Ah, but then I realized the genius in it. Firstly, it was never meant as a standalone. Secondly, as I’m sure it did for most that read it, it left me wanting to read the next book – instantly.
At the end of The Empire Strikes Back (I know, movie, not a book – but it still follows the same argument that I’m laying out here), Luke foregoes his Jedi training to save his friends, and instead finds out Darth Vader is his father. Plot resolved? Everything tied up neatly? Not hardly. (And for those that I just spoiled the ending – sorry, it’s been 33 years, you had your chance)
But what of this rule that you must wrap up your story by the end of the book. You know, one of the primary rules of writing a novel? Right…I don’t agree with it either. At least, not all the time.
I believe that rule should be used in context and is highly situational. If your main protagonist is a young wizard that has just finished his first year at wizarding school and is headed home, and there is a clear delineation of plotline between this book and the next; perfect. Neatly tie up or trim most of the threads that you unwound, and give the reader their payoff.
Payoff. In literary terms, that word annoys me. I feel that it’s gotten too much play in this era of instant gratification, and certainly in the scope of a multi-book series, it should be shunned. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you should just introduce all sorts of plotlines and conflicts, and then never resolve them. That would be a miserable read. But the idea that everything should be wrapped up with a neat little bow by the end of your book is just silly; unless, as I stated above, there is a spot where it’s feasible.
I think it’s equally silly to believe that not adhering strictly to that rule will insult or miff a reader to the point where they won’t ever pick up another work by that author. I’ve been an avid reader for most of my life, and aside from someone just not writing a good enough story, I’ve never gotten to the end of a story and felt incensed enough to not read the next installment because of the way they left it.
The important fact in that entire paragraph above is what every author should come away with; write a good story, and the readers will come back for more. Period. Plot, setting, character development…you remember all of those from Creative Writing 101, don’t you? If the author has carefully crafted their story with those elements in mind, then the rest takes care of itself.
Granted, this attitude is not for the faint of heart. I’m a classical writer; my main mission as an author is to tell a story. If it sells a million copies – great. If it sells ten copies – great. I told my story; mission accomplished. If you are in it to sell those million copies, then maybe that tried-and-true formula that the industry experts have laid out is something you should stick to.
Me? I’ll stick to telling stories.