I hear a lot of complaints from bloggers and reviewers about “cliffhanger endings” and books that don’t work as a standalone. I sympathize, of course. Myself, I’m in a constant state of briny froth about what might happen next on the TV show Vikings. But the other hand, as an author, I know all too well why some books just never end. Let me tell you a little story to illustrate:
Like a lot of indie authors, I also publish books through traditional publishers. For me, I focus traditional publishing on my YA books. So I published two books from a series a few years ago and I had a third book sort of mapped out in my head. I knew what kind of trouble I was going to get my rather troublesome heroine into, but I hadn’t quite worked out how I would get her out of trouble – that would work itself out in the first draft.
I called my editor at the publisher just wanting to run a few things past her and she gave me the bad news that they didn’t think they would go ahead with a third book in the series. “Marketing, money, sales, format but we’d love to see what else you have…blah blah blah”. All I heard was the plaintive weeping of my heroine. I literally thought “What am I going to tell her?” I had gotten her into a mess and now I would never get her out of it. It was like she was trapped. Days went past where I existed with a kind of constant sense of doom, worrying about her as though she was my own child.
It was weeks before I could even write anything else. I wanted to continue her story. When you spend two books with a character as their author they become part of you. My heroine is only seventeen when the second book ends. What‘s to become of her? Will she get through high school without getting suspended again? Will her relationship succeed? Will she ever make that trip to New York she’s been so looking forward to? If I don’t write her story I might never know. Only in writing things about the characters I love can I fix their destinies. Without my intervention, anything could happen – good things or awful things.
Even when I write books that are neatly tied up at the end with a satisfying and believable happily ever after I find the world I’ve created continues churning along. In Electrify Me, which ended with an HEA for the two leads, there was a small character called Levi. As I read my final draft I thought “He seems a little tightly wound up. Maybe he needs a holiday”. That holiday became Objectify Me. In Objectify Me Levi’s best friend Buck obviously has a slightly worrying drug habit. Buck is going to get himself clean in Purify Me, the next novella in the Fireworks Series. Will it ever end? Maybe not.
Small characters may seem inconsequential to readers, but to authors they often have complete backstories as well as just as many hopes and dreams as the main characters. Unless I kill them off (which is often a temptation) their problems become my problems. And sometimes they get their own whole book. Furthermore despite our best efforts in tying up every loose end even for our main characters, sometimes “happily ever after” is actually “happily until something horrible happens and then we start all over”.
So when you’re getting frustrated about a book that ends on a cliffhanger or a series that never seems to end, spare a thought for the author. If you want to know what happens next to a beloved character all you have to do is buy the book and read it; we have to write the darn thing.
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