Friday, August 27, 2010

Please Don't Slap Me In The Face.

Some of you who've been here a very long time (and if you have, I do really appreciate it, and if you haven't, that's okay, this'll just feel fresher for you), will know that I have expressed this sentiment before.

Last time I experienced this, it was a YA-Contemporary book that did a 180 in the middle of the text and suddenly became a book about vampires. All I could think was, "Umm... what the what?" because I felt like that had been sprung on me from out of nowhere.

This time, it occurred in an Adult Contemporary book that shall remain nameless because I'm about to give away the end. See, about five pages before this book, which had been uniquely told but definitely a solid contemporary clearly grounded in modern day Paris with absolutely no funny business going on, all of a sudden, this character, who'd been there the entire time, turned out to be dead. Yep, he'd been alive in the beginning, but he'd died halfway through the book, and the MC had just been hallucinating him this entire rest of the time.

I would probably have chucked the book against the wall at that point except I was reading the book on my laptop and Jessica (yes, she has a name) is just too precious to me to be tossed around like that. Seriously, though, I felt like the author had slapped me in the face with that ending, and a large part of me wanted to return the favor.

There's a reason I take umbrage with this sort of ending. It's not what you think. It's not even about my strong feelings about needing a good ending (which I've made so apparent, I don't even think I need to bother linking to them anymore).

I object because I think this sort of storytelling is both lazy and unfair to the reader.

It's lazy, because, to me, slamming a reader in the face like that just makes me feel like the author couldn't be bothered to at least drop in subtle clues along the way. If the author leaves a trail of inconsequential seeming bread crumbs, then when the big turn about comes, the reader can have the satisfaction of feeling all the pieces fall into place and seeing a bigger picture they hadn't even noticed. If the writer just whacks you with something, it makes me feel like they didn't make the effort to put the picture together.

It also strikes me as unfair to the reader, not only because they made the effort to read the book, so it's nice to make the effort to make it a good book, but because you left the reader out entirely. Reading is active process wherein the reader is in a give and take with the author. The author puts out clues, and the reader picks them up. The reader makes guesses, and the author either confirms them or not. If you do a 180, slam in the face, pull the rug out from under you routine, you haven't been letting the reader play along. They'll be sitting there wondering, "But... wait... where were my bread crumbs...." And then they'll feel sad and left out, and they'll go cry in a corner. (At least, that's what the imaginary reader in my head is doing, but she just doesn't like not being included in things. Maybe your imaginary reader has more spine and just gets very, very mad.)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking plot twists. I love them. I love being surprised by a book. I'm just saying it should be done well. If you look at a truly great twist, it's never a 180. It's more like a 105. Some things are reverting from what you previously expected, but the rules of the game have not changed, and if you think about it, there were all those signs, you just didn't notice them.

In Harry Potter, for example, when you find out that it's really Quirrel and not Snape who is in league with Voldemort/The Dark Lord/He Who Must Not Be Named, you're really surprised. Then you fall to the ground, groan, and say, "Oh, how did I miss that? There were so many signs?" Because it's not a 180 there. It's a 105.

How do you feel about 180s? Ever felt like you got slapped in the face by an author? How did that make you feel?


  1. It is definitely the "how did I miss that" moments that make reading a lot of fun for me. I hate feeling cheated by a lazy writer. I felt this way with the movie "Prince of Persia." What a lame end. Seriously? Ugh.

  2. Michelle -- I've never seen Prince of Persia, so I don't know if I'll feel the same way at the ending. I admit, I know want to see the ending to know if it's that bad.