My mother is a voracious reader, reading one to two books a day. We were talking about books recently and she mentioned she'd stopped reading one because it was just too much work. It wasn't a bad book, in fact, she said it was a great idea and well written, but it did some things that made it hard to read, and she'd found it just wasn't worth the trouble.
Not worth the trouble? That's a hard blow for a well-written book.
But it happens. I've also read books that also fell into that "too much work" area. Series books that I'd loved early on that faltered, books by authors I admired. The only thing "wrong" with them was something they'd done to make reading them more work than the story benefit of doing so.
Before I go on, it's important to note that there's nothing inherently wrong with a complex or complicated novel, or one that does any of the things I'm about to talk about. Tastes vary and what one reader thinks is wonderfully layered another might find tedious to get through. It's all very subjective. But there are things that can be possible red flags that the story is pushing the limits. It's up to the writer to decide if the story is working or if it's becoming unwieldy.
5 Red Flags That a Novel Might be Too Much Work to Read
1. It frequently requires readers to do extra "research" by reading inserted newspaper articles, poems, songs, etc. that aren't part of the narrative but contain valuable information for the reader to know to get the story or plot.
It's the writer's job to convey that information through the narrative, not to make the reader do all the work and feel like they're doing background research for a report. A short bit here and there is usually no problem, but the more these extra pieces appear, the more likely it is the story is asking too much of the reader. (Books like epistolary novels, where the whole point is to read the letters or articles don't count here, of course. )
2. It has way too many characters.
I stopped reading a favorite fantasy series because the author had introduced at least 50 characters by chapter three and I couldn't remember who was who by then. If readers can't remember who people are, they can't connect to them or even understand why what someone says or does is even important. If it requires a cast of characters list before page one, that's typically not a good sign.
3. It has way too many points of view.
In the same vein, readers can only remember so much before it all starts to gloss together, and if scenes are constantly changing from character to character and it's several long chapters before the same character or plotline comes around again, salient details can get lost. It's also a tension killer since whatever was important five chapters ago probably isn't any more. Even worse, too many points of view usually goes hand in hand with too many characters, because every POV will have its own cast. It's not long before all those secondary and minor characters are overwhelming.
4. The names are all too similar, or too hard to pronounce.
Names that start with the same letter (Anna, Andrew, Arianna), names that are all the same size (Joe, Ted, Ann), names that look similar, (Lawrence, Terrance, Vance) all make it hard for the reader to remember who's who. It's not a bad idea to list all the names in alphabetical order and see how they look together. It's an easy way to catch potential confusion and change anything that might be too similar. Genre names can also be a problem area, with names that are unpronounceable or impossible to tell if they're a person, place, title, or item.
5. There's not enough backstory or reminders in later books of the series.
After all the books are out, a reader can go from book one right to book two and not miss anything. But if there's a year between books, and book two starts right where book one left off with no reminders of what's happening or who the characters are, it can leave a reader feeling lost. Especially if what's being talked about or happening in the opening chapters is important and the hook hinges on it. If readers can't remember who a character is, they won't understand why the protagonist is having such a hard emotional time over it. Making a reader struggle to keep up in an opening chapter is never good.
We want our stories to feel effortless, drawing in our readers and holding them in breathless anticipation. The more complicated the story, the harder than can be, but if we take a little extra time to consider how the reader is going to move through the story, we can make that journey as easy as possible.
Have you ever stopped reading a book because it was too much work? What made you stop? Have you read any good examples of books that did anything on this list?