Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, November 20, 2006

Angry Readers Hang Author in Effigy

I received this e-mail the other day regarding my latest book, Dead on Arrival.

Why did you end that book like that? When are you going to finish it? I liked the book very much until the last paragraph.

Now, mind you, this is not the first person who made this comment, nor do I expect her to be the last. In fact I’d say I heard the same thing at least six times during my two book signings over the weekend. But truth be told, that is exactly the response I was hoping for. Let me explain.

I absolutely hated the 2nd Pirates of the Caribbean movie. In fact I nearly loathed it. Two reasons. The biggest reason by far, is that I thought the script was incredibly weak and choppy considering that the writers had so much to work with. I’ll go see the next one on the strength of the first movie alone. Had this been the first POC, I would never have bothered to come back.

The second reason is that—in my mind at least—there is a big difference between ending with a cliff hanger and stopping the movie/book halfway through. What was actually wrapped up in the movie? Nothing as far as I can see. The director basically took a five hour movie and stopped it halfway through. Chris Heimerdinger did the same thing with one of his Tennis Shoes books, and I, along with many others was ticked.

I enjoy a multi-part story or a series that carries from one book to another. But I think it is a rip-off to stop a story halfway through and then say, “Wait a year and you can pay to finish.”

I don’t think that’s what I did in my book. At least that wasn’t the intent. I have a specific formula that I am trying to adhere to in my Shandra books.

a) Locked room type of beginning where the reader goes, “How can that possibly be. I sure want to see how the author manages to pull this off.
b) Aha moments where the reader figures some key point just before the author reveals it.
c) Lots of twists and turns.
d) Edge of your seat ending with people in peril.
e) Mystery is wrapped up.
f) Cliffhanger that leads into the next book.

So when people say, “I hate series books because I don’t to be left hanging,” I can say, “Not a problem. Each mystery stands on its own and is a complete story.” However, I want people to have a pressing reason to read the next book. The cliffhangers may not always be as big as the one in this book. But the goal is to have the reader respond exactly as the above reader did. “I loved the book. I wanted more when it stopped. When is the next one coming out?”

To me that is a success. In essence, it is what I try to do with every chapter. And in this case, the story had to end there. I raised a major story line in DOA that can not be resolved satisfactorily in one book. I could have left it hanging or I could have tied it in a neat bow. But to me those are rip-offs. What happens in the last chapter happens because it must.

And the good news for all those angry readers is that Covenant is going to do an early release of the next book. Hopefully late Spring early Summer. The bad news is, expect another cliffhanger.


At 11/21/2006 9:17 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Effigy is just west of Panguitch, right? All those little-Mormon- town names confuse me. Don't get me started on Toelle. :-)

I think you wrapped up DOA beautifully. That you began another book before the back cover didn't bother me. Well, it didn't bother me enough to make me hurl the book through the window or rip out the last chapter. I merely pounded your author photo against the end table a couple of times and felt much better about everything.

Mostly, however, it made me anxious for the next installment. Good ploy, Jeff. (She said grudgingly.) I'm one of the thousands who are VERY glad to hear the news about an early release of the next Covington mystery!

At 11/21/2006 12:20 PM, Anonymous rakrose said...

Despite my "I hate Jeff Savage" comments which I plastered all over the internet, I thought your ending was very clever. I'm sure your publisher did too. Great marketing tool.

And I, too, am glad to hear about the early release of the next book.

At 11/21/2006 5:03 PM, Blogger FHL said...

Is it still a cliffhanger if I know the last paragraph is going to be a cliffhanger? I suppose I could choose to not read the last paragraph. (Yeah, right. I have THAT kind of self-control.)

On the other hand, I could choose to start the 1000+ page book I got for my birthday - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (anyone read it?) By the time I'm done, the next SC book should be out, so I can read this one. But then...

I guess a cliffhanger is kind of like a dereferenced pointer.

*sigh* Thank goodness for the upcoming long weekend! Much thanks giving!

At 11/21/2006 5:08 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

I tried to read JS&MN but after wading through 200 pages of nothing, really struggled. I have to assume it gets better, but man, talk about slow. It's written like something penned 200 years ago.

At 11/22/2006 4:34 AM, Blogger FHL said...

You're just trying to get me to read DoA, aren't you?

At 11/22/2006 11:20 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Of course! Actually I've heard so many good things about it that I'll probably dig it up one day and finish it. Let me know where it starts getting better when you read it. On the other side of the coin, I picked up Fablehaven the other day to read to my kids and we LOVED it. Very funny, with lots of unexpected turns. Great descriptions and a wonderful imagination. This guy is an amazingly talented writer and it's his first book.

At 11/24/2006 1:38 AM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

I admit, I sent Jeff a hate e-mail. Well, it wasn't really hate, it was more of an "I'm mad at you." But it wasn't real anger, it was more like, frustration. And that, my friends, is what makes a suspense writer good. Jeff did exactly what Jeff is supposed to do -- he left us in suspense, wanting more. Kudos and applause.

Oh, and I also told him that my mom is mad at him too. As for her motives, I'm not sure. Maybe she really is mad. I don't know. I'll have to ask her.

At 12/03/2006 11:22 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I'm a bit split on the issue, because yes--the cliffhanger did a great job in raising people's attention level and wanting more.

BUT (okay, don't hate me, Jeff--you know I luv yer guts and Shandra's, too), it did feel to me like a ploy, a tool used specifically to make me gasp, shock me, and make me beg for more.

I was shocked. Not sure if I gasped. But instead of making me want more, I thought, "Well, that's a cheap shot." I don't like feeling manipulated as a reader, and I felt manipulated, tricked. In part, it made me remember I'm reading a fictional account written by someone who wants to play with my emotions--and do so with a handy formula. Shandra and friends became less real than the writer behind her.

The cliffhanger at the end of the first Shandra book is the kind I like--it was just enough of a tease to make me hungry for the next book without feeling manipulated and wanting to throw the thing against the wall.

I'd venture to guess that some of that "hate" mail really isn't what you're hoping for, but instead other people who felt cheated in the same way.

But it sounds like the ending has worked in the series' favor and has got a lot of people excited about the next installment. So you're obviously doing a lot of things right.

At 12/04/2006 12:02 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...


I would agree with your comments if having Bobby get shot was just a ploy to get people to read the next book. But that was mostly a side benefit.

The truth is that Bobby and Brooklyn getting engaged is a key element in moving their possible relationship forward. How do you end a book with that hanging? Do you just leave them hanging out there somewhere? The ultimate loose end. Do you have the break up? Awfully convenient and yet not very realistic.

I need a major event that will help Bobby, Shandra, and Brooklyn make some important decisions in their life. Could I have started the next book with that instead? Yes, but that’s not the main storyline of Book 3, which it would be if I started it with that.

All of my books will end with a cliffhanger that points out the direction of the next book. It that a literary ploy? Probably as much as any of the tools we use to make strong stories. Interestingly enough the “hate mail” I get always includes the fact that people love the book and are anxious to read the next one. I can live with that kind of hate.



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