I just finished reading a book that annoyed the hell out of me. Even a week after finishing it, I’m still bitter and twisted. The writing was great and the story was gripping right up until the last bit. By then the story was wrapping up in the usual way. I knew what was coming so starting skimming a bit, switching my brain off because I didn’t really need to concentrate. After all, once you know what’s coming, there’s no real need to focus. Except then the author threw in a curly one.
It was a romance so he was carrying around his grandmother’s ring to give to the love of his life, which of course was the other main character, because for 80,000 words we’ve been hearing that she was and it was just unfortunate circumstances that kept them apart. Except then… she wasn’t. Someone else was and he gave her the ring. Cue my WTF face:
Now I get that there is a trend at the moment where we’re trying to show women and young girls in particular that the love of a man isn’t everything. That you can be happy and fulfilled with the love and support of your friends and family. The problem for me is that I think that’s great and support it wholeheartedly. I watched “Frozen” and loved the ending where true love is about sisterly love, rather than romantic love. Similarly, “Maleficent” was about the love of a mother figure, rather than Prince Charming. So you can imagine my horror when I found myself feeling deeply annoyed that the main character in the end behaved horribly to the original “love of his life” and decided that it was in fact his daughter who deserved his wholehearted devotion.
I should like that, right? The stressing of the importance of other types of love in our lives. But I didn’t. I actually hated it. But why? Was it because it was a man making the decision, rather than a woman, that her child was the most important thing in their life that I didn’t like? If the sexes were reversed, would I have been okay with it? As much as I hate to say it, maybe.
Quick disclaimer: I feel the need to stress that what I’m talking about is fictional works, not reality. What I want to read is completely different from what I want to happen in my actual life. I love books about stuff that I would never want to happen to me personally.
A big part of the problem is expectation: I want to be surprised, but clearly not too much. For me, there wasn’t enough of a set up for the resolution. My reaction was not the one the author was looking for.
But then I put on my writer hat and I want to do all sorts of crazy things. There is a total disconnect between what I want to read and what I want to write. I want to write the twisty ending because that’s far more fun than just going with the obvious and I always think in my head that it’s great to surprise the reader and of course they’ll love it! This has been a great lesson for me. Readers don’t want to be surprised in the last chapter but something completely different. If you’ve stuck to a theme and known storyline, you can’t back out at the end. If you write a whole book about star-crossed lovers, then they have to be happily together at the end or there is no point to all the angst. And if you mess with that, you’ll just end up with cranky readers.