What exactly is a Cliffhanger?

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Lately, I’ve seen people talking about cliffhangers when a book is complete.  In reality, what they’re referring to is a subplot or device used to maintain interest in a series: a lead.  Possibly even a hook.

You see, just because you want to read the next book doesn’t mean the last one ended on a cliffhanger.  Take my Rise of the Iliri series as an example.  Each book ends with an epilogue that sets up the next book in the series, making it clear what’s coming next.  In this series, every novel is basically a battle in a much larger war.  That doesn’t mean the books end on cliffhangers.

Why?  Because there is a clear beginning, middle, conflict, resolution, and ending.  Then there’s an extra hook at the end.  A cliffhanger, however, is one of those stories that might as well end with “to be continued.”  The plot of the story was NOT resolved.  What the MCs were trying to accomplish neither succeeded nor failed.  It’s still in progress.  We see this all the time with season finales on TV.  Just as you get to the point where your favorite character’s life is in danger, and you aren’t sure if they’ll survive… “To Be Continued…”

But a complete novel doesn’t have that.  BloodLust, the first book in the Rise of the Iliri series sets up the goal early on: Sal wants a place to belong.  Ideally, she wants to be an elite soldier, have her freedom, and make humans stop treating her like a second-class citizen.  Most of the book deals with this to one extent or another.  She also has a budding relationship forming, complications between her job and her species’ natural tendencies, and discrimination from humans.  Her success with her unit makes some humans uncomfortable, which comes back to those who’ve helped her.  Then, just at the very end of the book, we learn whether she was successful… or not.  Did her actions result in her losing her place – or cementing her position?  (Sorry, no spoilers here!)

But then there’s that epilogue!  Sal’s only mentioned in it, but the reader gets a glimpse of what’s happening in the background, and what Sal’s actions may have set in motion.  This brings up a NEW problem, and one she’ll have to face in the next book.  It’s a teaser, a promise that this series is about more than the one battle.  It makes the reader want more, and want it NOW.

That doesn’t make it a cliffhanger.

Now, if I’d gotten right up to the point where she gets in the big fight and stepped in the door to see if her friend was still alive… then stopped before revealing what she saw… that’s a cliffhanger.

If I’d made it so she was debating resigning her position, had her talk to her commanding officer, let him know she was leaving, and end with him saying, “We need to think this through…”  Then THAT would be a cliffhanger.

You see, in neither of the above examples is there a resolution.  There’s no ending, no way to know if the struggle we’ve been following for all those pages resolved the way we wanted (or not).  Oh sure, the war is still going on, the Emperor is still amassing his army, the humans are still discriminating against the iliri, and her love life is still unresolved… but those are all subplots.  The STORY, if broken down, is about a girl trying to find her place.  To be a complete story, we need to know if she does or does not.  All the rest is a part of the series arc.

And yeah, I know that cliffhangers are common with indie authors.  You see, it’s hard as hell to write a convincing ending without satisfying everything the reader wants to know.  If we get all the answers in the first book, why is there even a series?  Why would someone want to continue this saga?  And so, there are always some threads left hanging.  It could be a romance subplot, a character backstory issue, or so many other things.  Those are fine to leave open.  They don’t make a book end with a cliffhanger.

And ripping up a book or author for cliffhanger endings when they aren’t?  It can cripple sales, depress authors, and ruin their reputation.  Sure, some readers love that feeling of being left hanging.  Most?  They hate it.  They want a resolution for the plot of THAT book.  Don’t let your desire for the next installment come out as hurtful resentment.  This is most important with newer authors who don’t yet have a fan base and are still trying to get enough reviews to counter that omnipresent one that seems to be for a different book (because we ALL get at least one where we wonder what the hell was being read).  Just know that this is a powerful word in the literary world, and one that should be used correctly.

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THE SERIES IS COMPLETE

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This is it!  The final installment of the Wolf of Oberhame trilogy is now live!   Come, see how the story of the Gladiator Queen ends.

I know that many of my fans waited for far too long for this book, but I promised you this book, and so here it is.  Writing it wasn’t nearly as easy as I’d hoped.  The first rendition had 90% cut and restarted, but I think what came out of that is better than I could have expected.  Then again, I might be biased.

This low-fantasy saga of betrayal, love, and revenge has touched so many of you.  We’ve cheered for the gladiators, cursed them, and longed for them.  Now, we finally get to see what their fate holds, and if Luck is really as fickle as the Lion of Lenlochlien warned.

 

Forbidden Fruit

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Now that I’m waiting on the last stage of When We Were Crowned (yes, a release announcement is coming SOON!) I’m taking a mini-vacation.  Mostly reading, a little plotting, and a lot of playing.  So, in this time off, I’ve come to a realization. I will probably write something that will offend you. Yes, YOU, my favorestest of all readers. Although, I promise I’m not doing it to piss you off.
 
You see, I write to examine the human condition.  That means for every topic I show in a negative light, in another book, it will likely be given positive vibes.  Take the religious tones in Kiss of Death, as an example.  In my lineup of unreleased works, I also have a main character who is a Priest – and a damned good one.  Things like sexuality, personal identity, politics, religion, and more will likely come up.

The truth is that I don’t do this to shove my own ideas down people’s throats, but rather to examine how someone else could think that way.  Usually, a fictional someone who ends up as the main character, but still.  I’ve written about drug addicts, a highly driven woman guilty of her own sexism, a cancer survivor, and monsters.  I will write about guy on guy sex, girl on girl, polyamory, monogamy, and asexuality.  Faithful or atheistic, I don’t think it makes a person good or bad.  It’s just one of so many traits anyone can have.  How that blends into the whole is what’s really important.

But somewhere, I will hit YOUR personal pet peeve.  Doesn’t matter if that’s because the MC is 40 or 17 (I don’t write younger than that, sorry).  If it’s because the plot ends with happiness or sorrow.  Something will eventually be one of your personal “nopes”… but I hope you’ll at least give it a chance.

Granted, not everyone will like my work.  I get that, and I’m fine with it.  Still, for those who do, don’t let what someone else wrote convince you that I’m going to write it the same.  If I put a hot topic into a book, it’s because I want to see if there’s a way to bend something bad into something good, or possibly to examine how something good could end up being so bad.  I want to give my readers the chance to step out of the boundaries we’ve grown up in, and look at the other side.  To open a dialogue, if you will.

No, not because of any moral altruism.  Sorry, I’m not that benevolent.  I just think that the act of analyzing things in a new way is fun.  Yes, I like to THINK about the what ifs, and how the nuances of anything can change our perception.  I mean, the iliri are the personification of that.  I wrote them to be as far from humanity as possible, and yet still relatable – because I wanted to know if it was even possible to make that happen.

Mostly, though, it’s because we’re not SUPPOSED to talk about these things.  The taboo has an appeal that is undeniable, and I’m not the kind of person to refuse it.  Between the covers of a book, these examinations are safe and secure, kept somewhere we can walk away if it’s too much.  They also let us feel someone else’s struggles for a bit, and forget our own.  And isn’t that escapism the whole reason we all love to read?

See, every book I produce starts out with one question: what if?  Not something subtle, either.  Things like “What if Earth had a mind of its own?  How would that affect the life on its surface?”  Or “What if legendary creatures are simply evolutionary failures?  Or maybe successes?”  And then I dial it down.  If a vampire was just an evolved human, then what would one girl’s story look like?  If the planet has a mind, would s/he have children?  And I keep going down until I find the bit that makes me FEEL something.

You see, thinking and feeling go hand in hand.  One is not better than the other.  It’s like love and sex.  Sure, you can have one without the other, but when they’re paired up just right, it’s magic.  I want my books to be YOUR magic.

So, forgive me when I finally manage to offend you.  It’s not intentional.  This is just me trying to think outside the box.  Who knows, one day, maybe I’ll even find a story that has never been told before. After all, everyone needs a dream.