The Fantasy Principle

This is something I ran into recently with a story by one of my favorite paranormal romance authors.  Maybe you've had this problem too.

Have you ever read a book or story by an author you are familiar with and you felt...well, less than satisfied?  Have you ever felt like the author didn't go into enough detail, or maybe the story/book felt too short?  And yet, the story was still compelling enough to read, wasn't it?  You may have stumbled across the "fantasy principle".


So, you may wonder, "What is this fantasy principle?"  In Creative Writing, part of it is referred to as "suspension of disbelief", or the ability to make a reader accept a story as it is.  Obviously this doesn't happen in every case.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course.  For the purposes of this argument, let's say you believe wholeheartedly in the author's tale.  The characters are compelling, the plot has been developed and all of the necessary elements are there.  All of us want to walk away from a book satisfied.

If you don't, maybe it's not the fact that the writer didn't do his or her job.  Consider that you may have been affected by the fantasy principle, for lack of a better term.  You are going along, reading the book and suddenly it ends.  As you analyze it further, you realize it was buttoned up and all of your questions were answered.  In a romance, the hero got the girl.  In literary fiction, the character changed or learned something very important.  The list for genres goes on, of course.  The story moved you.  So...why are you dissatisfied?

You may be suffering from the fantasy principle if you want the book to go on.  Logically, we know stories don't go on forever.  But, reading isn't a logical exercise, is it?  It is about imagination.

There is a whole world we fall into when we read a book.  The need to ride it out with the characters for another few minutes or hours doesn't exactly dissipate.  Who hasn't prayed that their favorite author would write a sequel so they could revisit the characters from a great book?  Who doesn't want the story to go on?

When you close a book with a thump or close out of your e-reader, there is a finality to things.  I think most avid readers are tempted to pick up another book to fill the void the previous book has created.  And yet, in the back of our minds, we're still working on that story we just read.  Do character A & B stay together?  Do they have kids?  In a police procedural mystery, do you wonder what the detective's next case is and if it's just as exciting?

Do not despair.  Be satisfied that the author has created a tale so wonderful, so fascinating that you simply don't want the story to end.

I think writers suffer from the same problem though.  We don't want to step away from our characters either.  After you finish writing a book, even after you publish, there is almost a period of mourning for your characters.  Of course, during the promotion of a book, it is impossible to step away completely.  At some point, you do feel it, however.  It is hard to say goodbye to those characters.  Do I still let my mind wander, entertain new scenes of Fara and Grant?  Sure.  But, that is me wanting to hang on.  Perhaps that is why some writers choose to write sequels.  They know the story is not quite over yet.  Or maybe it's only to put the spotlight on new characters, with only a small glimpse at the earlier ones.  Whatever the reason, it isn't any easier for writers to let go of a story than it is for a reader.

So, the next time you feel dissatisfied with a book, really think.  Is it possible you are a victim of the fantasy principle?  Has the author taken you so far into that other world that you don't want to leave?  Don't worry.  That is a good thing.


  1. Interesting perspective, Marie. I'm always sad when my time with my characters comes to an end. By the end of a novel, they're dear friends, and I miss them when I can no longer be part of their lives. I never feel disappointed when I read a book that's left me emotionally satisfied. When a story fails to explore characterization fully or suffers from plot flaws, then I do feel let down. Otherwise, I'm open to different concepts and storytelling styles.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Linda! I have felt all three ways before...totally satisfied, somewhat disappointed or a mixture of both. I find that's the evidence of a great book, the ability to not only make you feel happy but a little bereft that you have to move on from it.

  3. Good post Marie. I am not a huge reader (I know, so sad) but when I get into a book that I love - All Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books - I am so sad when it's done!

    PS..That is a fabulous picture! Can I just steal it????

  4. Thanks, Penny! Feel free to steal. LOL.


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