Friday, May 18, 2012

Happily Ever Afters And Loose Threads

I live with voices in my heads. Worlds in my head. Universes in my head. Every day. Every night.

Call it insanity, or a writer's mind. Whatever it is. I have it. I  feel eternally blessed (and cursed) by the talents I've inherited from the storytellers in my family line.

Vivid stories pop into my head and I am somehow (I think it's magic) able translate them into book form to share with my readership. I'm also lucky enough that people enjoy the stories the voices in my head whisper to me in my dreams.

I absolutely love being a writer.

That being said...

There comes a point where all stories must reach "the end." The movie has to fade to black. The book needs to close.

I recently posted about series and trilogies being incredibly popular with today's readers.  I am now aware of the reality that every time I put out a new book, people will anticipate it is part of a series of novels, whether it is or not.

Are people not satisfied with standalone novels? Do people really want never-ending series?

I have been giving this some thought lately as emails continue to ding into my inbox about the AS THE WORLD DIES trilogy. Some fans are begging for more of the story. Well, a lot are.

As I stated before, I felt that the trilogy wrapped up perfectly. It ended on just the right note and just the right moment.  As a writer, I felt that I had a visa into the AS THE WORLD DIES universe for a limited period.  The story I wanted to tell took place in that section of time.  It started with the death of the world and ended right at the birth of the new.  I loved how the story had come full circle and was very satisfied.

Yes, I do know what happens immediately after SIEGE ends. I know what happens 100 years in the future. But those parts of the ATWD universe don't fit in the trilogy. They're bits and pieces of information that never fit in the narrative.  Also, that knowledge is just fragments and not a real, cohesive story.

I was recently asked if I was going to clear up loose threads in ATWD. I found this amusing because I feel there are none.  The ATWD universe continues on after our visit. The characters live their lives, love, hate, fight, and die.  The world moves on.

Here are some common comments:

  •  But we don't know why the zombies rose!
    • My answer: Of course not. There is no way the people at the fort would ever find out. The people who would know died in the first days.
  • But we don't know what happened to ______!
    • Well, assume that character lived their life until they passed away of natural causes or zombies.
  • But we don't know what happens to the fort!
    • Well, no, we don't. But we know from things said by the ghosts that it's important to humanity. 
I don't see any of these items as loose threads because there is no way to resolve them.  There is no way the fort will ever know about the origins of the zombocalypse, I can't write about characters forever, and I can't keep writing an endless series novels about the fort when I don't feel there is a dynamic story there.

At some point, as a writer, I have to let go of the world, the characters, and the story.

I remember watching The Matrix for the first time when it was released in the theaters. I loved it. I thought about it for quite some time after I left the theater. I tried to imagine what the future of that world would be like once Neo began to show the world the truth about The Matrix. It was enthralling to consider. 

Years later when they did the sequels, I couldn't wait to see them.  And then...

I prefer to pretend they never happened, honestly.

What was so wonderful about the first movie was lost in the last two. They were hollow and pale imitations of the first. All the magic and wonder that came with the ending of the first movie was wiped out. Hell, bad ass Morpheus became...boring.

I recognize that people want neatly tied up novels with happily ever afters most of the time. But life isn't like that and it's hard to force that onto a novel. 

Years ago when I was finishing up PRETTY WHEN SHE DIES, I was convinced it was a standalone. Just before publication, I realized that there were two more books. A trilogy.  PRETTY WHEN SHE KILLS and PRETTY WHEN SHE DESTROYS.  I had actually written a kinda/sorta HEA (Happily Ever After) into the end of PWSD for some of the characters.  I could have left the world alone on that ending note and been happy.  For a while, I seriously considered not writing the sequels because it took a loooooooooooong time for PWSD to catch on with readers.  Then, it found its fanbase and the demands for PRETTY WHEN SHE KILLS started pouring in.

So that HEA at the end of PWSD?  GONE! Broken! Destroyed. The world Cian and Amaliya live in is about to get fucked in so many ways, anyone who reads the first book will realize the ending of that book was a brief respite from the REALLY BAD STUFF.

Seriously, things are already going south for the cast of characters in the the series. By the end of the third book, there will be character deaths. I already know of one major character death in PRETTY WHEN SHE KILLS.

After discussing some plot points with my husband last night, I thought to myself, "Some fans are going to wish they hadn't asked for a sequel."

So to try and bring cohesion and clarity to this post, here are my points.  

Sometimes when a book ends it's a good thing not to have every single aspect of the story explained, it's good to wonder about the world and the characters once you close the book,  and sometimes it's great to leave the characters at a HEA because if the writer kept writing you'd only see it vanish.  Sometimes it's good to say goodbye to characters and a world before the story loses its magic and impact.

The Pretty Vampire Series finishes with PRETTY WHEN SHE DESTROYS.  I know how the trilogy ends and it's going to be so awesome. But it will also be at a perfect stopping point.  I have no regrets going back into the world of Amaliya because there is more story left to be told. Yes, some of it will be painful, some of it fun, some of it scary, and some parts downright creepy as hell, but hopefully the readers fell it will be worth it.

How do you feel about HEA?

How do you feel about a book, series, or trilogy ending with some things left unknown?


  1. I totally support gothic endings. I don't need a Happy Ever After to feel satisfied from a story, but I'm also okay with having them, especially when they leave you dreaming of the characters futures and aren't sappy. Your endings have always pleased.

    On the other hand I think there are more stories in the ATWD universe, but I think they are in other places, specifically Marfa in West Texas and/or a converted rocket silo. Just throwing those little nuggets out there. ;-)

    I have enjoyed all of your books to date. You have converted me into a zombie fan which I NEVER EVER thought would happen. Now I am obsessed. Thanks for the chills Rhiannon! You're my new favorite author!!

    1. Thanks, Meeps!

      There are three stories left to be told in the ATWD universe. They will be told in Untold Tales Volume 3. Then I'm done. There is nothing else rattling around in my head from that universe that wants to be written. I refuse to overstay my welcome there. If someday the stars align and I get fired up about continuing that story and Tor agrees, maybe. But right now I'm so ready to move on.

      One thing I will NOT do is go back into ATWD and write about other locations in that universe, jump forward in time, or any of that sort of thing. None of that interests me. I feel a big ol' meh at the mere thought. If the stories don't connect to the fort characters, I'm pretty meh about it.

      Glad I converted you to the zombie side of the force. :)

      Hope you enjoy my other novels, too. I won't always write about zombies, but I hope to always write an enjoyable read!


  2. I suspect my readers know how I feel about HEAs ... *a wicked light in my eyes*

    Teach us something in a novel and ground it in human pain. Life isn't about happy endings. It's about moments of bravery and love and hope wrested out of the jaws of violence, misery, loss, regret, and unfulfilled longing. That's why hope is beautiful. After all the monsters chew their way out of Pandora's box (whether she opens it or not), only hope is left flickering faintly at the bottom, irremediably fragile and heart-stoppingly beautiful. I may let a little hope flicker like ailing Tinkerbell in a reader's cupped hands, and remind them life is to be lived frantically and passionately and love is to be acted on and expressed deeply while we're here, but I leave the HEAs to Disney.

    And I LOVE As The World Dies.

    Stant Litore

    1. P.S. Rhiannon, as always, you inspire me. My thoughts on Happy Endings:

    2. I'm glad I inspired you!

      I agree with you about hope versus HEA. I think to some degree all my endings have a spark of hope (even when circumstances are dire). I'd rather see hope for the future, than a nicely tied up story with a big red bow.

      I want to know at the end of a series that the characters (who survive) are strong enough to keep going forward despite any difficulties they may face. If there is a couple in the story, I want the reader to see that this is a twosome that can face adversity together, and if need be, apart.

      I think you nailed it. People want an HEA because it's easy. You and I are authors who want to make it real, therefore, more emotionally intense.

  3. "Years later when they did the sequels, I couldn't wait to see them. And then...

    I prefer to pretend they never happened, honestly."

    THIS. ^_^ I remember thinking, as soon as I found out there was even the intention of creating sequels, "But, why?"

    I knew there'd be no way, no matter how good the two subsequent movies, that it would reach the level of the first...or add to the first...or complete the first. Because the first film was complete; it made the profound assertions about choice and humanity and hope and inevitability. It gave us the tools to envision the story beyond what was shown. And by the end of the third movie, in a way we were right back to the same place we were by the end of the first...only having seen lots of pretty effects. ^_^

    I absolutely LOVE series, but there's totally something to be said for stories reaching their natural conclusion. (Of course, imaginations are meant to keep these things going in our minds. ^_^)

    1. "It gave us the tools to envision the story beyond what was shown."

      I just finished ENDGAME, the last book in the Sirantha Jax series. It was perfect because it did EXACTLY that. It gave us a foundation and the ingredients to imagine the world beyond the final words in the book. That is a killer ending.



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