The WHOLE Story's all in the follow through

We recently read The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre in my book club.  Members were pretty evenly divided between annoyance at the narrative being a little too cryptic (what exactly did the dad do to the daughter?) and those who enjoyed the ambiguity since, hey, that’s the way life is.  I’m personally OK with ambiguity.  It can even be kind of fun.  But I do think that there is an obligation on the part of the author not to leave the reader unsatisfied.  While this can, and probably does, regularly happen – you don’t like the writing, you find the protagonist annoying, it’s just not your thing – and there is little the author can do about it (short of being a better or different writer), the author can avoid setting up the expectation that a particular issue is sufficiently central that it will be resolved, and then simply not follow through.

Sharon Pollock, a fabulous playwright I had the great pleasure of working with on several occasions, once said that the audience is typically willing to go along with the writer on anything as long as you signal to them early the kind of journey they’re on (i.e., no act three appearances of an extra-terrestrial in a Victorian bedroom drama unless there was a space ship in the first act).  I would add to that, having sold them on a particular type of trip, don’t sell them short (i.e., if there was space ship in the first act, those aliens damn well better make an appearance before the end of the show).

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