The Trouble With Cliffhangers

I read somewhere the first sentence of a book invites you to read on and last climbing-157588_1280bsentence invites you to seek out more of the author’s work.

With this in mind, is a cliffhanger a good idea?

For me the answer is no.

I’m not against them completely.

Ending a chapter with a cliffhanger is great. The next page is in my hand and I can find out what happens immediately. There is no frustration or swearingβ€”unless in amazement. At times like these I appreciate the device and gladly read on.

But leave me hanging on the last page of a book and the trust is gone. I’ve been betrayed and won’t dare get suckered in again. It occurred to me that all my drama was just my thing.

So I investigated.

I’m not alone. It turns out that some people don’t buy books if a review says it ends in a cliffhanger.

Let’s take a look at the different ending possibilities:

climbing-157588_1280aCLIFFHANGER

Just before the hero and the villain go toe to toe the book ends, leaving the reader without answers. Is it me, or did you also notice that anger is in cliffhanger.

HOOK

In some series all loose ends are tied up but another question arises or foreshadows a future inciting incident, teasing the reader gently that there may be more. The reader can almost imagine what will happen next, comparable to a second date. Think anticipation. Now that’s fun.

OPEN ENDING

Tie up all but one subplot, giving the reader enough info so they can choose the ending for themselves. Writers have been known to continue the story if fans or sales demand it. Using the open ending allows room for the imagination.

RESOLUTION

Most standalone books tie up all loose ends, even in a series. Think mystery or romance. In the next book, the cast shifts, letting another couple take the spotlight or the cast of characters move on to a new adventure.

Anyone out there enjoy a good cliffhanger? What’s your favorite type of ending?

Gleaned from:

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61 responses to “The Trouble With Cliffhangers

  1. Great topic. I just recently read a book where I hated and loved the ending. It was a sudden cliff hanger and the authors had never done that before. Caught me by surprise. I like it when they wrap up the story and lead you towards more, not leave you out on a limb!

    My Teaser Tuesday

  2. Yeah, cliffhangers positively suck. The only way that work for me is when the entire plot of the book is done, then we get an extra scene — preferably an epilogue — that gives us a clue of what’s coming next. You know, like Sanderson does in Stormlight.

  3. “Anger is in cliffhanger,” I want to quote you on Tumblr, LOL.

    For the most part, I do fee cliffhangers are lazy writing. Unless you’ve got the next book coming out in less than six months (preferably six weeks), it’s not a great thing to do to your readership. I admit I once tried pulling one, but a very good writer friend basically put her foot down and said “no, you’re better than that.” (Thanks for talking some sense into me, Intisar!)

  4. I really get mad when writers don’t follow through on “story promises” by the end of a book. It’s fine to tease the next novel, as long as all the threads of the current plot are tied up neatly in a bow.

  5. I’ve learned to check ahead of time if a book is part of a series or a trilogy so I’m aware that there might be a cliffhanger type ending. I’ve been burned before – I thought the book was a standalone only to be left totally hanging at the end….

  6. It depends on the genre. For example, horror has more open-ended endings where the thrill of reading the book is to wonder if the monster is still out there. For series, I do like to see either a hook type of cliffhanger or the ending being more open-ended. After all, you want the reader to be eager to pick up the next book. Now if it is a standalone and you have the villain and hero fighting and end it without resolution, then that’s cruel. LOL! Of course, TV does that a LOT. Someone gets shot/an explosion goes off/etc., and you have to wait until next season to know who lives or dies. Those type of endings can be frustrating, but it’s worse if the show is cancelled before some resolution.

  7. I like a good cliffhanger at the end of a book that is part of a series. Nothing life or death, but something that leaves it open that the danger, etc. isn’t over yet. I do that for my books. πŸ™‚

  8. Hate cliffhangers. The main plot must be tied up by the book end. I don’t mind a hook to get me to read the next book, but not the non-resolution of the main plot.

  9. I love open endings where you’re left wondering exactly what the main character will do. Like Basic Instinct…was she the killer or wasn’t she? I don’t like mysteries where the killer takes 20 minutes to explain his motivation and how he got away with everything. That’s unrealistic to me.

    I like a little mystery in my life. That said, I am a fan of a series that completely left us hanging at the end of one book. THAT pissed me off. It came across as blatantly manipulative.

  10. I hate HEAs. I prefer open endings that leave me wondering what happens next with the characters. I’m not sure this qualifies as a hook because it’s really not plot related. It’s all about the author imbuing the characters with enough reality to make me care how their lives go after the last page. Michael Robotham is brilliant at this.

    But cliff hanger endings? Hate them. It’s cheap manipulation and I’d never read the author again. I’m okay with a few cliff hanger chapter endings, but not every chapter. Cliff hangers should be organic to the story, not forced. A cliff hanger at the end of every chapter tells me the writer didn’t have confidence in the story and/or the writing and felt he or she had to use manipulation to keep the reader turning pages.

    VR Barkowski

  11. I don’t like a cliffhanger because what if I didn’t like the book enough to seek out the next one?

  12. Yeah, sometimes cliffhangers, when they pull the rug underneath me or leaves me hanging, makes me want to throw something. Either that or pull my hair out. I much prefer a hook or an open ending. Whether you read romance or not, but most romance writers got the ending down to a T. It either ends with loose ends all tied up and the couple together. Or is left open ended for the next book which may feature the original couple in the next stage of their relationship with new (or a mix of the old) problems, a new couple directly related to the previous couple and same cast, or a new couple indirectly or distantly related to the previous couple (cameo) with a new cast.

  13. Nope don’t like cliffhangers. I like the hook and open ends depending on how its handled, but a total cliff hanger just aggravates me and disappoints me. Like you say I feel let down and betrayed.

    However there have been times when I triology is released all at once and the author tells you they are like Episodes which means cliffhanger in the first two I will buy those if the premise and cover move me enough.

    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  14. That’s interesting. Well, I personally love cliffhangers and whenever I see one well done I’m darn jealous of the author. πŸ˜‰ One book I would’ve never read if it weren’t for the cliffhangers at the end of every single chapter is the Da Vinci code. Dan Brown’s prose reads as a bad translation from Chinese. It’s terrible, and her characters, especially the women, are so flat you want to pull hair off your scalp. And yet those darn cliffhangers kept me reading til the very hand. So to me, there’s a value to cliffhangers. And as much as I dislike Dan Brown’s prose, I gotta give it to him that he’s really good at those.

  15. The book needs to have enough of a close to leave me satisfied but enough of a cliffy to make me eager for the next book..LOL

  16. I hate cliff hangers at a book’s end. CAVEAT: It’s not always the author’s first choice. I wrote a rather lengthy Civil War novel. The publisher insisted their main distributor advised to break the book in half. I argued, but eventually complied, so, MY BAD! The reviews for both volumes were mostly wonderful, BUT overall I’m sure it hurt sales (the publisher finally agreed when sales tanked). I got all rights back and my agent is now shopping the story as ONE book.
    Cliff hangers at the end of a chapter are great. I now write a mystery series, and try to do that at each chapter’s end.

  17. I don’t mind having a few subplots unresolved at the end of the book, but the main story-worthy problem that was introduced back at the beginning–that has to be resolved or I’ll never read that author’s books again. Speaking of disappointing cliffhangers, how about that recent X-Files miniseries ending.

  18. I prefer the last three. I find that with cliffhangers I would have to have the next book in line to read or the intensity fades.

  19. And to answer your question on my blog, MG word count tends to run low and my aim is at least 30K.

  20. I remember Karen Marie Moning’s books ending on a cliffhanger. I still gobbled up the series, but then, I started when there were several books out and I didn’t know they ended that way. But yeah, it gets frustrating to wait when I want to know. πŸ™‚

    I think I like the Hook myself.

  21. To be quite honest, I’m not a big fan of it at the end of chapters either. If it makes sense to the story, great. But since this cliffhanger idea came about, it seems like authors go to ridiculous lengths to get there.

    I do not like cliff hangers at the end. Ever. I’m fine with a universe continuing but the story I am reading needs to wrap up in the book I am reading.

  22. jennifer@badbirdreads

    Yeah cliffhangers can be killer. I sometimes don’t buy books because of that. I especially hate the endings that just stop in the middle of the story.

  23. I have a love-hate relationship with cliffhangers.
    Sometimes I enjoy them and make me want to read the next book. But lately, most of the time, I end up cursing and wanting to punch someone. I feel betrayed or cheated when the cliffhanger is too big πŸ™‚
    Anyway, great post
    Ruty @Reading…Dreaming

    • And the funny thing was I thought it was just me. All because the last few series had cliffhangers tucked in amongst the volumes. I doubt very much they expected my reaction or they wouldn’t have done it.

      I will avoid their writing at all costs. 😦

  24. I’m with you. I don’t want to have to wait for another book before I’m satisfied by a story. I think I don’t read series often just because of the “cliff hanger”idea.

  25. And, I should add, the books can be read in any order.

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