Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cliffhangers and Sequels - Part Two

Continuing on the subject of cliffhangers (if you missed Part One, click here)... 


Since I wrote part one of this post, I've watched the season finales of three network TV shows.  All three ended in serious cliffhangers, including my favorite, Castle, which ended with the classic: Beckett shot and possibily dying in Castle's arms.


But today I want to talk about books.  I love a book series. It fun to start a book already knowing the main character(s), like catching up with an old friend.  Series allow for deeper development of characters and relationships than would be possibile in a single book.  I also enjoy story arcs that run over several books or loose ends/questions that will carry over into a sequel.  But cliffhangers...when the next book won't be out for months or years or possibly (gasp!) ever!  Please don't do that to me.

So where's the line?  What's a sequel setup and what's a chiffhanger?  I tried looking up definitions and there's a lot of gray area on this one, so in lieu of a definitive answer, I'm going to give my opinion.  And ask for yours.

First, the obvious - leaving a main character in immediate danger is a cliffhanger.  Seriously injured, trapped in a burning building, in a car speeding down the hill with no brakes, held hostage, or with the bad guy sneaking in the back door while our hero/heroine waits unsuspectingly.  Definite cliffhangers.  Non-violent versions?  The main character on the verge of a life changing decision (when the choice is not a foregone conclusion for the reader).  A whodunit that ends with "I know who the killer is."

Sequel setups for me are more along the line of unanswered questions or possibilities.  Relationships that may grow or change, problems not completely resolved, a main character heading off on a new adventure, even the classic - the body of the villain that was supposed to be dead is missing. 

Sometimes it's a very fine line.  Say you're at the end of a cop drama.  Crime solved. Bad guy caught. Sadly, the cop's partner was killed in the line of duty.  Final scene, cop is talking to his Captain and hears someone come into the room behind him. Captain says "I want you to meet your new partner."  Final lines:

It was going to be hard; Joe and I were partners a long time.  But he was gone.  I turned around and extended my hand.

It was going to be hard; Joe and I were partners a long time. But he was gone. I turned around and my jaw hit the floor.

To me, the first is a sequel setup. the second is a cliffhanger.

Okay, let's hear from you.  What do you think the difference is between a cliffhanger and a sequel setup?  How do you feel about both or either? 

Special note: Congratulations to Cathy Pegau who won last Friday's Caption Contest.  Cathy selected as her prize, BOOKMARKED FOR DEATH by Lorna Barrett.  Thanks to everyone who played.  You came up with some really great captions.

I'm currently enjoying: Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich

Groaner of the Day:   A man walked into a haunted house wanting to get a picture of a ghost with his camera. After a couple hours, he finally saw one. It was a friendly ghost who actually posed for the picture.

The man took the picture, but it turned out too dark. So the ghost posed for another one, and the picture again turned out dark.

The ghost had to leave so the man did not get a picture.

Another case of - the spirit was willing but the flash was weak.


mooderino said...

I'd say a sequel setup is something you have to deal with but not immediately. Cliffhanger is you're right now in the middle of it.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I like how you differentiated between the two. It makes sense how you explain it.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Susan - Thanks. Do cliffhangers make you crazy, or is it just me?

Linda Leszczuk said...

Mooderino - That's a good description.

Dru said...

LOL at the groaner, especially since I have my own ghost.

Your definition is spot-on.

When reading a book, I like to know what's going to happen now, not months or years later.

Cathy in AK said...

I liked how you explained the difference too, and definitely prefer the sequel set up to a cliffhanger in a book. Unless it's an older series and I have the next one sitting right there : )

RE: Castle--OMG! I know, right?!?!

Thanks for the book prize! I love your caption contests, and not just for the winnings : )

Maria Zannini said...

I think your explanation is perfect.

I don't read as many series as I used to and even when I do they're usually out of order, so whether they're sequels or cliffhangers, it doesn't affect me much. If the writing is good I'll hunt up the earlier or later books.

But I'm probably in the minority.

N. R. Williams said...

I agree with you on the cliffhanger and your example at the end was excellent. There was a time when this was more accepted, think Lord of the Rings, by Tolkien. But today, you'd better end book one. You can still leave it open for a sequel, I did.
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

Linda Leszczuk said...

Dru - If you decide to get a picture of you're ghost, use a strong flash. :grin:

You and I feel the same way about cliffhanger.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Cathy - I would save a book I know to end in a cliffhanger until the next one came out and read them together. Problem is, you don't usually know you've got a cliffhanger until the end.

The Castle thing is going to make me crazy.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Maria - I don't know if you're in the minority or I am but I think you and I are at opposites on this one. When I find a series I like, I almost always go back to the first one and read them in order.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Nancy - It's hard to draw the line between a multi part story, like the Lord of the Rings, and a sequel or series. But I think each book has to give the reader some kind of closure at the end.

By the way, I haven't been commenting on your blog very often because something in my browser doesn't play well with something on your blog and most of the time it locks up on me when I try to comment. But I always read and enjoy it.

Stacy McKitrick said...

I started to read this blog yesterday and had to stop. Castle wsa on our DVR and we hadn't watched it yet. Saw it last night.

Cliff hangers are mean. Sequel setups are subtle. The author has left the door open, but just like the HEA, the reader can assume what happens next, until the next book comes out and tells you. But as long as the main story has wrapped up, I'm okay with that. Drag that main story and I get mad!