Wednesday, January 6, 2010


“Was he to die? The mental picture of Elfride in the world, without himself to cherish her, smote his heart like a whip. He had hoped for deliverance, but what could a girl do? He dared not move an inch. Was Death really stretching out his hand? The previous sensation, that it was improbable he would die, was fainter now.

However, Knight still clung to the cliff.”

This is the end of an excerpt from the 1873 Thomas Hardy novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes. It’s appearance in serial form in London’s Tinsley Magazine, is considered to be the origin of the term “cliffhanger.”

Although Charles Dickens often drove his fans to desperation prior to this with the serialized release of his novels, and Twain gained a great deal of his popularity by employing similar techniques for articles he published in newspapers, Hardy took it to the extreme of leaving the life or death conclusion of the novel’s character literally hanging. Other authors took notice and began to borrow the idea in their own installments. The trend really got a head of steam in the silent era of movies as producers hoped to draw audiences back by leaving their heroes on the brink of death or destruction. This trend continued in comics and television shows—-as in the season finale of Dallas with the “who shot JR?” episode.

Apparently, this technique was also employed in several modern fantasy book series. This was brought to my attention by my daughter some years ago. There are people who enjoy the suspense. For them the wait allows for a communal reflection and speculation on the future, a chance to pause and hear what others think. This can make the books more of a social event, and certainly adds to the drama. The problem I think comes from a truly killer cliffhanger and an extended wait. It was this combination that apparently irked my daughter. There are also problems associated with longer books artificially divided up, or single stories stretched across multiple releases that leave the reader feeling dropped off enroute.

When I wrote The Riyria Revelations, I sought to avoid this reader angst by creating complete stories within each novel and to reduce the delay between each release. Book series often leave many conflicts unresolved and questions unanswered, and mine is no exception. In all my preaching about independent books it was never my intent to eliminate these aspects. Rather, I designed the novels to work as episodes in a greater story arc allowing for readers to have what I hoped to be the best of both worlds, a good solid story bound in one book, and on-going suspense to create that social speculation that can add so much enjoyment and change a book into an event.

I wanted all the novels in the series to have a beginning, middle, and end that do not directly depend upon the previous or following novels. You should not be completely bewildered if you pick up a middle book first, but a great deal will nevertheless be lost if you don’t read them in order. Not the least of which is that you will learn about events covered in earlier books from books in the middle. If you then go back and read those it won’t be as much fun as if you read them in order.

Some people have mentioned that Avempartha ended in a cliff hanger, that a revelation is presented at the book’s conclusion which some saw as an enticement to read on, and yet there was no new knowledge in the closing statements made. A careful reader would have put all the pieces together already. The evidence was within the covers of the novel, I simply did not draw attention to it until that concluding conversation. The real reason for placing the statement was to ensure everyone caught the clues laid earlier.

With the publication of Nyphron Rising, the number of people mentioning “cliffhanger” have grown. I could have ended the novel a sentence shorter and eliminated the issue, or eliminated the last chapter altogether to have the novel end a bit more tidy, but I saw this as an opportunity to give the readers an added bonus.

I have a habit of staying through the credits of a movie. I listen to the closing music – look at the names of all the “little people.” And back in 1985, before it became fashionable to put something after the credits, I recall watching the movie Young Sherlock Holmes. At the end, after a lengthy list of credits the movie resumed with a sleigh arriving at an inn where Rathe, (the nemesis of the movie,) signs in with the alas James Moriarty. It appeared to signal a sequel, but none was ever made. Still it was a fun revelation. In many ways this sums up the little “bonus” scene at the end of Nyphron which is pretty neatly wrapped up at that point—-something fun to ponder.

Like the ending of Avempartha, the ending in Nyphron rising is not a ploy to encourage readers to buy the next book, (I would hope what occurred in the previous 340 pages would manage that), it’s merely where the story ends. It might sound strange to people who don’t write fiction, but books can have a mind of their own, as do characters. Once born, authors can’t always control them. When you try, the story suffers. The place that Nyphron ends is the most logical for those in the book and what they are doing.

One of the reasons I’m posting on this subject is to clarify what I’ve been saying all along which is that each book is an episode in a larger story arc. I’ve read a number of comments that suggest that critics are laying in wait for my failure to live up to my promise of no cliffhangers and independent novels .The next two books in the series will really put this issue to the test. The Emerald Storm and Wintertide will not end as “neatly tied up” as those which preceded them, and yet they do have complete stories with resolved conclusions.

With this out of the way I can get back to work on this pesky last part of Emerald Storm. I’m trying to get the wording just right…

“Were they to die? The two thieves had hoped for deliverance, but neither dared move an inch. Was Death really stretching out his hand? The previous sensation, that it was improbable they would die, was fainter now.

However, Royce and Hadrian still clung to the cliff.”

Robin is frowning.

What? I thought that was funny.

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