Cliffhangers

I thought Changes, by Jim Butcher, of the Dresden Files, was the last of the series. I’ve read most of them twice and was settled that this was the last book I’d read about Harry Dresden.

I didn’t read them all one right after the other. There were a few other books through in between.

But this was the last and I was planning what to read next. Another series would be nice. Some time earlier this year I read some Preston & Child, and just Douglas Preston. I came into a series for each book. So I thought to start there.

I went to Fantastic Fiction and searched their names, picked out a couple of books.

(Side note, in case you don’t know: Fantastic Fiction is a web site that lists all, I think all, authors and every book they’ve published, in order of publication, and which of their novels that are coming out next.)

Jim butcher has another series, so I thought to check on him at FF. To my surprise, there are two more Harry Dresden books. One of which will come out in 2013.

I paused. Should I continue reading?

No, I’d made my choice. I was good with Changes being the last. I can live with my decision.

Then I finished reading Changes, and everything changed.

At the end, after the evil has been dealt with, the innocent has been saved, and the heroes have returned to their lives. All is quiet. And when least expected, Harry dies! At the very last page, last paragraph, last line of the book Harry is dead.

So now what to do? Leave him dead and move on as planned?

But how can he be dead? There are two more books chronicling his life.

You might think, “Now wait a minute, Phyllis. Jim might have made it seem like Harry is dead when he really isn’t.”

No, Harry is dead. Really and truly. Can’t tell you how, you’ll have to read the book, or all twelve, to find out.

But this is fantasy, and no one is really and truly dead in fantasy. Look how many times Xena came back from the dead.

Harry is a powerful wizard. His godmother is a fairy, second to the Winter Queen of Fairies. His mentor is on the White Counsel of Wizards. So it’s not unlikely that even though he’s dead, he could come back to life.

I was willing to pick up another series when Harry was alive, but now that he’s dead, well…

Jim Butcher did this on purpose, you know. After twelve books, one becomes tired and wants to move on, but Jim wants to keep writing. Only he needs people to keep reading. So he puts in a cliffhanger: kill the hero. Then he writes two more books knowing suckers like … I mean … avid readers, like me, will want to know what happened.

And that’s what makes a good cliffhanger. To put something in so tantalizing that fans have to know what comes next.

All his other Dresden novels end when Harry the Detective has solved the case and saved the innocent. There have been no cliffhangers. The story ends and if you like the one you just read well, there is another to read, twelve in fact.

And yes, after twelve novels, people do tend to wander away. So Jim very cleverly changed his tactics to entice readers.

A cliffhanger places the character in a dangerous situation then cuts the scene short, in the middle of the action, leaving the reader worried, and wondering, what happens next. The only way to know is to keep reading.

Cliffhangers are good at the end of a chapter.

Chapters are a good place to stop and take a break, go to the bathroom, get something to eat, run an errand. But if a book is put down, how long before the reader comes back?

Have something unexpected happen, something the reader didn’t see coming, then end the scene abruptly. Might make the reader forget that break.

Put that cliffhanger at the end of a novel and the reader will rush to find the next novel or drool in anticipation while waiting for the next publication.

What am I going to do? I have to know what how Harry goes on after death.

But first, I’m going to read the two books I just ordered. I’ll get around to book thirteen. Book fourteen doesn’t come out until 2013, so I have time.

Evidently, so does Harry.