It’s been a long-standing source of frustration for me as a reader: reading a book that doesn’t give me any sense of closure.
In some cases, it’s small oversights, forgotten characters, plot threads that weren’t tied up to my satisfaction. And sometimes it’s something else entirely.
Books need more than just an ending. They need resolution, something that makes you feel like the story accomplished something. Cliffhanger endings aren’t uncommon in books meant to be a series, but even those frustrate me for various reasons. Middle books in a trilogy are especially guilty of this, giving rise to a rule I’ve established for myself. Even in a series, every book needs an ending. Enough threads dangling that you want to see what happens next, but enough of an ending that if I died in a fiery plane crash on my way to a major book signing (it could happen!) I’ll have left my readers with enough of a resolution that they’re satisfied.
No one teetering on the verge of death. No societies about to collapse. And these are things now common in books. The YA genre is particularly guilty of it; The Hunger Games committed this foul, which annoyed me to no end.
But the problem of starting things and not finishing them is especially prevalent in romance novels.
I don’t enjoy most romance because a lot of books put out by mainstream romance publishers don’t get the time and attention they need to make the story solid. I’ve heard this justified on the basis that in a romance, the story is the relationship, nothing else. But there’s no excuse for the relationship not to unfold so that the happy resolution comes with the resolution of the rest of the plot. Sometimes, there can’t even be a happy resolution without seeing the plot through to the end.
I joked about a handful of romance novels facing this problem on Facebook, sharing a laugh with some friends over what I called the “doesn’t matter, had sex” effect–a book’s plot coming to a screeching halt as soon as the characters make a commitment to one another. The joke downplays the seriousness of the problem, though: if you have a cliffhanger like this, where there’s obviously never going to be a follow-up to finish the tale, you don’t have a very good book.
Case in point is one romance I read at the end of July. The overarching plot was the hero and heroine working together to try to catch a drug lord. Not only was the smuggling operation running through the heroine’s private property, they found out who the drug lord was and he attempted to have the heroine kidnapped and murdered.
What happened next? Good question–the main characters ended up in bed and that was the end of the book. Never mind that their lives and livelihoods are still at risk. The plot was dropped like a hot potato and it was implied nothing mattered except they were together. I don’t know about you, but if someone had tried to kidnap and murder my husband, I wouldn’t be distracted by picking flowers for my wedding.
If you can’t rework a story to resolve the plot and still get your happily-ever-after ending, you probably need to put it back in the oven for a while, because your story is half baked. In many cases, especially for casual reads, a book is only as good as its ending.
Has an unfinished book ever left you unsatisfied?