I watched Breaking Dawn, Part 2 this weekend. Without going into too much detail (for those of you who haven’t seen it and want to, you might want to skip to the next paragraph), suffice it to say that it contains a climactic scene that wasn’t in the book. The entire audience was riveted, gasping in a mixture of intrigue and horror, as the Twi-world changed before our eyes. Major characters died; the storyline careened way off-track. How could they do this? Where would they go from here? And then… it all turned out to just be a dream. A collective you’ve-got-to-be-kidding groan rose from the seats. We’d all just been cinematically sucker-punched.
And we did not appreciate it.
That got me thinking about similar responsibilities that writers have to their readers—to not sucker-punch them, and to properly fulfill their expectations—and a mistake that I’ve recently made.
I wrote a draft that turned out to be 750 pages. Because of the multiple climaxes, I knew I had at least two stories on my hands. When I initially cut it, at around 350 pages, the first book had a happy ending (even though there was still enough unresolved suspense to justify the next book).
But Rewrite Land gets confusing. You get feedback from agents and beta readers, you add, you subtract. You try to find the best way to hit the sweet spot for readers but still tell your own tale. Many incarnations later, the first 350 pages had mushroomed. As Stephen King says, “I’m a putter-inner.”
I’d added so much that I decided to chop it off at a cliffhanger (around what was now page 360) and flesh-out the remaining hundred pages into another book. But then an agent who’d read the synopsis of the first book said that it wouldn’t work for romance readers, “because your MC dies in the end.” I explained to her that she isn’t dead, just badly injured—which is where the second book begins. The agent then wrote back to me, saying that it was still too much of a thriller for her to try to sell, but that many readers, at least of the romance genre, would be ticked off to find out they’d just read an incomplete story, regardless of a follow-up sequel.
In fact, I’d just had that experience with two new beta readers who’d told me they didn’t like the cliffhanger ending; they wanted resolution. It was a good lesson for me: if you alienate your readers, you won’t be a very successful author.
So now I face a dilemma: I have a full of this MS out with another agent, but it has the cliffhanger ending. Do I (a) do the rewrite that I now think I should do, adding the last hundred pages back in, and nudge the agent with what will be a 450-500 page thrillerized romance? (I prefer that term to “romantic suspense.”) Or (b) just sit on it and hope the agent realizes I’m a new author, but my story has potential?
In the meantime, I’ve been working on other things, not this particular story. But I’m still in love with it, and I wish there was a way to get it off the ground!