One of my favorite books of the past two years (and many other people’s favorite as well) is THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. I’m assuming most everyone reading this has read it or is familiar with John Green’s tail of two lovestruck teens who meet at a cancer support group.
More than anything else, there’s an overwhelming sense when reading the book not only of love but of what happens when someone is staring down the possibility of an unfinished life.
Which is terrifying.
It’s terrifying watching two teens struggle with the idea that they could go before they get to do everything. And it’s a point that’s driven home even more by protagonist Hazel’s favorite (fake) book that’s left completely unfinished. The words just stop in the middle of a sentence. It’s isn’t almost finished. It’s incomplete.
Hazel and her beloved Gus travel to The Netherlands to track down the author of the novel to find the elusive author and find out what happens.
But the author—and the characters—know that this isn’t how life works. If something is left unfinished, almost done, you may never get answers.
When talking about books, the idea of a story/manuscript/series having an “unfinished life” isn’t obviously as terrifying as when this happens in real life (or in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS). But it’s still disappointing.
As discussed in my last post, I have a complicated relationship with “almost.” I’ve spent my whole life doing things rather than almost doing things. But when it comes to books, there is some lack of control over completion.
Sure, as you may have ascertained, I’m one to finish the manuscripts I start. I don’t have any abandoned almost-book half-naked in a drawer.
However, the idea of the unfinished is different all together when it comes to publishing. For awhile, trilogies reigned, buffered by their popularity in YA. But recently, there’s been a pull back.
I know a few under-contract authors with big, six-figure deals, who have been told the three books they had planned will actually only be two. Or maybe only one book sells at a time when the author has been hoping for a series since birthing the characters from his/her brain.
This is a different feeling of almost.
I write my books as standalones that could continue to a series—something I’d love to do and have planned, but it won’t kill me to “finish” the tale because I don’t set it up like that. At this point in my career, I just want those characters to live, whether it be in one book or three. I think most writers understand this feeling, no matter the stage.
But as a reader, what can be done by a canceled series or unfinished plotline? It’s not the same (truly or metaphorically) of an unfinished life, but really now, what would our literary world have been like if J.K. Rowling had never been allowed to write all seven HARRY POTTER books?
Or if THE HUNGER GAMES was stopped on book two?
Or (more plausibly) if George R.R. Martin is never able to complete the GAME OF THRONES series, leaving us to wonder about the fate of our favorite characters and Westeros? I’ve read that the producers of the TV show related to the books know how the story ends, but what if we never get the book version of the end?
Yes, almost is a scary place in the literary world. As a reader, what would you do if you found out your favorite series just cut off, left unfinished, for one reason or another?