1. the_epic_swede
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    the_epic_swede New Member

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    Ok to end first in a series with MC in trouble?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by the_epic_swede, Aug 24, 2014.

    First of all, Hi! Just signed up but have been reading this forum for a while and it’s really helped me out in my writing. Sorry that the first thing I do is start my own thread. I'll try to contribute in others as well, promise!

    After about 15 years of trying to write and coming up short I’ve recently been able to push myself about 70k words into a novel, writing the last few chapters now (of the first raw version). The novel I’m writing is the first book in a series, where the first major breakthrough/climax comes at the end of the third book, therefore I treat it as a trilogy.

    Without going too much into detail, my question is this: is it ok to end the first book in a trilogy/series on a low-point for my MC?

    My worries are these:
    1. Will readers be annoyed when the first book doesn’t resolve my MC’s woes? (Would you!?)
    2. Will my first book be impossible to sell to publishers (or agents, in Sweden we don’t go through agents though), without having the other two books already finished?

    Some sub-plots does get resolved (for instance I have a secondary MC who survives some injuries and gets away), so it’s not all doom. But my MC finds herself imprisoned beyond enemy lines and for her, hope appears bleak. The second book will partially revolve around her escape.

    Also, know that I never intended for this to happen! I wanted to finish the first book as a kind of stand-alone, where you don’t have to read the sequels, my MC back home safe and sound. Now, frustratingly, that’s not at all what the story wants me to do... The series as a whole does get a lot better and less choppy if I end the first book unresolved.


    (If you’re interested, my strategy is to write through all three books, then go back and edit the first one to as near perfect as I can, then try and get it published. I expect this to take two-three years, since I have kids, job, you know the usual story. A lot of crime litterature is coming out of Sweden, it’s damn near the only thing Swedes read. I hope to mix it up with some epic adventure stories. :))
     
  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    It's harder for a no-name author to sell a series because there is no guarantee it'll generate enough money to warrant three publications.
    If it's good or bad, they won't care the rest isn't finished. Though, you'll probably have to way 3+ months for a reply anyways, might as well work on the others.
    It can end at a low point but the main conflict of the first book has to be resolved. Things have to be moving forward and resolving for good or ill but there still needs to be questions and other subplots unanswered. Your MC can be down in the dumps, but it should also create a desire to read on.
     
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  3. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    Interestingly, I am almost in exactly the same situation. I should probably preface this by saying that not only did I do a similar thing, I also just got the project picked up by a publisher who has told me to go ahead and get busy on book two. That may be unusual and I have my suspicions why, but the fact remains.

    Anyway, in the last chapter of book one my MC makes it home safe and sound from his epic adventure. However, I also included chapter one of book two. It is a powerful blackout chapter. My MC has been reunited with his love and separated again, from both her and his teacher, finding himself lost and alone on another world. It could be included as a teaser for book two. It could have the chapter number change from one to forty-nine - ending book one on chapter forty-nine rather than forty-eight. A third option would be to simply not include it in book one at all.

    My publisher likes the idea of including it as written - chapter one of book two. Anyway, book one can certainly be a stand-alone piece as written. The books are certainly tied together as the continuing journey of my MC; each adventure simply footprints on his journey and complete as a single footprint or a series.
     
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  4. Empty Bird
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    Empty Bird Member

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    Hm, that's a tough one.

    And a question that I asked myself.

    The answer I recieved (from a published author, no less) was this:

    This is the first book in your series. Imagine picking up a book in a book store. It's incredible, wonderful- you've never even heard of this author before! You can't stop reading, the main character's just been captured- and then it ends. Imagine then realising that it's going to take the author time to get the next one out.

    Frustrating?

    Or another illustration. Ever been to a movie that was absolutely incredible, but it ended on a cliffhanger? Then you get told that the sequel will be out in another three years?

    Frustrating!

    True, there're some dedicated reades out there. Some people admittedly will wait. But at the same time, you've got to remember that as an author with no other works to his name, it's asking a lot for readers to wait all this time for a next installment to come out. I'm not saying they won't; neither am I saying that it's impossible. Writing is all about breaking rules, after all. But at the same time, I think you should be wary. Hang on to your idea, but be careful!

    Is there a way that you could round off the story neatly but with some other niggling point hanging there? Maybe your main character is in trouble, but the ending's still rounded off.

    You'd probably have to explain what this 'trouble' is a bit more before I can say anything else, but I think perhaps you should just really consider whether that's the only possible outcome. I love to chew my nails off whilst reading a good book, but I get awfully upset if it ends in a cliffhanger that I won't find out for the next two years. :)

    It's tough. It's annoying and hard. I won't say no for certain, because rules of writing don't exactly exist, they waver and break for people, so there. But I suppose just remember that each story is kind of like a little present of a jigsaw puzzle- one full one for each story. You want the person to be able to complete the jigsaw, see the picture, feel happy, etcetera, and then you want to give them the next one. When they complete that one and place it next to the first one, they gape in shock that the picture's taken on new meaning.

    People want to feel satisfied.

    Whether someone can feel satisfied with a story where the main character is in a dire situation is doubtful. Not impossible. But doubtful.

    I hope that (somewhat) helped!
     
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  5. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    Incidentally, John Flanagan pulls this off every book (including the first one) in his series, The Ranger's Apprentice.
     
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  6. the_epic_swede
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    the_epic_swede New Member

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    Thanks a LOT, you really given me food for thought here.

    And speaking of thought, I've been thinking. I feel like I need to take the edge off a bit, and I've come up with a little invention right at the very end of my story.

    My MC, she is a very lonely person, she has no kin and she's been running for much of her life. Resolving her lonely state is her main conflict (though not the main conclict of the book). The secondary MC, the one that recovers from an injury and manages to escape, is a guy about the same age as my MC. In the very last few paragraphs of the book, he finds out that he is actually her brother. Obviously my SMC now vows to free her or die trying. So now, in a weird sort of way, my MC's main conflict has been resolved, she just doesn't know it yet. It may leave the reader feeling like she's won some sort of victory.

    Now the question is, does that take the edge off or does it actually make it even worse! :)

    @Empty Bird: Thank you, yes that helped. And yeah I know, this is my experience as well. I have read books / seen movies where the first installment ended on a cliffhanger and many times they've left me annoyed, empty and feeling like I've been ripped off... Other times I've still enjoyed them, looking forward to the sequel but not in a painful sort of way.

    @yagr: yeah that does sound very similar to my own dilemma. I guess I can do the same but in reverse, so I include a chapter where my MC actually manages (or at least try to) escape her inprisonment. This leaves the reader with a feeling that things are going to be ok. Still one massive cliffhanger though.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that a book needs a resolution to its primary conflict. Now, it's possible that getting to that point would require 200,000 words and that it would be bound across two volumes, both of which are available simultaneously. I would call that a two-volume book, rather than a two-book series, and I wouldn't see anything inherently wrong with it.

    But I expect that publishers would see something hard-to-sell about it, so I don't think that this is publishable alone, especially as a first book for the author.
     
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  8. Empty Bird
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    Empty Bird Member

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    Now that's kind of interesting, you see. Because it depends very much on how you do it.

    If her conflict has kind-of-sort-of been resolved, then that's brilliant. Also, if you've got a secondary main character, then the question is, is he going to take up the focus of the next story?

    Because if he's going to take up the focus of the next story, then perhaps it's not too much of a problem that she's captured.

    Hm...is it written in third person or first? (Or even the impossible second???)

    Usually with series, the character picks up other problems along the way that need to resolve, finding out that the problem they were faced with is bigger than before; not as important as another, or simply they just find another one. Does that happen with your story?

    I'm sorry for all of the questions! I just think it'd be easier if I had a wider knowledge of what you're trying to create before I offer anything up. Because, really, it depends on how you do it and what you manage to make the main character do and succeed in...

    But if the next book was focussing on the other character, then it would seem more like her story's been completed...hm...

    Oh! And I'm glad you understood everything, by the way! No problem! :)
     
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  9. the_epic_swede
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    the_epic_swede New Member

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    @ChickenFreak: My main conflict cannot be solved that easily. It's a clash between two vast groups of people, and avoiding war with lots of bloodshed is the point of the story!

    One group could be considered the "good side", though it isn't that simple (is it ever). This is the side that my MC's fight for. And during the course of the first book, their side becomes stronger, due to the achievements of my MCs. So the conflict is solved in stages, book 1 is one such stage, where an important advancement is made. There is still a chance that I can make book 1 a standalone book. The series as a whole would suffer from it though.

    @Empty Bird: Yes, you nailed it! My secondary MC in book 1 = primary MC in book 2.

    In addition, a new character will take the role of secondary MC.

    There is a conscious reason though: to create a sense that time passes and you enter a new era of the conflict. This is very important for the series, since it spans over 50 odd years. I will do the same thing for the third book (rotate characters).

    Since you asked, it's written in third person. Each new chapter have a POV person (I always switch between chapters). But often, these POV persons are just tools for me to gaze out on what's happening. It's really only with my two MC's that I go deeper into their thoughts and feelings.

    I can easily get around the fact that she is imprisoned, in fact I will use that fact to dwelwe deeper into other parts of the story. This is one of the reasons I'd like to tuck her away for a while. If that makes sense :)
     
  10. NanashiNoProfile
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    NanashiNoProfile Member

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    I love the sound of this! Have you considered that in making the end of the first book a low point for the MC you could also make the end a cliffhanger for the reader? I.e. they know, or have a vague idea, how it will get better for he/she.

    I've put my own MC in a similarly down situation at the end of the first book (an unforseeable consequence of putting a stop to the initial antagonist) and am attempting to construct an ending that can be final (if nobody likes it :) ), or can be continued via hints from the epilogue.
     
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  11. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    Star Wars V

    Not the first one in its series, but it's a good example of how to end on a bummer.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2014
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  12. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    It depends, I think, on your readers. Ending a book on a cliffhanger has always struck me as a cheap ploy to get me to buy the next book. I might, if the first one was good enough, but more likely not. I think every book in a series should be able to stand alone.
     
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  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Western audience doesn't seem to deal well with cliff-hangers, I dunno. I grew up first with Japanese manga rather than novels, so I'm very much used to cliff-hangers. It's a marketing ploy but it doesn't annoy me, as long as I know book 2 is coming out. But I grew up first with a different standard, so that's maybe why I don't mind. My American friend though tells me cliff-hangers leave her cold and unsatisfied.

    However, as someone else has said, for someone with no reputation and no fan base to release a debut with a cliff-hanger, publishers are unlikely to want to know. If they signed you, they would HAVE to commit to signing you for the entire series. That's a lot of books. When they don't even know if you'll sell at all, if your first book might just flop. Then what? Then they'll have committed themselves to a failed series, wasting precious time and money. Or do they just ditch you and leave a series hanging? It doesn't make sense from the business perspective.

    So, if you wanna be traditionally published, DON'T end it on a cliff-hanger. Or if there's no way around it, then try and publish something else first and build a foundation, and only then publish your series. However, if you wanna self-publish, then you can do whatever you want.
     
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  14. the_epic_swede
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    the_epic_swede New Member

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    So what I take from this is that:

    1. From a reader perspective, a cliffhanger in the end is cool but only if you have reasons to believe things may work out well for the MC afterall.
    2. A publisher will only publish an unresolved first book by an unpublished author, if the book is something really, really extra.

    Aah. The pressure. :eek:
     
  15. Empty Bird
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    TOTALLY.

    ...I seriously don't go around saying that. Promise.

    Anyway, thanks for the extra information! This all sounds very exciting! If the next book is going to be about the second main character, then it would be safe (right?) for me to assume that you're bringing the second main character to be the first main character around the ending of your first book, yeah? So you get the readers to form more attachments with him?

    Kinda, yeah. I just think in general cliffhangers are tough to do as an unpublished author. I personally love cliffhangers, but definitely not at the end of a book. Unless it's an old series and I can grab the next one straight away.

    It's kinda not fair, but I suppose as writers, we can't expect too much from the readers. No, I'm not saying that the readers out there are stingy and snarly and scowly and...silly. (Needed another 's') All I'm saying is that we cannot presume that the readers will wait for our resolution to oiur stupendous cliffhanger.

    But, there are exceptions to the rule!

    If there's another way of doing it, do it that way first. Then, I suppose you could always say to your publisher when it get's published: "Hey, I had this other ending..." then they'd definitely know what to do! Get your foot in the door first, though, and then you can whip out all of your rebellious little plot ideas and stuff!

    But for now, perhaps carefully shelve your cliffhanger- write it, by all means! But have another ending to give too.

    Hope that helped!

    PS. Your book sounds cool.
     
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  16. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    @the_epic_swede - I finished my mas back in January and despite a hundred re-reads, edits, etc., it occurred to me after contributing to this thread, that perhaps I should go back and look at it again before describing it. Here's what I found, in a bit more detail:

    Again, it's a YA fantasy. The last chapter is very busy - in fact, it's busier than I remember it. The final chapter begins with my MC saying good-bye to his love interest before leaving with his mentor to return to his world. The return is uneventful and the majority of the rest of the chapter is devoted to his incredible feeling of let down at returning and leaving her behind. The final four paragraphs consist of him very unexpectedly seeing his love interest on his own world. She explains a crisis on her world that requires his help and the chapter and the book ends with them racing off to head for her world.

    Chapter one of book two which is included, as I said earlier, consists of them being separated on the journey to her world and my MC finding himself alone and lost. The first book was told entirely from first person perspective. I plan on oscillating chapters between his journey to find her while trying to address the crisis she came to enlist his help with - and her (and his mentor) trying to find him while addressing the same crisis.

    So, it seems I did get closure on everything in book one but in the final four paragraphs I opened the door to a new or continuing adventure. It's really chapter one of the second book that is the cliffhanger. Maybe it should come with a warning. :) I stated prior to this, in a previous post in this thread, that I had my suspicions why my publisher was okay with this. I decided it may be helpful to explain why. The book is a spiritual allegory and it rang the publishers bell from a personal perspective. I wouldn't expect that to be formula that would be easily transferable; I just got lucky.

    Anyway, good luck with your project.
     
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  17. the_epic_swede
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    the_epic_swede New Member

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    Thanks a lot for these great posts and kind words, they're a great help to me at this point, I really needed to take a step back and get some perspective.

    Re cliffhangers, there really seems to be a love-hate thing going on. We want them to some extent, but we also want closure, I think, of the most heartfelt conflicts in the story.

    Since I'd really like to be able to send out my first book withough having the other two also finished, I am going to try and find a standalone resolution, but with a bit of a twist. Here are a couple of options that I can see.

    - I can simply "resolve it" by cementing her captivated status, saying: she tried her hardest, grew as a person and ultimately sacrificed her own freedom for the greater good. It isn't a happy ending, but life isn't always happy endings. I already have sub-plots that end on a brighter note. So the ending would be bittersweet and beautiful, rather than happy and gratifying (I should probably add that my book is for adults rather than the YA segment)
    - Or I can resolve it by having her escape her confines, leaving her just as she breaks out and reaches freedom. Still a long way from her brother, but free. Of course what the reader doesn't know is, at the start of the second book she's going right back in again. Them's the breaks. Yagr-style but in reverse :)

    @yagr: Btw, congratulations on being picked up by a publisher! Really like the sound of your book.

    @Empty Bird: Thanks for the kind words and cheers for all your feedback!

    @mkk and stevesh: I'm also allergic to cliffhangers as a marketing gimmick. I really hope to avoid making the ending feel "cheap".
     
  18. Superbean
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    I think that ending with a major cliffhanger is not the best idea. Personally I love a good cliffhanger, but I hate every second of the waiting for that next book, which might even come if the publishers decide your book didn't do enough to warrant a second. So I believe that a first book should be resolved so it can stand alone. However I like the idea that it indicates that the story as a whole is far from over. Take Harry Potter. When you read the first book you are not left with the "what the hell happens next" feeling, but you still know that he has six years left and you are curious of what he will encounter during those years. That is the right way to do it in a first of a series. The maze runner ended with a cliffhanger, and I am really happy I had the next book ready to just keep on.
     
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  19. Canopyvine
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    Canopyvine Member

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    My opinion is that every book in a series should feel like a complete whole and not a chopped off limb, and I think that is one of the hardest things to accomplice when creating a series; writing a book that is complete but has interesting enough characters, enough hints and subplots that can be explored further and turn into main plots, so as to keep the reader hooked and wanting more. Generally I am skeptical towards stories that span more than one book and I will try to avoid buying the first tome unless it seems extremely interesting, but I must admit I've come across a few well executed efforts.

    I can't speak about your book without having read it but I can say that I would be hooked by the "finding he is her brother, without her knowing yet" thing. But I wouldn't like it if the whole point of the book was for her to find her brother for example. It would feel kind of a blackmail to me. But if it was a secondary plot and all suddenly and unexpectedly we found out in the end, I would really want to know how he is going to help her escape her predicament etc.

    It's late and I'm tired, so I hope I am making sense, but I guess what I am trying to say is that if you have written a super amazing story, with very interesting characters, a well executed cliffhanger can be good. It's like a cliche in the hands of a very capable storyteller, where it can be awesome, or cringeworthy when used by not so capable an author.

    My advice is that only you can decide what feels best for your story, because you know all the ins and outs of it. Maybe, it would help if you let it simmer for a couple of weeks and then look at it again with a more objective eye?

    Goodnight and good luck with your attempts at publishing! :)
     
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  20. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    I think it can certainly be done successfully if the conflict of the moment is resolved. There are loose ends left in many series out there, but if at least one major problem is dealt with every time and you create enough closure to satisfy the reader, then you should be able to get away with it.

    Examples of this might include Harry Potter, of course, and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. In those situations you have major, sweeping conflicts going on, but at the end of each book a clear and immediate situation is resolved, so the reader feels placated. In those kinds of endings an actual rest period is created so the reader can take a breather before plunging into the next installment.:)

    A lot of books that try this certainly fail the endeavor and end up pissing the reader off royally (lol), but a good author who does it can keep a reader wanting more.
     
  21. Kelly St Clair
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    Kelly St Clair New Member

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    I agree that as long as you have resolved something major within the book then it should not matter. Maybe you could hint that they are alive in a subtle way. There has to be some kind of unfinished business for them to return to your second book.
     
  22. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    In general, even with a trilogy which has a different structure than a series, there should be a satisfying story arc. There should be some semblance of at least one conflict resolved, although others can be rising or on the horizon.

    As has been said, it can be very difficult for a first time author to break in with a trilogy. The trend is becoming with some major publishers to push out a trilogy much faster to keep readers from waiting for one book a year. So having the trilogy completed, or at least the second novel well underway would be beneficial.

    I guess questions you really have to ask yourself as an author:

    What is the purpose of ending the first novel the way you have (or intend to)? Is it to try and hook the reader into eagerly picking up the next novel when it's released to see what happens? How might this be likely to backfire? With social media and reviews such as at Goodreads and Amazon and elsewhere, what might those reviewers say, and how might it affect potential readers giving the first book in the trilogy a try?

    Maybe the structure you're tending toward is just the best way to tell the story, but it may have consequences, both good and bad. As the author, you have to weigh those, considering the reader's perspective, and move forward.

    The final question would honestly be, consider your potential audience, assuming you're part of it. If you picked up a novel by an unknown author and the book ended the way you intend, what would your honest response be (totally ignoring that it's actually your work in question)? The ultimate answer to that may be a the best guide.
     

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