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Expectations

So is it inevitable? If we love a series, will we always be let down because of our expectations? Or is it possible to hope and wait and wonder and anticipate and find the story ending is completely satisfying?
| Oct 28, 2013 | No comments |

cover_allegiantThe more popular a book series becomes, it seems, the more the expectations of the fans rise. Remember the lines and lines of fans waiting for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Before half of us had thought about getting the book, the other half had read it and dissected it.

And oh, how unhappy some were.

It seems their dissatisfaction is nothing compared to what some fans of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series experienced. According to news reports the reaction to Allegiant is “an online fandom horror story.”

Apparently there was a less-reported reaction (in comparison to Harry Potter and even to Twilight) to the release of the book, with thousands of fans waiting in long lines until midnight when the book became available in bookstores.

But soon after, the angry reviews began pouring in. Here’s an example from Amazon, quoted in a Flavorwire article:

I think Veronica Roth either didn’t like being a popular author or was trying to shock the heck out of readers so her version of a dystopian future would be remembered. Unfortunately, if the latter is the case, I think she just ended her YA writing career–and a movie franchise with it. How did her editor and publisher allow this?

But it gets worse. Apparently some fans threatened violence:

According to the website BiblioFiend, as referenced in Roth’s tweet, some angry fans have threatening the author with violence. (” ‘Allegiant’ ending inspires some angry fan reaction,” Christian Science Monitor).

In an article that may have been influenced by all this negative reaction, Eric Christensen explores the subject of fans waiting for a next book in a popular series (“Is Waiting The Hardest Part or The Most Harmful?” Fantasy Faction). Chill, he concludes, and spend the waiting time reading something else.

Harry_Potter_linesGood advice. But the love of the storyworld and of the characters is like a first crush. It doesn’t really matter what else you do or where you go, on your mind is that one special someone. Will he be there too? Will he text or leave a comment on Facebook? What does he think of your new hair cut? Will he like your new top or shoes? And most importantly, when will you see him again?

So series fans wait. They want to “see” their character friends again and to re-enter the world the author has created for them to imagine.

But like crushes, reality sets in and what had once appeared as perfect suddenly becomes the end that was different from what the fans imagined or hoped for. And that’s disappointing.

From one Goodreads review:

I may never be happy ever again.

The fun and laughter is over. I have finally read Allegiant, and I feel empty inside. Empty but accepting, and understanding.

This book makes Mockingjay feel like Dr Seuss.

Then there’s this from a one star review:

I feel disappointed. And betrayed.

Mockingjay. The Death Cure. Requiem. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. But I was really hoping Roth would prove me wrong. I was really hoping…

I had my hopes set so high, and it just…I just feel really crushed right now. This makes me question ever reading another dystopian trilogy.

Most of the series I’ve read, I’ve come to when all the books were available. But there was one . . . and I have to say, anticipating the next book was half the fun. When one trilogy turned into a second, I was so happy. But the quality lagged. And the end was, yes, a disappointment.

So is it inevitable? If we love a series, will we always be let down because of our expectations? Or is it possible to hope and wait and wonder and anticipate and find the story ending is completely satisfying?

What series have you waited for with growing anticipation? How did you react to the end?

Have you read Allegiant? What was your reaction to the end?

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Katherine Coble
Guest

I read the first two in the series and hated them. I generally try to not read things written by people younger than 35 because they don’t have enough life experience to craft satisfying conclusions, imho. But there was so much press for them and I was in the mood for a YA dystopian work. I can’t say I had any plans to read the book and I can’t say I’m surprised that those who did came away disappointed.

I just want to find out the ending without wasting my time on the book.

Kerry Nietz
Member

I can’t read your response, Katherine, without thinking “Don’t read anyone under 30!” (A little spin on that “Don’t trust anyone over 30” quote from the sixties. 🙂 )

Sherwood Smith
Guest

I found the first one so silly I never read the second. Plot holes, worldbuilding made no sense, characters acting like television melodrama. But the teens sure ate it up!

Morgan Busse
Member

Interesting. I just finished Divergent a couple days ago and enjoyed it. I didn’t realize the third book had released until I was done with the first one, so I guess I won’t have to wait like others did. Holding my opinion until I have read the next two.

I sometimes wonder if the pressure of being a bestseller really gets to an author, especially when they are writing the last book. I also wonder if it helps to know how you’re going to end the series long before you publish the first book and before you hit the bestseller list. I know J.K. Rowling knew how she was going to end the Potter series before the first one came out.

In the end, I think an author should enjoy his/her story and not be influenced by fans. Even if everyone hates the book, at least the author enjoyed the journey of writing it and should have personal satisfaction in the ending. But then again, I’m writing from a position where I don’t have millions of fans clinging to my next words, so I have the freedom to do that 😉

Jonathan Lovelace
Member

There are four series I can think of where I repeatedly waited in anticipation for the next volume to come out, and they span the spectrum from “exceeding expectations” to “exceeding negative expectations.”

First was the Harry Potter series, and it fell apart for me about the middle of book 5. I read books 6 and 7, but I knew I was almost certainly going to be disappointed going into them, and they were worse than I feared. At the time I was reading book 5 for the first time (which was probably at least several months after it came out, since new mass-market hardcover books can be expensive) I saw the “rumor” that it was actually someone’s fan fiction that had gotten switched on the way to the printer several times on the Internet … and while I’m fairly sure nobody actually took that seriously, in the lead-up to book 6 there was still a vain hope in the back of my mind that it might repudiate the previous volume. Nowadays I consider the early Harry Potter books to be primarily valuable as the genesis of a thriving fan-fiction ecosystem that includes some real gems.

The second was the Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold. I only knew enough about the release schedule of those to be able to anticipate them because I was at the time on a mailing list nominally devoted to discussion of her works, and the anticipation wasn’t too bad for the most part because my dad was chosen to receive an Advance Review Copy of two of the four volumes … but at the end of both the first and the third volume I can remember saying, “I want to read the rest, now,” and when I finally got the chance to it was as good as or better than I had anticipated.

The other two series just concluded this year. One is also by Bujold; the latest Vorkosigan Saga novel is almost certainly the last, and is one that fans have been clamoring for for years now, but is up there with the best she’s produced yet … and her “off days” are better than many authors’ best, in my opinion. (She’s also one point in favor of the “don’t trust young writers” hypothesis, by the way … but I think it’s more likely there’s something in the water in Minnesota.)

Last was The Wheel of Time, the one series with mass anticipation nearing Harry Potter levels. I thought that Sanderson did a competent, even a good, job at using Jordan’s drafts and notes to actually finish what was originally pitched as a trilogy, sold as a six-book series, and sometimes seemed like it would never end. But I think it did suffer from the economic realities of mass-market publishing: it would have been better with another year of revision per volume, but would probably have sold if anything fewer copies, so they rushed it through.

As a reader, going forward, I’m going to try to limit my “anticipation” to authors I know care more about literary quality and craftsmanship than churning out bestsellers.

R. J. Anderson
Member

That’s interesting to hear you say that about the Sharing Knife series, Jonathan, because even though I’m a big fan of Bujold generally, I had a hard time getting into that first volume. Maybe I need to give them another try.

But IMO, if Veronica Roth had cared more about churning out bestsellers than she cared about her own literary vision, she would have given the fans what they wanted instead of sticking to an idea she surely knew would be unpopular. I’m not saying The Thing She Did was necessarily the best storytelling choice or the most satisfactory ending on a narrative level, any more than HP Book 7 was. (Indeed, I strongly disliked Deathly Hallows and it ended up souring me on the entire series.) But I do think Roth did what she did because she believed it was the “right” choice for the story and characters regardless of how her fans felt about it, and not because she was trying to pander to an audience for sales figures.

It may be worth noting that Roth is very frank about her Christian faith being an integral part of her life. Perhaps this is why the idea of [spoiler redacted] had a resonance for her, whether or not she had the ability to execute that idea as skillfully as she’d hoped. (I can’t say whether it worked or not until I’ve read the book. But I’m looking forward to ALLEGIANT more now that I know the spoiler, because I’m curious to see how she handles it.)

Paul Lee
Member

Last was The Wheel of Time, the one series with mass anticipation nearing Harry Potter levels.

Agreed. A Memory of Light seemed like it was a technically good Wheel of Time book, but it felt too cheap, too light, too petty. When I put the book down after reading the ending, which had much hyped as being Robert Jordan’s original vision, I said, “Death may be lighter than a feather, but it ought to be a little heavier than that.”

D. M. Dutcher
Member

It’s funny because when did people ever start to expect dystopian novels to end well? Even in YA, the point was to warn us about what a sick society can do, and usually they killed the protagonists off in the end. The whole “beat the evil legions while wearing a thousand-dollar dress and choosing from one of two hawt boyfriends” novel is a modern anomaly.

Galadriel
Guest

A long break can contribute to the letdown when it finally shows up, but I also think there’s a general sense of entitlement among some fans.

Dawn Michelle King
Guest

I just finished the book today. I was so disappointed, especially from an author that claims to be Christian. Tris & Tobias had sex off screen (you know what is going on) and there were the gratuitous gay characters. And yes, the ending bothered me. While reading it, I even contemplated not finishing it because I was bored with it. I decided to make myself finish it just so I could see what happened. It was not worth the time I put into it. I do not often say that about books. I loved Harry Potter and the Hunger Games books in spite of others’ criticisms of “story holes” or bad writing or whatever.

Shannon McNear
Member

Dawn, them sleeping together was pretty much inevitable, given the storyworld and their perspective and, think about it, the lack of any compelling reason NOT to. Why shouldn’t a Christian author portray character behavior as it would be? Although Tris mentions faith, theirs isn’t even a remotely “Christian” moral climate, you know? 🙂 And she still portrays love and relationships with more of a monogamous and “righteous” view than, say, Kristin Cashore (Graceling and Fire).

R. J. Anderson
Member

I thought they might have already slept together in INSURGENT, but admittedly it was left rather vague what they’d been up to. (I hear the “sex scene” in ALLEGIANT is similarly unclear, to the extent that some readers were actually confused by it.)

But I agree — given that Tris is not a Christian or any allegorical approximation thereof, it isn’t reasonable to expect that she would behave like one. (And goodness knows even many Christian teens don’t behave like they should in this area.) Inventing contrived, circumstantial reasons for non-Christian teens who are passionately in love to NOT have sex when they get the chance (“Oh drat, we were interrupted!” “Oh no, we forgot about contraception!”) doesn’t actually tell the reader anything meaningful about love or sexuality in any case. Unless the characters have a considered and deliberate moral reason for abstaining, their abstinence makes no sense on a narrative level and says nothing on a spiritual one.

Also, gay people exist. Pretending that they don’t, or that they’re all horrible people with no redeeming qualities, is unrealistic — and may even encourage an ungodly fear and hatred toward people who are, after all, fellow human beings made in the image of God and who need Him as much as you and I do. I believe the practice of homosexuality is morally wrong, just as I believe the practice of illicit heterosexual behaviour is morally wrong. But I don’t think pretending that friendly, likeable people with same-sex desires don’t exist helps anyone, Christian or not. Isn’t it better to face the reality of our society as it currently is (and as it’s mirrored in books like ALLEGIANT), and ask ourselves how we as Christians can respond to it in a Christlike way?

D. M. Dutcher
Member

The problem though is that as believers, being realistic in this case may mean inadvertently justifying premarital sex or making it attractive because the heroes are doing it as sort of a reward for surviving so far. It’s less of an issue with honest depictions of gay people because there’s no behavior to condone as opposed to not being stereotypical.

It really depends on context and how you use the scene, and sometimes it’s hard to include sex in a book even when it may be realistic because of this.

R. J. Anderson
Member

being realistic in this case may mean inadvertently justifying premarital sex or making it attractive because the heroes are doing it as sort of a reward for surviving so far.

This is a problem, yes. And I don’t know that there’s an easy answer to it. If I were writing a similar trilogy, my inclination would be to write the book in such a way that the hero and heroine’s relationship progressed more slowly, therefore making it more realistic that they wouldn’t sleep together yet, because I don’t think I could go there in good conscience. But another Christian writer might have a clear conscience before God about making a different decision, because they have other aims they want to achieve with the book.

Was Tolstoy wrong to write Anna Karenina, for instance? Is it okay to portray your characters committing adultery as long as things turn out badly in the end? Maybe, because it shows the destructive effects of sin. But at the same time, ALL books can’t do that, because people do sometimes get away with adulterous or otherwise illicit relationships (in this life, I mean) without suffering anything like such dramatic consequences, and it seems dishonest to pretend otherwise.

I don’t have any easy answers to this. I know what I feel I can write in good conscience, and am prepared to defend to others; but I don’t know that I can make that the standard for all other writers, even other Christian writers.

Dawn Michelle King
Guest

I agree. My problem with it was that it just normalized the behavior. This is a book for teens and including it implied that it is ok. Sex did not need to be there. And yes, I know there are gay people (we have friends who are gay who we love), but again, the way it was handled implied it is ok. That’s how I see it.

Jonathan Lovelace
Member

I know nothing about Roth, and have read none of these books; my statement about “authors I know care more about literary quality and craftsmanship than churning out bestsellers” was entirely in response to the authors I have read.

It’s important to note that the Sharing Knife books, or at least the first two, are explicitly and deliberately both fantasy and romance: not fantasy with a romance subplot, not romance that happens to be set in a fantasy world, but with equal weight given to both genres. And readers have to be aware that the first two volumes are deliberately one novel in two volumes, not a novel and a sequel (which makes the pacing feel a little weird). It’s also, as was discussed at some length at the time on the mailing list I mentioned, a work that engages significantly with the major themes of The Lord of the Rings, in a way that no other work of fantasy I know of before or since has … but the fact that Bujold utterly disagrees with Tolkien shows clearly. Bujold is not a Christian, and because she is so strong and skilled a writer and worldbuilder the paradigm … discontinuities … can sometimes be uncomfortable.

A Memory of Light seemed like it was a technically good Wheel of Time book, but it felt too cheap, too light, too petty. When I put the book down after reading the ending, which had much hyped as being Robert Jordan’s original vision, I said, “Death may be lighter than a feather, but it ought to be a little heavier than that.”

The confrontation, “battle,” in the Bore between Rand and the Dark One fell kind of flat. But other than that, one of the big problems with the last volume was that the setup in previous books—and the time dilation thing—necessitated chapter after chapter, pages upon pages upon pages, of battle. Which is more than one book can really stand. I certainly wouldn’t call it “light.” It’s about what we expected as the “climax” to a sixteen-book series, but not much more.

Paul Lee
Member

But other than that, one of the big problems with the last volume was that the setup in previous books—and the time dilation thing—necessitated chapter after chapter, pages upon pages upon pages, of battle. Which is more than one book can really stand. I certainly wouldn’t call it “light.” It’s about what we expected as the “climax” to a sixteen-book series, but not much more.

Agreed. The book was nothing but one long climax, with a 200-page sub-novel chapter devoted to the much-hyped battle. When I said it was “light,” I meant thematically.

[SPOILER for A Memory of Light]
Rand’s prophesied sacrifice didn’t turn out to mean very much in the end. The recurring theme about death being lighter than a feather, which I loved and still love, was used cheaply at the end to evade the implications of Rand’s sacrifice.

Shannon McNear
Member

I waited on my 16-yo daughter to read it–maybe that makes me a bad mom, but she has more reading time on any given day, and we’re preparing for a move–but knowing she’d be expecting a happy-ever-after, I warned her ahead of time. Was she disappointed? Yes. Did she cry? Of course. But–I was shocked–she told me that what she got out of it was that however her world feels like it’s ending (she’s been having a hard time indeed with this move), life will go on and she can survive it.

I loved Divergent and Insurgent. (Were they flawless writing? No, but I haven’t been that sucked into a story in a LONG time.) I’ve been thrilled to see a Christian break into mainstream fiction and be received with so much enthusiasm, and although the reaction to this last book saddens me, I’m not really surprised. She was going for something so much bigger than a happy ending (there’s an interview somewhere, I think it’s linked from her blog, veronicarothwrites.blogspot.com, where she explains)–and most people are not in a place to receive that, spiritually.

Have I ever been let down at the end of a series? I have to admit, the close of the Guardian King series didn’t satisfy the way I’d hoped. I still love the series, though.

Found mention of The Sharing Knife interesting–I LOVE that one! Bujold almost never disappoints, but I couldn’t get into the last Vorkosigan novel. Sigh.

Kessie Carroll
Member

I don’t read dystopian precisely for this reason–it can’t end well, by its very nature. Give me a good urban or modern fantasy any day.

VARIOUS SPOILERS FOLLOW.

The Dark Materials trilogy had a throw-the-book-across-the-room ending. I was reading the trilogy as it came out, so nobody knew where he was going with it. When book 3 came out, I was emailing a friend who was reading it, and she had very mixed feelings. So did I, and then I finished it, and the heroes can never see each other again, even though there’d been three books setting them up as Adam and Eve. WHAT.

I didn’t like the end of Harry Potter the first time I read it because I read it too fast. When I reread the whole series together, it WORKED and it was wonderful.

Stephen Lawhead’s Albion Trilogy and Ted Dekker’s Green (supposedly the end of the Circle storyline) both had me snarling and throwing books. I hate circular endings. Especially in Green, where the hero is doomed to fail to save his son over and over FOREVER. (Dekker apparently retconned this on his website, but it’s too late for me.)

Kirsty
Guest

Sometimes a disappointing ending on a first reading may be less problematic on a second reading. You now don’t have a false expectation of where the story will end up, so you can enjoy the ending for what it is, and the journey to get there.

Depends on the ending, of course.

Shannon McDermott
Guest

I think our expectations do get us in trouble. They can get ramped up so high. When you expect not a good book, but a book that will blow you away, it’s easy to be disappointed.

When readers have time to wait for the ending, they have time to decide exactly how they want the story end, and time to savor their imagined ending. By the time the book is published, some readers aren’t waiting so much for the book as for what they’ve imagined the book to be.

But it’s not all on the readers. Writers really do stumble at the finish line sometimes. It’s hard to bring a thousand-page story to a fully satisfying conclusion, and eventually writers end up fighting gravity: When you’ve reached the peak, the only easy way left is down. The longer a thing goes on, the more likely the quality is to decline.

And writers forget. They forget that they owe it to readers to tie up threads, not abruptly snip them off. They forget to keep the promises they’ve made. Sometimes they decide that here, at the end, they want to do something Daring and Dramatic – like killing that main character everybody always knew couldn’t die because there was another book. But it’s not their business to be Daring and Dramatic; their business is to end the story well, which may work out to something different.

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