Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In the End.

No, today's entry is not brought to you by Linkin Park. Unless you really want it to be.

Many years ago, I read a book that didn't end.  I don't mean that literally - it had a last page, there was a place where the story stopped.  But that's the problem.  The story didn't actually end, it just stopped.

I don't remember the book's title, but it started with this surreal dreamscape, and that's what drew me in.  Most of the story was the tale of one man's life, the man who lived in the surreal place, as told to the person who'd come to kill him.  (Why the assassin didn't just kill him, I don't remember.)  And most of that life story?  Sucked.  Seriously, this guy had a horrible life.  But it was interesting enough to keep reading, right up until the last page.

Because the last page cut things off without warning, without any closure, with nothing but an author's aside saying that the main character's story would continue in the next volume.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I don't believe the author owes the reader anything but the best damn story they can tell.  The reader is not entitled to have the story go their way, to see their favorite couple get together, to dictate the course of any sequels, to have any influence on the writing process at all.  To paraphrase Mr. Gaiman, the writer is not your bitch.

BUT.  I feel the writer owes it to their readers to not leave them hanging completely.

This is especially important when it's the first book of a series.  The first book's ending needs to bring things to a close.  It can promise all kinds of future stories, any number of adventures to come, any amount of trouble still remaining for the cast to get into.  But I don't think it's at all fair to leave the reader completely hanging, to not end (even temporarily) what was begun.

There's also the fact that sequels aren't guaranteed.  I read an anecdote from when Robert Jordan was writing the first book of what would become the Wheel of Time series, and his wife commented that one of the characters wasn't doing anything important.  When Mr. Jordan said that character would be important in the second book, she reminded him that there might not be a second book.  He removed the character.  I think this is the biggest problem with a first book not having a true ending - there's no way to know if the payoff will ever come, if there will ever be a conclusion.  Cliffhangers in an established series are fine, just not right from the beginning.

It's just not fair to actively refuse to finish what you start.  The reader has invested their time and money.  You don't owe them an ending they like.  But you do owe them an ending.

Next entry: IWSG, wherein I'll talk about getting all flustered over just some minor critique and how big of a fool I feel like because of it.  Yeesh.


  1. I agree with you for the most part. I don't mind cliffhanger endings, so long as the sequel follows very soon and the pace of the plot doesn't feel like a drag-it-out-for-$$ series. But even with cliffhangers, there's usually some feeling of closure (or at least change/evolving) regarding minor things. I guess it depends on the story.

    What you described, however, doesn't sound like that. I doubt I would have liked it either.

    Great post. :)

    1. Thank you. ^_^ I have read a cliffhanger with closure, but only one, and that was when almost everything in the story had been tied up, but the book ended with the main character getting shot. But that was in a long-running series, so it worked, because I knew there was going to be a next book.

      I did rant about it, though, because damn, that was an EVIL cliffhanger.

  2. You know, I've read books that just stopped, and I admit to not minding some of the time (I'm looking at you Tolkien!). But those stories were cut off because of time and size constraints, you knew going in that this book was a single piece because the rest of the story literally didn't fit in the same book.

    In my opinion, that's fine.

    But when you have these giant epics and they show no signs of stopping, well, I start to wonder if they should be writing for sit coms with the all important reset button (see also comic books that make me want to scream).

    So yeah, I agree, you need an end, the promise of an end, or at the very least, the shape of the arc so the reader understands that they really opened a 1000 page epic and not some 400 page story that's going to come back around. (Crap, am I saying "truth in advertising"? Latunda would shoot me).

    1. Agreed; I think Tolkien's a separate case because his series was written as one book, and the publisher wanted it split up. So there was no worrying about whether or not there would be a second book.

      And yes, YES about overlong giant epics. That's why I stopped reading most comics - no end in sight, changing of creators, too much stuff never getting resolved. I love some creator-owned comics, though, because it's one person writing it and they decide how the story goes. I'm fine with long book epics, as long as the writer says they're going to end it someday. Even the Dresden Files would get old eventually if it never ended.

      Also: that's funny that you worry about Latunda shooting you. :P Dae still demands to exist, and if this year's novels go well, she'll get her wish, or at least part of it. Bwa ha ha.

  3. Replies
    1. Yep! Even if it just means the current issue is done with and promises more to come.

  4. LOL, I like that paraphrase of Gaiman (and I love him, too). I'm with you - some closure is important, as is some cliffhanging to make us all want to go out and get the next book. I'd say you're doing just fine in that department with TAW! :)

    1. Thank you! I think endings can be difficult to write, as I don't think an "everything's okay now" sort of thing really works. But even that's better than nothing.