A recap for those who might not follow the blog regularly: I’m working on a two part novel for NaNoWriMo. I just hit my 50,000 word goal at the end of the first part, and it’s become clear to me that I could cut the second completely out and make it its own novel, adding a few things here and there to flesh out the novel I already have as “part one.”
It was a very tempting thought. Perhaps I’ll still give into it, but I’m leaning toward my original inclination: keeping it all one novel. Why? I’ve realized it all comes down to my loathing of cliffhanger-ending series novels.
A quick disclaimer: this is just a personal, stylistic preference. I’ve read a lot of excellent novels in series that end with cliffhangers of a sort. I do believe you can have a fantastic novel with such an ending, with the reader understanding the action will continue. Personally, though, that drives me batty.
I much prefer novels with a clear plot and one major obstacle/adventure/danger that gets resolved at the end. Even if the novel is part of a series, that’s doable: the Harry Potter books are a great example of this. While there’s a wonderful arc that crosses all the books and unites them, each is also a complete story unto itself. Especially in the early volumes, each book contains its own attempt by Voldemort, more or less, to return to power, and then a thwarting of that attempt. The fourth is the story of Harry’s involvement in the Triwizard tournament. My favorite of the HP books, Prisoner of Azkaban, is a beautiful story where mysteries surrounding the escaped prisoner Sirius Black and Harry’s Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Remus Lupin, are brought full circle. I made sure to structure my Herezoth trilogy thus–with definable, clear endings to each part–and readers, I’m so glad, have even mentioned that in reviews as something they appreciated. Apparently I’m not the only person cliffhanger endings annoy in fantasy literature.
As children, I think we’re taught to expect stories to have a beginning, a middle, and a definite end. Even if another story, a related story, is to follow, that doesn’t exempt the story before from needing its own ending. As an adult, I personally still demand that expectation to be fulfilled each time I open a book, and I get frustrated when it’s not.
Again, that’s not to say it’s wrong or that it’s always bad writing to use cliffhangers throughout your series and to combine your books that way. It’s an artistic decision, and the thing about art is that while some things please some people, the same things don’t please others. I do think that I, as an author, would have to have a very deliberate purpose in using a cliffhanger if I were ever to end one of my series novels that way.
Now, while the first part of my NaNoWriMo novel wouldn’t have a cliffhanger ending, the following book wouldn’t have a true and definable beginning if I were to separate it out. Not in the way I prefer. The book would have to begin with legal proceedings all related to events that occur in a different book. That’s no way to begin a novel that I’d feel comfortable with, even a series novel, which is the ONE situation when you could possibly get away with it without including big flashback scenes and making those preceding elements a major part of the book’s overall plot. Because of this, I think I’ll end up combining the parts in one novel after all. Perhaps in the future I can figure out a way to separate them, but I’m not sure it’ll happen.
So, what are your thoughts on cliff hanger endings and series novels? This is a really interesting topic to me as a fantasy writer–that genre is FULL of series–so I’d love to really get a conversation going about this if you find it interests you too.