Flawed Stories We Love by Stephanie Lane-Elliott

Posted on July 26, 2012 by in Writing

Much like a first heartbreak, everyone who loves reading has had the experience of beginning a book with the highest hopes—Such great plotting! What amazing characters!—only to have those hopes dashed by the errant plot twist or annoying character or unsatisfying ending. You may turn the story over and over in your head, trying to find the exact place where it started to go wrong. You may bemoan the days and hours you invested in this ultimately unsatisfying story. Was it all for naught?

I would argue that it wasn’t. In fact, when I look back at the books that have had the biggest impression on me, that have most inspired me as a writer and an editor . . . none of them were what I would call “perfect.” For example, I completely fell in love with The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender: stole away at all hours to read it, was crushed when it I reached the last page. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I hated the way it ended. I was fascinated by the characters, and I wanted to know more. But the story had the nerve to end before my questions were answered. How rude!


I had a similar reaction to John Green’s Paper Towns. In it, a teenage boy’s crush disappears, leading him to try to piece together what happened to her. The boy is forced to confront the reality of how little he knows the girl he loved, how little he knows about what she was capable of doing. In what I found to be a deliciously creepy sequence, he tracks her to an abandoned mini-mall, where he finds some cryptic clues to her whereabouts. Add in some cool mapmaking trivia (I know, but trust me, it was fascinating in context), and I was hooked.

Until the story ended. I’m not going to spoil the novel for you, but let’s just say it’s not the way I would have ended it. For weeks after I finished it, I kept revisiting the story in my head, wondering how else it could have been resolved.

When I talk to writers in classes or at conferences, it seems like the most common obstacle for them—what keeps them from writing down all the stories in their heads—is the fear of writing something that’s not perfect. But is any story really perfect for everyone? I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of passing on a favorite novel to a friend, only to have them react completely differently. Is their reaction wrong?

In truth, I have spent more time thinking about, discussing and pulling apart “flawed” stories than I’ve ever spent thinking about the stories I thought were perfect. Is this because of simple frustration, wishing I could somehow solve the problems I see in my head? Or is it because I love these stories even more dearly for their flaws?

What are some of your favorite “flawed” stories?

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