Lately, there have been a spate of novel series with cliffhanger endings. The writer employs a cheesy radio gimmick, where just as the hero is about to be executed by the villain, the program abruptly ends with, “if you want to find out just what happens next, tune in tomorrow.” While no one likes a cliffhanger ending, the radio audience was probably a little more tolerant of such show-nanigans. After all, they only had to wait a day and it wasn’t costing them anything but their patience. But your readers have to wait longer than a day to get a resolution to the dilemma you’ve left them with. Even a quickly churned out book would take a month—and it wouldn’t be terribly good at that, so half-baked. Worse, you’re asking your readers to shell out another X in hard-earned cash just to see if Dick escapes Harry’s clutches, something you should have resolved before writing “The End.”
So how to do you keep a reader’s interest without resorting to this sort of shabby trick?
By providing your reader with some resolution of the problem you’ve presented in your piece. In the above example, Dick may escape Harry’s clutches, but fail to neutralize Harry. Or he may neutralize Harry, only to learn that he isn’t the mastermind of the evil plan. The next book could follow him in his attempt to capture the true villain. Warning: that trick only works once. You shouldn’t have a whole series of books where Dick pursues and subdues a laundry list of sub-villains posing as the big boss. After the second falsie, readers are going to begin losing their patience with you, the writer.
My Dark Brethren Series is split into four parts. While the overarching goal is a HEA for my heroes (it’s a gay romance), each book has a specific goal.
In the first book, Owen Adler is determined to save his husband from falling into the hands of their shared enemy, his elder brother, Kurt. The means he uses to accomplish that goal are quite satisfying, though the couple are not reunited at the end of the book.
In the second book, Owen Adler endeavors to win his freedom from his evil master so he can return to his husband. When he discovers he can’t do that by playing by the “bad guy’s” rules, he abandons all he’s gained, though it might mean death, in the hope of succeeding by his own methods.
In the third book, a confused Jacek (Owen’s husband) is transported to the place where Owen is presumably being held captive. He ultimately frees Owen, but afterward loses him, when Owen presumably perishes.
In the fourth and last book, a grief-stricken Jacek sets off alone, leaving only his husband’s ashes behind. But things are not quite what they seem. An old enemy has followed Jacek, one determined to keep him from Owen forever.
As you can see above, each book has its own goal, so even though I don’t completely resolve the couple’s difficulties, they do gain (or lose) something at the end of each book.
In the first book, Owen gains Jacek’s safety at the cost of his own freedom.
In the second book, Owen plays a dangerous game of impersonation to gain his freedom—and fails.
In the third book, Jacek attempts to free Owen from the master who holds him hostage. While he succeeds in freeing Owen, Owen is so badly wounded, he dies (at least, it seems so).
In the fourth book, Jacek and a resurrected Owen must combat a number of enemies, including, at times, each other. Ultimately, they find happiness together.by