Short Stories and Cliffhangers

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I read an excellent post about cliffhangers, and it’s got me thinking now.  Maybe I’m weird, alright then, if you insist – I am weird.  There are two things about me that have the potential to get right up some peoples nostrils when it comes to my scribbles.  I write multiple genres and I like to play sometimes when I write.  Nothing makes me grin wider than when I’m playing in the land of anything goes.  Short stories are generally where I play though, because experimenting with the style of voice you tell a story in, or popping in a cliffhanger at the end of a big fat novel is very likely going to incite rage.  With a series you have to have an ending to each book that leads you into the next book.  Sometimes this can be construed as not so much a cliffhanger as an unfinished book.  It can be tricky sometimes to have an ending where your reader is happily looking forward to the next book, rather than wanting to find out where you live and sock you in the nose.  I’ve come to the end of reading standalone books with the most outrageous non-conclusions that seemed to totally defeat the purpose in the telling of the tale at all.  Stories must have endings.  Even short stories must have endings.  But.  I like short stories with cliffhanger endings too.
I have loads of short stories lurking forgotten in the bowels of my computer.  My short stories tend to happen to me, and I write them fairly quickly.  Ages ago I got a review for The Visitation from a reader who enjoyed it and wanted more.  She felt that she had been left hanging.  I felt bad about that.  It wasn’t a horrible review at all, and I felt so guilty about it for a while that I actually wrote quite a bit more, which then turned into a bit more again before I closed it and sent it to join the rest of the story lurkers I’ve built up.  There’s about forty odd thousand words I could add to The Visitation right now that would effectively turn it into a whole dystopian book.  I quite like those forty thousand words to be honest, and one day I might turn them into a book, but I won’t ever tack it on to The Visitation.  The point is that I wrote that story specifically the way I did because I wanted the shock of the ending.  I wanted to write it as an essay of one man’s descent into some serious crazy, and I wanted the end result of that crazy to be shocking.  I wanted to make the reader wonder if he’d really had a vision, or if that was just the pinnacle of a life so crappy that he lost the plot.  So I’m happy with Tony’s story the way it is.
Now, after that rambling explanation, I’ll get to the point.  Right at the time I got that review, I was about to publish another short story.  Also apocalyptic, and also with an ending that could lead into a whole novel.  I think that it’s alright to end a story like that.  Just because I’ve loved a story and want it to carry on doesn’t mean that it should.  The short story I was about to publish had really become a prequel as I wrote the final lines though, and something I definitely wanted to explore some more, so that review stopped me in my tracks and I hesitated – not wanting to put something out there that would be a bad reading experience for anyone.  Then I totally forgot about it.  I found it again during my internet blackout and decided to publish it after all.  Reading it after so long was interesting, and like The Visitation, I ended it the way I wanted to end it.  I wanted people to be wondering about the purpose of the skin thing, and wondering too what the small group of humans could do – if anything – even though their fate seems inevitable.
Both stories are supposed to end with the end of mankind right there – but not quite, so that’s the way they ended, but I think maybe that even in stories, us old humans don’t want to see things like that.  We want better endings – happy endings.  So again, both endings don’t show the actual death of the last man on the planet, although it’s obvious enough.  Still – the hope we naturally have moves ahead with the people staring at extinction, wondering if one of the few left alive at the end will against all odds save humanity, wanting to know more.  Is this a bad thing to do as a writer?  I don’t think so.  I like reading unusual stories.  I don’t like books that don’t end at all any better that the next reader, but I find some openish endings fascinating.  So, I swiped one of the covers I had up for sale, tweaked it a bit, and published it.  I’m chuffed with my little forgotten tale, and hopefully readers will like it too.  When my next Shadow People books go live, I’ll definitely be writing a novel to follow this one, but probably only starting a decade or so after this short ends, but I’m not calling it a prequel because it really is what it was written as – a short and twisty little tale.  So here it is.  Hopefully the cover won’t scare anyone away – that creepy alien guy sort of made himself.

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