There was this book I read recently that made me all kinds of frustrated. My inner growl came out. I found myself skimming through the last third of the story, rolling my eyes, muttering things like, “Come on, already!”
Which got me thinking.
As writers, we talk a lot about the importance of tension. Heck, Donald Maass says we better have it on every single page. So the question begs to be asked.
What’s the difference between tension and frustration?
Is there one?
When I think of frustrating books, two titles come to mind. Both are best-sellers.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
New Moon (the second book in the Twilight series)
These books frustrated me for the same reason. Which involved the disappearance of a beloved character for a much-too-big chunk of the story.
Yet they are incredibly popular novels and much-loved by readers. Including me. So is frustration a mute point? Should we go for it?
I don’t know….
Frustration has to be one of the most annoying emotions. And I’m not sure annoyance is something we should ever aspire to do to our readers.
Frustration. Not so good.
The first brings readers to the edge of their seats. The second makes them want to light the book on fire.
So how do we embrace the first and avoid the second?
Avoid drawing things out for an eternity.
Yes, we want to prolong tension. But not to the point of frustration. Sometimes, best practice involves giving the reader what they want, then hooking them with something else.
Keep popular characters in the story.
Don’t make a beloved character disappear for too long. Unless absolutely necessary. But even then, you risk the wrath of your reader.
Sprinkle in moments of gratification.
Sure, maybe you can’t have your hero and heroine get together until the end, but that doesn’t mean you can’t throw in some chemistry-laden tender moments between the two. There needs to be a positive correlation between frustrating moments and gratifying ones. The more frustrating a novel may be, the more gratifying moments we better include.
Make the ending uber satisfying.
And I do mean uber. Like ultra uber. Especially, especially, especially if our stories lend themselves to frustration. The more frustrating a novel, the more satisfying the ending better be. Because even if we frustrate our readers, they will forgive us anything in the world if we satisfy the heck out of them at the end. Just like I forgave Stephanie Meyer the minute Bella hurled through the crowded square of Volterra and catapulted herself into Edward’s stone-cold arms.
The book I brought up in the beginning? The ending wasn’t as satisfying as it needed to be to soothe my frustrated nerves. So it left a bad taste in my mouth. Despite the good writing and character development.
When I think of a team of writers who have figured out this whole tension/frustration dichotomy, my mind automatically jumps to Vampire Diaries. They are experts in magnifying the tension without causing frustration. Which is why I love the show so very much. I even wrote a post about it: Tips from Television
Let’s Talk: What do you say about frustration? Is it okay to frustrate readers? Is there a book that frustrated the heck out of you, but you still love it to pieces?
*Photo by Ellie Goff