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On Cliffhangers and Series

by on February 21, 2015

I always get kinda sad when I hear someone say they hate it when authors write a series, or they can’t stand cliffhangers. Not because I plan to write only series or love the sound of a distant, heartbreaking “Noooo!!” at the end of one of my books. I don’t relish the idea of leaving readers hanging, nor do I appreciate a tale that’s dragged out to the detriment of the story or reader’s pleasure.

As a writer, working on a series can be an organic thing that happens outside of your control. You can start off with an outline, but in the midst of writing questions will crop up. Whether those questions can be answered in a sentence, a scene or in a chapter is anyone’s guess.

As a reader, though, I love a good series. I remember falling deep in love with books that left me hungry and then satiated that hunger with a whole new book. Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series is just one that had me reading in every spare moment, with a world so rich and detailed that just one book would have felt like dipping my toe into a vast ocean when I wanted to swim. I remember loving the act of falling in love with Phedre no Delaunay, Hyacinthe, Joscelin Verreuil, and then finding out that I didn’t have to let them go. Not yet. There was one more tale to tell…

In this brave new world of instant publishing, I can understand that today’s readers might not love the feeling of waiting for a new book. They might have been burned by a series that seemed to drag on and break their heart in the end. But never before have you had to wait so little time for the next installment of a series. Never before have you been able to pay so little for one. It used to be you’d have to wait crazy amounts of time for a book that would cost no less that $8 in paperback (when that came out, because hardback was always first), or wait until someone else returned it to the library. Now, unless there are issues, an author can get a whole book to their audience in the time it takes some traditional publishing houses to schedule the release of a book.

Now that I’m writer, I understand that a series isn’t always a money grab or an indefinite desire to stick with the same characters for double digit volumes. I don’t think I’d want to stick with a world or characters for longer than a few books at most. But that’s just the creative mindset I’m talking about there, the desire to explore something new pushing me out of one story and into another. There’s also the logistical understanding of your capabilities and your audience to take into account.

With the Loose Ends series, the current series I’m working on, it started out as a complete work, a full draft from start to finish that I wrote as a serial online. It wasn’t until I took it down for publishing that I realized it was about 213k words. That’s a crazy thick book! But more than that, as a self-published author that’s a huge manuscript to edit, to pay to edit, to dedicate all of your creative energy to fixing while other projects beckon. Breaks are required and audiences, whether they like cliffhangers or not, a series or not, generally don’t settle in to read 600+ page romance novels in one sitting anymore.

Do I plan to write a lot of series length stories? Not really. I just write stories until I’m done. Do I plan to write cliffhangers? No, though sometimes that’s just the appropriate place to end a story arc. There’s a beat to it all, a cadence that you don’t want to fall flat for the sake of a neat bow at the end…especially if the story isn’t truly complete. But will I avoid series and cliffhangers like the plague? No, I don’t think so. I’ll do my best to be kind to my audience and my bank account, to find a middle ground and be cognizant of when brevity is required for a story. But I’ll also walk the walk as a consumer.

Don’t be surprised if you see me taking a break from my work, nose deep in the second book of a four part series, losing myself in another world as I draw closer and closer to a cliff…

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