It’s February, which means it’s the month of love. Rather than write about how to write love and romance in books, or my favorite couples, I’ve decided to take a different approach for love this month– what to do when an author breaks your heart.
I don’t necessarily mean the author kills off your favorite character or concludes a love triangle the wrong way, sending you for the nearest box of Kleenex. I’m referring to when the author writes something so outrageous, so unbelievable, that as a reader your suspicion of disbelief is shattered. It’s perfectly normal to feel devastated, betrayed, or angry at the author for writing the plot in such a way it’s pushed you over the edge. Up to that point the author had been perfect, the god of their fictional universal. Then, in one paragraph, they fell from the pedestal you placed them on, and you realized that they were mortal after all.
In short, you realized authors can make mistakes too, and as a reader you’ve been pushed to your breaking point with no idea what to do next. Should you suck it up and finish the book? Rant on Twitter or Facebook? Decide to light it on fire and roast s’mores over the remains?
The first thing you probably should do is take a deep breath. Put the book down. Go do something else. Reread a favorite book you know won’t upset you. Binge-watch your favorite show. Go hang out with your friends or family. Do something to distract you from the merry-go-round of emotions you’re feeling. Then, once you’ve calmed down, you can pursue some of the options below.
Commiserate With Fellow Readers
The internet can be a wonderful place, and the odds are you aren’t the only one who has taken issue with the book. If the series is popular, it might have fan websites or forums where you can find a relevant conversation or start one. You should take care though if the book was just released. Readers might have more issue with you freely posting spoilers than the spoilers themselves, so keep that in mind before posting on social media sites or fan sites.
Write a Better Ending
I’ve seen this done a few times, and have been tempted to do it myself. Basically you’re so dissatisfied with the book, you write an alternative ending, or at the very least, imagine a new one. One of my friends insists Sirius Black is living on an island in the Caribbean to this day. If you’re lucky, there already might be a fanfic or two out there waiting to be read by you, and saving you from doing all the work. It could be a crack parody, or a serious attempt that actually is better than the source, but you won’t know until you search for it. And if there is nothing, then do it yourself– just keep in mind labeling spoilers.
Rant to a Loved One
I’ve done this a lot with books, television shows, and movies when I don’t feel like coming up with a new ending. The key is to have a sympathetic friend or family member who’s willing to listen as you rant non-stop on the stupidity you just experienced and how it can have been done better. They might feel your pain and share your passion for the source material, or they might just be passionate for you, and nod continually at your words. Either way, sometimes a rant is all you need to feel better. Just be sure to thank them for listening when you’re done, and offer to do the same for them someday.
Stop Reading Works by the Author
This one might be a tad bit drastic, but sometimes it’s for the best. Don’t buy or read another book from the author ever again. Save yourself time, energy, and money that might result in another ranting/screaming session. Or if you are curious about the next book in the series, poke around the internet and read reviews before giving it a try. If so, check it out of the library first so you won’t be spending money on another disappointment.
I’ve done this once in my life. There was a book series in high school I was into, but the fourth book got weird. Really weird, as in the series took a drastic change in a different direction, and retconned a lot of the previous books. It was so horrible I barely finished it, and swore off the series completely. In later years I discovered that I was not the only fan of the books to feel that way, and that the series only went downhill after that book. I also learned the author was known for having ghost writers, which might explain the shift in tone and blatant disregard for established canon. I haven’t picked up another book by the author since then and I’m the better for it.
Give the Author Another Chance
Similar to above, but this time you give the author another chance. You let their long, excellent track record speak for itself. After all, the odds are the more books an author has published, the more likely there are to be duds. So what if you don’t finish their current book, that doesn’t mean it’ll stop you from picking up their next one.
There’s one instance that sticks out in my mind where I did this. It was the last part of the last book in a trilogy, and things went downhill fast. One character made a choice that seemed extremely Out of Character (OOC) for them. There was some foreshadowing sprinkled throughout the book, but not enough that made the character’s actions make sense, and seemed to go against their beliefs.
I also didn’t buy the love triangle that suddenly began and ended in the book. The previous two books had shipped the protagonist with another character, only to introduce another love interest in the last book. I had no issues with the character, and would have been able to ship it had the character been introduced earlier in the series. But after two books of investing in another ship that sunk before it could leave the harbor, I wasn’t feeling it. When I finished the book I was angry and disappointed, and left going, what did I just read? Did that really just happen? Did the author have some last minute breakthrough and wasn’t able to go back and correct past drafts?
Just because I was angry and disappointed, didn’t mean I stopped reading other books by the author. I’ve enjoyed the books they’ve released since then, I just won’t be rereading that series anytime soon, if ever.
Remember to Relax, it’s Just a Book
People caring deeply about fictional characters isn’t new. What is new is how people connect to fellow fans. People can now share their opinion– be it for better or worse– with complete strangers halfway across the globe in seconds. Because of that instant connection, it can be easy to get caught up in the emotions and feelings that our favorite works incite in us.
That’s why it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, it’s fiction. A character might be OOC, the love triangle might be meh, your favorite sci-fi series may have taken a hard turn into a different genre, but it’s just. A. Book. You’re allowed to be upset and angry, but don’t waste time and energy letting it consume you.
Easier said than done, I know. Sometimes it can be very hard to step away, and stop being emotionally invested in a fictional world, but sometimes you have to. Whether it’s when your beloved series comes to an end, or you realize that even authors have flaws and can make mistakes.
That’s it for this month. Hopefully you’ve never experienced a broken heart caused by a book’s sudden turn for the worst, but if you have, then here are a few helpful tips to get over it. Next month will be things I learned from editing.
— Kay S. Beckett