My book ends on a cliff-hanger. This is not a new development, nor is it an accident. I’ve asked around and looked at some opinion polls, including one I conducted myself on the QueryTracker boards, and I know that there are many mixed opinions out there. Some say that it’s lazy. Some say that they are manipulative. Some say they love the suspense of them.
Obviously, I fall into that third category because I have always intended to leave book one open. When I think of successful cliff-hangers, I immediately think of a trilogy that most people I come across haven’t heard of (but it’s one of my all-time favourites for so many reasons). And here they are:
The Paradise War trilogy by Stephen R Lawhead. I can’t adequately express my love for these books, but the main point for this post is the ending of the second book. It ends on the BEST cliff-hanger I have ever read, and it is one of the things that inspired me to use that device in my own work. There is no warning, no apology, explanation… it ends with a jaw-dropping pulse-racing moment and it just DROPS you. (Keep in mind that when I read it, the third book was still a year away from its pub date – talk about torture!) A little difference, of course, is that he is a master storyteller, and I am writing my debut novel. Something to aspire to, for sure, but what if I’m not there yet?
And that’s what I’m now wondering. Am I being lazy with my ending? I certainly don’t feel like that’s what I’m doing. I want to tell a bigger story than one novel, and I love ending in a way that leaves you thirsty for the next installment.
But then I read the ending of Divergent. Or Pivot Point. They’re both the beginning of trilogies, and their stories continue past the endings of these books. But while they leave a few questions open, they don’t end on cliff-hangers. They end. They have satisfying endings in and of themselves, even while you’re waiting for the rest of the story. You want to keep reading because of the world, or the characters, or the bigger story that’s ongoing. But if you stopped reading after that first book, you’d be okay. You’d have a story that felt complete.
So which is better?
Yep, just like Winnie the Pooh, I’m feeling stuck. Perhaps not in Rabbit’s front door, but still… stuck.
Here’s the situation. I’ve completed my latest version of Book One and it is now with my editor. I’ve started Book Two and I have about five chapters done (well, four and some bits and pieces). In re-thinking some plot lines to fill in Book Two, I’ve come some conclusions about Book One. I need to do some sort of major fixes on it that somehow escaped my attention in all three previous versions. (It’s my first novel, that’s bound to happen, but it would have been nice to have this realization a year ago.) So now… what now? Do I keep working on Book Two, knowing that Book One may not be exactly what it was and that everything I’m putting into Book Two may have to change? Do I do the rewrites I know I need to do on Book One even though I haven’t gotten notes from my editor yet and the things he suggests may alter what I think I have to fix on my own? And so… stuck. STUCK! I’m feeling very frustrated.
I just want to WRITE.
I love the current fascination with all things Geek. Being called a “Nerd” or a “Geek” used to be an insult. Today, it’s a badge of honour. I was looking for a “Nerd Girl Problem” meme to post (I love the one above – couldn’t resist!), and actually ran into memes and posts about not being enough of a REAL nerd. What?? If someone wants in the club, let them play! Jeez, what’s that about? Anyway…
My current WIP has Geek Chic references throughout, and I love them. That’s an understatement really. I L-O-V-E them. With a capital LOVE. And while the current debacle over that stupid article about adults reading YA has convinced me whole-heartedly that one NEVER has to apologize for one’s passions (that’s a topic for a whole other post), I do feel a need explain this quirk of my book.
I have already been given a heads-up that my editor will be issuing notes in the not-so-positive form on these references to pop and geek culture, which is what started me thinking about why I need them in the first place. (I hired an editor… have I blogged about that?? I’m really behind.) And it turns out I not only love the references because I think they’re fun and entertaining and just, well, ME. I actually do have reasons behind them. Two pretty good reasons, I happen to think. And they are… ahem…
One) My book involves an element of time travel, which puts my narrative happening in an alternate timeline for a section of the book. Even MORE in the next book. Due to this, I love that my pop culture references pin her down to the current time when she is in the present. I feel like this helps to define BOTH timelines.
And Two) It’s part of my MC’s voice. These things are part of her world, part of her life. I personally don’t go a single day without quoting a movie, or referring to a tv show or book or song. I’m being careful in the book to stay within Public Use guidelines, but I still let her do this. To me that feels authentic to who she is. To remove them entirely or replace them with vague alternatives would be to completely change her voice. And THAT is non-negotiable for me.
So what are your thoughts? Does it take you out of the world you’re reading when you come across a reference like this, or does it further identify that world for you? I’ve heard both opinions… what’s yours?