Have you ever opened a book and felt like it was just bad? I know the feeling. I’ve been there too. You open up to page one, or maybe even chapter one, and you are immediately turned off by the writing style or how long it takes for anything interesting to happen.
There are many reasons for what makes a book bad, such as a predictable, unoriginal, or cliche feeling story. Often the characters are flat and uninteresting, the world-building bad or nonexistent, or the dialog is not even vaguely realistic. Let’s discuss these and more below so you can avoid them.
Let’s start with plot problems. Along with character problems, having a well-designed plot is vital for a book to be good.
Bad books very often have plots that feel predictable, unoriginal, or cliche. One major problem is the book feels familiar- like you’ve read it before.
It’s not so bad when maybe they just retold one of your favorite stories in a new way, but it gets old when the story feels precisely the same as one you’ve already read.
Original storylines are pretty challenging to write well. Bad writers often have a hard time creating something that is original enough to pull in readers and keep them interested.
Often, an idea itself is not original- it has been done before, but talented writers can find ways to make their version unique and interesting.
In fantasy, a plot could go something like this: our main character goes on a quest to destroy a magical artifact and stop an evil lord from using it to take over the world. She decides to destroy it so it can never be used again.
While there are many ways to write this trope well, bad writers often use it as the entire book’s background with little change. To avoid going on the bad list, you need to take this basic story and turn it into something intriguing by adding new characters, new worlds and new races and so on.
Getting the reader to invest in what is happening on page one is key. If they don’t care about your main characters or your world, you will never be able to pull them into the story and win over a fan.
One Dimensional Characters
A close second on the list of offenses is having characters that are very one-dimensional.
If your characters are one-dimensional, they tend to be flat and uninteresting. This is because there isn’t much going on besides what you can see from the outside.
There needs to be more inside them than you can see from the outside to make a good character. So the best way to think of it is as an onion.
Onions have layers and so do characters. Having a backstory is not enough. Your character needs traits, motivations, and desires that we can see from the outside but also need things going on inside them that we cannot see right away.
Bad writers tend to just focus on the visible and never go into what makes their characters tick.
One of the easiest ways to make sure your character isn’t one-dimensional is by making them multi-faceted. Giving them many traits that are visible and show what kind of personality they have is a great way to go about it. This will help bring your characters to life and make them relatable to readers.
Throughout your book, make sure to introduce little things about the character that only the reader knows about. Of course, the reader knows but the other characters do not know about this aspect.
Empty Background \ Bad Worldbuilding
Bad books are notorious for having poorly built backgrounds. This bad world-building will result from bad writers focusing more on what is happening in their main plot rather than creating a world for it to happen in.
To avoid falling into this problem as a writer, you need to create a vivid world from the beginning. World-building isn’t something that happens once you’ve finished your book. It starts before you write the first sentence and doesn’t stop until the very last page.
When you create a world, it needs to feel real. It has to have its own rules that need to be followed. For example, magic cannot just happen because “it’s magic”, what makes this magic different from other types of energy? Why does it exist? How does it work? Is there a price to pay for using it? And so on.
Bad writers will forget that any world, either based on the real world or one that is totally invented, needs to have lots of minor characters and locations that do not necessarily affect the story but help flesh it out.
If there’s no background information, readers will have a hard time wanting to keep reading. This can sound like filler to newer writers, but it is critical to have depth and interest in your story.
To avoid this problem, do research about your world to build a strong foundation that sets up everything in the book. Then, take some time before you start writing to build a strong world and make sure to keep it consistent throughout the book.
Generally, you will create far more information about your world that you will use, but doing this as part of your plotting and outline stage will help you avoid the bad book blues.
No Conflict \ Flat Plots
Strong writers know how important conflict is for their story. It’s what drives the plot forward. It is not easy to master, but if you can pull it off, your book stands out from all others.
The problem with flat plots or no conflict in stories is that they tend to be boring and uninteresting. Despite this, most people find writing conflict challenging as it can be tricky to get right.
Conflict is the thing that makes your main character different from anyone else in the book. It is what turns them into a hero or villain and without it, your characters do not have an incentive to push forward.
Conflict can be internal or external, but you need both to create a well-rounded story. If there’s nothing to lose in your book, there’s no point in reading it.
Bad books are usually dull reads with no character development. They are predictable and not challenging at all.
Lack of Tension \ Low Stakes
Closely related to this is a lack of real tension. You achieve tension by having some form of stake in your book that matters to the characters.
When there are stakes involved, you know that something terrible can happen to whoever is fighting for it. Naturally, this leaves the reader on the edge of their seat wanting to read more and find out what happens next.
Once again, newer writers can fall into the trap of not having sufficiently high enough stakes. Bad writers will write about characters fighting for things that don’t matter to the reader. This is a mistake as it makes a book very dull and pointless.
It’s critical to set up high enough stakes from the beginning of your writing career, so you never forget them again. Your reader needs to see that what’s at stake is important to both characters and the surroundings.
Otherwise, your plot will be very disappointing for everyone involved.
Ensure that the stake, for both the good and bad guys, is high enough to keep you reading.
Overarching Plot \ Predictable Twists
Bad books are often predictable. Readers can tell by the first few chapters what happens in the end – this is why it’s critical to add twists and turns along with all of the other elements of a book.
A predictable plot is another sign of a bad book and it’s something that many authors make the mistake of doing in their writing career. There are even some authors who have been able to get away with this with reasonable success. However, they would likely make more sales if they added more originality and unpredictability to their stories.
As a writer, you have to work hard to keep your readers on their toes and constantly guessing what will happen next. Your characters have to be dynamic enough so that you can add in twists with them as well.
Without twists in your story, there’s no real way to keep the reader engaged, so writers need to think about this before writing.
Most importantly, make sure the twists work within the world and story you are building. Don’t use something so totally at odds with what you are writing that readers will be eye-rolling and thinking, “oh, yeah, so likely. Whatever.”
You know the kind of thing:
Suddenly a bee flew in his eye and I escaped before he could finish me off.
Lame, right? Don’t do that to your readers.
Although focused on science fiction and fantasy, this video from Brandon Sanderson gives lots of good advice on plotting. These concepts will work for most so worth a watch:
Pacing is a fundamental part of any story. It’s the rate at which your book moves forward and how long each scene lasts. So you need to make sure that you have a proper balance from beginning to end.
A story is very dull if all of the action happens in the first few chapters and then it’s just flown through before wrapping up in one or two pages at the end.
Of course, every book has plenty of required sections that do not have action, so you need not rush planning the pacing. Instead, take care of how your book is structured to keep it moving while including the necessary slower pieces. A lack of planning ahead will lead writers to kill any proper pacing.
Many books, even some from veteran authors, can have pacing issues and if you don’t read a lot, it’s easy to miss these problems when editing your own work.
The best thing for a writer to do is to ask someone else to go through their book before making any decisions about publishing because this can be very insightful.
It’s always better to get another pair of eyes to look at your writing when you are in the early stages. This will stop you from making mistakes that could cost you time and money later on down the line if you need to make fixes.
Dialogue is, without a doubt, one of the hardest things to get right in books. But bad dialogue can be particularly annoying because it pulls readers out of their immersion in the story, making it very hard for them to connect with what’s happening
Bad writers tend to not give their characters much real personality in how they talk and when this happens, it feels like the author isn’t trying very hard.
Newer writers tend to fall into the trap of having most characters sound the same, even with different genders and ages.
The best thing to do is take a close look at what you’re writing, maybe read it out loud as a test and if it all feels very flat or wooden, then you need to go back and try to put in some more effort before the book makes it out into the world.
When two characters are having a conversation, if you just have them saying the same kinds of things all the time, then readers will lose interest very quickly. It’s best to give each character their own voice so that they sound different from one another and this will help.
Think carefully about who they are, their personalities and so on, as this will affect how they talk, just as it does in real life.
Dialogue that stands out is hard to achieve, but working at it can be rewarding because it’s one of the main things that make books enjoyable or puts a reader off quickly.
Exposition dumps are a tempting trap that writers fall into all too often. This is when you need the reader to understand something about the world they are in and so you fill many paragraphs or sometimes most of a chapter with this information.
The problem is that it can feel like a history lesson if not done well. A few books have done this well, but it is difficult and not recommended for most writers.
Newer writers tend to think they have to explain everything to readers as if they are teaching them about their book’s universe before enjoying the story.
This can be bad because it will bore readers and they have no reason to want this information without a good reason for why. They likely will forget most of it if done this way as well.
It’s always better to build your world as you go along instead of having it sit around as a bunch of facts waiting for some unsuspecting reader.
Give it to them as they need it in bits and pieces throughout your story. This will make it more interesting.
You can still have explanations in books about the world without giving this information. You just need to be more creative with how you go about it.
For example, in our magic world, let’s say you have 20 rules of magic. It would be boring to have a chapter cover all 20 at once.
Try something like:
Traveling companion: “You mean we have to walk? All the way? Can’t you just twiddle zap and we are there?”
Wizard, laughing: “What? No, of course not. If I try that, we would be turned to a flaming pebble on the beach of history due to…”
But better. You get the idea.
Now the reader knows a rule and it is mixed in the storyline and is more memorable.
People won’t want to read pages upon pages of background details without some good reason, so plan carefully how you will give the reader details without sounding like a lecture.
Keeping track of everything in your book is vital. It drives readers crazy that they can spot an inaccuracy that they feel the writer should know about.
You wrote it. How could you not know they wonder?
This comes from having too much information to track and many times, it’s the little details that slip past you.
It can be easy for some authors who are new to writing to think they know their world inside out, but sometimes this is not enough.
Accuracy can be terrible in sci-fi books because there are so many very knowledgeable people who will call you out on an inaccuracy if they see it.
Depending on your genre, there are sometimes vast amounts of information to check so that you do not look bad in the eyes of your genre’s fans.
Checking over your work several times before it is released will save this issue.
When writing about history, it is one of the biggest concerns for readers as they can tell if you don’t know what you are talking about, so stay true to the times and be careful with stories set in real places.
Check everything multiple times and have someone else do the same. Make sure more than one person helps you to keep everything consistent.
There are 10 lessons on what to avoid in your book. Many of them take some work to avoid and do well, but they are worth working hard on.
They will make the difference between a bad or average book and creating an excellent book that readers will enjoy and tell others about.
Put in the time and effort and it will pay off in the long term.
What part of writing a book has been the hardest for you to master? Let us know in the comments below.