Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cliffhangers

I recently read a much anticipated sequel to a book I adored. I waited. I counted the days and hours. I checked my Kindle every hour after midnight on the release date until the book finally showed up at three AM.

I was ultimately disappointed in a big way. So disappointed I was kind of mad about it. It's been a week and I'm still a bit put out. I trolled reviews on Amazon to see what this author's other minions had to say and about half of them agreed with me.

So what was the letdown? Sophomore slump? Overhype? There did seem to be a bit of the "second book syndrome." First books go through years of loving care and pruning, critiqued by friends, romans, and creative writing groups who lend us their eyes, but the second published book goes through a much smaller albeit more elite funnel. On the whole, though, the wit and voice I loved so much in the first book was still there. It should have gone down on my list as "pretty darn good but the first one was better. Still can't wait for the next."

Instead, I've been fighting the urge to post a "WHY did you do this to us/What were you thinking?" message on an author blog. Damn if she didn't throw in a big, fat, old fashioned, soap opera style FRIGGIN' CLIFFHANGER.

I get that not everyone breaks out into hives over cliffhangers. I do. BUT. They are kind of like politics. Whether you are for or against, half the room is going to disagree with you. Safer to stay away from it altogether as far as I'm concerned.

As a reader I feel cheated if the story doesn't feel resolved, or at the very least paused. Cliffhangers just feel...truncated. Like you ran out of paper before you got through. There are two possible reasons to employ such an ending. One, the story you have to tell is longer than the book you have been contracted to write. If this is the case then suck it up and figure out how to make your story tighter. Two, it's a cheap trick to manipulate me into buying your next book.

I was going to buy it anyway. So was everybody else. I'm still going to buy it, but now I feel a little bitter about it. I'm also advising anyone who hasn't read books one and two to wait until the third publishes.

21 comments:

  1. To what book are you referring?

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  2. I felt this way last summer after I had anticipated the final installment of a three-part series. The book ended in a way that made the whole series of events NOT happen. (it was a time travel series). I was so sad. And I had love this series. I still do, but I was so upset!

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  3. lol but we don't even know which book you're talking about :D

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  4. Rick and Glen: Unless my comments are favorable or neutral, I don't do book reviews or anything close here on the blog. I hope mine will be out there one day and I certainly imagine it won't all be love letters but still. It's bound to sting when someone tells anyone who will listen how much you suck and no one should spend the money.

    I didn't name the book, but my response to the cliffhanger would apply to any story that got similar treatment.

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  5. Kris: Oh. That is so not an option. The old "it was all a dream sequence" thing has got to be even worse than the cliffhanger!

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  7. Yes, but my comment was in reference to this line you wrote: "I'm also advising anyone who hasn't read books one and two to wait until the third publishes."

    How how we supposed to wait for the third if we don't know what the first or second is? Your advice is a little ... vague

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  8. Ok, I just read your message. Sorry didn't see it before I posted the comment above. Lol now I understand what you mean. My sister told me the same thing about the book two :D

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  9. @ Glen: Ha! I meant in my personal circle of friends. I never advise against buying a book on an internet forum. It's just kind of mean.

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  10. yeah it is mean advising people not to buy books. One man's food is another man's poison. Other people might love what others hated about a book. That's how the world works lol

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  11. I also hold to the mantra of "if I didn't like it, I'm not going to say what it is" and I write actual reviews for a book review site. Aaaaand that's the main reason why I recently went two full months without contributing a review: I didn't like anything I read during those weeks. Sad.

    Anyway, I know this can't be the same book or series or author that you're referring to here, but I had a very similar experience about a month ago. I waited and waited and waited for book two, all high on anticipation, then couldn't get past the first 15 pages once it was in my hands. Again, sad. Especially since that is one of my all-time favorite authors.

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  12. I agree. Each book must stand on its own.

    I've started series in the middle before and if I liked that book, I went back and got the first ones. This author might keep current readers buying, but there's an issue here with getting new ones.

    Food for thought.

    And good for you for not naming the author. It is a universal concept and doesn't need to be specific.

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  13. Oh, Lydia. That is too depressing for words, both the two month drought of review-worthy books AND the awaited sequel disappointment. I've never yet had that happen to me with a series I liked. Sure, some books rose above others but not an outright could not finish. I have had it happen with authors, but not in the same series.

    Sarah: Ditto. I've jumped in the middle as well. I try to avoid it but sometimes you're an overnight guest somewhere, browsing someone else's bookshelf, and you take what's available. You bring up a good point about attracting new readers on the merit of a middle book. Had I through some circumstance read the second book first, in this particular case, I would most likely not have read any others.

    To a certain extent, I think even each chapter should stand on its own. That doesn't mean a complete story arc in every chapter, like Anne of Green Gables, but definitely a cue that the scene is over or changing or something is going to happen next but not happening yet. Cliffhangers in chapters are fine (obvs!) but even then should be sparing. I get annoyed when every single chapter ends with the high drama info drop, as well.

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  14. I recently picked up a book that I didn't know was the second book of a series. There was no indication of that on the cover, or anywhere on the book--I checked after I began reading. Why did I check? Because I was so confused to be dropped into this world, where the rules were not ever explained. It was fairie stuff, and I had not read fairie before. And I kept thinking--is this common knowledge? It was such a frustrating experience, and made me NOT want to go back and read the first one. And it was written well. It just couldn't stand alone.

    And, I do the same thing--I won't name a book that I didn't like...

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  15. Laurel, you are such a tease. I hope that if you like the third book, you will return to let us know what the series is. After all, once all three books are in print, a cliffhanger at the end of book two is less of a problem, right?

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  16. Great post Laurel!

    I think that everyone has said what I wanted to express...BUT...I hate the unresolved ending EVEN MORE when I'm watching a film at the cinema. At least with a book, if I have got to the end it means that I like it and will probably buy the sequel. However, if I have paid to watch a film and then after an hour or so am left HANGING...I get outraged!!!
    Now THAT'S really like coitus interruptus...

    GGGRRRRRrrrr!!!

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  17. I recently finished the second book in a series and just now read the first book. I wasn't sure what order they came in until halfway through the first book when I realized these were characters from the second book. But they're minor characters in the second book and both are complete stories. Have 2 more books in that series ready to be devoured.

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  18. @Pete: Absolutely!

    @Ann Marie: Oh,yeah. Totally in your court.

    @Sarah: You illustrate your own point beautifully. If each book stands on its own merit, future buyers will go not only forwards for resolution but backwards for backstory. Or just to spend more time in a compelling universe with interesting people.

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  19. @ Heather: Oh. Noes. Dreadful to be so lost when reading a book that you're not sure you speak the lingo. Ick.

    Of course I love urban fantasy. It's not exactly top secret. The best books, unquestionably,stand on their own merit and give the reader enough information to orient herself to the world she's reading, no matter where in the series, world, or mythological universe she may be.

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  20. I agree with you. Some books I don't mind ending with a cliffhanger . . . just don't make me wait 2 + years for the sequel. But most of the ends must be tied up before the cliffhanger ending. Oh, and the next book better live up to expectation . . . otherwise you've lost me for life.

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  21. Stina: Sing it! If you do me dirty with a cliffhanger you had better deliver big time in the next book.

    I've been going over and over this stupid book in my mind. I think I would have been alright if the cliffhanger info in the end had been put into the first chapter of the next book and included. (The book does include the first chapter of the next, which is fallout from the ending of this story.) But I crave that wrap up of one story before going to the next adventure.

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