Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cliffhangers Part 2

Okay, I’ve still got fifty-one minutes to get my post in on Monday. What a wild and fun week. Thursday my oldest got married in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple. It was amazing to sit so that I could watch her eyes and those of her husband to be as they were sealed together for time and all eternity. Didn’t cry, but it was close. Great reception afterward, which ended with the most amazing double rainbow of all time. They are a great couple. So yeah, I guess I am officially old now. I can live with that.

On another front, I got back the edits on Farworld Book Two, Land Keep. All good. Nothing major. So I’ve been listening to lots of classic rock as I go through all the revisions. Should have artwork by the end of this month or early next month. This frees me up to finish Shandra Book 3 (will turn it in by end of next week at latest) and a couple of other projects I have been working on. Not to mention trying my hand at tiling the kitchen floor, and building shelves downstairs.

Speaking of Shandra Book 3, currently titled A Time to Die, I saw that my dear, dear friend Julie again called me out on the ending of book two, under the thinly veiled guise of complaining about cliff-hangers. Since I haven’t defended myself for leaving B bleeding on the floor at the end of Dead on Arrival for at least a couple of years, let’s jump back in.
(NOTE: I really don’t mind Julie calling me out. We’ve had this discussion more than once. But I thought it might be fun for readers to know what goes on behind the scenes when creating a series that has one or more cliffhangers. It might not be what you think.)
First, let me say that I have no problem with cliff-hangers at all under a couple of conditions:

First, the story itself must have ended. Bad guy caught, good guy saved, girl and guy together, etc. If it is a mystery, solve the mystery. If it’s a romance, complete the couple, etc. I hate books that do what Pirates of the Caribbean did with the second movie. That’s not a cliff-hanger, that’s one long movie cut in half.

In my opinion, a cliffhanger is something exciting at the end of a chapter or book that gives me a hint (or more than a hint) at what the next book or chapter will be about. It gives me something to look forward to.

Second, the cliffhanger must actually fit into the story line. It cannot be just a cheap device to sell more of the next book. This is where I seem to have lost some readers. I have received a few angry e-mails saying that leaving B in a pool of blood is just my way of trying to sell more books. I’m sorry, I just don’t see the logic with that. If you read book 2 and liked it, you will probably read book 3. If you didn’t like book 2 or didn’t read it, you probably won’t read book 3 anyway, so what is the point?

The cliffhanger will not sell more copies of book three. In fact as some of you pointed out, many people won’t read a series until all the books are out. Which means they’ll have a ball reading twenty-six books when Sue Grafton writes her Z book—assuming she ever does. Of course, I have to wonder if these people refuse to put presents under the tree because the pressure of having to wait until December 25th is just too much. Do they tape all the episodes of American Idol so they don’t have to wait a whole week to see who gets kicked off next? How do they have children knowing they’ll have to wait many, many years to see how it all turns out?

Sorry. It’s just that I don’t make the stories. I start a movie in my head and then I try as best as I can to record what I see playing. I don’t tell my characters what to do, they tell me what to write. I try to create outlines, but most of the time the story refuses to stay inside the lines. And personally, I happen to love reading books in a series, even if it means waiting on pins and needles for the next book to come out.

If you haven’t read the Shandra Covington mysteries, you can stop reading the post now, because it probably won’t make any sense to you. But if you have, and think the end was a rip off, please read on. Here I explain why book two ends the way it does.

At the end of book 2, B is in love with a woman named Brooklyn. This is not the woman most readers want B to fall in love with. B’s romance with Brooklyn plays a fairly prominent role in book 2 because B is Shandra’s best friend. And some people have the crazy notion that someday B and Shandra could get together.

B also happens to be a police officer. At the end of book 2 he passed his detective exam. For book three to work, it was necessary for B to get shot. Let me repeat that it was NECESSARY for the storyline of book 3. It wasn’t a “hey this will be cool and make everyone read book three” thing. It was a part of the overall storyline that filled my head when I first thought up the series.

Could I have had B shot at the beginning of book 3? Sure, but since it is a mystery, readers would expect that B’s shooting somehow ties into the mystery that makes up book 3’s plot. It does not. It is inherent to the storyline of book 3 in that Shandra is without the support of her best friend and comes into direct conflict with Brooklyn for Shandra’s part in B’s shooting. So what to do?

In my mind, it was clear. Get it out of the way in book two. Is this uncommon? Since virtually every prime time thriller ends with something explosive in the season finally, I would say no. Was it a bigger cliffhanger than many books? Sure. Was it some kind of trick to force readers to buy book three? Well if it was, it totally backfired since I haven’t even finished book three.
No it was not a trick. It was not a ploy. It was not even a device. It was part of the story. It’s what happened in my head when the story came to be. I don’t make this stuff up, really. I could no more change it than I could force one of my characters to act a way they wouldn’t. And you know, if people are still talking about a book that came out three years ago. The story must have been okay.

With all that said, to everyone who has waited all this time to find out what happened to B in book 3, I apologize profusely. I did not plan on it taking this long. The good news is, I turn in the story next week and Covenant has promised to do all they can to fast track it. The other good news is that I think everyone will love the end. Hope it’s been worth the wait!

Whew! Done with six minutes to spare.


At 6/16/2009 12:36 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Awesome wedding pic, and congratulations!

Also, congratulations to us that soon we'll be reading the next Shandra. Oh, and just so you know, I was mildly perturbed at the ending of book 2 but it was mostly jealously over your brilliance.

At 6/16/2009 4:39 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Great wedding picture. You better get that Shandra book in, or else . . . :-)

At 6/16/2009 6:54 PM, Blogger Josi said...

Congrats on the wedding and the edits and being old enough to enjoy both :-) I'm so glad the wedding went well--super cute pic.

As to Shandra--I have book two but haven't read it because I heard about the ending. When book three comes out I will gladly lock myself in a closet and read them both :-)

At 6/16/2009 7:46 PM, Anonymous mean aunt said...

I had heard about "the cliffhanger" so I was prepared for it--and totally missed it. The story had been wrapped up when it happened.

It reminded me of the old Nancy Drew ploy of announcing the next book on the last page.

At 6/17/2009 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely photo.

I discovered House of Secrets quite by accident as I was browsing around on goodreads one day.
I felt betrayed - like it was a delightful secret everyone had been keeping from me.
Still trying to get my hands on book two, but Hooray that you are doing another one!

At 6/17/2009 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, no! I will not wait until all of the FarWorlds are written and published before I read the current release. At the end of Water Keep that part of the story ended, and you gently lead us toward the next adventure. You made me want to read your next book because of the love I had for the characters you created and the talent you have with storytelling, and not because of an odious cliffhanger.

I’ve learned from past experience that there is no guarantee of another book, and it tore at my heart thinking that poor Bobby would lie dying forever in my mind because of those chosen words. Those are the kinds of cliffhangers that I’d rather not read. As it stands, I’ll need to go back and re-read Dead on Arrival to get back some of the positive emotion I had before the last gut-wrenching scene.


At 6/17/2009 11:36 PM, Blogger Sheila said...

That was an A+ explanation for the cliffhanger. You pass and I am very happy with it! I can't wait for book 3.

BTW, I have a fan letter from one of my 2nd graders that is reading Waterkeep right now. After every chapter he runs up to me and wants to talk about what he has read. This is a lot of fun for me. I will get the letter to you sometime. Actually, the "letter" was a book report where they had to write a letter to an author of the book they were currently reading. Alex was so excited to tell me that he had written his report about your book.

Your daughter looked beautiful!! So happy for them.

At 6/18/2009 1:00 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Jeff,congrats to your daughter and WOOHOO for the Shandra book 3 manuscript finally being in! If you ever need a test reaader, I'm available. Haha.

Great explanation of the author's point of view on cliffhangers, by the way. You have me convinced.

At 6/18/2009 1:01 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

That should be test reader. I got so excited at hearing of the manuscript being in, my fingers were flying over the keyboard!

At 6/19/2009 12:00 AM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...

You guys are all awesome. Thank you so much for the wonderful comments. I'll tell you what. Once the edits are done, let's do a contest for a bound manuscript or two before the book comes out!


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