My life has a lot of dangling threads in it--little unresolved conflicts or projects. We all have them in our lives, cluttering things up. I'm sure you know the ones I'm talking about: the cross stitch you picked up from Mt. Rushmore 15 years ago and haven't even finished Washington; the painting that's almost ready to hang if you can just get the foreground right; the collection of pictures of your second (or third) child's first year that's sitting in a photo album, just waiting for you to label and stick the pictures in.
In our lives they're just clutter, and in our books they're just clutter. Except, of course, when it's not just clutter, when it's texture or a red herring meant to set the reader off on the wrong track for a little while. When done right they do add to a story, but when done wrong they detract and make the writing sound amateurish.
Why am I thinking about this? I just finished a book, "The Chocolatier's wife" by Cindy Lynn Speer. I liked the book, especially the voice. The world she's created isn't a completely standard western European-based world (though it is western European in flavor). The direction she took her world-building was one I quite enjoyed.
The problem for me with the book was in the plot. While there are no specifically unresolved plot threads, there are a lot of plot threads that don't go anywhere. There are spoilers ahead, so if you're going to read the book and that'll bother you, stop reading now.
To give one example (which, to be fair, is probably the most egregious in the book) Tasmin at one point plots to help William escape from his jail cell. It's a nice little side plot that gets resolved within pages by another woman confessing to the crime for which William has been jailed. There are no consequences for Tasmin or William since they don't actually do anything. There are no consequences at all for Tasmin for she doesn't even explain to William what she's planning. It's one of those plot points that feels like it should go somewhere, and when it doesn't it's somewhat disappointing. I was happy William was freed, and the manner of it is pretty much required by the remainder of the plot, but the promise made to me when Tasmin conspired to break the law to help her betrothed escape felt unfulfilled.
I'm guessing my books will have a lot of those in the beginning as well. In fact, I know my WIP has some dangling threads right now that I'm probably not even going to resolve. They don't add anything other than texture (maybe) and confusion for my readers (definitely). Fortunately, I have good critique partners who point out the places they feel like a promise is going unfulfilled and that helps me decide if I want to flesh out the plot thread or cut it entirely.