners connect with. Knowing what I know about how the characters behave later, it could be good or it could be awkward. In any case, it will keep the readers reading, because they want to see how “their” character’s story plays out.
It’s rare for me to read a story where I don’t connect with the main character. The MC could be a sixty-year-old retired detective, and I can still connect. The key is for the MC to be human. Give him feelings and regrets. Let him make mistakes. Give him a history. That’s how we connect to people in the real world, and that’s how we connect with characters.
4. Wanting to get to the exciting part
This occurs when the author stalls the reader by adding an irrelevant subplot, random conversations or whatever before getting to the story. This is probably what happens in the “mushy middle”, which can be a tough thing to write through. The conflicts need to be authentic, the dialogue relevant, or I find myself skimming.
What else could be on this list? What makes you want to skim or stop reading a story?