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14 July 2007 @ 12:49 pm
Why I May Not Be Reading Your Series...  

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. 

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forthrightlyforthrightly on July 14th, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC)
LOL! I love your reading policy... it's quite sensible. I'm of two minds simply because I dabble so much. I will, and *do*, read unfinished works if it looks like the author has managed to circumvent the usual tired plot devices of my favorite pairings. I must have a hundred different stories on alerts... and many of them appear to be abandoned. Personally, I'm writing a full-length fic that I have not posted yet... mostly because I hate deadlines, and don't want readers/reviewers pestering me for updates. So it's nice to know that I'm following your proscribed plan. First chappie will go up when the last chappie goes to the beta! ::twinkle::
ranuelranuel on July 14th, 2007 08:04 pm (UTC)
There was a point where I would get sucked in by an intriguing new twist mentioned in the summary but I try to be strong now.

Yay for being sure you can finish before posting! Thank you because you KNOW that in your case I wouldn't be able to resist.
Don't jiggle the ramune!fenikkusuken on July 14th, 2007 08:42 pm (UTC)
*squishles you*

This is by far the sanest, most well-thought out rant I've had the pleasure to read in a very long time. Yeah, I know I'm guilty of the long spacing between updates, especially since January, when I used to be so adamant about having a chapter ready every week.

Now, there's only perhaps six to eight chapters left in the fic and it's hard to corral all the bunnies when inspiration strikes. I've had a bit of a block in how to handle the next Yash/Kag interaction, and my blue-striped hanyou has not been tractable about how I want to write it. I used to snicker when other authors grumbled about difficult muses... not any more.

If I can't visualize the scene completely, I can't write it effectively. That fight scene in the fortress' dojo hung fire for a couple weeks until Noko suggested I draw a floor plan of the room and plot out all the character placements until I could 'see' the battle. I suppose this is a form of the dreaded 'writer's block'... but not really. I have the entire fic outlined and I know where and how it ends; I even have scenes written for the Final Battle and the aftermath. However, just like always, 'filler is killer', and that plus the need to gather in the sub-plot bunnies without leaving any holes is slowing my productivity.

No worries about garden gates closing on you! Changing the tag from 'WiP' to 'Complete' on the fic's description will be one of my proudest moments!
ranuelranuel on July 15th, 2007 02:15 am (UTC)
*squeeks* Thank you. Um...could I be squished by your friend too?

Having the whole thing mapped out is a big thing but filling in those details can indeed be a killer. That fight sequence was pretty ambitious too but you managed to pull it off well. I was never confused about what was happening.

Don't jiggle the ramune!fenikkusuken on July 18th, 2007 05:46 pm (UTC)
*elbows muse*

Ranuel's asked nicely for a Fenik-squish... go easy on her, okay?

{fanged smirk} With pleasure! {pounces}
ranuel: Evil Grinranuel on July 19th, 2007 10:55 am (UTC)
EEEEP! Ohhhhhh Fenik.