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.
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.