When Do You Give Up on a Story?

5 years ago

It happens to everyone. You’ve been watching a TV series for years, but the plot has gone south, the producers killed off your favorite character, and you can’t figure out why you’re still wasting your time on it. You’ve gone out to a movie or rented one only to realize that the acting is about as fresh as the gym socks at the bottom of your laundry basket. You’ve been struggling to read the same chapter of a book for the past month, and it has become your favorite cure for insomnia.

You’ve invested time, attention, and likely at least a little money in a story. Perhaps you even loved it at the beginning, received a rush of excitement with the opening line or catchphrase. You intended to see it through to the end. However, your initial joy has waned to almost nothing even though the story continues on.

Do you walk away? Or do you finish watching/reading?

If you walk out on a story, what’s your breaking point? What makes you say, “Ugh, that’s it, I’m done”?

Open book and bookmark

At the moment, I’m reading a non-fiction memoir of a woman who spent a year in Kyoto studying Japanese food. The subject appealed to my tastes, and when I read the back cover, it sounded deliciously fun. However, at present, I’m about 3/5 of the way through it, and I have to fight to finish each of the short chapters. Still, there’s not that much more to go, and seeing as I finished Anna Karenina, I know without a doubt that I can finish this book. Reluctantly, I know that I’ve passed the point where I would turn back — I’m going to read to the end even though all I want to do is put it aside and pick up a more thrilling book, one that will keep me turning pages even when my eyes grow tired.

I wonder, though, if I’m doing a disservice to the writer by making that decision. Storytellers write to entertain, to challenge, to delight. They don’t want to bore their audience. They don’t want their readers resenting them for “making” them read or watch something to the end. I know that if I saw somebody struggling to read a story I wrote, I’d want to yell, “Walk away, you fool! Don’t read it if you don’t like it!”

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for getting through even a difficult story. Sometimes a surprise payoff comes at the end, or if not, you’ll at least get a surge of satisfaction for completing it despite yourself, like I did with Anna Karenina.

I find that the halfway mark of a story is often my point of no return. If I get that far, I might as well follow a story until the end. Of course, a story told in serial fashion (such as a TV series, a book series, and so on) often has no obvious midway point. As a faithful fan, it can be difficult to call it quits with no end in sight, but also excruciating to watch a once-beloved story slide downhill. Even then, sometimes it’s necessary to call a halt.

When do you quit a story?

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