Over the past few years, numerous readers have written Amazon reviews and commented on Facebook and my blog about their love/hate relationship with my cliffhanger endings. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to explain my philosophy.
First of all, I love good endings. A comprehensive, satisfying resolution to a story can make the whole experience of reading a book or watching a movie seem worthwhile. One of my favorites is the movie version of The Shawshank Redemption—corruption is exposed, the bad guys get what’s coming to them, and the wrongly accused, unjustly convicted hero of the story finally escapes. The last scene shows him on a beach in Mexico as the camera pulls back to reveal the endless Pacific—a colorful and optimistic contrast to the drab, hopeless prison where he spent the majority of his life. By the time the credits roll, Andy Dufresne’s story has been told and we don’t need to know anything more about him than the assurance that he will live his remaining years in a warm, tropical, leisure environment. He has certainly earned it!
For a stand-alone, self-contained story like this, I want everything to be resolved. When I say resolution, I don’t mean that everything comes to an end. In any story, there will always be the question of “what happens next?” which could go on and on until the character dies. And even then, one could ask how the death will affect friends and family of the character. These questions are meaningless because they don’t impact the story that has just been told. “Does Andy complete the restoration of the boat? Does he start a sport fishing business for tourists? Does he get back into the banking industry in Mexico?”
Who cares? The story is over. In my mind, it is resolved.
But what about stories that aren’t stand-alone units? Consider the extended format of a TV series. Another favorite of mine was 24, with Jack Bauer running around Los Angeles, hunting for terrorists. Each episode contained an immediate challenge or subplot that was presented and resolved, all the while advancing the larger plot toward the season finale. At an even higher level, each season was part of a larger arc in terms of the nation’s politics and the lives of the main characters.
For each novel or episode within a series, I want some amount of resolution—if possible, resolution of the primary issue that forms the backbone of the story. If not the primary issue, then I want to see the story come to rest at a natural stopping point, perhaps before a large span of time where nothing significant occurs, or the point between two distinct periods of time in a character’s life. I want to see the major and minor plots moved forward, deepened, or complicated in some way. And I want an ending that gets me excited about the next book.
I’ll admit—from novel to novel—the first two Awakened books (Awaken His Eyes and Paths of Destruction) don’t have neat, tidy endings. Along with the third book, they were all written as one story and at the time I wrote them, my knowledge of story construction and my philosophy of endings were both undeveloped. But there is another type of ending I was able to accomplish at the end of Hands to Make War—an intermediate point of resolution. For those who haven’t yet read the third book in the Awakened series, I won’t spoil the details. I will point out, however, that the forces of antagonism which produce the physical conflicts in Kael’s world—and define the backbone of the story—are dealt with. The primary plot in the ancient world is resolved—the first trilogy completed. At the same time, the stage is set for the next segment of the series which jumps into our modern world. This closing of one door and opening of another is a major milestone in the larger saga, resolving the immediate matters while propelling the reader forward.
So, on one hand I totally understand the irritation of a cliffhanger. Who wants to be forced to wait for the next part of the story? No one! That much I have learned already from readers who have finished the fourth book in the series, Seeds of Corruption. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want it any other way. If the story isn’t done, I don’t’ want resolution. I want an ending that makes me feel like it’s the most important thing in the world to find out what happens next. If I have to wait, sure I’ll be disappointed that the next story isn’t available. But I’ll also enjoy the in-between period of delayed gratification, when I can reflect on the story, think about the characters and plot, and try to figure out where it’s going.
For me, it deepens the imaginative experience and makes the joy of reading or watching only that much better!
If you don’t agree and are thinking, just hurry up and write the next one, I want to assure you that I’m working as fast as I can. Trust me; no one wants to see this series completed more than I do. But I don’t want to compromise the quality of the stories by writing junk. So, I’ll make this commitment:
I’ll release the next book as soon as possible, but not a moment too soon!