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They Both Die at the End: A Lesson in Boring the Reader

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Amazon.com: They Both Die at the End: 9780062457790: Silvera, Adam: BooksSometimes even death can be boring.

I was drawn to They Both Die at the End when I saw it listed alongside my previous read, How To Stop Time. After watching the multi-year buzz for this book, not to mention seeing the raving reviews, I wondered if it might be worth finally giving it a try. Maybe it wasn't as melancholy and naval-gazing as I worried it would be. And the concept of a near future in which a faceless organization called Death-Cast calls people to let them know when they're going to die was intriguing.

I checked it out almost two weeks ago.

Reader, I still have not finished this book.

The concept is indeed very cool, and handled reasonably well at the start. There's an interesting moral question of whether or not you would want to know if you're going to die, and of course the tension of whether or not Rufus and Mateo actually will die at the end. It's dramatic to see them try to put their lives in order, despite only being 17. And Mateo, at least, is sympathetic enough to have me rooting for him.

But around the halfway point, the story loses momentum. Because, like in How To Stop Time, there really isn't a story. What started out as a propulsive plot with a clear deadline turns into a meandering, chatty, mawkish meditation on death and life and the things we leave behind. I can see why some readers might enjoy it, especially young readers who haven't been forced to face their own mortality yet. And to an extent I respect what the book is trying to do.

But good intentions do not make a good read.

Like How To Stop Time, this novel needed more plot meat. It leaned too heavily on the concept and the larger story-question to get people to the finish instead of leading them through something. Maybe a clearer goal from one of the protagonists would have helped. Or a deeper understanding of Death-Cast and either its destruction or redemption. Or a glimmer of hope that could be left behind, like money won or forgiveness earned or mistakes set right.

If I'm repeating myself, it's only because this is such an important lesson for writers to learn. Concept is not enough. Yes, it's important. Yes, it's critical to getting sold and talked-about and launched on a career path. But even the highest of concepts will only get you so far. You still have to craft a story. All the way through.

Even if the reader already knows the end.

How are you keeping your concept from stagnating in plotless meandering? How will you keep your shiny idea sparkling when the novelty has worn off?

Let us know in the comments!

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