Last night I stayed up way later than I intended to in order to read. This is not unusual for me, but normally when I finish a book, I feel some sense of "Ah..." If it's a good book, there's always a longing for another chapter or two but an appreciation for how it all wrapped up. If it's a series, I'll sometimes rush to the computer to see how fast I can get my hands on the next one.
But last night none of those things happened. Instead I closed my book, looked at the clock, and growled in frustration. It was 45 minutes later than the target bedtime I'd set for myself, I'd been on the couch for 2 hours working to finish a book with an ending that didn't satisfy, and my time would have been better spent cleaning up my pit of a house. Or, frankly, just sitting there watching my husband edit photos would have been a better use. Then I wouldn't have ignored him so much of the evening. He was very gracious about the whole thing, but still.
I don't know how non-writers deal with their disappointment over wasting time on lousy books because my only comfort this morning is that I can learn from this.
I'm not in the business of bashing other authors - especially with a series that's so successful - so I won't divulge the name of the series. But these books did a couple things wrong in my not-nearly-as-financially-successful opinion.
Created a pattern that didn't sustain all 4 books
First of all, these books were written in a funky POV. Mostly omniscient, but sometimes kinda distant 3rd person. (If you've read The Gossip Girl series, they're like that.) Each book opened with a scene told by some omniscient narrator, and it was the last scene of the book. I'm usually not fond of cheater openings like that, but in the first two books I felt like it worked pretty well and built suspense. In the second two books, however, I didn't think it worked at all. Actually, when I read the opening of the third book, I thought to myself, "Oh, I do not think I'm going to like where the story goes..." Sure enough, I did not.
If you develop a pattern like the one mentioned above, I really think it needs to work for all the books in the series. That happened in Breaking Dawn, the fourth in the Twilight saga too, where we were suddenly getting Jacob's POV too. I thought the effect was a little jarring, as with the series I'm talking about now. Of course, these are both authors who have sold many, many, many more books than me.
The Logan Syndrome
For 3 and 3/4 books of the series, two of the characters were completely in love and desperate to be together, even though it seemed impossible that they would ever be able to create a life with each other. And I'm talking desperate lengths. Like following-the-guy-to-Cuba-and-just-hoping-to-run-into-him kind of desperate. And then, in the last 1/4 or so of the fourth book, things unfold to where they really will be able to be together after all, and what do you think happens?
They choose to be apart.
This wasn't even a couple I particularly wanted together, and it still ticked me off. Because I just spent, like, 200,000 words listening to how devoted they were to each other, but at the end they chose separate lives.
I don't believe everyone needs to be all matched up at the end of a romantic book for it to be a happy ending, but this goes back to what we talked about on Monday, about creating good internal conflict. It's good to force your characters into corners where they must make choices, but that only works well if you've made it clear that they are choosing between two things they love. The character loved the boy all through the books, and only in the last couple scenes was she like, "But I must travel and see the world!"
By the way, I call this The Logan Syndrome because of Gilmore Girls. Rory spent, like, 3 seasons completely invested in her relationship with Logan, only to turn him down in the end. I didn't particularly like Logan and would have been fine if they canned his character years previously, but I never bought into Rory telling him no.
Oh, the loose ends...
As I was expressing all my frustration to my husband last night (and he was oh-so-patiently nodding along) I kept remembering things that never really got tied up. And not little things, but BIG things. Like, um, did she ever tell her family about the murder plot she discovered?!
A few unanswered questions are fine, or even a little mystery about how things actually went down, but your big stuff all needs to be wrapped up. If there's no sequel coming, of course.
Time for a little QT
This has become a tremendous pet peeve of mine in the last year or so - CHARACTERS WHO NEVER SPEND TIME TOGETHER. Which includes villains/antagonists who are lurking behind the shadows, who never directly oppose the narrator. Or sisters who are "close" but never talk to each other. Rivals who might be at the same function, but never seem to be in the same room. People who are falling in love, yet never say anything important.
And in this series, it wasn't just one or two people who never talked, it was seemingly everybody. Everybody was just hanging out in their rooms getting ready for a party where they saw each other across the room but never talked to each other. Again, when I was griping to my husband last night, I kept thinking, "Okay, after book one, that couple who was engaged never talked to each other again. That's so weird! Oh, and why didn't she ever let these two characters have a conversation? And what about that thing with her mom? And did her sister even know about such-and-such?"
Get your characters in the same room, give them same QT (quality time) together, and watch the sparks fly.
Okay. Deep, calming breaths. Breathe in, breathe out. Inhale through the mouth, exhale through the nose....
I'm feeling somewhat cleansed of my semi-bad reading experience. Please check your manuscript for the above issues. I'm now off to scour mine for all these things.
We've talked about story pet peeves on here before, but I'm up for another round of it. Please share!