Writing Notes: Epilogues & Cliffhangers

I’ve never been big on epilogues. Sure, sometimes I’ll finish reading a book and wonder what happened next, but not very often. Normally when the main plot is done, I’m satisfied. I often just skim epilogues if they’re provided, to see if there’s something else I simply won’t be complete without knowing.

When I was going through the edits for The Biker’s Wench, my editor made a few suggestions for what she’d like to know near the end about how things wrapped up (and I specifically asked for those, because I knew the end was rushed and I wasn’t really sure how to fix it – editors, beta readers and friends are invaluable for this type of input). They were all good suggestions and I really wanted to include them, and remembered that I’d originally planned to come back to one sub-plot that I never actually got back to.

The problem was, none of this stuff was really germane to the core story, so slipping it into another chapter, or working it into the last scenes just wasn’t really feasible. It would have broken the flow of the main climatic scenes. So I sat down and wrote a “last chapter” to tack onto the end…only there was too much of a break in the time line for it to flow well that way. I tend to write as close to “real time” as possible, so when I jumped six months out for the last chapter, it felt like it needed a more definitive line between the end of the book, and the “rest of the story”.

So I reluctantly deleted “Chapter whatever-number-it-was” and typed “Epilogue” instead.

Which probably should have been the end of it, but I am more or less incapable of writing a scene without conflict. I wish I could say it’s just because I work that hard at it, but the fact is, I get bored easily while writing, and conflict just sort of happens. The subplot I wanted to revisit is really a huge deal in its own right for Monica (my heroine) – and could easily have taken up another book. But I didn’t realize that at the time, I just wrote, and let the story continue naturally, as I normally do.

Long story short(ish), my epilogue ends in a damn cliffhanger for that subplot I went back to. Those of you who follow my author page on Facebook might have seen my little temper tantrum about that. I hate cliffhangers at the end of a book (or TV season), even when they’re more or less benign, so I could not *believe* I wrote one. I’m okay with them if the next book is available immediately, but not if I have to wait longer than…say, a week. Unfortunately, readers will have to wait until the end of book 2 for that particular subplot to be revisited. But at least book 2 is being serialized on my Fantasy Ranch blog, so readers could follow along with the draft if they simply can’t wait for the polished version.  But also unfortunately, said subplot will hit a “to be continued” stage there too. And it’s not my own fault this time, it’s my editor’s, who gave me all kinds of cool little suggestions for threading this through the next several books (or a short story, I haven’t decided which yet).

So there you have it. With my latest book, I’ve included two things that I normally either don’t like, or am ambivalent towards…simply because they work, and that’s what the story needed. Never say never, I guess.

How do you feel about epilogues – do you read them or skim? Cliffhangers – yea or nay?

One more thing – if you want to win an ARC of The Biker’s Wench (in print), the Goodreads contest is live now…go sign up!


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3 comments on “Writing Notes: Epilogues & Cliffhangers

  1. Carol

    Oh sure, blame me. 😛

    I love epilogues. I love knowing what happened after the HEA.

    Cliffhangers on the other hand . . . I love cliffhangers at the end of chapters. It makes me want to keep reading. But a major cliffhanger at the end of a book? It’s one thing if the story has been resolved and the cliffhanger is a set-up for the next in a series, but a cliffhanger that ends a story that is not finished is a no-no as far as I’m concerned. One of my favorite authors pulled this on me and I haven’t bought one of her books since. I got caught up in the story and then suddenly it was cut off, right in the middle. She might as well have put “to be continued in the next over-priced book”.

    Your cliffhanger isn’t so much a cliffhanger as a preview of things to come. Stop worrying so much! 😀

  2. Ardee-ann Eichelmann

    I totally agree with Carol. I LOVE epilogues. They pull everything together. The complete the book for me.

    Now I am not privy to what Carol knows about your “cliffhanger” for TBW but I can tell you that I don’t want to see a cliffhanger at the end of a book. That would tick me off royally. I do like the cliffhangers in the serial as it goes along, I expect it but I don’t want one at the end of the book. No way, Jose!
    JMHO!

    Ardee-ann

  3. Jami Gold

    I don’t mind epilogues. Sometimes they feel necessary and sometimes they don’t. I don’t like the ones that seem necessary only to reinforce the impression that the H/h are happy because the case wasn’t made clear enough during the rest of the book that they were a good match.

    Cliffhangers of a main plot? No. But cliffhangers of a subplot? I think that’s rather normal for a series. Think of how many UF series wrap up the plot for the big bad, but leave the love story hanging for the next book? Um…almost all of them. 🙂 It sounds like you’re fine.