Saturday, May 4, 2013

Are You Cheating Your Reader?

Has this ever happened to you? You're reading a book or watching a movie. The plot's building up to the big reveal with tons of potential for a huge emotional payout. And you kind of know what's coming, but you're not sure, so you keep reading/watching, tension building. Then the big something is revealed and... nothing. Cut to the final scene. The end.

That is exactly what happened in a movie I watched recently. Granted, it was a movie that I never would've known about if not for Netflix, so I should've known better. And it was pretty unoriginal. Just your typical girl falls in love with boy but doesn't know he's dying. Even the viewer doesn't know for sure that he's dying, but you're pretty sure that's how it's going to end. She tells him she loves him. He pushes her away because he knows his time is short but doesn't tell her why. She finally finds out the truth. They kiss and vow to spend the rest of his life together...

From there we see their last moments together, watch him die, she cries...

Oh, wait. Nope. We didn't get to see any of that. It literally went from the kiss to her driving away to live all the dreams he never got to live because I guess he died? Who really knows for sure? He didn't look sick, like, at all. And he was acting pretty healthy. He was a little mopey but not any more mopey than my fifteen-year-old son, so I don't think that's what killed him. Maybe she just stole his truck. Maybe she tied him up, threw him in the back of the truck, and drove away, vowing to pull him out of his mopey ways and make him live his dreams. Really. So disappointing.

Anyway, my point...

If you're going to build up to something, you better give your readers what they've been waiting for. Skipping that scene, even if it's going to take everything in you to write it, is only going to be annoying and frustrating. Even if you're not worried about annoying or frustrating anyone, the high impact, emotional scenes are the ones that grab hold of your readers and put them right there with your characters, experiencing their pain, joy, embarrassment, every possible emotion along with them. And those are the scenes that make your readers remember your story, leaving them salivating for your next one. :)

Have you read any books or seen any movies where something like this happened? Did it annoy you?


  1. This is a great thing to keep in mind, for sure. I had a mini revelation when I realized in an early draft that something more interesting was happening "off screen" in my manuscript. From then on, I've tried to ask myself, "Is this the most interesting part of the story?" because that's what I should be showing!

  2. I read a mystery novel a year or two ago that I absolutely loved and could not put down. This protagonist was looking for his missing girlfriend, the tension was building and building as the antagonist was drawing closer to her too, and then...

    ... the antagonist was arrested off-screen, and the protagonist found out from a tertiary character. And then the book ends just as the protagonist sees his girlfriend, before they even speak. I was completely perplexed when I flipped the page and there wasn't any more. The anticlimactic nature of it might have been intentional, but I was still super frustrated!

  3. Has this happened? You bet. That's why foreshadowing is so important! The ending needs to feel inevitable. I don't mind a surprise twist, but I don't like those endings that fizzle out. Also, I don't like books that put a hero through the wringer and then everything is wrapped up in two scant pages as if the author didn't have time to write more.

  4. Lol are you talking about Keith? It sounds just like that movie, which is actually a favorite of mine. Sorry if I'm wrong. I actually didn't feel that way about it. So it might be a personal viewer/reader's opinion of what they're waiting for. It's incredibly difficult to satisfy all readers. You just have to do your best and tell the story as you feel is satisfying to you. And hopefully it satisfies others, but there's never a guarantee. You definitely have to keep your readers in mind, but don't go guessing your story away. Use beta feedback to steer yourself in the right direction. Good post :)


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