Left hanging?

I’m near the end of a new book, and I sincerely hope it ends when it ends. Cliffhangers can be good, but right now I can do without them.

Patrick Ness wrote one with his The Knife of Never Letting Go. There was a blog in the Guardian about his book and cliffhangers in general, a couple of weeks ago. It seems that his cliffhanger is followed by a new book out now, that is also a cliffhanger. Aargh…

If Patrick’s second book had been to hand at the end of book one, I would have reached for it. His cliffhanger is very cliffhangery. But now, I’m not sure. It’s not that I don’t want to, but my urge has subsided. And I seem to have had a narrow escape by not reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which was very, very highly praised my my young reviewers last year. Their wait is not over yet.

It must be tempting to end a book, leaving the reader hanging on for dear life, and they’ll come back and buy the next book, too. But will they?

I know we all waited for Harry Potter. But he wasn’t about cliffhangers. And the waiting worked best for adults and those children who began at the right age. Twelve to eighteen months is a lifetime for the really young. For the older ones, they may well have moved on to other reading by the time the sequel turns up.

The reason I’m concerned about my current read, is that among the comments from young readers printed in my proof copy, there is a wish for more. To my thinking, this story has to end here. In the ‘disaster’ genre, you don’t want a new disaster next year for any surviving characters.

Or do you?

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14 responses to “Left hanging?

  1. I heard Patrick Ness talk at the recent Federation of children’s books groups conference. My view is that you OWE it to your readers to give them a free standing book, even if in your mind it’s part of a trilogy. You can easily do that by tying up some ends but leaving other questions unanswered or hinting that there will be developments at the end of this book. No need for anyone to be up all night wondering what on earth is going to happen, I don’t think. Have not yet read Patrick’s book but plan to, one of these days. He’s a very good speaker indeed and a great reader of his own work. The bit he read out from The Ask and the Answer ( great title!) seemed to have Cormac McCarthyish echoes.

  2. I had a wonderfully thought out comment to post but have decided i’m going to be proactive rather than merely reactive and tell the world exactly what i think on my own blog rather than using yours as a soapbox.

    Well that’s the plan anyway. perhaps i should write it before unashamedly drawing attention to myself.

    Either way, i thank you for inspiring me to atleast try to pretend to think about writing something…

  3. I think it’s possible to finish a book (part of a series) ‘in media res’ without actually creating a cliffhanger. In short, you can have emotional closure but still make it clear that there is more action to come.

    Katherine Langrish does this at the end of her Troll trilogy (not giving away any endings, by the way). But she finishes ingeniously in the future tense, making it clear that ‘there are no endings’. This is perfectly okay, even at the end of a trilogy, because the emotional closure is there.

    I’m currently planning a trilogy of my own, and I know already that the first book will finish at a cliffhanger of sorts. But already I have been working on how to make it so that this cliffhanger still feels like a satisfying ending. It is important.

  4. I have been thinking quite a lot about this for reasons of my own. I think there are certain stories that are genuinely just too big to be told as stand-alones. Maybe it’s better to see them as one book in three volumes. Lord of the Rings, anyone?
    The first readers might have to wait three years to read the whole work, but readers after that have no problem. And, as writers, you have to hope for at least a three-year shelf life for your books, don’t you?

  5. Elen, might three years not be too long for young readers, though? There’s a huge difference between a reader of 9 and reader of 12, or between 11 and 14. I know it’s not good for the cashflow, but perhaps hold on to book 1 until book can be produced soon after? And book 3? Oh dear… that sounds like you need to do all your writing career in advance!

  6. Yes, the Resident IT Consultant muttered something about Lord of the Rings while we discussed this.

    The Troll trilogy is a good example of what to do. I finished them safe in the knowledge I would have more, but wasn’t desperate, because Katherine finished each book.

    I hope books have a long shelf life, but we do tend to treat books as something you won’t want in ten years time. Maybe a writer should be sufficiently far along with their trilogy that there only needs to be a year between books.

    I love trilogies. It’s great to know there will be more. It’s the final page looking like this that can be annoying: ‘And he turned round and came face to face with….’

    And ideala2; get on with it! You haven’t written much since you aired your opinions on Stockport.

  7. I am not against trilogies – as long as I know they are trilogies. What I do mind is when authors forget to tell me that I´ll have to read 2-3 volumes more before I can rest assured that all is well in the protagonist´s life. Unfortunately it seems to be a fad right now.

  8. That’s a good way of putting it, Dorte. They could, and should, tell the reader what kind of book they are about to buy or read. We weren’t annoyed that Harry Potter came in seven instalments, because we knew, and each book was finished in it’s own right.

  9. I think the first Abarat book by Clive Barker was published in autumn ’02, the second in autumn ’04, and nothing since. There are meant to be at least two, possibly three more volumes in the series, but I suspect all my kids will have flown the nest before he’s done. They loved these books but it’s too long to wait.

    It was a good seven years I spent waiting after reading Willlard Price’s Cannibal Adventure (“Hal and Roger will return in Tiger Adventure…”) before the next book was published.

    I am not keen on the Patrick Ness kind of cliff-hanger, even though it is thrilling at the time. As you say, holding onto that cliff-edge for a year or so can get so tedious that you can let go and walk away sometimes.

  10. Patrick Ness

    Ah, well, yes, but!

    I’ve been hesitant to join in because of the whole idea that, once you’ve finished writing, you won’t be able to sit in your readers’ sitting rooms and answer their questions (so you’d better get it right the first time).

    Lest my name be pegged as an adjective for a certain type of cliffhanger, though, can I just posit that I regard Knife of Never Letting Go as a complete story? I really do. The hero and heroine have reckoned with their villain and reached a serious emotional point with one another, too. And then there’s just a bit more…

    It was genuinely (and I really do mean this) NOT a cynical attempt to get people to buy the other two volumes. Does anyone watch Lost or Buffy? It’s that feeling where the main story is resolved, but then the music rises tensely, a shocking thing happens and BAM! Closing credits and something to chew over and discuss until the new season starts. The emails I get from teenagers seem to bear this out, I hope.

    Plus, leaving your hero in danger has entered the horror film vernacular, too, ending a film with an unresolved sense of unease and danger. Again, the teens that email me seem to agree. They’re far more upset about a certain canine.

    But, that’s just my opinion, honestly, not trying to force it on anyone. That ending felt right from the very first word I wrote, and that’s about all any writer can defend himself with, when you get right down to it.

  11. Great to see you here, Patrick. That’s what makes blogs so good, because even the subject of a post can jump straight in. And I really do enjoy that.

    Now, this will be tricky, because contrary to what I did in today’s post, I never want to blog a spoiler, se we can only discuss your book while not mentioning the pertinent facts…

    I never thought you were cynical, and I truly love trilogies, even when the fourth book appears. BUT, I wouldn’t mind knowing it’s the first of several books, before I begin. And unlike sequels that ‘just happen’, the ending of your story is such that you knew more was on the way. I assume all or most of it was written when The Knife was published.

    And, yes, your characters have sort of arrived at the end. But it doesn’t look like they’ll even be able to have a bite to eat or have a bath or rest for the night, before doing what they have to do.

    It’s the chance to draw breath, that I’m looking for. Especially if readers at this stage have to wait twelve months to continue.

    With Harry Potter we knew Voldemort would always keep coming back, but at least Harry could go home to the Dursley’s for a rotten summer at the end of each book!

    And to move on to my television favourite, NCIS; they do finish on a cliffhanger at the end of each series. It is very annoying, ; ), but it’s expected, and it helps me believe the studio bosses are allowing another year of the series.

  12. >>They’re far more upset about a certain canine.

    Patrick, I haven’t yet read TKONLG, but this made me smile, I have to confess. Have you ever seen this darkly amusing quote?

    “The dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.”
    Wallace Wallace.

  13. I… err… just came by to gloat! My first full length blog post. I’m so proud.

  14. Pingback: IdealA2 & His Portable Soapbox » The End.

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