What happened to conclusions?

There are some traditional plot arcs out there that various authors use, re-use, re-interpret, or ignore entirely, depending on their choice. But there is one basic plot arc that I consider pretty universal: beginning, middle, end.

First there’s the beginning in which the writer starts the story and introduces the characters and the world and the problem at hand. Then there’s the middle in which stuff happens. Finally there’s the end in which the results are revealed for the stuff that happened in the beginning and the middle.

Is there some post-modern style now that considers endings to be passé? Because I have recently read two young adult books that I enjoyed right up until I realized that the last few pages weren’t actually going to involve any sort of conclusion.

There’s a difference between a book being the first in a series and just hacking a book into multiple pieces. Or so I had thought. But twice in a row, two otherwise well written books suddenly stopping like this. It feels like a conscious choice. It’s not a style that I approve of, but I’m beginning to really think it might be a stylistic thing rather than simply bad writing, especially since, aside from the lack of any conclusion, they were good books, or at least two-thirds of good books.

Hollowland
By Amanda Hocking
2010
(Free kindle edition on Amazon)

Remy King is nineteen, the world has fallen apart in a zombie apocalypse and she is going to go across country to get to her brother if she has to walk to do it, beating off zombies all the way. She is kick-ass and awesome, acquires a few companions and loses a few companions (but luckily not the lion, because I never before realized that a proper kick-ass heroine needs a lion companion, but this book convinced me), and is generally determined. This was pretty much exactly what I was in the mood for during my own finals madness.

Except for the fact that this is book #1 of The Hollows series and the plot transitions smoothly into plot #2 before the book ends, leaving me going: Seriously? That’s where you decided to break off? Seriously?

Cinder
By Marissa Meyer
2012

Cinder is a mechanic with a stall at the local market bringing in the only income her family sees. She’s also a sixteen-year-old cyborg in a world that considers cyborgs to be less than human. Her step-mother was not happy that Cinder’s adopted father had decided to adopt a cyborg and even less happy that he then proceeded to die of the plague just a few months later.

A lot of people are dying of the plague these days. Including the Emperor.

Which leaves the prince and heir to the throne in the rather unhappy position of being pressured to marry the queen of the independent moon colony. The lunar people have mind control powers and their royalty tend to use assassination and mutilation to get what they want.

This is the kind of crazy re-imaging of the Cinderella fairy-tale that I just can’t resist. It was excellent and crazy and fun… right up until the final climactic scene turned out to be less climactic and more of an introduction to a whole new plot arc with no conclusion in sight. Apparently there are four more books in the works.

So, what’s up with this?

Neither ending is really a cliff-hanger, per se. They’re just incomplete stories. For anyone who reads amateur fiction published online, it feels like I just came to the end of the posted portion of a WIP (Work in Progress). I had rather thought that the benefit of reading formally published books is that none of them are WIPs. It’s depressing to discover that’s not the case.

So, I ask again, is this really a style of writing that’s going around now: plot arcs composed of beginnings and middles, but no ends?

7 comments on “What happened to conclusions?

  1. Anna says:

    You know, I think it must be. Kinsey wrote about a similar problem in some of the YA books she was reading here: https://biblio-therapy.com/2011/12/21/246/

    And, just to brag a little bit about the most literarily significant post-modern book I’ve read, Infinite Jest ended so abruptly, after 1000+ pages and countless characters and plot lines, that it felt like a bit of a slap to the face. I was actually offended as a reader, and a couple other people participating in Infinite Summer made similar comments. So, perhaps it is a specifically pomo style.

    • Rebecca says:

      If it were just bad writing, then I would feel validated in saying that it was badly written, but the fact that it’s a developing style choice makes me feel a bit like an archetypal cranky old man, saying “kids, these days, that crap they listen to isn’t music,” except with books. And the fact that I’m not that old.

    • Rebecca says:

      Plus, getting through Infinite Jest is definitely worth bragging about.

  2. Kinsey says:

    I have several different rants on this subject, one titled Everything Doesn’t Have to Be a Trilogy, another called There’s a Difference Between One Book in a Trilogy and an Unfinished Book, and one entitled It’s Fiction Which Means You Can Make Up a Conclusion. With that said, the one book I can think of where I am okay with, and perhaps even approve of, the lack of conclusion is In the Woods by Tana French. That is the excpetion that proves the rule.

    • Rebecca says:

      Those all sound like very good rants. I approve. I think I have my own versions of Not Everything Has to Be a Trilogy and There’s a Difference Between Being Part of a Series and Being Unfinished. However I really want to hear your It’s Fiction So You Can Make Up an Ending rant. The title alone makes me support it, but what caused it?

      Also, I think you need to write a review of In the Woods, now, to prove that there is an exception to the lack of conclusion being a problem.

  3. Kinsey says:

    The Little Friend by Donna Tartt started it–600 pages of a murder mystery where you never find out who did it. I was ANGRY. And when people say that endings like that are meaningful because they reflect the mysteries of the real world, I want to start yelling about how there are ENOUGH unsolved mysteries in the real world and the POINT of reading fiction is to HEAR STORIES that have CONCLUSIONS and MEANING and ENDINGS. And that if I want to hear something where I don’t know the end I can watch THE NEWS and if you’re making up a story you should take the time to MAKE UP THE WHOLE THING.

    Also, In the Woods is the first in a, not a series exactly but a suite of books, and the fourth is coming out this summer. I like them all, so I’ll have to talk about them when I read the fourth one.

    • Rebecca says:

      That is a very good rant. If I want perfect realism, I can read nonfiction. And now I’m thinking of the Spiderman lesson: with great power comes great responsibility. Fiction writers have a great deal of power of their stories/characters but it comes with the responsibility to do something with that power. Like figure out what the conclusion is.

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