The Conundrum Over Cliffhangers

I don’t know what made me decide to talk about this today, since I finished the first draft of my full-length novel, Blood in the Paint, months ago, and I’m now fully focused on its prelude novella, but here goes…

I love cliffhanger endings in a series. I don’t even mind a cliffhanger ending in a stand-alone novel where I’m left guessing after I turn that last page. But it seems as though I might be in the minority on this one. Or maybe not, I didn’t actually take a poll or anything. Nor do I have any interest in doing so.

But I would like to know WHY people don’t like cliffhanger endings, especially in a series. What else would lure you to buy the sequels if there wasn’t something left unresolved? I struggled with how I wanted to end my own novel. I like cliffhangers, so obviously I wanted to end it on one. But I’ve also read the countless Amazon reviews of readers chiding the author for leaving them hanging (and not in the, “How dare s/he do that to me! I love this story so much! I want to have its babies, but first I need to know what happens next!” kind of way). Some people really hate to be roped into the next book? Why? Do they want the option of not having to read the next book? Like a literary commitment-phobe? Do they hate having to wait until the next book comes out because they fear they won’t remember enough of the first book and they’ll be lost? Maybe they have a short-term memory condition like Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates. What the hell is it? Seriously, the suspense is killing me. Oh, wait. That’s their problem too, isn’t it? Dammit.

Anyway, I hope the way I ended Blood in the Paint was a nice compromise. A nicely resolved ending, with a teeny, tiny monkey-wrench thrown in right at the very end to make you question everything you’ve just read. Ok, maybe “compromise” is the wrong word…

How do you YOU feel about cliffhanger endings?


24 thoughts on “The Conundrum Over Cliffhangers

  1. From a writing perspective I love them, but I also know that they’re easier said than done. I had definitely intended to write one for Bridge of Memories but I know I didn’t achieve that, so it was important for me to do so with Goddess of Carnage. I guess it depends on the book, part of me with book 3 really wants to end leaving the reader with more questions than answers, but given that it’s the last book that almost seems sort of cruel. I haven’t entirely decided you. That said. I can’t wait for your first novella.

  2. For me, I guess it depends how you define “cliffhanger.” There’s a difference I think in having an overarching theme continue–such as a war, or say, Voldemort’s crusade in the Harry Potter books–and having a cliffhanger

    But I always have felt a book should have a beginning, middle, and end. That’s what makes a story. A book should be its own story, even if it’s a series novel. (For instance, every Harry Potter book is its own adventure, and that specific adventure is resolved by book’s end.) If the major threads of a book’s individual story aren’t resolved, then the book isn’t finished yet. And that’s a cliffhanger, in my opinion. And I don’t like them one bit. It violates my sense of entitlement to a story. A book means I’m getting a story.

  3. I like cliffhangers…if they’re done right. If the book suddenly ends right in the middle, then no…I wouldn’t like that. However, there are times when a book has to end in the middle if the middle is the beginning of a new story.

  4. I think Cliff Hangers work really well in TV and movies and at the end of a chapter in a book, but I do find it really frustrating when a book leaves a blatent cliff hanger. As other commentors have said a book need a begining, middle and end and if the end is halfway through the story then it really dosent work. I tend to feel a little cheated when that happens.
    In the first book I wrote me and my wqriting partner did have a complete story in it but we left a huge teaser at the end of it. That little bit in no way affected teh story but it lead into the next book, which is kind of a cliff hanger 😉 lol

  5. My last book had a major cliffhanger ending (to be resolved in the next one– sorta) and I did get a lot of comments about it, most along the lines of “loved this book, but hated the ending”. I don’t mind. In fact, that’s the point, isn’t it? The fact that the readers “hate the ending” is evidence that they are deeply involved in the story.

    However (and it’s a big however) I think this mostly only works in a series. A cliffhanger in a one-shot story is, in my opinion, usually a bit of a mean trick played on the reader by the writer. It says “Ha ha! I strung you along this whole time with the promise that I knew how it was all going to come together. But I don’t! Isn’t that hilarious?”

    That’s not clever. It’s a literary cop-out.

    Worse, though, is the complete non-resolution. Where a cliffhanger says “and then the character broke through the final door and saw a horde of zombies, all holding chainsaws. The End.” the non-resolution says “and then, after 70,000 words and nineteen chapters of buildup, the character broke through the final door. The End.”

    I’ve read books like that. And wanted to go find the author and beat them with their own over-priced hardcover. Even Stephen King has done it (“The Colorado Kid”).

    Writers have a contract with their readers. The reader invests time, the author pays them with a satisfying read. A cliffhanger can actually be satisfying, if the answer is implied, or the possible conclusions are all worth considering. But the author simply cannot cross over into the intensely unsatisfying realm of the non-resolution. If so, we owe the reader a good bit of their life back.

  6. Simples. Cliffhangers that don’t complete the story of that book: bad. Cliffhangers which wrap up that story and set up an equally big juicy story for the next book: good.

    “Now we have killed the alien warlord and rescued the vizier’s daughter, the planet Blorgon is safe once more. But the defection of our traitorous defence minister with the hyperlaser weapon plans means we’re doomed unless we take the fight to Deathonia!” FADE TO BLACK.

  7. Pingback: Cliffhangers Continued… | journeyofjordannaeast

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