Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Want your book to make readers "feel something"? You don't want them to feel like THIS...

"This novel is not to be tossed lightly aside, but to be hurled with great force."
-Dorothy Parker

I finished a book last night, and I hated it. I'm not going to explicitly say which one, but it was a NYTimes bestseller (I think it hit #1), and one of the author's backlist books is currently on two of the NY Times bestseller lists right now, in both trade and mass market. (If you think you know which book I mean, you can just use the title's initials in the comments, and I will confirm or deny. I'm not trying to protect the author's identity, I'm trying to protect any readers who might not want to have the book spoilered by me. There are spoilers ahead.)

The author is considered to be a real talent, and I had no issues with her writing from a technical perspective... but the ending made me furious. First, it seemed like a knock-off of the ending of one of her other novels.

Second, I think that in the final chapter, the characters do something that seems kinda cool and noble and dramatic, but is in fact completely unrealistic, that people would talk about doing but never actually do. I followed these characters for over 400 pages, and there's no way they would behave that way. I know it sounds good in theory, but it would never actually happen, and it rings horribly false on the page.

Third, I can't stand it when a character dies for no earthly good reason. This book's ending reminded me of the French movie Le salaire de la peur / Wages of Fear. (Drat, now I've just spoiled a movie as well. Oh heck, it's a 1953 movie, you've either seen it by now or you probably weren't going to.) In this movie, men are hired to transport an urgent nitroglycerine shipment to help put out an oil fire, over craggy, bumpy, destroyed roads, in decrepit trucks, such that at any time the unstable substance might be jostled and explode, killing the drivers. One guy makes it, gets the big pay day, and then cheerfully drives home like an IDIOT (intentionally swerving from side to side in the truck while whistling a happy tune) and kills himself by running off the road and over a cliff.

WTF? I stuck around for that? That's not meaningful. That doesn't teach me some additional lesson about the unpredictability and fleeting nature of life. That doesn't make me want to cherish every day I have, it makes me want to violently shake the now-dead character for being so stupid. It's a cheap cop-out to try to get tear-jerking at the end, and it's bad writing and bad storytelling.

I'm officially off this writer. I'm never buying another book of hers again. Either she killed off the character because she didn't know how else to handle the ending when she got there, or she had the death planned from the start, and either way I'm disgusted. And there's definitely a "darling" phrase at the end, which has me leaning towards planned-from-the-start. Kill your darlings, writers; even if you're a bestseller, don't think you can get away with it. You can't.

Anyone else ever read a book that self-destructed in the last 10 pages? What went wrong? How do you avoid such pitfalls in your own work?

Next on this blog:

Wednesday: I accept a blog award that requires me to post insightful truths about myself.

Thursday: I have no idea yet.

Friday: FIRST FRIDAY FICTION CONTEST #2! I'll give you a hint. Each entry must be only one sentence long.


  1. Good morning!

    Sorry about the rotten book. I had an experience with a book that I enjoyed, but when it ended, it was so lacking. The entire book was. It was too neat and clean and the ending was so predictable. It was a safe book: not what I usually read! Disappointing to say the least.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and following! I really appreciate it!


  2. If I had a dime for every novel and movie I've read/seen lately with a completely disappointing ending, I'd be rich. I don't know what's up...are writers getting lazy? Do they just get to the end and start doing whatever it takes to finish?

  3. Wooo, you are ticked! Man. Hmmm, I do have books I don't like, that's why I usually stick to certain genres which I know will give me the happy ending I want. LOL
    There was a movie that was pretty good, can't remember the name but it had Matt Damon and the guy from Titanic, anyways, every single character dies in the end, except the girl. I was so annoyed. Super annoyed.
    I hear you.

  4. I feel you girl. There are books that get awesome reviews, and then I read it, and I think, "Really?" I guess it just goes to show how subjective writing can be!

  5. i just commented on another blog about how to be honest in reviews without shooting our unpubbed selves in the foot. i'm just not sure there is a better way around it than what you just did, so kudos!

  6. I have read reviews for books that sound wonderful, then I can hardly wade through the book when I actually read it. I've realized that part of my problem is that I'm a writer. All that I've learned about the craft shouts out at each page taking some of the joy out of reading. Now my MIL, who is not a writer, reads everything and loves them. But of course she doesn't see all of the glaring craft issues because her mind isn't geared for it! My point? Writers make bad readers, unless the book is perfect, and there just aren't many that are!

  7. Silly, if it is the "First Fiction Contest #2" it isn't the "First" one. :) I can't wait to read your insights tomorrow!

    Speaking of reviews I was listening to the radio this morning and they were talking about this guy that is well known for being ridiculously critical of great novels(and I can't for the life of me remember who) that is getting ready to publish his own novel. Everybody that talked was pretty much eager to see how bad he sucked. LOL.

    (Jessica, was that the Departed? I loved that movie but hated that pretty much everyone dies.)

  8. I hate it when someone tells me I MUST read a particular book, sometimes even lending it to me, and I found out that I hate it. I often wonder one of two things:

    What is wrong with me?
    What is wrong with everyone else?

  9. I've been able to get around unrealistic plot holes in my stories because I have a good writing group who goes "I'm not buying this!" everytime they come across one.

    I assume (it is terrible of me to do so; please prove me wrong if I am) that established authors, especially those with bestsellers, no longer indulge in writing groups or peer reviews. They pound out a novel and send off to agent or editor, who might be too overworked to catch plotholes, or who don't care because they know the book will sell anyway.

    It's a good reminder to keep your reviewers around forever because they'll keep you honest.

  10. You're killing me! What book is it? E-mail me if you don't want to answer here.

    Lynnette Labelle

  11. My guess is that it's MSK by a certain JP? If so I hated this book as well. In fact, I broke my rule of not reading New York Times Bestsellers after being disappointed time and time again, because the jacket flap actually made me think it would be a good book, and while it wasn't exactly a literary masterpiece it was better than some other NYT listmakers (The Nanny Diaries, comes to mind) but then I got to the ending, and wanted to throw the book at a wall, but it was a library book so I had to treat it nicely even if it was so ridiculous.

  12. Melody, it's "First" because it's a contest for the first Friday of every month! I realize there's some ambiguity there, however, what with "first" modifying "Friday" instead of "fiction contest"... mostly I just like having three Fs in a row...

    Alissa, right author, wrong title! And the ending of the new book, HWC, feels like an even worse variation of the MSK ending. In case you didn't think that was possible.

    Lynnette, if you haven't figured it out from these clues, let me know and I will email you!

    Ooops, the toddler is demanding attention...

  13. I've been there...a couple of times. Though, as a writer, I have to admit that there are two chapters I hate the most. The first and the last chapters. *flails hands helplessly*

  14. Okay. I read the clues AND did some Googling--I don't generally read the NYT Bestseller's list. Don't know why. They rarely interest me. I have NO clue which book you're talking about...

  15. I have yet to be disgusted by a book ending, but a previous favorite author of mine (also on the best sellers list) wrote a novel with a middle that sagged like an old lady's belly! I actually skipped about half the book and still understood the ending! Not great writing :( And REALLY bad reading.

  16. (The name of the book has now been emailed to those who requested it...)

  17. I recently finished two books, one paperback and one audio, both by best-selling authors and both horrible. In both cases, these authors ventured out of their normal genre to try something new. Kudos to them for taking a risk, but man, there should be some kind of warning on it: "I usually write page-turning thrillers, but for this one, I wanted to try romance."

  18. I've read soome epically bad books that started well. I've even read a book by one of my favorite authors tht just kind of...stopped.... rather than actually ended. It was like the author got bored and just sent in what she had.

    Woo! New fiction contest :)