Literally decades of reading historical romances have led me to develop strong opinions of what defines a truly satisfying story, so the other day I set about making a list of characteristics that turn a potential five-star read into a one- or two-star. Admittedly, there are some skillful authors who manage to successfully incorporate one or more of these scenarios in their books; however, I have run across quite a few more who in my opinion haven’t quite managed it.
These are what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger instead of a pleasurable diversion. Not surprisingly, many involve character, particularly, the character of the hero and heroine. They have to be likable. They have to be three-dimensional, i.e., well-drawn-out characters with flaws, not fairy princesses. And they have to be able to fall in love, convincingly, the head-over-heels kind of love.
The fourth deal breaker is cliffhanger endings.
There’s nothing more annoying than to get to the last chapter of a book and discover that it’s not the end. That you have to buy another book to find out how your protagonists fared.
If I really care about the characters, I may buy the sequel. But I am seething inside, and any chance I will ever trust that author again is virtually gone. Even if it’s a favorite author.
If the sequel isn’t even available yet, there is no chance I will buy it. Because months later, I won’t likely care about those characters anymore.
Why do authors cheat their readers this way? If it’s meant as a technique to promote books, it’s a misguided one indeed. Nobody likes to be teased or manipulated. Eventually, readers will get disgusted and move on.
I adore a good romance series, with cameo appearances by protagonists from previous books. I love it when secondary characters from a previous book become the protagonists in the sequel. If the books aren’t spaced too far apart (i.e., I haven’t had time to forget all about them), I will buy all of them just to make sure my old friends are still doing well.
But if there’s no satisfactory HEA at the end of the book—if I discover that instead of being rewarded for their suffering, my hero and heroine have more tribulations in store for them in the next book—I’m seriously wanting my money—and my time—back.
What do you think? Are there some authors who can get away with teasing their readers with cliffhangers?
*Disclaimer: This series of “deal breakers” is meant to refer to books labeled historical romances, and not to erotica, which is a completely separate sub-genre and has an entirely different purpose.
In romance books, I totally agree. A major component of romance is the HEA, and if I don’t get, I’m fuming. But in other genres I tend to have a little more patience for the cliffhanger…provided the next book is already out or coming very soon. I have to like a series immensely (see Sharon Kay Penman) to wait more than a couple of weeks for the next one!
When I start reading a book, I make a mental (albeit one-sided it often seems) contract with the author/book. I will invest my time, and in return, I want a satisfying plot and resolution. I don’t sit down to read part of a story. I am sitting down to read a whole story: beginning, middle and END. I easily tolerate an over-aching story line to be continued in the next installment, and that might intrigue me to continue, but if the actual book I am reading doesn’t deliver a sufficient HEA or HFN resolution for the protagonists of that story, then I move on to other works by other authors (there are so many books to read!). So, like you, I do feel shafted if I’m left hanging. Maybe I should feel excited and anticipate the next book like other readers, but with romance, it doesn’t work for me. The entire reading experience is crafted to bring us to the culminating HEA. It’s why I read.
I agree with your four deal-breakers, but I would add one more: when a point of view character conceals a big secret from the reader. This is probably my biggest wall banger. When you are in a character’s head, seeing the world through their eyes, it makes absolutely no sense to me that they wouldn’t think “My husband!” or “My Wife!” when confronted with that sinister person from their past. I think it’s a cheap trick to withhold that kind of key information from a reader and then whirl it out of nowhere.
Permissible, perhaps, in secondary or non-POV characters (a la Emma’s Jane Fairfax/Frank Churchill, but definitely out in anyone who’s thoughts form the narrative context.
But maybe that’s just me . . .
Oh yes, and I’ve seen that happen more than once in books I’ve read. Thanks for pointing it out! (I actually have eight more deal breakers, but that’s not one of them. Maybe I should make it a lucky thirteen?)
I really hate the new trend of serials or episodes! It’s like the book was cut up in parts or is released a chapter at a time ugh, NO.