Cliffhangers are a tough
business. On the one hand, you want to
leave your audience wanting. It’s an odd sort of semi-antagonistic relationship
to have with your fans—this long-term tease where you give them almost everything that they want, but
not quite. How much do you give them? How much do you hold back? How long do you
make them wait? It’s a fine line between keeping them hooked and annoying them
greatly enough that they don’t come back.
Mongoliad was originally conceived as a weekly serial, meaning that we
walked this line every week. When it
came time to reframe the narrative as three books, I had to look over our
endless supply of cliffhangers and decide where was the best place to leave our
audience hanging for six months. Not just seven days, but more like one hundred
and eighty days. It was, in many ways, like considering how to end a TV season.
But I also knew that, in six months, it wouldn’t matter. The
Mongoliad: Book Twowould come out,
and any new readers that came along wouldn’t
suffer the same crisis. As soon as they finished Book One, they could pick up
Book Two and get right back into the story. It was, to stick with the TV show
metaphor, about as much a break as it takes to load the next season into the
J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Lord
of Rings is a single volume, broken into thirds. If you consider the
end of The
Fellowship of the Ring, the book ends rather abruptly. The Fellowship
is scattered, Boromir is lost in the woods, Sam and Frodo have bailed for
Mordor, and the Gandalf and the rest don’t know where anyone has gone.
Remember, if you will, how Peter Jackson addresses this cliffhanger in the film
version: he resolves Boromir’s arc (which is a nice climax) and sets the
Fellowship on their new course before he ends the film.
Cliffhangers are tough, but how you ease your readers back
into the story can be tougher.
The story of The
Mongoliad takes place over six months or so of the year 1241. For much of
that time, the Shield-Brethren party that is going east to assassinate the Khan
of Khans is doing nothing more than riding their horses. Day in and day out. I
split Book One and Two at a place where, when we come back to the
Shield-Brethren party, time will have passed. Much like these last six months.
The wait between The Mongoliad: Book One and The
Mongoliad: Book Twois an artificial thing. We’ll never experience it again, but
for those of us who have been waiting, think of it as spending several months
riding across the endless steppe. And here we are now, closer to our destination.