You can tell when the story on a TV show is going to be continued in the next episode because you’re looking at your watch and it’s getting close to the top of the hour and you just know they can’t tie up all the loose ends in the little time that’s left. But at least you only have to wait a week. Unless they pull that stunt in the season finale.
But now two of my favorite writers are doing it in novel-length books. Connie Willis is an excellent science fiction author who writes with a masterful mix of humor and plotting and does some stellar things with the concept of time travel. Lee Child writes the series of unputdownable Jack Reacher mystery/ adventure novels about a former MP who roams the country righting wrongs without the benefit of a car or a suitcase.
This concept violates the main rule of fiction, and it’s a prime motivation for reading it: the problem is resolved. We like to read fiction because, unlike real life, the problems in the story don’t drag on interminably but are resolved by the time you reach the last page. The formula is so simple I feel I’m insulting your intelligence by saying it, but here goes: At the beginning of the story, a hero we can root for gets her/himself in a pickle, has a series of setbacks and escalating complications throughout, and at the end, we find out how and if s/he gets out of it. Period. End of fiction writing seminar.
And that’s the way it should be. Or am I being a curmudgeon again?
(Read the expanded, article-length version of this post in the Legacy Road Communique archives. Click on the archive link.)