Today on Gillian Talks About Things Like She Knows What She's Talking About, I'm going to discuss something that's been bothering me lately: cliffhangers.
Quick, someone save it! Someone save the little gender-free stick person before it plunges into an Acknowledgments page without first resolving his or her plot arc!
1. a melodramatic adventure serial in which each installment ends in suspense in order to interest the reader or viewer in the next installment
2. an ending to an episode of a serial drama that leaves the audience in suspese
3. literary blue balls
Okay, so that third defintion probably wouldn't fly for Merriam Webster, but in the Gillian Berriam dictionary, it's pretty accurate, at least in regards to my last two reads.
After the End by Amy Plum was a hit-or-miss read for me that totally picked up steam in the second half, at least until I was ejected off the train with no warning (aka I swiped to the next page in my e-ARC and came face to face with that cruel and final Acknowledgements page). The Falconer by Elizabeth May, however, had me by the heart. I loved everything about it. And then it simply decided to STOP and I WASN'T READY FOR IT TO BE OVER. And not in the way I like to feel at the end of a great book. More in the way like, "Wait, but the story's not over. No, seriously, come back here. COME BACK."
Joey: Rachel's pregnant?! Who's the father?
Phoebe: We don't know.
Joey: Ohhh. I wonder if it's that dude.
Monica: There's a dude?
Phoebe: Who? Who is it?
Joey: Well, about a month ago this guy spent the night with Rachel. I didn't see who it was, but...
Joey: *leaves the room*
Phoebe: Was that story over?
Phoebe and Monica: *follow*
Joey, holding a red sweater: The guy left this.
Phoebe, taking the sweater: Oh my God! I know who the father is!
Phoebe: *leaves the room*
|Monica: People have GOT to finish their stories!|
In After the End (more like After the NON End), we're left with a major character's life in jeopardy and the main thrust of the novel unresolved. It felt like the action paused in the middle of act three, in that part riiiiight after the protagonist's nadir. Have no idea what I'm talking about? Let's look at this handy dandy plot arc chart:
It's not a hard and fast rule that all books must follow this classic structure, but generally, they do. See that dip there near the end? That's the low point, where everything needs to be really, really bad before going up OMG CLIMAX and things start to get good again. After the End cut off right after the low point and well before the climax. It felt like we were moving towards something big, but--surprise--tune in next
Again, I don't want to rag on these books. I ADORED The Falconer and am basically ordering you to read it because KIARAN, but it also made me think about why some cliffhangers work for me (Siege and Storm, to sort of name one) and why some don't. I think the biggest difference is that the main arc of the narrative of the first book feels complete. It needs to feel like it's own VOLUME, instead of a truncated part of a larger story. It can't feel like one story chopped into thirds, but like three stories that make up one bigger story. You feel me?
|Thanks, creepy soulless sharkbeast.|
It's another part of why Harry Potter works so well as a series-- each volume works so well as a novel. There are overarching mysteries that last the whole series, but the ones of central import to each installment are solved in that installment. Harry doesn't seize the Triwizard cup on the last page of Goblet of Fire and then show up in that graveyard in the opening chapter of The Order of the Phoenix. IMAGINE IF SHE DID THAT. Ten-year-old Gillian would have THROWN things.
Okay, so mostly this was a post to rant about how unsatisfying it is to invest in a story and not get the emotional and intellectual payoff you wanted, and less of an intellectual "how do we fix this?" problem. Probably because it's a matter of taste, and to some people it's not a problem. Lots of people love cliffhangers. They love waiting a whole nine months to find out who shot J.R. And most of the time, I think there's nothing wrong with that.
What about you? Are you a cliffhanger lover or hater? What was the last non-ending that made you scream? Or, you know, frown slightly, since you're probably a bit more emotionally balanced than I am, and you probably don't yell at inanimate objects as much.