Discussion: The Slow Start

There’s something that’s been bothering me for a while now and I feel like I need to get it off my chest. I have some serious issues with books that start out slowly.

Sometimes they’re books that I know will turn out well and I end up loving. Other times they’re books that I’m unsure about right from the start and consider marking them as DNF fairly quickly. No matter what I decide to do in the end, the slow start always affects my overall opinion of a book.

There have been a lot of books that I’ve loved that felt like they dragged in the very beginning but turned out to have an AWESOME ending. Case in point: I just finished DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT, the second book in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series and for as awesome and epic as that ending was (no, seriously. BLEW MY MIND), the beginning just felt like it took a while to really set everything up and start the EPIC. I absolutely loved the book and definitely left with a very positive feeling about it but… that slower start absolutely prevented me from giving it a full five stars.

When I give a book a rating, I look back on how I felt at each point in the book. I feel like I’m more apt to excuse a “lull” in the middle because the first section of the book has already grabbed my attention and gotten me invested in the story. If I don’t make a connection with a character or am excited by the plot within the first few chapters, I find it really hard to find that desire to keep reading.
Don’t get me wrong — not all books will start with some big action sequence and that’s not what I’m asking either. Some books totally nail it with that crazy, exciting action sequence and that’s usually guaranteed to get me excited to keep reading. Other books start by introducing the main characters and I really get to know them and make a connection within the first few chapters. However it happens, I always feel that in order for me to connect with a book right off the bat, there has to be some sort of unique or exciting premise in order to motivate me to keep reading.

Recently I’ve been heavily relying on my blogger friends for help (and they don’t even know they’re doing it)! The last couple slow starts I’ve had, I’ve actually STOPPED, put the book down, gone on Goodreads, and looked up other people’s feedback and reviews. Usually I never look at other reviews (for fear of spoilers!) before I finish a book, but in these cases, I must know if the book gets better. Trusted reviewers, tell me if this book is worth my time! I actually read someone’s full-on, spoiler-filled review in order to keep me motivated and I absolutely would have DNFed that particular book if that particular person’s Goodreads review hadn’t told me what happened in the end. I needed the motivation to push myself through the slow part to get to the good stuff! Other times I’ve put the book down, read other people’s opinions and saw that they didn’t care for the book either. That was enough for me to feel happy about marking it as DNF.

So how quickly do I mark a book as DNF? I’ve touched on this topic before but I also wanted to include it in this post because the slow start is one of the biggest reasons I choose to DNF a book. And the answer is… It always depends. Sometimes the slow start totally kicks me in the butt and I just don’t want to continue reading at all. Other times I know it will get better (or I sincerely hope it will get better) and I’ll make it further… say 100 pages or halfway through. I honestly think the beginning of the book is at times more important than the end. It can affect my entire opinion of a book — both positively and negatively. The positive beginning keeps me excited to read the rest of the book. A negative beginning makes me hesitant and suspicious of how the rest of the story will go or who the characters really turn out to be. For me as a reader, it’s a critical part of my reading experience and can really make or break a book for me.

So, fellow readers, how do you handle slow starts in books? Do they frustrate you or do you have high hopes that the book will get better? If the book ends amazingly, does that slow start affect your overall rating? How far will you push into a book before you decide to call it quits because things just aren’t picking up?

26 thoughts on “Discussion: The Slow Start

  1. Chrissi Reads

    I’m not a fan of slow starting books either. I tend to want to give up on them. I actually do what you do though, I look up reviews from fellow bloggers on Goodreads to see if it does get better. I’ve got better at DNF books. I used to want to finish every book I read, but now I’ve decided there’s far too many books that I need to get to. I don’t want to waste my time. I definitely check other people’s opinions before I make that decision. I guess it does affect how I rate a book if I finish a slow starter. It does drop the rating slightly.

  2. Jan

    I have a big problem with slow starts of books and there’s always a very real danger that I’ll give up if it’s taking too long to get started! I don’t mind a bit of scene setting but there has to at least be something in there to hint at better things to come. It really depends on my patience levels at the time whether or not I’ll keep going if the start’s too slow.

  3. Kelly

    Slow starts don’t always bother me; it really depends on my mood. I’ve had books I couldn’t get in to on one day, but when I revisited them at a later date, I found myself loving the slower beginning!

    It really depends on what’s accomplished with the slow start for me. If I feel like it was justified as it established the world, or showed pertinent character traits, the slower start won’t usually factor in my rating. I’d definitely mention it in my review, but I wouldn’t necessarily dock stars for it. If it didn’t seem to accomplish anything though, the slow start would definitely affect my rating.

  4. Elizabeth

    I am not a huge fan of slow starts either. The most recent example I can think of is I reread Catching Fire and that book is just paced so horribly. The first 2/3 or so is fairly slow build-up to a whole lot of action and plot development in the end, that goes by so quickly it is hard to figure out what is even going on! I was almost considering giving up the reread, but once I got to the end I remembered why I enjoyed the story in the first place! I am usually pretty willing to DNF if a book turns me off, though I’m not sure I’ve DNFed anything for a slow start in the recent past. Lately I’ve been making it a sizable way into the book before deciding I just don’t care anymore.

  5. Lynn M

    For me, it’s all about the characters. If I like the characters from the first couple of pages, I’m willing to stick around if the beginning is a bit of a slog. If the “voice” is good and captures me, I’m willing to deal with a slow start. That said, if I don’t like the characters, I’m not likely to stick around too long if the book fails to capture my attention. There are just too many other books out there to read. I’m sure with this attitude I miss a lot of great books – I DNFed “Catching Fire” (I know – sacrilege!) because I just couldn’t get into it. I got so bored and so when I’d put the book down, I had no interest in picking it up again.

  6. Kelley (Another Novel Read)

    Ooh, great topic, Brittany! A book that starts off slowly can really turn me away as well, although I don’t think I’ve DNFed many overall. But I do the same thing you do — I go on Goodreads and start looking at my friends’ reviews. In fact, I know it’s a sure sign that I’m feeling iffy about a book when I’m looking up reviews for it on Goodreads! It’s like, I need some confirmation either way, whether it’s confirmation that what I’m feeling (bad) is legit and I should quit now, or confirmation that I should keep reading because it gets better.

  7. Kelsey

    Slow starts make me seriously tempted to DNF unless I’ve been seriously wanting to read it for ages. But if I can’t get into it by about page 100? It’s probably going to be a DNF. And even if I do finish it, it probably will affect my opinion of the book somehow. It’s just terribly hard to want to read a slow book. I mean, I need something to keep me motivated, you know? Great post idea!

  8. Amanda @ Book Badger

    Oh I can completely see your point! I recently DNF’d Anything To Have You just before the 100 page mark, because I hadn’t had any positive feelings towards the book whatsoever and had avoided going back to it for a few days. I knew it was destined to not be finished, so I didn’t. The beginning wasn’t actually that slow for me either, but it just didn’t interest. Sometimes you’ll push through a slow book and find that it was slow throughout.
    This is a great topic! 😀

  9. Hazel

    Awesome discussion topic, Brittany! I’m always hoping for the best out of every book I read. So even if the book starts slow, I just try to get through it hoping it becomes more exciting soon. But when I’m halfway through the book and nothing’s happening yet, that’s when I get fidgety. I usually ask myself these questions:
    – Was the slow start necessary?
    – Did it accomplish something?
    – Did it seem like the author’s intention?
    – Does it build up the tension to make the climax better?
    If the answer to most of these questions is yes, I try not to let the slow start affect my rating. However, it also depends on my mood sometimes. I definitely agree with you that the beginning is seriously a crucial part of the reading experience! Really loved this discussion! <3

  10. Mel@thedailyprophecy

    I’m actually a fan of slow start books, but I think it really depends on the writing-style! Sometimes it just works for me. It can be the foundation of the world-building or a good introduction to the characters. But not every book succeeds in that and sometimes its definitely hard to overlook a boring, slow beginning! I DNF around 50/100 pages (depends on how thick the book is)

  11. Miranda @ Tempest Books

    Slow starts are frustrating. I just recently read a book — Phoenix Island by John Dixon — that started out very slowly for me. I had a lot of trouble getting into it and thought that I might even have to DNF it. But I kept going and ended up LOVING it! So I’m so glad that I did. But it really bugs me when stories aren’t engaging right from the very start. It’s usually at bad sign when that happens, I think.

  12. Tara

    This has been a huge problem for me lately as I’ve been trying to read Printz contenders. Sometimes the fancy literary books can move at a snail’s pace, and they try to do all this weird stuff with the plot. Often this works well for me…I appreciate literary novels and like the innovative things authors do. But sometimes it just puts me to sleep. Everyone’s just walking around sharing their feelings or not sharing their feelings and I can’t figure out what the main conflict is and it all just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Ugh. DNF. Waste of time. Moving on!

  13. Rebecca @ The Library Canary

    I’m really bad at quitting books so if it has a slow start I normally muscle through. But I do end up procrastinating a lot. Finding other things to do instead of read like watch Netflix or mess around on the internet. Which only makes me more frustrated because it takes me forever to finish and I can’t read two books at once and I just want to move on. So basically I guess I need to learn how to quit books. I just feel bad. Like I’ve committed to it and I have to see how it ends. Because what if it gets better and I miss out? These are the thoughts that run through my head. But obviously, I do enjoy when an author can grab my attention from the start and I love when the very first sentence of a book can pull me in. Those are the best.

  14. Stormy

    Slow starts are difficult, because it’s always that question: Do I keep going in the hope it gets better or do I abandon ship? I normally try to give a book about 25%. Sometimes I DNF after or way before, but 25 is the normal. I think a quarter of a book is good enough time to see if a slow start picks up or if it’s just out for me.

  15. Alexa S.

    I have experienced quite a few slow starts. Sometimes, they’re worth the slow burn beginning; sometimes, they’re not. Like you, it frustrates me a little and often causes my rating of a book to drop because I dislike not being able to connect to a character right away. While I’ve yet to DNF a book because of a slow start, I do tend to linger over the book and take a longer time completing it if the beginning is slow.

  16. Pamela

    I rarely DNF books nowadays; however, I am getting pickier on what I read. Usually I know going into a book whether there is going to be a slow start to a book. Also, I read a lot of SF&F and many times the beginnings are slow, because there is a ton of world building that needs to happen.

  17. Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook

    I’ve been struggling a bit with slow starts lately, too. Well, it’s always been difficult to stick with a book if it doesn’t grab me straight away, but now, as a blogger, I feel like I don’t have a lot of time to waste. And if a book isn’t grabbing me, then I don’t read as much.

    But, like you said, the book doesn’t have to be all action packed to hook me. Primarily I HAVE to connect to the main character. If that doens’t happen, then it’s a HUGE struggle for me.

    I do try to give books a chance, though. Again, like it mentioned, it depends on what I’m expecting from the book which determines how much time I will spend trying to get into a book. If I’ve heard it is sooo amazing, then I will read more into it to give it a try. Unless it is a genre that’s not my think.

    For example, I really dislike dystopian settings. I’m also a children’s librarian. But I could not get into The Hugner Games. And I only read a little bit into the book because deciding that this book was not for me. It wasn’t because I thought it was bad, I just KNEW that I wouldn’t be able to read it.

    But if I know little about the book that I am struggling with, I usually try to give it 50 pages or so. That’s the minimum. If by page 50 I can’t get into it, then I put it down. If I see potential, I might read a few more pages, just to be sure.

  18. Vyki @ On The Shelf

    It will definitely affect my rating. Like you, even if I think a book is amazing, I’ll probably deduct 1/2 a star because of a slow start. I’m on of those people that has problems with DNFing a book, so I usually just keep on trudging through, even if I am REALLY not enjoying it. I keep hoping it’ll get better. I do get frustrated at times when it just doesn’t seem to be picking up. I got pretty frustrated with The Ruining and I kind of wish I had DNF it, but like I said…I have problems with that and can’t bring myself to do it lol.

  19. Kristen@My Friends Are Fiction

    Slow starts don’t bother me too much if the writing is good and I have an interest in the direction the book is going. I’m most likely to DNF if the writing is not for me (as in trying to be too humorous, poor sentence structure, absolutely nothing new to the genre, etc). I really enjoy the fantasy genre…and I’ve felt that those typically start off pretty slow. There are many characters to introduce and the world to set up. I feel that this has given me a tad more patience to stick with a slow start. The Bone Season is the perfect example. But, if the book is still slow after around page 100 I’ll start really thinking about DNFing. As for if it effects how I rate the book… I’d say not really. If it’s a slow burn (and not outright boring) then I can still give 5 stars if the rest blows me away. great discussion topic!

  20. acps927

    I have very little to no patience for slow-starting books as well. My writing style is very to-the-point, I love movies and how fast-paced they generally are, and I just expect the same in my reading as well. Like you, sometimes it’s enough for a DNF, but sometimes I keep chugging because it seems it’ll get better. But I would definitely like to see less slow starts, especially in YA when the books are shorter!

  21. Kay @ It's a Book Life

    I hate hate hate slow starts! But no matter how much they annoy me I always power through, because more often than not the book gets better. I never really DNF any books, but if I did I could see a very long slow start to be the culprit. I just read Attachments by Rainbow Rowell and almost gave up from the slow first half, but I’m glad I didn’t because it really picked up. Very nice discussion post. 🙂

  22. Wendy

    Like others, interesting characters and beautiful writing will keep me plugging along with a slow start. I just finished The Raven Boys and had no idea what Stiefvater was doing until 2/3 into the book. In that case, I gave it a chance because I’d just read and loved another book by her.

    Slow start is in the eye of the beholder, too. Steinbeck starts The Grapes of Wrath with a turtle crossing the road, for, like, three pages, and it’s incredible. Other authors start off with a bang, but the writing is so formulaic and the characters are so unappealing that I still can’t get into it.

    I usually finish books, but a dragging pace will prevent me from continuing a series. WIth Laini Taylor’s, I loved the first two books and couldn’t get into the third! I’ll probably try again someday.

  23. Emily

    Generally speaking, I totally agree, a slow start is a turn off when it comes to a book.I also just finished Days of Blood and Starlight and I must have amnesia because it seems that I’ve forgotten how slow the beginning of it was because I was so swept up in the second half, yet that probably accounts for my overall feeling to give it 4 stars instead of 5.

    In terms of deciding to not finish a book, it all depends. I’ll hop on goodreads and look at my trusted friends and bloggers star ratings, but I won’t read their reviews for fear of spoilers. Or if I find myself distracted a lot while reading I might start another book and decide later if I want to go back to the slow one. I can’t really give myself a percentage to follow, but for the first time I stopped reading a book and was only two chapters in, I usually stick it out much longer than that.

    Emily @ Follow the Yellow Book Road

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