Is it a Series? : A Continuing Narrative Part 1

Alright, so I think I’ve finally come up with a valid post to fly under the flag of the “Is it a series?” series of Virtual Writing Seminar posts.

This was going to be a part of “my writing process,” until I realized it isn’t a part of my writing process. It’s a part of my planning process, and the reason I plan in this way is because I want my stories (chiefly in the Black Womb series) to function as a continuing story as well as individual novels. So today, we’re going to be talking about the process of crafting good endings, continuing narratives, and cliffhangers for your stories. 😉

And the illusion wouldn’t be complete unless the blog post itself was also a multiple-parter. So it is. 😉

I’ve always been of the mind that stories should be somewhat self contained. If someone planks down 10-30 dollars for your story, it had damn well better be a complete story. If for some reason your story must continue beyond the confines on the novel, make sure you end with a cliffhanger. A good cliffhanger. One that actually makes the readers’s jaw drop.

I know this sounds obvious. But if it were really obvious I wouldn’t read so many continuing series novels where this rule is butchered, beaten, or otherwise ignored.

But if you honestly believe the cliffhanger is the best choice on how to end your story (against my advice) lets do it right.

The first way is to simply end at the climax. See below:

20120219-165435.jpg

Point 3 here would be the climax. So up to this point you’ve introduced yours characters, their various individual and sub plots, established the conflict, and built that conflict up to the point where your characters and the situation are at their climax. Now, stop.

You can see why that’s not popular with me.

But if you’re set at doing it, make sure in the sequel you also introduce your characters, their situations, their plots (they should have things to do in the continuing narrative as well). The trick here is to resolve the climax from the previous novel in such a way that either the threat is amplified or a greater threat is introduced. Otherwise there’s nowhere to go. Then you need to bring this new threat to climax and resolution… Unless you’re cliff-hanging this one too.

I must advise not to do this in continuous succession. Readers will grow tired of it quickly, I know this reader does. And the longer you make me wait, the bigger and better you’re going to have to make the final payoff.

The only really good examples I can think of for these are the old Marvel novels from the late 90s. Greg Cox wrote the ones I’m thinking of, I believe. One example was Time’s Arrow: The Past, which ends with the heroes saving all of time… But with Spider-Man and Bishop trapped in 1892 in the process. Then the following novel features a completely different story with them escaping to an alternate world and having to get home. The two stories have vastly different plots, tones, and narratives, yet they complimented each other perfectly.

The other example, also by Cox, was in the second novel of his Gamma Quest trilogy. The whole novel the heroes (mainly Iron Man, if I recall) were battling a cadre of intelligent robots, and at the climax finally defeated them… Only to discover that they were “walking, talking, gamma bombs!” and that defeating them had activated them!

Great example of how to use cliffhangers right. However, these were trilogies, each with their own other cliffhangers. I remember those being not so great, and in each series the formulae had bored me by the third book… So beware….

To be continued!
Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

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