Complexity: Simplicity in Reading and Writing. #amreading #badbooks


We all read for different reasons and some of us like variety in our reading. There are times when I want deep and meaningful prose that is intellectually stimulating and there are times when I want a fast, fun little story. I feel the reviews I write might also reflect what I was looking for when I sat down to read and whether or not my expectations were met.

I was looking on my iPad at the books I had to put down. A few of them I went back to many times trying to absorb the words and get into the story. I discovered something about these books that I felt I should share with you. I don’t know if you are reading or writing, but you are either the audience or you are trying to reach an audience.


I’m not going to touch the YA audience with this post. Writing for children, pre-teens, teens, young adults, new adults all carry a host of intricacies that I can’t touch on.

I feel that I am a reasonably intelligent adult, maybe above average in some areas (I can recite the Krebs cycle and tell you all about adenosine tri-phosphate, and Acid-Base balance is an easy topic for me).

The majority of times that I had to put a book down and not go back to it has to do with its complexity in word choice.

Here is a list of words from one such book (I stopped at about 25%.) This is supposed to be a contemporary fiction but so many words are archaic. I think the author was striving for artistically archaic, but having to stop and look up every third word made for terrible reading. These words were all used in the first three chapters.


















Truculent…okay, I’m going to stop now. I think I made my point, but the list goes on and on.

The story, at least what I could make out about it, after pausing to look up the words, was very interesting. But really, the effort required???


I like to be intellectually stimulated, and some of these words I knew…just not in the context that they were used in the story. I like to learn new things. But this was NOT entertaining in the least. It was a bothersome chore.


In other words, I felt more common words could have told the story better. The complexity of this “contemporary” western fiction required far more brain energy than I was willing to spend.


Writers, don’t make it unnecessarily difficult for us! The fact that you can use a thesaurus or know well the meanings of these words does not impress me. Tell me your beautiful story in words that paint me pictures. Don’t pull me out of the flow of you story to look up and contemplate the meaning of your words.




On the flip side, the other books I set down and did not go back to were not overwritten, but underwritten. More often than not, they were dialogue with not much narrative prose. This is tricky when telling a story and is frequently why people complain about “show” and “tell”.


In trying to cut out exposition and back story, I think we sometimes go overboard and that leaves a very simple skeleton of a story with no substance.


I am going to admit some guilt here. With Alliances, I feel that some of the rationale for me being dissatisfied with it has to do with lack of narrative prose. I cut so much of the exposition. Character development is critical, and without some history, descriptions of behavior, setting the stage, a hint of some thought processes, a life before your event and the like, we aren’t going to get to know the characters very well or bond with them and the read is going to seem critically superficial.


Reaching your audience requires more than a plot. You can have the most beautiful, fascinating setting in the world, the best thought through plot ever designed, but if you complicate with your choice of words, or leave me wondering who, what, when, why and how…I’m going to put the book down.

These are just a couple of reasons I stopped reading. The two that jumped out at me. There were other reasons, but I won’t go into those now.

What makes you put down a book and never go back?

Have complexity or simplicity stopped you from finishing a story?

Have you ever returned a book after a few pages?

I’m looking for balance.

59 thoughts on “Complexity: Simplicity in Reading and Writing. #amreading #badbooks

  1. Nice post. As a writer, getting the balance between prose and dialogue, description and action, is one that will go on and on. the only sure thing is that you will never please everybody, so it’s best to go with your own taste.
    I always do my best to read a book through to the end. The only time I fail to do so is when I’m faced with either very poor writing (grammar mistakes, typos, all tell and no show) or where the story or characters just haven’t grabbed me. I always look to read at least 100 pages though, just in case the book is a real slow burner.

    • I do the same, Dylan. At least 25% and I only have eight on my reader that I couldn’t get through. I glide on through a lot of typos and a few grammar mistakes, but too many and I’m right there with you. I always need the characters to grab me. I’m far more interested in a character driven story than a plot driven story. I like both, but the character driven will suck me in faster.

  2. Those word choices are crazy. I don’t know the meaning of many of them. They’d make me put the book down, too.

    I used to think I had to finish a book to the end, but I don’t force myself to do that anymore (though I’ll usually skim the ending). Life is too short, and there are too many great books out there waiting to be read. But the thing most likely to get me to put the book down is a story that goes nowhere. No escalating tension, scenes with no point, etc. Even if a book has cliches and some tacky writing, if it’s a page-turner I’ll keep reading. I can be very forgiving. Give me a story that makes me want to keep turning the pages, and I’m a happy camper!

  3. I have just perused Dr. Seuss’ I Can Read with My Eyes Shut!” but I have just ordered “Committed: A Memoir of the Artist’s Road.” I swing across themes, genres, and age ranges, but you won’t catch me reading a book of pharmacology – well, probably not!

    • Yeah…I was primarily speaking of fiction. I like variety, and read across many genres including children’s and young adult’s, I’ve put most of my reference books aside and google stuff.

  4. I read for pleasure and to become a better writer. Putting a book down every few pages to look up a word, isn’t my idea of fun. Even reading on my Kindle, with the handy dictionary feature, I’m jarred out of the story. I have too many books on my shelves and loaded on my Kindle to waste my cherished reading time on a book that’s not doing it for me.

    • That’s what I was doing…hitting the dictionary button in almost every paragraph. It was time consuming and destroyed my reading pleasure..not to mention how condescending it seemed.

    • I liked what Carrie had to say, too. It’s pretty tough, considering how many hours and what an energy investment writing a book can be, to think we produced a train wreck. Ha!

      • We also can’t be all things to all people. I’d rather not bore my readers, but my tales aren’t for everyone. Some folks really enjoyed them. If they are looking for something a bit more highbrow, I’d rather they move on than disappoint them.

  5. Excellent points! I love Kathy Reichs, but you almost need a doctorate to read one of her books. I stopped reading them because I got sick of looking up the words. There needs to be balance. I love learning new words, but not in every paragraph. I with you on this one!

    • Thanks, Sue. I recall reading as teenager and being so very excited to learn a new word. Now, one or two here and there, but not a nuisance string of them or a quarter of a book full.

  6. Yeah, those word choices would drive me crazy. That’s absolutely something that drives me crazy. I know you’ve seen me say this before, but my writing guru, Zoe Keithley, has told me several times that as writers it is our job to not make it too hard for the readers. The other thing is that what we write needs to be internally consistent. It would drive me crazy to try to read something where the language doesn’t match the story.

    Personally, I don’t think your first Naked Alliances book is too simple. But the only person who can convince you of that is yourself. 😉

    • Zoe is one hundred percent correct. It’s something I’m learning about though, not something I just knew. I like a layered story and many talented writers do that well, but some just confuse the hell out of me.

      As far as structure goes, Naked Alliances is a huge improvement over Red Clay and Roses. There seems to be something in re-reading a mystery/thriller/adventure type story that is lost. Maybe that’s what I’m feeling.

  7. I can see using a couple of archaic words, especially if it is a romantic period piece, but all those words in the first 3 chapters? Yes, it seems like the author just got up close and personal with a thesaurus and let “it” do the writing. You describe very well the balance we seek in reading, but that is also the challenge for authors.

    • It was contemporary fiction…like here and now. I really think that the author relied on a thesaurus out of insecurity. Finding that balance is part of the fun of writing. I’ve rewritten entire chapters because the balance between dialogue and narrative just wasn’t right. I hate whining about things I don’t like in another author’s writing…we’re all learning, and I feel I’m fairly tolerant…but these are the things that make me not review a book. I have to be able to give it three stars or I won’t waste my time on it.

    • I was thinking this morning, after reading another post about reviews, that it’s kind of sad to know someone invested so much time and energy into creating a book that is difficult to read. I’ve taken to reading critical reviews on Amazon to see just what it is that makes people put down a book. It’s all subjective, but there are many common threads. Thanks for ringing in with comments, Luanne, and congrats on the poetry book!

  8. As Luanne stated before me, I also stopped when a book doesn’t engaged me with story, characters. However, I also take into account character and plot development. If I don’t feel that the characters are growing and thriving or the plot doesn’t move the story enough, then it’s really boring and unsatisfactory to me, which goes on to make it forgettable. Still, I can still must up some time to try since I like to finish a book when i start it. But on big “N O” for me, since I love the romance genre, is cheating and adultery. I can’t stand this. If I’m reading a romantic novel and any of the lead committed such crimes, then I’m moving on.

    • Specifics to genre…I had not really thought about that. I don’t read a lot of romance, but I think if I was into stories about love and longing, a story line that took me into cheating and adultery would not seem very romantic and I’d have to put it down also. I’m real big on not being bored. My first novel had a long exposition type opening with little action. It’s not what I like to read and yet I wrote it. I’m learning every day. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’ve given me more to think about. 🙂

  9. I’m learning a lot about editing–and my voice. Some people read a story and say it could have been told in half the words–maybe a Henry James book for example. Others want to get lost in lots of detail or lots of dialogue (I think of the filmmaker Whit Stillman here–tons of dialogue and not much happens, but I LOVE his films).

    I think as writers we should write what we like to read–with a critical eye for mistakes and areas we could get stronger in. Some voices just don’t resonate just like some people don’t become friends. I tried reading Louisa May Alcott to my kids and they hated it. I loved it as a kid.

    • I was just speaking to another commentator about writing what we like to read. I wish it were that simple. I wrote lots of long exposition in the first chapter of my book, and yet, it’s not what I like to read in the opening of a book. I’m learning every day, both through reading and writing….and editing 🙂
      I never could get into Louisa May Alcott either. It just seemed too common. I wanted extraordinary.

      • As an adult when I read Alcott it seemed very slow. I don’t think people in general have the patience they once did. I always know before reading a Dickens novel that I’m not really going to like it until I’m at least 100 pages in.

        I agree that we all have to be open to experimentation and often a first read of a draft seems great until you put it aside for a while and take another look. anyway. I enjoyed your post 🙂

        • I’ve said this before, and it applies here. Think about the lifestyles of the people who were reading the classics in the eras they were written. No TV, no video games, long nights beside the fireplace with not even a radio to keep them company. Letters…no phone calls. Plenty of time to sit and read if they were literate. In general, there are more literate people today, but there are so many other things competing for attention…it’s truly a wonder any of us gets read.

          • Whenever I visit my mother I wonder how I ever dealt with having the tv blaring all the time. When my family visits me in the country with no tv they’re a little antsy at first, but eventually they unwind and remark at how peaceful it is here. 🙂

  10. Wonderful post, Susan. Fabulous discussion as well.
    I read a book by David Foster Wallace once that had me looking up every second word. Ugh.
    If a book doesn’t grab me, I won’t waste time, but will pick up another, If I put a book down unfinished, it’s sometimes difficult to get into another one. I’m left with that empty feeling, like something’s missing–which it is–the ending :-D.

  11. Too much description has me yawning. I am not impressed that an author memorized the colors of the 64 crayola pack. And I don’t need to know every technical detail about the weapon being used. I always have a book on tape going because I drive about an hour and a half every day. This week’s selection, Sniper, has only survived because I am opposed to throwing things out the window. WAY too detailed and the speeches each character gives when they speak makes one yearn for monosyllables of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

    • LOL…too funny, you always make me laugh! I’m learning that less is often more when it comes to details. I used to feel like I had to explain every detail in my writing, but the more I read…the more I realize how much I enjoy filling in the blanks with my own thoughts. I recently read a book and the hair color of the person was never mentioned. I liked that because, based on her personality, I already had her image made up in my mind. If the author had come along in chapter three and described her as a redhead, when I had pegged her a brunette, I would have been disappointed.

  12. Great post and I’m with you on all the points made! I love a nice bit of wordsmithing, but as you said, I reckon someone got too sentimentally attached to their thesaurus on that one. I’ve dumped books for being too much hard work and also because the characters didn’t grab me. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how beautiful the prose or how pithy the description – if I don’t care about the characters. Meh!

  13. This reminds me of once a long time ago when I tried to read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. I swear every phrase had more polysyllabic words and of greater length than I thought any sentence conduction could bear. Couldn’t get beyond the first three or four pages. Which I realised many years later was a great pity and loss when I saw the excellent TV series adaptation and saw that it was a brilliant, wonderful satire. Such a shame, but it’s considered a classic and now knowing the actual story via TV I can understand why. Conversely too much simplicity I’ve found more often, and for the most part in those books people call ‘airplane books’ but have to admit if I like the story or just want to while away the time I tend to read them anyway It wouldn’t necessarily make me put the book down.

    Sometimes I guess it’s taste too, personal like and dislikes for style. I know one reviewer of my first novel said they thought it was too wordy and needed editing, but the book had been through two reputable professional manuscript assessment services and a professional editor without such feedback – quite the opposite in fact. So on balance I thought in that case the book was alright for its intended literary purpose but it would not be to everyone’s taste. 🙂

    • LO, just realised I pressed ‘post’ too soon…the sentence above should read ‘sentence construction’ not ‘sentence conduction’…that was a typo, not a deliberate attempt at irony by using odd words myself!! 🙂 🙂

      • Too funny!!! I have read many European Historical Fictions that used speech appropriate to place and time period. Some of them very heavy in archaic English. I thought it odd with this particular book, set in Texas. The word choices did not seem appropriate to me. I’ve been on the river walk there. You hear a lot of Southern Texas accent. You do here some Spanish words. There is not a great European influence like you see on the East coast. Would a contemporary woman refer to a dishonest or unprincipled man as a “varlet”? I just couldn’t see it. A modern American would call a coward a coward, she would not say a “poltroon”. It just seemed too much of a stretch to me. If artistically done, language can be very beautiful in the proper story.

    • I do think it has much to do with your expectations. A friend of mine wrote an eloquently worded WWII novel and one reader/reviewer referred to it as an airplane read. He read both the first and second installments, so I don’t think he was bothered by that, but I thought it funny…since, to me, the style was much more literary than I would expect from an airplane read. I don’t want to struggle with what I read, but the style or tone set by the author’s word choice may make or break it for me.

      • Cool. If you do read my work I won’t be offended if it isn’t to your taste..that was partly my point think. The Seed is far more wordy than anything else I’ve written because it was consciously meant to be poetic. I guess the challenge I always to write something that meets the literary desire you have for it, your vision so to speak, but also make it accessible enough tht those with that sensibility like it.

Share your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s