On My Mind: To DNF Or To Not DNF

To DNF or did-not-finish a book is a much talked about subject in the book community on Twitter. Everyone should decide if stop reading a book is the right move. Sometimes a book just doesn’t pull you in. Or you hate the characters. Maybe the author uses a perspective you can’t get behind. In my opinion, every reason to DNF is valid. But I won’t DNF a book.

To DNF

As a reader, I fully understand the wish to quit reading a horrible book. ‘Don’t waste your time on something you don’t like’. It’s part of self-care to not do things you don’t like, especially when you don’t have to. You don’t have to finish a book. Reading should be fun. It’s your hobby, not your job.

There was one book I really didn’t want to finish, but finished anyway. It was so bad that after three pages on my mobile (which is close to one page irl) I closed the book and went to do something else. My mind was saying, “Nope”. I tried again a few days later, and my mind was still “Nope”. I should’ve walked away, but I didn’t. It was the last book in a book bundle and I really want to review all of the books. (I strongly suspect that the one who put the bundle together knew that this wasn’t as good as the others and put it last.)

The author broke at least three basic rules of writing in those three pages I read. These are not ones you break or bend. It’s not grammar rules, but how you introduce a character or rules of dialogue. Some things just don’t work. The rule of not starting a story with your MC waking up is one you can break, if you do it well. This was not the case. They broke a rule and did it badly. No, they broke three rules and did it badly.

I think there have been two books that I honestly couldn’t finish. One made me want to gouge out my eyeballs and the other one gave me a massive headache. One was The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco and the other one was Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James. You guess which was which. Maybe I could finish them if I started them now.

I do think rating a book you didn’t finish is wrong. If I see that a reviewer hasn’t finished the book, but gave it a rating below three stars, I’ll skip it. I don’t think an opinion based on half (or less) of the book is enough to give a rating. It’s not something I would do.

To Not DNF

I’m a reader, but also a writer. If a voice in the back of my head is telling me I should stop reading, I want to find out why, as a writer. I want to make use of the opportunity to explore what isn’t working and how I would fix that. Instead of seeing it as wasted time, I’ll turn it into a learning experience.

Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised as the book gets better. The author is repairing the mistakes they made early on. Some books are just bad from beginning to end. It taught me that certain mistakes can be fixed, while others will be consistent throughout the whole book. One of the hardest things to fix is bad world building. If your world isn’t believable from the start, it’s hard to convince a reader halfway through the book that the theories you’ve mentioned before do work.

Writing style and quality can improve throughout the book. That makes me believe it hasn’t been edited well. For a self-published author, I’m more forgiving on this point. I have seen books that had terrible writing at the start, but stepped up in the latter half of the book. I enjoy seeing growth. It gives me hope for future books.

To go back to that terrible book, I finished it. I tried to ignore those first pages and focused on what came next, the real story. It felt like cliches taped together the whole book, but the world building was interesting. I wished that the writing was better, because the reveal actually made me pause. And then the ending came and destroyed everything.

This has taught me how important beginnings and endings are. Hell, I rated Dracula low because I felt it was anti-climatic. I loved the story, but the ending felt unsatisfying. The beginning has to pull the reader in, and the ending has to leave the reader either satisfied or breathless. By reading ‘bad’ books, I learn more about what I want and don’t want to do in my own stories. And that’s a valuable way to spend my time.

What are your thoughts on DNF? Drop a link to your blog in the comments if you’ve written about it so we can keep the conversation going.

21 thoughts on “On My Mind: To DNF Or To Not DNF

  1. I love your perspective on using DNF books as an opportunity to learn as a writer and figure out what exactly isn’t working. 🙂

  2. I recently DNF a book called First Life because the writing was so terrible. It helped that it was a library book and I didn’t pay for it—if I buy a book I feel more inclined to “get my money’s worth” from it. Anyway, I was intrigued by the concept but everything else was terrible. So I quit. Another recent book I didn’t finish was despite the good writing I just wasn’t into the plot or characters.

  3. i actually always finish the books i start, even if i hate them, because i feel like then i can say “i read the whole book, and i didn’t like it at all.” i feel like it allows me a more well-rounded opinion of the book (even if my opinion doesn’t change). and it also makes it easier for me to get rid of/discard the book when i’m done.

    • Tessa Hastjarjanto says:

      I think you’re one of the few who think this way. I agree with you thank you for sharing your opinion!

  4. Joanne says:

    If I really am not enjoying a book, I won’t finish it. There are too many brilliant books to use my time reading something I don’t enjoy. Completely agree with you about not leaving a review if you didn’t finish a book. It’s really not fair as you don’t know the full story.

  5. I also will not leave a book unfinished, for two reasons – 1, because if I review a book, I want to have read the whole book so I can give an accurate review, and 2, I have read books that at I disliked at the beginning, and then grew to really enjoy them, so I will give all books that chance!
    Great post!

  6. Such an interesting perscpective on DNFing books!
    I honestly feel guilty if I DNF a book & very rarely do it (I think I’ve done it 5 times max in my 20 years of life). Yet I also do see that we shouldn’t waste our time on books we don’t like.
    If I really hate a book though but do finish it, I most likely won’t review it as I prefer to share books I liked and why I liked them. I don’t like being negative about any book!
    I definitely agree with you about not leaving a review if you’ve not finished a book though!

  7. im always up for DNFing books, i do wonder what if it gets better but mostly ive found that to not be the case for the ones i’ve decided to stick with.

    for me, if im not nejoying a book its not worth my time so i’d rather just move on

  8. If I DNF a book it is usually due to poor writing that hasn’t been through enough edits or proofreads. But this is mostly with books that I’ve been asked to review from the indie sector.
    I did find that I couldn’t finish Practical Magic, I just couldn’t bond with it.

  9. I love that you’re considering both side of the argument, and not slamming down a judgement on anyone who is firmly of one opinion – we need this balance in debates!

    I wish Goodreads had a DNF option – rather than simple read/to-read – and would also be an alternative to a one-star rating as a way of expressing how little you enjoyed the book. I think the stats it could generate would be very interesting.

    • Tessa Hastjarjanto says:

      I love your suggestion! I think many writers and readers could benefit from that. If a book has a high DNF, it could alert readers and writers will know that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the book.

    • I think there is an option, but most people don’t realize it. I’m not sure how it would impact star ratings. But if you
      HOW DO I CREATE A SHELF FOR A BOOK I COULDN’T FINISH?
      You can create your own exclusive shelf for books you didn’t complete and name it, for example, “never finished”, “did not finish”, “dnf” or “abandoned”.

      Here’s how: (copied from GR site https://www.goodreads.com/help/show/210-how-do-i-create-a-shelf-for-a-book-i-couldn-t-finish)

      “Click on My Books in the header
      Next to the Bookshelves header, click Edit
      In the Add a Shelf text box, type “never finished” “did not finish”, “dnf”, “abandoned” or similar and click Add
      Check “exclusive” next to the new shelf when it appears on the list

      This will allow you to assign a book to this shelf, instead of having to pick between the default “read”, “currently reading”, and “to read” shelves.”

      I’ve done this. It still gives the option for stars, though, so it won’t help there.

  10. This is going to be a VERY unpopular opinion, but I had to stop reading “Eleanor Oliphant”. I kept cringing so much I had to take breaks, grinding my teeth, reminding myself “people say it will get better, be patient, it will get better”, but around page 150 I decided life is too short to wait until “it will get better” when my TBR pile is approaching 100 e-books.

    I didn’t review it anywhere, because of what you’ve said – I DNFed and I feel this doesn’t give me the right to give a book a score. (It’s doing well enough without my help 😉 )

    • Tessa Hastjarjanto says:

      I can’t think of a piece of art that’s unanimously liked or loved by everyone. I hated Dracula, you didn’t like Eleanor Oliphant, and that’s okay it’s our differences that make us unique. I like your opinion, whether it’s popular or not

  11. I really enjoyed reading your perspective on DNF. It is extremely rare that I decide to DNF, I believe in reading a book to the end even if it’s bad. Having said that, I have DNF’d a couple or maybe more than a couple of books. They were just books I couldn’t handle.
    However, if I DNF’d a book, I would never rate it even if I read 3/4 and couldn’t carry on. That’s just not right.

  12. I sometimes DNF. There was one novel that I read 400 (out of 500) pages and could not go on. I was miserable reading it! I did write a review, explaining my issues, but I did not give stars. To me, that seems unfair (both to readers of the review and the author) to give stars when I didn’t finish reading the book.
    As a (unpublished but hopeful) writer, I hope that my readers will stick with me. But I also understand that life is short, people have commitments, and they might not finish it.

  13. I DNF because I’m bored with the book, but I always skim the final chapters before making a decision. On Hebban you have to rate books when you add them to your to read shelf, even with a DNF. Otherwise it will automatically be rated 3 stars.

  14. The more I read, the clearer I can see whether a book will be a hit or miss for me in the first 100 pages. Working in publishing and used to give my opinion on manuscripts, I can’t spend too long on every book and I’ve learned to pass when a novel doesn’t awake any sparks. I like your point as a writer about looking for why something is not working for you 🙂

  15. I really struggle to leave a book unfinished for several reasons. 1 – it’s a personility trait I think. 2. I have read some books that have just been meh and then by the end they were aswesome. 3. I just have really good instincts about books that I will enjoy so rarely have a need to DNF.
    Great post

  16. Great post! I’m always DNF’ing books life is definitely too short to read something you’re not enjoying. I used to rate DNFs on Goodreads but I now I just remove the book from my shelves, unless of course I keep it to remind myself not to try it again later.

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