Monday, January 7, 2013

Hanging From a Cliff...

A man foolishly goes hiking alone in the mountains, when suddenly he becomes surrounded by fog, loses his footing, and stumbles. He grabs a branch at the last minute and holds on, but he lacks the strength to pull himself up. Looking down, all he can see is fog, and he knows he's in a particularly steep area of the mountain. With nothing else to do and no other resources to call on, he starts to pray, "God, please get me out of here."

A moment later a voice comes out of the fog, "Do you trust me?"

"Who are you?"

"I am an experienced climber. I'm here on the mountain with you. Do you trust me?"

Not sure what else to do, the man says, "Sure."

Then the voice replies, "There is a ledge five feet below you. Let go of the branch, and you will land safely."

After looking around and thinking about it a moment, the man says, "Is there anyone else down there?"

I am a big fan of cliff-hanger endings. Whether it comes as a hook at the end of a chapter, or a hook at the end of a story that leads you into another series, I like to keep the reader hanging on for dear life until the story comes to its breathless conclusion.

That being said, I learned a somewhat painful lesson the other day, and as big a fan I am of cliff-hangers, I'm an even bigger fan of learning from my mistakes and sharing them with others.

The lesson came in the form of a one star review from one of my readers. The reviewer wrote the following:
I've found the end extremely unsatisfying, evil, cruelly hopeless and not worth all the reading I invested. Very, very disappointing, like a slap in the face.

I feel betrayed and I don't think I will ever read anything from that author again. If I could give no star at all I would. I've got it for free, and I think it wasn't even worth THAT.
Ouch! What could have prompted such ire? I'd received many kudos for the book, the story, the writing--you name it. No, the problem was the cliff that I'd left this poor reader dangling from was shrouded in fog. I did not give the reader a ledge to land on, and simply expected him to keep hanging on to that branch of an ending without any hope that the story would continue, that the conflicts would resolve and all would be right with the world.

In this case, that could have simply been resolved by providing a sample chapter of the second book in the series, so the reader would know there's more to come. Since then, I've gone back and added the sample chapter into the book and kindle file, and even posted a "mea culpa" on my blog with the sample chapter included for those who felt similarly betrayed. The irony is that most of my serial books include a sample anyway, but for some reason, I neglected to include it in this one.

Regardless, the point is simple: if you're going to leave your reader on a cliff, give them a place to stand while you finish the next book.

Don't leave them hanging from a branch.
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1 comment:

  1. Goodness, I thought you were in my local writer's group for a moment, as I started to critique a member's memoir of hiking in the Himalayas. My editor for a book had the same questions, and my response was, well, I have to give something to look forward to in the next book, right? But that's the crux - your reader has to have a platform to wait for the rope. Good advice, Michael! Thank you.