8

I'm starting to write my first book, and I've finished the outlining process. It's a fantasy novel that deals with the takedown of a monarchy, but I feel like I can't wrap up the whole story line in just one novel.

So my question is: is it okay to leave a lot of loose ends? The immediate conflict is resolved, but there is a larger conflict at play in the world that would naturally move into a second book. I have not written or published the first book yet, so would publishers look at an unresolved ending as problematic, or is it okay to write in and change it if requested to?

I feel like I could easily move into writing a sequel, but is it arrogant of a new writer to assume that a sequel will even be desired for their book? Should I force an ending that resolves all the major conflicts?

Thanks for your advice!

  • Hi Allie! Welcome to Writing.SE. If you have time, you might find it helpful to look over our help center and tour pages. Each question we ask here must be one question only. If you have a follow-up question, please ask it separately. That's why your edit got rejected. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jul 18 '18 at 14:14
3

What you want is a stand-alone book that feels complete, but has sequel potential. That is, have the bones for a second conflict in place, but resolve all of the threads so that when the person sets down the book they think the book finished everything of import it brought up.

In other words, as a first time author, you want to focus in on the problems of a set of characters and leave the big stuff in the background; you want to make it unimportant.

Consider: - The Hobbit vs The Fellowship - Mistborn: Final Empire vs Mistborn: The Well of Ascension - Star Wars: A New Hope vs Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone vs any of the others in the series

All of these openers inevitably forshadow a greater conflict, they all make you want more; but, every first in each series stands on its own and could have stood on its own without ever having had a sequel and still been "good". Maybe not amazing, but something you look back on fondly. They all do this by having a primary conflict that can be resolved, on which the book solidly turns. If you do not do this and people get to the end and see: "oh there's going to be a sequel" you're in danger of losing people and getting negative reviews, which you do not want as a first time author. You do not have a relationship of trust, so your first book has to prove to both agents, editors, publishers, readers, and sellers that you know what you're doing, that you can complete a work.

If you leave them wanting more, it should be a reader's wistful hope, not an inevitable promise balanced upon a cliff.

I know, I know, the interludes are damn cool. The Empire Strikes Back, Order of The Phoenix and many other midway stories that end "incomplete" or on a "downer" sound awesome. And you do get to write those eventually; but you don't get to start with them.

Take it from me. I wrote 200,000 words last year and I just put them in my trunk. I sat down with the goal of writing "A roller coaster of a story that when you get back to the station you realize has tricked you and as the book ends you see the sharp turn that is about to take everyone over the cliffside." I literally wrote that down as my goal for my book. Well, 1.5 years later, I have an unsellable manuscript that needs a lot of work that I'm not willing to do because I'm too in love with that roller coaster idea. So now I'm going back and doing what I should have done in a different world.

Write what you need to write emotionally. But if that emotion includes being published, think very, very, very hard about heeding this advice. I don't know that I should have a year and a half ago, but I know I need to moving forward.

Good luck!

  • Would you still have written the manuscript knowing what you know now? – Totumus Maximus Jul 17 '18 at 15:18
  • 1
    You are quite wrong with how you mention the LotR: The Hobbit was never intended to have a sequel, in fact Tolkien struggled to find a hook for a second novel there, and had to rewrite The Hobbit for things to work. The Fellowship of the Ring, on the other hand, was never intended to be a book on its own right: The Lord of the Rings is one single book that got chopped into three due to paper shortage after WW2. I don't disagree with your main point though. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jul 17 '18 at 15:37
  • 1
    According to Christopher Tolkien's foreword to the Silmarillion JRR hated both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings the only work he ever wanted to do was Silmarillion but he couldn't get it published as a standalone piece. – Ash Jul 17 '18 at 16:20
  • @TotumusMaximus, yes because it was the book I needed to write and frankly publishing=winning the lottery. I have a family to support so my primary objective is the buzz I get from the creative process. – Kirk Jul 17 '18 at 18:53
  • @Galastel, shrug. Never intended to have a sequel, but enough material to have one is still sequel potential. JRR's personal life stands aside from the works he produced and their qualities. Not here for a parsing of author lives or literary intention. Most writers don't have the luxury. What works more often than not for a 1st time book is a book that is self-encompassed: The hobbit. Afterward, when you've gained trust you can start something like LoTR if your publisher likes you. The Silmarillion is a (explicitive)-world-dump. I'm unsurprised by publisher disenterest. – Kirk Jul 17 '18 at 18:53
3

Solving the main conflict of the novel and leaving loose ends for a future novel is fine as long as they're resolved or dealt with in those future novels, and that they're not required to resolve the central conflict of the novel you're dealing with. You're basically foreshadowing the future conflicts, and if you don't deal with them, you're in trouble.

Star Wars: A New Hope, for example resolves the central conflict of destroying the Death Star, but:

  • Luke has still not become a Jedi like his father. He's started on the path, but has a long way to go. Imagine if the rest of the films never followed up on this.
  • Darth Vader survives at the end of the first film, but imagine if he never re-appeared, or if Luke never faced him again.
  • The Emperor has been mentioned but not seen. If we never heard of or even saw him again, he would feel irrelevant.
  • The Empire has been dealt a blow, but they still rule. The main goal of the rebellion has not been fulfilled.

If these were not dealt with, the loose ends would remain loose, and like an old sweater, over time it would become more frayed and will unravel. The story just wouldn't hold up, and it would feel as if these loose ends were simply irrelevant to the story.

The Empire Strikes back is another good example, as it's full of loose ends. Luke successfully resists the temptation of the dark side, but:

  • Han Solo is imprisoned. Imagine they didn't try save him.
  • Luke made a promise to complete his training as a Jedi. It's inconceivable to think that he would never return to fulfill his promise.
  • Yoda drops a mysterious hint of "there is another" when Obi-Wan suggests Luke is their last hope. Viewers would scratch their heads wondering what that meant and be annoyed it was never revealed.
  • We now know who Luke's father really is. If Luke never confronted this, the last film would have been a disaster.

Pullman's The Golden Compass has a number of hints about Lyra being special that are not fully resolved until, in some cases, the third book. If Pullman had dropped hints in the first book, and then did nothing with them, readers would have been very annoyed. Imagine it turned out that she was not integral to the outcome of the final novel. Disaster.

In each case, none of the loose ends were integral to resolving the central conflict of each story itself, but they helped set up the backdrop for the subsequent stories.

There are many, many examples to draw from. Avoid leaving them unsolved (even resolving them in a non-happily ever after way is fine). If you leave them hanging there, and have no intention of resolving them, you should question whether it has any business in the story at all.

  • 1
    The Star Wars examples actually show an important point here. The original Star Wars was actually written to be a standalone movie -- yes, it was clearly supposed to be just part of a larger ongoing story, and Lucas had ideas when he wrote it that he had to drop due to not having enough time in a single film to cover them all, and they did eventually work their way into the later films, but when he made the film, he didn't expect it to be successful enough to get financing for the later episodes, so he did leave it wrapped up in a satisfactory position. The war wasn't over, some of the... – Jules Jul 17 '18 at 19:22
  • ...bad guys had got away, but the battle was won, and it left a story that ended much like the WWII films Lucas was drawing a lot of his inspiration from. That was part of what he was trying to achieve: transplanting the war film archetype into a pulp science fiction serial setting. ESB was different: when he made it, he knew he had funding for the next one, and was already planning another 6 stories in the series after that. He intentionally left plot threads dangling as cliffhangers that would lead into the later films, mimicking the pulp serials he originally based the idea on. – Jules Jul 17 '18 at 19:28
  • 1
    The point is that some kinds of conflict can be left unresolved. An ongoing war. A grudge against a particular antagonist. These are things people expect to end up with, and don't always need a tidy solution. But other things do need a resolution: what happens to a character we care about who is in a dangerous situation, how a personal and specific conflict between two major characters is resolved, how the protagonist overcomes specific problems they have, etc. – Jules Jul 17 '18 at 19:35
  • @Jules Yeah, I like that, very nicely put. You can clearly see though, with the second film, he intended to do a third, hence the much larger number of "hooks" at the end. – Craig Sefton Jul 17 '18 at 20:01
0

Write it how you want it. My reasoning goes something like this:

  1. it's your story so it's better to write it your way, it'll be more comfortable to write and more cohesive as a finished piece, thus more likely to get to publication in the first place

  2. you're probably going to have to compromise a lot between final draft and publication anyway due to the vagaries of editors etc... so you may as well start from a position you're really comfortable with

  3. if a publisher looks at the piece and really likes it, rather than picking it up to fill a quota, room for more is a good thing so leaving unresolved plot is not a bad thing. That's not to say that such unresolved material will necessarily get used but the options it creates are useful.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.