Should authors feel obligated to finish stories?

Yesterday, Martin and I had an interesting exchange regarding a freshly-posted conclusion to a multi-chapter story, where I had felt strongly (and TBH intemperately) that the author had let me down as a reader with an irresolute finish. Martin rightly called me out with a caution that there’s no obligation to finish a story, and he was kind enough to engage me in a dialogue on the subject.

As a longtime playwright and performance artist, I feel an obligation to my audience to provide them with a completed journey. My take is that I’m obliged to give them an exciting ride all the way to the destination; whether that destination is a “happy ending” or something less neat, it’s a definite point of resolution.

Martin offered that my stance doesn’t necessarily hold from the author’s POV; writing is done as a labor of love, and the goal of the author isn’t necessarily to provide a conclusion or resolution; we can write for our own pleasure and satisfaction and can feel free to share our work without feeling the pressure of that Sword of Damocles over our heads. (@Martin, please correct me if my interpretation is faulty.)

Since this forum is filled with authors I’ve followed and admired for years, I asked Martin if I could post it and he told me to go for it, so here’s the question for you: Do authors have an obligation to their readers/audience to provide some sort of resolution or conclusion to a story?

Martin got me thinking about aspects to this that I hadn’t considered, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m currently in collaboration for a new work slated for fall 2024 in Berlin, and I’d like to enrich my views on this topic as part of my creative process. Thanks, and Happy New Year!

3 Likes

Many of the stories I share on this platform are commissioned works. Often, clients choose not to pursue these narratives further. Given that these stories originate from external concepts and not from my personal creative passion, I do not feel compelled to complete them unless I am specifically paid to do so. Regarding my original works, I frequently conceptualize the conclusion early in the writing process. However, once the initial creative spark diminishes, I find it challenging to continue the writing process, as my enthusiasm wanes. I believe there is no obligation to finish a self-initiated project, especially in the absence of financial compensation.

Writing, for many, is an endeavor of pleasure. If the process ceases to bring joy, I see little reason to continue. In my opinion if someone is desiring the completion of a story they should consider offering compensation to the writer. This acknowledges the time and effort involved, especially considering that many writers balance their passion with other professional commitments.

Creative writing is not a mechanical task; it is driven by passion. When inspiration fades, a story often reaches its natural conclusion for the writer. As a reader, I appreciate any freely offered fiction, recognizing the effort behind it, regardless of how it aligns with my personal tastes or its resolution.

But that is just my opinion.

8 Likes

I have mixed feelings about this, but I can speak to it from my own experience.

When I was a new author, I was often more interested in the method of transformation/ mc than I was with the idea of a plot, especially an uber plot. Multi-part works were often an opportunity to transform/control a new character with the same schtick.

To consider a multi-part work is to know the ending before you start writing. I’d venture to say most new/ young writers are thinking more about the short-term and not the long-term. A novel is a much different thought process than a multi-part story. So, I agree that there’s no obligation on an author’s end to “finish” a series, especially if the author intended to write a one-shot and then did a bunch of sequels, not considering an “ending.”

I’ve tried to write endings to all my stories, but I’ve abandoned some, too. It just happens. Points for trying.

4 Likes

The much maligned Benioff and Weiss immediately comes mind.

I’m a hobbyist writer, and an amateur one at that, so this is mostly speculation and an exercise in empathy on my part. That said, I can imagine the build up of a story becoming too heavy to bear. GoT is an extreme example, that is an entire business onto himself, but I can see something similar happening on the lower rungs too. Especially in an episodic format like GKS.

Of course, that’s just one example of why an ending might go wrong, but I bring it up as a way to humanize the author. Especially on the internet, it’s easy to forget storytellers are just people playing pretend. We feel entitled to ‘good stories’ these days, which really means we want stories that go exactly the way we want them to or we flame them on Twitter, or Goodreads, or Rotten Tomatoes.

In my opinion, creative writing is for the person holding the pen. The writer isn’t beholden to the reader, coins, or art itself, just their message. And, at least for me, writting is fucking hard so I tend to applaud anyone who can get to the finish line regardless of the state they’re in when they get there.

If we’re talking about abandoned stories (I’m not naming names XD), though, it’s good to finish what you start. But as a human quality in general…not just writing or art. Coming from a roleplay background, it is disheartening to see people constantly give up on themselves/their stories so flippantly. And I’d be lying if I said that didn’t apply to me as well from time to time.

I’ve been rereading On Writing by Stephen King because I respect his method and I hope to squeeze one iota of that man’s work ethic out of that book. But just because I (and it sounds like you) would like to become a workhorse artist, disciplined and dependable, doesn’t mean I expect everyone to do be the same.

But that is more of a personal standard than an obligation.

3 Likes

I would say it’s up to each individual author as to whether they should feel that obligation or not. I personally do feel it, but even so, I recognize that my health might require me to abandon my stories in part or in whole, so I’ve learned to be pragmatic about it.

But that’s for me. I don’t necessarily expect that that sense of obligation should apply to anyone else. I don’t know their circumstances, their reasoning, etc., so who am I to try to tell someone that they should feel the same obligation I do?

There’s also the question of reader expectation vs. what the author actually has planned. When I started Web of Trust, it was meant to be a catch-all anthology type of thing for whenever I felt like writing and didn’t have a specific setup in mind. Over time, that changed and it became a full-fledged story of its own (which I do eventually intend to finish), but let’s suppose it hadn’t. What if my readers started expecting an ending to it but I had no plans to ever have one? Should I feel some obligation to create one? I would say no, but my readers might well have been unhappy about that. Hell, even with stories that are clearly finished, at least in my mind, I’ll occasionally have some reader pop up wondering when the next chapter will be or at least indicating that they want more. Those always leave me scratching my head…like, do I need to write “THE END” at the end or something? :thinking: So, clearly, we can’t always fulfill what the reader might feel is an obligation.

So, in the end, even though I feel a sense of obligation myself, I think it’s entirely up to the author to decide.

3 Likes

The view should depend on the writer. For some, the pressure of finishing the story in a mechanical sense is really helpful. That’s one reason why people post wips, so that the public performance of the story and the need to finish it help them through the process.

For me, though, if I say that I am obligated to finish a story, that more often than not kills any motivation I had to write it. In that way, it’s not useful for me to say that a story is morally obligated to be finished.

That said, I think that should provide reason enough to not put pressure on hobbyist (or professional) writers one doesn’t have a professional relationship with. Obviously, when professionally obligated to hit a deadline for the sake of other creatives or a client, considerations are different, but that is an obligation a writer can choose to take on, not a universal standard.

Hope that makes some sense, it’s rather early here XD

3 Likes

The last thing an author needs for their creative process is having others decide whether or not their story is actually finished.

There is a tendancy towards people calling for more of something they seem to like, and historically not even killing off your characters means that people do not clamour for more.

Stories like reality do not have to have every plotline reach a conclusion, it doesn’t mean that the ‘and then what?’ demand has to be met; otherwise we’d start to see stories that end with ‘and they all died, the planet exploded and the universe came to an abrupt halt!’

There are several stories that I’d like to see a continuation of on the site, but only if the author is willing to put in the effort that drew me to them in the first place. If you demand they carry on you may find that they will do so without the qualities that drew you to the earlier submissions, which to me is worse than not having any continuation at all.

3 Likes

I’m guilty of leaving several of my stories incomplete, and I do feel bad if people have invested their time reading and are left with a case of literary blue-balls. In every case, I’ve simply lost momentum and/or inspiration. Sometimes, I’ve mapped out the whole story so thoroughly in my head and therefore have no sense of discovery in completing it. In a couple of cases, I’ve posted a lengthy comment after the last posted chapter explaining where the story would have gone. I realize that’s not the same as reading a full-fledged story, but it’s the best I could do. I even tried to go back to finish one series this fall, which I think could have been a fun and satisfying tale, but I’m afraid I just don’t have the mojo any more. Anyway, thanks to all those who’ve enjoyed my stories here, and sorry if I’ve ever left you hanging.

7 Likes

Life sometimes gets out of hand. I have a draft for the final chapter of one of my stories and when I have the time I work on it.

Given we are about to enter the winter here in Chicago, it might just be the perfect time to sit in front of the computer and actually finish the damn thing…

2 Likes

I think genre expectations are important. And, well, ‘market’ expectations. ‘Venue’ expectations?

If a mystery novel ends without resolving the mystery, I don’t blame readers for feeling cheated. There’s a promise made to the reader when you call it a mystery novel—aka, based on the genre expectations we have of mystery novels. The mystery should be solved at the end.

But a lot of other stories end with their mysteries unresolved. Every Robert Aickman story, for example. Readers come to those stories with different genre expectations than mysteries. If Aickman’s stories ended with “mystery resolved!” it would ruin the whole point of his stories, and why their readers love them. If Aickman had only been allowed to publish stories that resolved their mysteries—well, none of his stories would have been published.

I think that with erotica posted online, people know that any story they’re reading may never be ‘finished’ as a story. It’s just part of how the genre works, for all the reasons people have written above… We don’t have to like it, but it’s also unfair to impose the genre expectations of professional playwrighting onto hobbyist online erotica.

And let’s be real, we’re not reading erotica primarily for plot. Oh yes, plot and character arcs help, and they absolutely will hook us on stories we started reading for baser reasons. And they can be what turns good erotica great. But if a work of erotica shares none of my kinks—well, it’ll be hard to get me to read it in the first place, no matter how well-written…

If a potent work of erotica is left incomplete in terms of plot, I may wish for more chapters. But that doesn’t affect whether or not it succeeds wildly as erotica.

Some of the most revisited and influential stories on the site are incomplete. I think of incomplete stories are being part of the genre, so to speak. It’s a reality of the medium, and I believe a crucial one. It allows writers to share potent fantasies that just wouldn’t get shared at all, if the requirement was ‘complete stories only’. It’s part of what makes the site’s archive so rich.

7 Likes

I have two unfinished stories on here, which I feel guilty about. When inspiration strikes, I will finish them. I don’t feel under an obligation to do so because I am providing the stories as a gift, but it still rankles with me and makes me feel bad.

3 Likes

These responses are absolute treasures. Each one is well-reasoned and richly detailed with variations of perspective and nuance that are instructive and inspiring. Much respect and thanks to all who have replied so far, and I hope others will add their thoughts in the days to come.

3 Likes

I’m quite notorious for incomplete stories that, in fact, I have plans for and want to finish. The problem for me is that my libido and interest waxes and wains considerably and even when I do have the drive to write, it’s not always interesting any longer for me to work on or complete previous works because newer ideas have taken hold in my mind.

That said, I feel like if I were being paid or selling these stories, I’d feel an understandable responsibility to finish them. Being as I write for myself and for my friends here on the site to get a nice masturbatory fantasy for free, I’m not necessarily going to put all my energy into stories I may not have as much excitement to work on.

Also also that said, I’d love to go back to some of my stories and really shock and surprise folks with continuations, especially for some of my older ones that I still get e-mails and DMs about wanting continuations, like Re-Educator, Retirement, Joey.

One of the biggest reasons that I haven’t continued or finished all my stories currently, however, is that I’m being commissioned to write a story from a friend who is very excited about the story I’m writing for him and that excitement is contagious. Once I feel like I’m in a great place there, my first focus would be on my current story rather than my older stories…but I can respect the fact that long time readers would love continuations of stories they’ve deemed ‘classics’.

All told, I wouldn’t hold anyone accountable for incomplete stories on this site unless there is some extra kind of compensation you’re willing to provide them. If we’re getting some authors hard work for free, I think we need to be OK with the fact that we won’t always get a resolution or a personally satisfying one. And, believe me, there are a couple stories here I would LOVE to convince their authors to continue or add upon after they said they were done. In my case, I offered to expand upon the world of one of my favorite stories, Love Begins at Home, and Neemie was kind enough to allow me to. If you feel like you could expand upon the story you were unsatisfied with, perhaps the author would let you take the narrative from their ending?

Anyway, I also enjoyed all these responses. It’s nice that we’ve built a respectful community of artists and fans here. I truly do appreciate all of you <3

6 Likes

“Literary blue balls” has officially entered my lexicon, and I’ll happily credit you when I use it! :sunglasses:

4 Likes

"While Martin is correct to make the distinction, generally, readers’ behavior and reactions mirror their daily lives. We instinctively feel the need to solve puzzles, whether socially, ethically, morally, macroscopically, or microscopically. We take deep pleasure in understanding the world around us and beyond, so once we feel we have an understanding of something, we put that in a box and store the experience.

Leaving a story unresolved, as a choice, almost feels like when you turn on the hot water in a sink and get only cold water instead. It’s a little unsettling and confusing, which turns into a slight annoyance. We all have the same reaction. So, if it’s the author’s intent to leave the reader with the preverbal wet rag to clean up the cum he just shot at his guest (without notice) as he walks out of the room, maybe a disclaimer in the beginning will allow the reader to prepare themselves to either not invest or prepare to swallow the one-sided ending. Thanks for your post and the discussion."

3 Likes

I’m in Chicago too! With the same thought. I have a nice long vacation the second half of January, so hoping to work on my commission and some of my other stories!

3 Likes

Often times it isn’t intent, it just happens. I don’t think anyone goes out with the thought I am going to start this story and not finish it. But after a time it does come down to that and finally giving that ghost up can take months at times to others.

4 Likes

I certainly feel obligated, and even more so embarrassed, but I simply lose steam, the idea runs out, can’t seem to get the muse to come back. i obviously am not alone and I think the reason for it is that I get an idea, like “Wouldn’t it make a great story if XXX happened?” Then I write an make XXX happen, but then what happens (no pun intended!) next? There is the rub and I am guessing that is the main reason for unfinished stories. Only when I have a clear beginning, middle and ending am I able to complete a story. Does not happen often. I had an idea on another site of what I called vignettes, which were snippets, very, very short ‘stories’ that really did not have much preamble or conclusion, but something happened that was, let’s say, intriguing.

I’l just close this by saying that an unfinished story puts a bit of work on the reader, but why should they just sit back and enjoy? …lastly, don’t forget the reader who likes to make up their own ending.

5 Likes

I’ve stuck with some stories till the bitter end, determined to finish it (mostly because I visualized the ending when I came up with the idea) – and some I’ve abandoned. And worse, some I’ve abandoned have become fan favorites…

2 Likes

I have a list of stories in the back of my head labeled “to be finished”—they’re plotted out, I just have to do the work to put them on paper. Some of them are obvious—an end to the leprechaun’s curse, or what Ig, Carter and Brook discover in the dungeons of Hypae’zea…but others are sequels to one-offs no one much cared for but I feel need to have another chapter or two for me to be satisfied with them.

That being said, there’s a period of time between postings where it makes some sort of sense to continue a storyline, and after that I feel that people would be more puzzled about the continuation than pleased by it. Sitting down to write, I could either spend time on something that might have grown stale or lost its audience, or I could start something fresh that might have more of an immediate audience. I’m vain enough that the calculus of that equation often gets solved in favor of the new audience.

Still, I have every intention to finish the series that in my mind are unfinished and just waiting to be written—and goddamn the audience’s reaction. Just—you know, not yet.

2 Likes