3 Mistakes Writers Make That Stop Us Reading Their Books

3 Mistakes Writers Make That Stop Us Reading Their Books


I know I’m not alone with this problem and I decided to ask other readers what made them stop reading a book. The most common response was that they just did not care. Even if the book had a great premise, everything hinged on the execution.

Slow beginnings with backstory and detailed descriptions were a problem. Pretentious, stylised, literary writing was another. But mostly, they abandoned books because they felt no emotional connection to the protagonist. Some even said they were not sure who the protagonist was.

Why does this happen?
  1. Writers start at the wrong moment in the story. Authors need to introduce the protagonist in the opening scenes. I am not interested in the weather or minor characters. I am also not interested in your protagonist’s backstory until something meaningful happens to her. Once it does, and if I really need to know, you can tell me how she ended up there.
  2. There are unrealistic or weak stakes. A character who is worried in an abstract way about Earth being destroyed by corporations is not good enough. However, I will care about her if her farm has been flooded because of global warming.
  3. There is no reason to empathise with the protagonist. I do not have to like her, but I need to find redeeming qualities, or understand her motivations, early on. If she is planning to kill someone, give me her reason for doing so. She should not be perfect, but I have to care about her to carry on reading.

If you think readers may stop reading your book because of a weak protagonist, ask yourself these five questions.

  1. Who is she?
  2. Why do we care what happens to her?
  3. What does she want and what is she doing (straight away) to get it?
  4. What is at stake for her?
  5. Who stands in the way of her achieving her goal?

Make sure you have good answers for each one. If you do, you will have one of the basic requirements for keeping a reader interested: a motivated protagonist with a story goal.

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

by Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, read:

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This article has 6 comments

  1. Shanan

    Great points! I’d like to add 2….

    1. Using the wrong protagonist. Sometimes the story is a lot stronger when told from a different character’s point of view… he who has the most to lose should be telling the story.

    2. An antagonist with zero redeeming qualities. No one is pure evil… when antagonists are written one-dimensional, they become way less tangible 🙂

    And a bonus: KILL THE PROLOGUE. Just do it. LOL!

    I love your questions to ask about the character. So simple, and spot-on!

  2. Amanda Patterson

    Thank you for adding your valid points, Shanan. I’m glad you enjoyed the questions.

  3. DLK

    Not sure I would agree that these are the most common reasons and only half agree with part of what you say, Amanda.

    For me the biggest three mistakes would be:

    1. Poor grammar and spelling.
    2. Prose that is in excess – way too much verbosity that is not needed in getting the plot moving along – you know, the writers who silently scream “Look! Aren’t I clever in how I weave words together!”
    3. A dull, boring, or overdone, plot that drones on.

    Yes, I am rather analytical and lose patience quickly when I expect a good, talented read. 🙂

    But, as the saying goes – to each their own.

  4. DLK

    Shanan, I agree about prologue unless they are absolutely essential – such as to set up a very fast background of culture (pronunciation or meaning of foreign words, or concise political settings, etc) in helping a reader understand happenings in the book; such as in An Ordinary Man, a good example prologue prior to the story of this African country’s attempted genocide as told by the man who worked in the Hotel Rwanda during this time. The book is always better than the movie. ^_^

  5. Sharon M Hart

    This is a great article; it nails it for me. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Amanda Patterson

    Thank you for the feedback.

Comments are now closed.