I was recently on Goodreads and came across the review for a book which got some pretty heated comments on a negative review. I won’t put titles here or links, but let’s just say the novel touched on a timely, very controversial topic.
(It’s actually negative reviews like these which I seek out before buying and/or reading a book in order to save myself the frustration that some of these readers felt upon finishing this book.)
I don’t think it’s too much to say that the topic was assisted suicide, and a character whose life was apparently painted throughout the book as potentially wonderful, and who had the love and support of many family members chose suicide.
Now, it’s not really important to this post what my stance on this is, or even what yours is. Regardless of the author’s stance, or the reader’s stance, and whether either is pro or con on this topic or any other topic, several of the reviewers who rated it negatively did read the entire book. Them finishing was undoubtedly partially due to the controversy arriving in the climax of the book.
Now, as I see it, this situation actually could mean one of two things:
- the author misled the reader up until the ending;
- the author wrote the book to be captivating enough that a reader who disliked where the author was going still was intrigued enough to read it through to the end;
- (because I can’t count) the reader always finishes the books he/she begins.
The first two are legitimate claims that bear a bit of discussion, I think.
The author misled the reader.
This is a serious issue, people. If your reader gets to the end of your novel and thinks, that’s the stupidest thing this character could have done, I will never read another book by this author, or that the character acted completely OUT of character by making the decision he/she did and therefore the author turned this book into an agenda which he/she pushed on the reader, there’s an issue. (Besides my run-on sentence.)
As authors, we are people. (I know, right?) But as people, we are individuals with varying beliefs, belief systems, and sympathies (among other things, but I think that’s vague enough to be getting on with). That’s not a bad thing. You will always be able to find one reader in the world who would agree with you (should he/she find & read your novel). However, when a book is written under the guise of a novel, but it is really something to ambush people who don’t have your beliefs with, you need to look at why you want to write this as a novel. Perhaps it’s best as a persuasive essay, or a tweet.
The most infuriating thing for a reader is to get three-quarters of the way through a story that they are truly enjoying, where they are loving the characters, and expecting a certain result (through being led there by the character and author’s choices), only to have the exact opposite occur. This is not a plot twist. A plot twist has to be a legitimate action of the character, not one that is pressed upon the reader simply to surprise them. Now, can that plot twist be disappointing? Sure. Controversial? Sure. But can it be completely out of line with the rest of the novel? You guessed it: no. Capital-N-Capital-O, NO.
Your reader has to be able to look back at the rest of the novel and say, “Okay, even though I don’t like this ending, and I don’t agree with the character’s choice, I can see how the first 75% of the novel led up to this decision.”
Surprising the reader at the end of a book by taking sides on a controversial topic is never a wise choice. It’s risky, it’s frustrating, and it can ostracize your reader. Are there times when it’s worth it? I don’t know. But ending your book with something that will probably ostracize a large number of readers is not wise. It WILL lose you readers. Maybe not all of them, maybe not even most of them. But you will lose some.
2. The reader realized where the novel was going (or that it had the potential to go that way) and yet still read on because it was well written.
While still annoying for the reader, and the author may lose that reader for another book, the reader at least has the ability to step away from the book partially satisfied. They may choose to dislike the ending (I have read books that I disliked the ending of, as most readers have. Read long enough and widely enough, and you will too.), but the reader should, looking back upon the book and the character’s actions, etc., be able to discern that this was the book’s inevitable end.
As I said above, I have read many books whose endings I disliked. That does not, necessarily, mean that I end up hating the book. I may have chosen to write the ending differently if I had been the author, but that could be for myriad reasons. It could be simply because I loved the character(s) enough to wish them happiness, or because I disliked the character(s) enough to wish them unhappiness, or because I preferred to give them a more realistic ending. Never do I read all the way to the end of a book and say, “This book needed more politics and controversy.” (Maybe I’m weird. Maybe this post is becoming a political rant in itself.)
3. The reader always finishes the books he/she begins.
Although legit, this discounts both of the above points I was trying to make. If someone always finishes the book they start, no matter how painful, then all the author has to do is hook them with the first page. And we all know how easy that is. After all, everyone that started this blog read through to the end, right? Hello?