Or I Take Another Stab at Explaining About Unfinished Fics.
I get a thrill when I get an email notice that the next chapter of a story I'm following has been posted. At last my curiosity about what happens next will be satisfied, if only temporarily.
I like knowing that comments posted to a work in progress are useful. While the work is still being created comments can give the author encouragement that he or she is on the right track and give them new things to think about.
And yet, I try to avoid reading unfinished stories as much as possible. Right now there are only a handful that I'm actively following.
Being an active member of the IYFG means that every quarter there are unfinished stories I have to read in order to vote and once in a while something will grab me hard and I'll add it to the short list of stories that I have to read as soon as the next chapter is out. For the rest, if I liked what I read I'll add it to my notify list but I'll only check to see if the new chapter is the last chapter and if it's not, read no more until it's finished unless it gets nominated again.
This contradictory behavior springs from a purely selfish desire to protect myself from falling in love with stories that end up being abandoned by their authors, permanently freeze framed with questions unanswered and cliff hangers unresolved. It's THE most frustrating thing about reading fanfic for me. Yes, even worse than the people who insist that anything that you do for a hobby isn't worth doing well. After all, I'm not likely to read their stuff beyond the first page anyway.
Now, when I ranted on abandoned stories a year or so ago I tried to make it clear that I understand that real life can bite you in the butt and stories can be unfinished for very good reasons. I still got a comment at my old blog about how unfair I was being. I got from her comment that she thought I was attacking the poor victims of illness, accident, and writer's block for being lazy. That the rant was occasioned by an author who had something like over a dozen unfinished stories, some that hadn't been updated in a couple of years, but who was happily starting new stories on a regular basis, didn't seem to register with the poster. That isn't being a victim of circumstance, that's just being a flake and that was what I was ranting about.
Anyway, in my own personal opinion as just a reader, not Queen of the Universe or anything, I think that if an author chooses to leave a story unfinished, with no real plans of going back to it, that in general she should take it down. It serves no purpose beyond frustrating the readers. If she changes her mind in a year or three and goes back to writing the story then it can always be reposted. Yes, when I have been one of the readers of a story that has been yanked it has been frustrating, but at least new readers are spared that and I respect the authors who did it.
Actually, on second thought I'd only apply that wish to stories that end on cliffhangers or with significant plot points unresolved. There are unfinished stories out there that could easily be finished off with a bit of the tweak of the last chapter or two. Most of the big issues are resolved, it's at a natural stopping point, the author just wanted to do more and didn't. These are not as satisfying as finished stories but they aren't frustrating either. They are finished enough not to cause my inner Elephant's Child to throw a tantrum.
The only truly unfinished story with major stuff still up in the air and a frustrating lack of closure that I can think of right off the top of my head that should be left up, even if the long promised continuation by others never happens, is Bachan's Hero in the 21st Century. Because of the nature of the work it contains within it many complete shorter stories and has been the inspiration for other fan works based upon it. Even in it's unfinished state there is much to enjoy and learn from. It also serves as a memorial to a wonderful woman who was taken from us far, far too soon.
For the rest, I think that by posting the first chapter an author is entering into a social contract with any potential readers. It is implying a promise that he will continue the story to it's conclusion and the readers who come back for subsequent chapters are agreeing to give their time to the author, time that could be spent reading someone else's work or pursuing a hundred other things.
Since most authors don't seem to agree with me about taking down abandoned stories I keep running into them so within a few months of taking up reading fanfic online I started looking for strategies to save myself the wasted hours and frustration.
First, I decided that I would only read an unfinished story if it had been updated within the last three months. That didn't solve the problem since a recent update is no guarantee of more to come.
I then started only reading a story if the author had updated any of her stories within the last month. Then, it was any within the last month AND a comment somewhere that the author was actively working on the story I was interested in. Now, finally, it's only those stories that get nominated that I have to read to vote. Which in the main works out well since being nominated for an award motivates most people to keep working on a project. It's not totally effective but it's as close as I'll probably be able to get.
Now, I can't be the only reader who feels this way, and I have to wonder how many others are not reading, and not giving feedback and encouragement to the authors of, unfinished serial fics. There have to be new authors who are writing good stuff and not getting much recognition for it simply because the behavior of others has scared off potential readers of their stories, at least until the story is finished.
My only idea as to how to avoid this is for an author to simply finish writing the first draft of a story before posting the finished first chapter and to tell the readers that's what she has done. The unposted material can be revised to reflect ideas that come from interaction with the readers and the readers have the reassurance that they are reading a work that will be finished. In fact, I do make an exception to my rules about what I allow myself to read for authors who do this, and again, I can't be alone in this.
Anyway, if you are a fanfic author and reading this and I've posted comments to you before but I haven't said a word about your new multi-chapter story, this is why.
And if I AM reading and posting about your WIP then know you pretty much have me at your mercy. I have been late for work or stayed up far past my bedtime because I had to finish the new chapter. Even if I ultimately end up getting the garden gate slammed in my face again I HAVE to find out what happens next. Take pity on me and throw me a peanut. Please.