Beware the AYFKM, My Son

There are plenty of reasons a person may stop reading your book at the beginning: overwriting, underwriting, rehashed plots or story elements, a disconnection with the protagonist. I can't even list the number of books I've picked up and put back down before the end of chapter 1 (it's a long list). That's the important part. I can't list them. I don't even remember most of them. Those books are discarded from my memory as not worth remembering or filed into the "not right for me" category. The worst that happens when someone starts to read and dislikes your story is that they stop. They might go so far as to comment that they did not enjoy the story when the subject matter comes up. Sure it stings and you want all the readers you can get, but in the grand scheme of things, much worse things can happen.

Like the AYFKM--the Are You Fucking Kidding Me moment. This is so much more dangerous than a person giving up after page two. The AYFKM happens much later in the book. The reader has invested time and money, but more importantly has invested in the story. He or she cares for what's happening, cares for the characters and the outcome. There is something at stake. Then you hammer the square peg into the round hole and that whole investiture comes apart. You shat on their feelings with your plot decision and there are consequences for your action.

AYFKM Level One
The reader immediately stops reading the book. They then seek out others to vent their frustrations, say like a blog post. ;) They're not waiting for conversation. They're starting the conversation. This isn't the same as weighing in with a "yeah, I just didn't like xxx main character, so I never read the series." This is "I was reading xxx and yyy happened. Are you fucking kidding me?!?!"

AYFKM Level Two
The reader immediately stops reading the book and refuses to buy any more books in the series (or possibly no books by you ever again). They actively begin conversations, but rather than voicing their frustration, they tell people that the entire experience is a waste of time. Stay away from this series. The author completely ruins everything that came before it (*cough*HPbook7*cough*). If you're lucky, this person may read the back cover copy for your next series, but as far as this one goes, it's dead in the water, and they're going to try to sink it with everyone they know too.

AYFKM Level Three
This is where all the bells and whistles go off. The torpedo is in the water and the submarine has to dive before everyone on board is killed. You didn't just waste their time, you hurt them on a personal level. For whatever reason, the bond they established with your story/character was an intense emotional investiture, and you just gave them a golden shower. You have made yourself an internet enemy. Nothing you ever write will ever earn you forgiveness. They will hunt you across the internet and make you pay. They will troll your blogs, spoil your Twitter hashtag conversations, and even show up at conventions to tell you how much they hate you. Nothing breads entitlement like an open mic and anonymity (aka, the internet), and you're about to suffer the worst of it. And you deserve it (or so they think).

And the real trick is, beneath all this self-assured rage, the person has a point. There is quite possibly, a fundamental flaw in the event that set them off. Too often an author will bend the plot to accommodate a personal desire/whim at the expense of immersion/realism. I know writers who decide what the beginning and end are going to be, what they want the plot to be, and they'll beat the story as hard as they must to move it from point A to point B.

I had a level one AYFKM moment this evening, that I will put behind the cut because it includes spoilers.

I've arrived at Lowell, reading BLUE FIRE all the way home. I have 20 pages left in the entire book and I'm at the tail end of the climax. Rather than driving home and finishing it there, I head up to my car in the parking lot and continue reading. I am that invested. We're not going anywhere until those last 20 pages are accounted for.

The big bad is defeated (for this book at least), the mysterious machine is going haywire, and the big damn hero has to make a run for it. Using the BDH's unique powers, the MM has killed people, disintegrated objects, and is destroying the BB's palace all around them. Walls and floors and ceilings are crumbling. RUN!

The BDH takes two survivors with her (as BDHs are wont to do). They run through the palace, walls exploding around them and the roof about to collapse on their heads. And just when they reach the door to the outside world, to freedom, to survival, one of the rescuees stops them. You see, using the BDH's unique power, the MM disintegrated her clothes. He stops them--INSIDE--and gives her his tunic lest she go outside naked.


A palace. Not a shack. Not a shanty. A motherfucking palace is about to fall on top of you, and you're going to stop and put on a skirt?

Let me guarantee you, if I was naked and fleeing a crumbling palace, the world would see my swinging cod before I stopped to put on a pair of shorts and give that building one last chance to drop a rock on my skull.

And it's a palace. Why didn't they stop outside the building on the grounds? What palace doesn't have grounds? You already described how long the walk was. There have to be grounds.

I loved this book. I devoured it. I got it yesterday and was 20 pages away from finishing it today (and I read slow). As soon as that happened, I turned off my nook and came home.

I have since finished the book and the ending is of a satisfactory nature that I will buy the third. As a result of the AYFKM moment occurring so close to the end of the book, my enthusiasm for the next installment is considerably depreciated. Time will heal this, of course, but where I was champing at the bit for book 2, book 3 can take its time.

How many people did the BDH kill in this book (middle grade my ass)? But she can't go outside naked. This is a pervading fact of American fiction (both in text and in screen) and it is incredibly stupid.