An Addendum to “The Psychology of Abandonment”

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This image has been spreading like wildfire through the online writing and publishing community. Agents and editors post it with sage nods. Writers post it as a warning to others.

However, the graphic only applies to the reasons books are abandoned once someone has actually started reading them. Many books aren’t lucky enough to get past an initial screening process – usually, reading in the description on the back cover or the inner flap of the book jacket and a cursory look at the first page or two. Here’s what usually makes me pick up a book only to promptly return it to the shelf:

1: Any book jacket synopsis that says anything remotely like “So-and-so has it all.” The only thing that could possibly redeem this is a list of unique accomplishments, but what follows is usually a description of terribly bland Middle Aged White Chick achievements. (Husband, kids, flashy job, blah blah blah.) And it’s fine if your character does “have it all” at the beginning of the book, I suppose (though it doesn’t seem like a very good way to start – what happened to in media res?), but for the love of all that’s good, find a better way to describe it. 

2: A description involving the main character returning to their hometown for any reason – high school reunion, wedding, funeral, ailing parent, etc. It’s such an artless, obvious way to make a character literally confront their past. Where’s the creativity?

3: The flip side of #1 – a synopsis that begins by stating that “So-and-so has hit rock bottom,” or any variation thereof. If your character is literally at rock bottom, there are no stakes. You have already told the reader that circumstances will invariably get better, which is boring.

4: A first page that begins with a character’s name. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about things like “Abigail wished she had stayed at home” or “Clark was tired of being here.” Those are fine. What I’m referring to are sentences that cram a character’s full name in, right off the bat, for no good reason; for example, “Isabelle Lenore Givings shuddered as the floorboards creaked beneath her feet.” I’m not sure that there’s ever a reason that a reader needs to know a character’s full name immediately, and if there is, it can surely be done much more artfully than this. This method of opening a book only tells me that the author is way too proud of their character’s (usually ridiculous) name, and it has been included due to self-indulgence. I’m not fond of overtly self-indulgent books.

All of these leave me dropping a book like it’s a hot potato.

Does anyone have anything to add?

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