What Makes Terrible Fiction?


That got retweeted in my stream yesterday, and it’s something that made me go “Huh” and think about whether it’s something I agree with.

In TV and movies, this is something that often really annoys me.  There is a family member of ours who is totally THAT GUY who asks “Have you watched the latest episode of blah?”  And when you say no, he totally goes and tells you what happens.  >.<

But books.   Books, I think, are different.

Exactly how much does the ending impact the overall work–I mean knowing it (obviously if you have a lousy ending, it’ll impact a LOT)?

I can see this having more impact on some works than others.  Mysteries, spring to mind.  I’m not a peeker (you know those people who peek at the end), so if I know whodunit before I finish the end, that’s going to annoy me.  But does it ruin the book?  I mean, how many times have I read a book (more probably a romantic suspense), and then gone back to reread it, knowing the end, to see how it was put together?  When I go through and see AH! I SEE HOW YOU DID THAT!  I get a big charge out of that.  Because, of course, there’s more to the book and the story than the ending.

It’s a safe bet that you know how a romance is going to end.  The boy is gonna get the girl and the girl is going to get the boy right back.  That’s a pretty safe bet and is often one of the criticisms lobbed at the genre.  I read for that ending even knowing what it’ll be.  I read because romance shows me love overcoming adversity and conflict, and that makes me happy.  I don’t LOSE anything from knowing the end.

I read a study a while back that talks about how knowing the story really DOESN’T impact people’s enjoyment of a tale–that it does, in fact, enhance it.  Which is totally counter to what you might expect.  Wish I could find the link.  Oh here’s a link to a podcast from Scientific American that references the study.

So coming back to what Lee said, if the story can be ruined merely by knowing the ending before hand, yeah, the story probably IS terrible.  Because if that’s the lone bright spot, the thing that’s being held in reserve and there’s NOTHING ELSE THERE, then you don’t have much of a story.  So much of story is in the EXPERIENCE of the conflict through characters that we identify with (this is called empathic resonance).  And most of the time, it’s this experience that people read for, not the ending.

So all that is to say, I’m pretty sure I agree with him.  What about you?

5 thoughts on “What Makes Terrible Fiction?

  1. Wow, I’d never thought about it that way, but I agree. Yes, I’d prefer that people not spoil the ending of a book for me, but I don’t read a good book FOR the ending. If someone had told me how the Hunger Games trilogy ended I might have lost a lot of the emotional charge I got when That Thing That Happened happened, but I still would have enjoyed the books. And it’s true, you can often guess the ending. I think we all knew that Harry Potter was SPOILER ALERT going to defeat that one guy somehow, but the adventure was seeing how it came about even when it seemed impossible, the obstacles that the characters overcame and the losses they experienced on the way. I’ll re-read a great book multiple times. If all I got out of a book was a surprise ending, I’d never read it again, and probably not count it as a great book.

    Really interesting thought!

  2. Like you, I believe the ending is more important in a mystery. I love it when I get to the end and I’m like “You’re kidding? _____ (insert name) did it???” And sometimes it’s fun to guess and be right. But I still like a good story that keeps you on the edge of your seat way before the ending. And, yes, we all know a romance is going to end well (it BETTER), but the story is still fun to read. So, I guess that all means I agree. It’s not just about the ending. It’s about getting TO the ending. And if the ending is a surprise (in a mystery), even better.

  3. If it is well written, the journey is in the story. The ending just ties up everything into a nice pretty bow. Knowing the ending can take some of the fun out of some stories. But, I’m not sure spoiling is the right term.

    1. I agree with Dennis and furthermore, it doesn’t matter if you have a happy ending (in some genre’s) or a twist of an ending, someone is always unhappy and critical of the ending. If 4 out of 10 readers like what I write and how I write the story – I’m satisfied.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.