Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sticky Situations Unresolved

I believe it was in primary school I was taught that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. This is sadly not always true these days. I've had the bad luck to run into many novels that cannot claim to fulfil the requirements of an ending. They left me stuck in a difficult situation right along with the protagonist, with no hope of getting out unless the author publishes another book someday - which I am however now unlikely to buy.

It seems to me that a lot of publishers are staking their bets on first-time authors who will need at least another book out to get their stories finished. But what happens if that author turns out to be a one-book wonder? What if the publisher goes under or cuts a genre in our world of uncertainties?

I do understand the writer's dilemma. It's happened to me too: plan a novel carefully, with its climax and resolution, then write and write and write until you realise you've written enough words but only reached a mid-point in your plot. When I realised this was the case, I went back and re-did the planning, so that a significant subplot could be introduced and woven in earlier on, finding its resolution at the end of Book One without leaving the reader hanging - even though the story goes on. It seems to me that many authors are not bothering with any attempt at a conclusion. The story just stops, suspended in mid-air, and I feel like throwing it across the room.

The end of a novel, in my humble opinion, is required to provide mainly one thing to its readers: Satisfaction. If it doesn't do that, what's the point?

That's why I always ask for opinions on reader satisfaction when I send out manuscripts for critique. After plot continuity and correct grammar, this is my most important criterion for technical quality as an aspect of planning. It has nothing to do with more inspirational aspects such as description, character, and emotional impact. Your writing style may be amazing, but if you don't resolve at least one of the book's major issues by the time it wraps up, you risk leaving your reader with a sensation of emptiness and unrest. Please, please, please don't do that.


  1. This is one of pet peeves too. An author does not have to solve every single conflict, but there has to be at least SOME resolution and it should be for one of the MAJOR conflicts of that book. I buy sequels because I LIKE a book, not because the author screwed me over and gets another chance to possibly do it again!

  2. I'm with you Grace (and Caprice too). Publishers want novels to leave enough of a hook to get readers to anticipate the next book in the series, however, it is a fine line to walk. No reader wants to feel like they're being manipulated. Novels aren't like tv series where cliff hangers rule. Readers want satisfaction.


  3. I hate books like this, too. I even almost walked away from "The Neverending Story" because I was like, "A story with no end? What good is that?" It's okay to hint that there's going to be a sequel or continuation but I like some sense of resolution.

  4. You need to have some type of "reward" for reading a book. I'm with you all, needs to be there to tie all the rest of the writer's good qualities into a satisfying read.

    And I'll say, that's even true for flash fiction as well. Too many of them don't really have a story, just a snip of emotion in someone's life. I need more than that, I'm afraid.

  5. Mega-dittoes from me on this. I walked away from severalbookos lately for this reason, but not enough of them. Then there is another problem: Sometimes the publisher pulls out of the deal and leaves the author stranded. One example of this was D. Barkley Briggs' Book of Names. I really loved that book and was looking forward to the second; I was even one of those who had pre-ordered in this case. Then his publisher decided to make some cuts. So no book unless he finds another publisher. AAUGGH! At least there was some "reward" in reading the first book, as Rick puts it. Sequels have a place, but every story needs to have some kind of resolution, even if the larger story is 'to be continued.' Having said that, my favorite work of all time is Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, a cliff-hanger (almost literally) if ever there was one. Fortunately, all three (4 counting the Hobbit) tomes were out a long time before I discovered them. It's easier that way than having to wait a year or two and losing interest along the way.