top of page

4 Reasons Behind My Recent DNFs

One of the greatest hopes for any writer is that readers will not only pick up their book but see it through to its end. This doesn't always happen, however.

We all have those stories we've DNFed or "Did Not Finish." Ones you go into assuming you would enjoy the time spent with it, only to decide it's not for you.

A while back, I shared some of the common reasons that readers will DNF a book. That list was a little broad and based not just on my personal experiences, but those of the wider writing community.

I've admittedly been in a reading funk as of late, where I either really, really love what I'm reading or I can't get into it and therefore set it aside. Part of that has to do with my being a mood reader, someone who chooses their books based on how they're feeling at that particular time and is therefore apt to bounce between multiple reads, but that's not the only factor at play.

For this post, I wanted to look at some of the reasons I've DNFed books over the past year or so.

Please bear in mind that these are based on my personal opinions and may not be deal-breakers for you. I'm also not reviewing any particular book, as the reasons listed were cause for me to DNF several reads.

A Matter Of Character

The characters of a novel are often its heart and one of the first things introduced to a reader. The book is their journey, and we as readers are tagging along for the ride.

Characters tend to be the first thing I know when I start writing a new story and also happen to be one of the first things to draw me into any book.

They're also one of the biggest factors in my deciding to DNF a book.

One standout example is a love interest I referenced back in my post on romance tropes I dislike. I love a good rake figure in historical romances. However, when a rake is introduced as reminiscing on that time he seduced a woman and her daughter, bedding both within the same fortnight, and is now on the hunt for his next conquest, that's a character I'm not going to be shipping with anyone. In the back of my mind, I kept hearing that voice saying his love interest deserved so much better.

Another instance was a protagonist's first scene involving them being unreasonably rude towards hotel staff and continued to be snooty and abrasive towards anyone who crossed her path. As someone who's done their fair share of time working in retail and customer service, it really grinds my gears when characters who we as readers are supposed to be rooting for are aggressive towards folks who are just trying to do their jobs and have company policies they must follow.

On a general note, if the main character is someone I would want to avoid in real life, I'm not going to find much enjoyment in reading about them.

It mainly comes down to how well I can connect with the main character. Their wants and needs, their values, their quirks—everything that makes them who they are and how they change over the course of the story. If that relationship fails to be established or falls apart, it's possible that I'll DNF.

Can characters redeem themselves? Sure. In fact, I really appreciate redemption arcs in fiction when they feel earned. That said, if a character doesn't feel like someone I want to spend hours with, I'll simply choose not to.

Searching For The Plot

Readers often have what I would call a "page allowance" for any given book. In other words, they'll only invest a certain amount of time in a new read before deciding whether or not they're in it for the long haul. Some give the book only its first couple of pages to hook them, whereas others might wait a chapter or several before pulling the plug.

My page allowance varies. I tend to be willing to give a book up to its 20% mark or so. If I'm still not invested in the plot by that point, I'm likely to DNF.

It tends to be an issue with the inciting incident. If it takes too long for things to get going and for the story to actually start, readers may lose interest. We don't want to wait for things to happen, wading through what feels like several prologues before getting a sense of the conflict or finding a reason to care about the characters.

But it's not only about establishing a plot, but sticking to it.

One read in particular felt like it lost the plot big time, introducing life or death stakes in the first chapter and proceeding to forget about them for two thirds of the book until they were suddenly relevant again; up until that point, the protagonist had been rather passive, with things simply happening around her. She wasn't doing anything to achieve her goals because everything fell into her lap. It became less about wondering what was going to happen next and more about wondering what the point was.

A couple of the books I read in the past year featured scenes that felt extraneous.

One had a chapter about a protagonist's mother, who had not been introduced prior and was not seen afterward, ranting about his love interest. Another had a string of flashbacks to an event that was irrelevant to the plot. One of my later 2023 reads was the fourth in a series of standalone romance novels and would cut away to the protagonist's friend and her husband, who were the protagonists of the first book; it got tedious for me as a reader because these characters were not the central focus, and those sections felt like the bonus chapters one might gain access to in an author's newsletter or by supporting them on Patreon. I just wasn't interested and wanted to get back to the protagonists of the current book

It all seemed to be there to pad the runtime, so to speak, to hit a word count.

With attention spans seeming shorter than ever these days, grabbing your reader's attention is vital, as is keeping it. When you lose the plot, you lose them.

Sexcapades On Every Surface, In Almost Every Scene

Let me preface this by saying I have absolutely no problem with there being sex scenes in fiction. There's at least one steamy scene in each of my WIPs and the bulk of the romance novels I read. If it's simply alluded to or the scene fades to black, cool. If everything plays out on the page, no qualms there. As long as you're comfortable writing the spicy bits, go for it. Have a day.

My enjoyment of a sex scene as a reader, however, comes with some stipulations.

The main thing is that there has to be some justifiable, storytelling purpose for the scene to be there, such as moving the plot forward or deepening character relationships.

Gratuitous sex in fiction just doesn't do it for me, and it was one of the reasons I DNFed a Pride and Prejudice sequel this past summer.

What was the issue here? It wasn't the inclusion of sex itself, but rather the frequency of it.

Like many Pride and Prejudice sequels, this book followed Elizabeth and Darcy after they wed at the end of Jane Austen's novel. It opens with the couple heading for an inn on their wedding night. Eventually, they end up in bed and consummate their marriage.

And afterward, it seemed that every scene involved them doing the deed for several pages. And if they weren't actively partaking in their newfound hobby, they were constantly thinking about it. Elizabeth becomes clingy and obsessed with doing far more than snogging with Darcy, a stark contrast to the strong independent woman of Austen's masterpiece.

When Darcy and Lizzie arrived at nearly any new setting, the conversation shifted to what surfaces they could bone on—especially once they arrived at Pemberley.

It just became repetitive (among other issues).

Additionally, as I mentioned above, I was not able to see a hint of plot. The glimpses we got were almost secondary to the sexcapades of the no-longer virginal Mr. and Mrs. Darcy.

I gave this one a bit over seventy pages before DNFing.

The Blurb Lied—Or Was At Least Misaligned

Writers make promises to their readers at the beginning of every story. Through genre conventions and the setup, the writer tells readers what's in store for them should they press on with the journey alongside the characters newly introduced to them.

Blurbs are one of several invitations extended to the reader. They offer a quick overview of the story, informing prospective readers about the protagonists and what they're up against, to give readers a taste of what they can expect.

When the blurb on the back of a book doesn't align with what's inside, the reader may have mixed feelings.

Think of it like showing up to a first date with someone you met in an app only to discover they look nothing like their profile pic.

Just a side note before we move on: within the traditional publishing space, it's not always the authors who write the blurbs for their own books so I don't fault them for these mismatches. It often pertains to marketing and so on, things more within the publisher's scope. However, blurbs are one of the tools readers use to determine whether or not a book will suit their tastes. When things don't line up, readers can feel misled.

And therefore, they DNF.

The blurb for the aforementioned Pride and Prejudice sequel speaks to Darcy and Elizabeth's blossoming relationship, suggesting the focus is more on the dynamic of their marriage than their marital relations. For readers expecting a sweet romance and a tribute to Austen's beloved novel, discovering its spicy nature could come as a terrible shock.

This was not the only instance of a mismatched blurb resulting in a DNF for me.

I went through a Western romance phase after finishing my second playthrough of Red Dead Redemption II. The blurb for one of my reads suggested a hastened wedding and the protagonists having to make their new marriage work despite not knowing each other all that well. I get a kick out of meet-cutes that lean more towards meet-awkwards or meet-vexations, I love forced proximity scenarios, and I've been looking to read more enemies-to-lovers since a) it's not a trope I've favored in the past and b) it unexpectedly became the dynamic between Nancy and Marcus in my WIP titled Forged in the Salle and I want to study how other writers approach it in their works; it also helped that the protagonist was a blacksmith by trade like Marcus.

But I digress.

The thing about the Western was that although it was described as a romance, the focus was not on the couple and their relationship. Rather, it was more about the wife's mission to bring one of the saloon girls to church and make a "good Christian woman" out of her. The husband was almost a secondary character by comparison.

As is the case with writing sex scenes, I don't take issue with the inclusion of religious themes in fiction—provided it doesn't feel like I'm reading a sermon or being lectured by holier-than-thou characters.

The at-times preachy nature of this book was jarring not because of the context, but because of the expectations laid out by the blurb.

For example, I'll occasionally pick up a romance about characters who are Amish. Although not always explicitly stated in the blurb, I know going in that religion will likely be central to the story because it is so rooted in the Amish community (that said, many blurbs do reference tests of faith and hoping for answered prayers).

However, the Western in question was not labeled as Christian fiction, nor did it reference its religious themes in the blurb. It was categorized as a Western romance, and that's what I expected, not a mission to save a "wayward" saloon girl's soul while the romance took a backseat. The promise to me as a reader was not fulfilled.

While I did not DNF that one, there were a few times I came close.

For some readers, DNFing a book is a no-brainer. Once they decide the book is not a good fit for them, they won't hesitate to move on.

Others, on the other hand, may hesitate. As long as they can find something to redeem the story, or can at least maintain the hope of the book redeeming itself, they'll keep reading a little while longer.

The reasons you DNF can also change from one book to the next. For example, a trope can work stupendously in one story but ruin another. Or your opinions towards an element may change.

I'm one to wrestle with DNFing because while there may be things that aren't working for me, I can usually find things I do like. I think that stems from my habit as a beta reader and in writing workshops, as I highlight both the positives and weaknesses in my feedback.

The good bits are not always enough to salvage the whole. Sometimes, it's better to step away from a book you're not enjoying in favor of one more suited to your personal tastes.

In other words, finding the books that make reading fun.



Read More

bottom of page