Friday, October 31, 2014

The Beginning, the Middle, and the Middle

Do you know what kind of book I really, really, really don't like? Books that have a beginning, a middle, and a middle.

This concept was presented this month by novelist Mark Stevens at the annual event "Conversation with Authors" sponsored by the American Association of University Women. I immediately understood his point.

I feel cheated and betrayed when I've read such a book. It's happened to me a number of times lately, even in crime fiction. I understand that I might be setting myself up for this experience when the genre is contemporary literary fiction, but in all other categories, it used to be strictly taboo. In older classic literary fiction it didn't happen either. It was understood that the reader expected a story, not an experiment.

Endings do not have to be happy, or even be very satisfying, but I want to understand what happened. No fair if the author if simply stops writing and wanders off.

It may seem puzzling to those properly trained to hear literary fiction referred to as a genre. According to the great creative writing teacher, John Gardner, it's best to think of all writing that way. It helps sweep away the fog hanging over your intention. He wrote that everything is genre and the easiest way to understand this is through the categories (genres) attached to music. Musically, one has composed an opera, a folk tune, a ballad, an aria, a choral composition, etc.

If your offering is literary fiction and billed as such, I expect a book with a fresh distinctive voice, mastery of language, complex characterization, and ideas worth thinking about. I expect passionate books wherein the author cares about development and craft. And I expect a real story.

Books without endings are surprisingly easy to write. Blissfully easy. I've been tempted to do this a number a times myself. Especially when things aren't going well. But having been blessed or cursed with a rather pragmatic view of work, I've never fooled myself.

An unfinished novel is an unfinished novel. No ending is no ending.


Eileen Goudge said...

I so agree with you, Charlotte. I hate when I invest money and time in a book, only to be disappointed by flabby plotting. A story doesn't have be tied up with a bow at the end, but it should have a clear beginning, middle and end. Another pet peeve of mine is stories that lack sufficient drama. Give me high-octane and you've got a fan for life.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Eileen, right! Not only is there frustration over the mental investment, there's something about spending all that money.

What bothers me most is the lost time I could have spent reading a good book.