On Writing: DNF (Did Not Finish) is Better Than a Disappointing Ending

One of the lessons I’ve learned over the years in blogging is not to write about a subject if someone already wrote it better. It’s like that time I re-told a joke, except I fudged the ending and didn’t do it justice at all. (And for the first time, you hear what polite laughter sounds like.)

So, I’m pulling your attention to a lovely blog post, where Jennifer Crusie talked about story beginnings and endings in a linear structured plot:

The beginning is important because if the start of the story is lousy, the reader won’t keep reading. The ending is more important because If a writer doesn’t deliver at the story climax, the reader will be frustrated and disappointed, and that’s what she’ll remember most about the story. It’s actually better that a reader NOT read a book than read an unsatisfying book.

I ramble about story beginnings and keeping readers hooked because I read a lot of manuscripts that have slow, confusing, or clunky beginnings, where the author seemed to be doing a lot of throat clearing. (Like I did over the weekend at a karaoke bar, singing in front of a bunch of drunken strangers. Ahem. AHEM.)

Beginnings are difficult to nail and often get rewritten the most. You have a ton of story setup to get through in a short amount of time to keep readers hooked. The action, the setting, the initial disturbance, the goals, character sympathy. And more.

But then we realize the beginning is only the second most important part.

When I discard a book without finishing, I feel like I disappointed the author, or the author disappointed me, or maybe I just wasn’t the target reader. I’m pricked with a touch of guilt.

But this is a small, quiet moment compared to full-on frustration over a story ending that didn’t deliver.

Sometimes it’s not just one book that disappointed us, but a series. Also known as The Dreaded Trilogy Curse. When you’ve invested time in a series that flops in the last, most anticipated installment. Emotions run even higher. Like hanging out with a guy all summer only to realize he has a long-distance girlfriend he failed to mention until the end. That jerk.

Your time was wasted. But more importantly, your heart feels toyed with.

That’s the weird, magical thing about books. When an author begins a story, she’s making a promise to readers. And she has to make good on that promise with her ending.

It’s a lot of pressure. Here’s a paper bag to breathe into.

Luckily, authors aren’t alone. There are plenty of outlets and resources to get feedback, from beta readers, to writing buddies, to my Quickie Consulting service. In thirty minutes to an hour, my authors walk away with a lot more inspiration and encouragement to finish their draft and get their ending just right.

So, it turns out that DNF isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you, reader or writer. The ending is, in fact, the most important thing. Ever.


Not only worried about your ending, but your entire novel? Check out The Developmental Report.