Sequel Fishing

Another way of refusing to let a story be over is to write an inconclusive, foggy conclusion that doesn't really settle things at all. I just discussed the "no-ending" problem, and that's one form this inconclusiveness may take. In its more extreme forms, it can be a cliff-hanger ending that cries out for a sequel because the present story isn't really done. It just stops.

I've read stories like that, and I expect you have too.

Before I had any idea that there were three volumes to The Lord of the Rings, I picked up a copy of the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring at my neighborhood library. I was furious for weeks at the book's conclusion, which left all the major issues unresolved and the characters scattering in every direction but up. I felt cheated. I'd gotten involved with these characters, I'd read all those pages, and now look what the author had gone and done to me!

The Lord of the Rings is exceptional (I know now): it's one huge novel arbitrarily packaged as three separate volumes for no better reason than that one standard paperbound book physically can't be made big enough (or priced low enough) for the "trilogy" to be what in fact it is, one novel. I was furious, not at the end of a novel, but at a legitimate "part" break. It wasn't the author's fault that it took me about seven years (until I ran into the first of the paperback boxed sets) to get past that part break into the rest of the story.

What Tolkien did to me, by accident, don't do to your readers on purpose.

Don't go fishing for a sequel if you haven't constructed, in your present story, solid and honorable bait.

Stories that spark effective sequels do so not because the original story was left hanging, but because there's more than one good story to be told in the world they've created. The possibilities of Sherlock Holmes weren't exhausted by A Study in Scarlet; there was more to Oz than Dorothy saw in her original journey to see the Wizard.

If your world and your characters are rich enough, diverse enough, original enough, perhaps you'll be able to make them wholly live for you again in another story, some other time. But not by hanging on to this present story so hard that you strangle it. Let it be done. Let it go.

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