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All Things Writing & Publishing > Thoughts on cliff hangers...

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message 1: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments I was just wondering how people feel about a book ending in a cliff hanger? I know this type of story is not as popular as it once was given our short attention span, immediate gratification society, but can it still find a place in popular fiction?

My own feeling on it is that I enjoy the anticipation that comes from waiting to find out how the story ends...where it goes from here.

Any other opinions?


Tara Woods Turner | 2063 comments There's nothing wrong with cliffhangers in a sense. If the plot is left partially unresolved that can be thrilling for the reader. By unresolved i mean there is clearly another angle that the main characters must pursue. For example, three friends must travel through enemy territory in order to locate the magical orb that will break the curse their kingdom is under. If the friends must do battle with an ancient wizard before they can continue on to the next leg of their quest it is perfectly okay to finish the book before they locate the orb - but don't conclude the book before they defeat the wizard. Give the readers some sense of completion. A cliffhanger in this sense is okay because stretching the story over three or four books can make for a good read. But when a writer leaves the central conflict in a story unresolved it can be frustrating for readers, especially with full length novels. I, personally, feel a bit cheated and I also think the author is making a money grab to make sure i buy the next book.

R. A. Salvatore is excellent at wrapping up the central conflict threads in each novel with the clear understanding that the overall conflict is nowhere near resolution. Each book proves to be satisfying but you clearly want more of the total story. I think this approach strikes a happy medium. Of course, a cliffhanger in a novella or short story is perfectly fine, in my opinion.


message 3: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 16088 comments I also like cliff-hangers since they allow 'to keep the channels open', whether for a reader to imagine how it develops or for an author to offer a sequel.
For the reasons you mention, I hear that some others are irritated by such approach and some readers even refuse to start reading a series that don't have a decisive ending...


message 4: by Marie Silk (new)

Marie Silk | 1022 comments Well soap operas would not exist without them :D

I am one of those people who needs closure, so I do not personally like cliffhangers. There is a substantial portion of readers who will not pick up a book if they know it ends on a cliffhanger, and I see complaints in reviews on my goodreads newsfeed when a book does this.

I was surprised when someone reviewed the second book in my series and said that it ended on a cliffhanger. I make it a point to make my endings satisfying. However, I put a teaser "preview of next book" page at the back of each book, and those are intense on purpose. I think that might be what the reviewer was referring to on my book.

I think an author can get away with cliffhangers if they are established enough with a reader fan base, but I don't know that it's the best idea for authors just starting out, especially when it is an undetermined amount of time before the next book is out. I think that including a teaser in the back for the next book is a good compromise and seems to be working well for my series so far. :)


message 5: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments Thanks for all the feedback so far...seems there's a growing consensus to avoid the cliffhanger unless you're established. I'm not surprised, seems everyone I ask this of feels the same.

I guess you could call me disappointed though, for the loss of this story instrument. Some of the best stories I remember from when I was a child ended in suspense and always left me wanting more...not feeling cheated at all. I suppose it may just be a sign of the times...*sigh*


message 6: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 16088 comments Eldon wrote: "I guess you could call me disappointed though, for the loss of this story instrument..."

You might be a little too hasty mourning the good old c/h -:)
I don't think it's only about following trends. If such ending feels natural and closes the separate book neatly, I don't think you can't use it b4 topping NYT b/s list.
If to follow everything like no c/h, no profanity, no adult content, no complicated names and so on, you arrive at Harry Potter - your perfect mainstream book, which unfortunately is already written and its copyright expiring a long time to wait -:)


message 7: by M.L. (new)

M.L. It depends on the book. If the whole series is published, sure that's fine.
Murakami's 1Q84 is complete (3 separate books), but I think it was Book 2 that ended on a real cliff hanger. I would have been furious with him, but I read the complete so was not.
Ending with enticement for the next book is fine, but that comes down to what each reader calls a cliffhanger.


message 8: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments Nik wrote: "Eldon wrote: "I guess you could call me disappointed though, for the loss of this story instrument..."

You might be a little too hasty mourning the good old c/h -:)
I don't think it's only about f..."


I never had any inclination to read Harry Potter...probably because it is so mainstream lol


message 9: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments Marie wrote: "I wasn't allowed to read Harry Potter when it came out because it was designed to send its readers into a downward spiral to the occult/devil worship (so said my church). Ah well.

:D"


That is certainly a different take on what is essentially a children's book...


message 10: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments Marie wrote: "Well soap operas would not exist without them :D

I am one of those people who needs closure, so I do not personally like cliffhangers. There is a substantial portion of readers who will not pick u..."


I can't believe you got a negative review for a cliffhanger that you didn't even have! Says more about the reviewers attention span me thinks!


message 11: by Marie Silk (new)

Marie Silk | 1022 comments Eldon wrote: That is certainly a different take on what is essentially a children's book..."

Yeah, I'm not really seeing it either...but there was a huge church boycott over it back in the day.


message 12: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 16088 comments Read all or most of Potters. They are so nice and pleasant and agreeable with just anything, I'm surprised any religious institution has problems with it.
It's unique in how perfectly middle ground it is in almost any sense of adventure, intrigue, thrill, etc, the most broadly appealing books ever -:)
I'm not the biggest fan, but I take my hat off to J.K. for her tremendous and deserved success


message 13: by Yelena (new)

Yelena Lugin (ylugin) | 35 comments Marie wrote: "I wasn't allowed to read Harry Potter when it came out because it was designed to send its readers into a downward spiral to the occult/devil worship (so said my church). Ah well.

:D"


I had a friend when I was growing up whoe's family believed the same thing... I needed to find other people to go to the movies with me when I wanted to watch the latest HP


message 14: by Yelena (new)

Yelena Lugin (ylugin) | 35 comments On another note.... I enjoy cliffhangers as long as its after the main climax of the story.
It makes me mad if the entire story is leading up to this one thing and we get there and booom read the next book.
I am not saying that a series cant have one main thing that streatches between books but like if this one war is the main thing but one of the books is all about one particular battle, lets get through the battle please.

I have had one book that I enjoyed until they did their cliffhanger. But it wasnt that it was a cliffhanger it was what the actual cliffhanger was that upset me and so I have not yet read the next book in that series.

When I write I do both. One book, Splintered Fate, ends in a cliffhanger... battle and in the end your not sure who was left standing.

My newest book, In The Crossfire ends more wrapped up but thats just cuz I thought thats what the book called for. The MC went through changes and in the end she in essence closes the door on one part of her life and accepts who she is. Book 2 will be the next chapter of her life.


message 15: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments Is not the essence of a cliffhanger to be shocking? If we restrict its usage to subplots and ancillary characters are we not missing the point? There are devices that could provide the reader a glimpse of what is to come; should the cliffhanger not be reserved for the main character within whom the reader is most invested and its usgae will have the most impact?


message 16: by Yelena (new)

Yelena Lugin (ylugin) | 35 comments Eldon wrote: "Is not the essence of a cliffhanger to be shocking? If we restrict its usage to subplots and ancillary characters are we not missing the point? There are devices that could provide the reader a gli..."

I agree that if a cliffhanger is used then it should include the main character in some way.
I also think that cliffhangers are great if used appropriately. But who is to say it's appropriate or not? Its just a matter of opinion.


message 17: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 16088 comments In my opinion, if you call something 'a book', even if it's an installment in a series, it has to provide for some conclusion and resolution of the plot-line, while a c/h may leave one or few inherent questions open, like whether the MC survived or what happened to the opponent, whether for the readers to decide for themselves or for the author to continue in a sequel. A controversial ending, I think, is no inferior to unequivocal


message 18: by Marie Silk (new)

Marie Silk | 1022 comments Haha, someone on my facebook newsfeed just posted, "Cliffhangers are the best and worst!"

They can be effective for sure! Just depends on how it's pulled off, I suppose :)


message 19: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2329 comments Nik wrote: "In my opinion, if you call something 'a book', even if it's an installment in a series, it has to provide for some conclusion and resolution of the plot-line, while a c/h may leave one or few inher..."

This exactly. If I'm looking at a series, I see nothing wrong with leaving elements for future installments, but if it's presented as a standalone work, then the book better have some sort of a conclusion.

I don't see anything wrong if you're writing a serial however. As long as you make it clear the reader isn't buying a "book" but a piece of a book. The consumer won't see it as a money grab if each part is priced at a fraction of the collected work. In this case, you absolutely need a cliffhanger or the reader won't have the urgent need to rush out and buy the next piece - they might put it off until they forget about it if they're not dying to know what happens next.


message 20: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 11805 comments I am strongly against cliff-hanger endings. That doesn't mean the book cannot signal there is something to follow, but it should come to some conclusion. I think a book should have a "natural" ending, i.e., the whole story could end there, even if it is obvious there is room for it not to. As an example, in the first book of my Gaius Claudius Scaevola trilogy, Scaevola is set off on a quest, but the end of the first book has Caligulae taking away his military appointment out of spite. That removes his obvious route to completing the quest, which would be a failure. Since it is stated to be the first in a trilogy, it is obvious that something has to follow, so the next book might appear to be based on how he overcomes this obstacle. (As it happens, that guess would be wrong, but . . ) My point is, the ending might be unsatisfactory from the point of view of anyone sympathising with the protagonist (in this case, quest killed) but it is at least an ending, even if the reader can guess there is more to come.


message 21: by Marie Silk (new)

Marie Silk | 1022 comments That's a good point, J.J.

The reader should absolutely know up front that a book is part of a series or will have a sequel, especially if an author is going to end on a cliffhanger.


message 22: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments Ian wrote: "I am strongly against cliff-hanger endings. That doesn't mean the book cannot signal there is something to follow, but it should come to some conclusion. I think a book should have a "natural" endi..."

Being "strongly against cliff-hanger endings" puts you squarely in the majority, if we can judge anything from the responses thus far. I've attempted to campaign for their usage a few times now so I won't rehash my points on all that here.

I can understand the other side of the coin. If a reader takes however long they take to read through an entire book, they want to be rewarded for their efforts with a decent ending. They want to know when they start that they will find their way to an end. I get all that.

My only issue with that is what constitutes a decent ending? It really is all in the eye of the beholder? Does an ending require closure? All think we can all agree it doesn't - it could, but it's not required.

If you strive for realism in your writing, and I like to think I do, could an ending not then be up in the air? I know personally, everything doesn't always work out into a nice tidy finish in my own life. Sometimes, things are left unsaid or unresolved. Such is the nature of life and can also be the nature of fiction; art imitating life and all.


message 23: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 11805 comments Eldon wrote: "Ian wrote: "I am strongly against cliff-hanger endings. That doesn't mean the book cannot signal there is something to follow, but it should come to some conclusion. I think a book should have a "n..."

I agree that what constitutes a decent ending is complicated, and I guess there will be almost as many opinions as authors. One problem might be the question of all or some. By that, I think an ending should close something, but not necessarily everything.

In my novels, I don't think any of them end with an equivalent of "and they all lived happily ever after". Of course life is untidy. However, I think a novel should also be about something, and at the end of the novel, either that something should be resolved, or a point is well made about that something. By all means leave clues that something else is going to happen, but I like to have my books end by also saying "something is over", even if it is obvious that something different will follow.


message 24: by Annie (new)

Annie Arcane (anniearcane) Hmm. Okay, I'm strictly contemporary romance, so keep that in mind...

1. I love me some serious misunderstandings, turmoil and angst
2. I adore tortured heroes
3. I kinda sorta dig cliffies (if they're not trying too hard)
4. I'm actually not a fan of the "true" HEA

But it's sooo darn subjective...

Personally, I believe in staying true to your own style. And even your characters, for that matter. Like, if a butthead falls in love, I don't think he changes into Prince Charming. I think he's just a butthead in love. Which is exactly how I like him *smirks* But to have butthead magically ride off into the sunset on unicornback is pretty cringeworthy, in my very, very humble opinion.

Ugh. What the heck am I trying to say?? Umm. I guess if it feels "right" to end on a cliffy (very likely at some point) then I won't hesitate to do it. But I fully expect to receive some backlash. Meh. My 2 cents.

Hugs,
Ann


message 25: by Marie Silk (new)

Marie Silk | 1022 comments The ending does not need complete closure or happily ever after imo, but it should feel satisfying to some degree. Like, some things get resolved, some things get figured out, you can sort of see the direction it is going for the next installment.


message 26: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments Annie wrote: "Hmm. Okay, I'm strictly contemporary romance, so keep that in mind...

1. I love me some serious misunderstandings, turmoil and angst
2. I adore tortured heroes
3. I kinda sorta dig cliffies (if th..."


Well said Ann :) I too believe in staying true to your own style as well as the characters!


message 27: by Annie (new)

Annie Arcane (anniearcane) *fist pumps Eldon*

Tee hee. Thanks!


message 28: by Denise (new)

Denise Baer Is it a cliffhanger if the story leaves you guessing at the end? If it's not a series, such as who really did kill so and so?

I don't read book series, yet I'm currently writing one. Go figure. In some threads I read about series, readers get frustrated if you leave them hanging, and when I say hanging, I mean they are hanging from the cliff. Something happens right at the end of the story to which the reader is forced to read the second book to find out what happened. As a reader, this would aggravate me too.


message 29: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 16088 comments OK, so we get here different/opposite opinions as of the use of c/h and readers' attitude towards them.
In this context, the natural question is whether the author is morally bound to continue the story and write the next installment, if he/she chose a c/h for the ending?


message 30: by Yelena (new)

Yelena Lugin (ylugin) | 35 comments If I like the story then YES!!! I need to know what happens


message 31: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments If an author chooses to use a cliffhanger, a risky gambit at best it would seem, then yes they're morally obligated to finish the story. You can't leave the reader hanging indefinitely.

In fact, can it even be called a cliffhanger if it's never concluded?


message 32: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 16088 comments Annoying, I know, but a cliffhanger can be indefinite and happens unfinished


message 33: by Yelena (new)

Yelena Lugin (ylugin) | 35 comments Yes Eldon it's still a cliffhanger just the author freaking leaves you there, dangling over that cliff, to never get rescued...
Not nice


message 34: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 16088 comments We can remedy this, by stipulating that if the author doesn't finish the story within a couple of years, it goes on competitive bidding to be written by someone else -:)


message 35: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments Nik wrote: "We can remedy this, by stipulating that if the author doesn't finish the story within a couple of years, it goes on competitive bidding to be written by someone else -:)"

Now that's an idea I like ☺


message 36: by E.P. (new)

E.P. | 66 comments I must point out that "Eugene Onegin" ended in a cliffhanger that was never resolved. Each GoT book ends in a cliffhanger, and "The Fellowship" and "Two Towers" end in cliffhangers. "50 Shades of Grey" ends in what is basically a cliffhanger, too. I would hate to deny authors a technique that has been used by some of the most acclaimed and/or bestselling books ever written. There's a lot of moaning about cliffhangers now, but a lot of readers don't actually know what they want. Good books should make the reader suffer!


message 37: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments E.P. wrote: "I must point out that "Eugene Onegin" ended in a cliffhanger that was never resolved. Each GoT book ends in a cliffhanger, and "The Fellowship" and "Two Towers" end in cliffhangers. "50 Shades of G..."

Some excellent examples of why cliffhangers are great!!


message 38: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 11805 comments E.P. wrote: "I must point out that "Eugene Onegin" ended in a cliffhanger that was never resolved. Each GoT book ends in a cliffhanger, and "The Fellowship" and "Two Towers" end in cliffhangers. "50 Shades of G..."

I don't think Onegin is fair - Pushkin apparently started writing chapter 10, but then found it politically dangerous, so he burnt it and withdrew from the task. Similarly, the Tolkien examples are unfair because I gather Tolkien never intended it to be published in three books - that was the publisher's doing.


message 39: by Annie (new)

Annie Arcane (anniearcane) Sorry for resurrecting a semi-zombie here but I finally got around to reading this thread and just HAD to reply to this...

E.P. wrote: "Good books should make the reader suffer! "

OMG, EP!! Yesssss!!! Thank you!!!!

Anger is an emotion I am more than happy to evoke in readers. They can be frustrated at my cliffies. They can *fingers crossed* rant to all their friends. They can even dock me a star for my unacceptable behaviour (has actually happened hahahaha!)

And then they can buy the next book.

*smirks*

Hugs wonderfully awesome EP,
Ann


message 40: by E.P. (new)

E.P. | 66 comments
And then they can buy the next book.>

Totally, 100%!! It never even occurred to me that cliffhangers were objectionable in any way until I published a book with one, which was not my original intention, but the tale kind of grew in the telling, ya know, and it became painfully apparent that it needed to be split up. So I split it up mid-conversation. Then I got all kinds of whining, moaning, complaints and docked stars in reviews, blah blah blah, and I discovered that it wasn't just my book: cliffhangers are so terrifying for readers that they feel they need a trigger warning or something about that, and books that end in cliffhangers do seem to get a smattering of 1- and 2-star reviews because of that very fact.

To which I say: whine away! It's good for you. And yes, preferably whine to your friends about it. I read both "The Color Purple" and the 50 Shades books because people had told me how awful they were. Turns out I loved them both.

But seriously, if you want to use a cliffhanger, I say go ahead. I do find it a little annoying when something extremely short ends in a cliffhanger, but if it's free or 99c, I feel I have no room to complain about almost anything. With longer books I think it's totally fair game. Some readers are probably going to moan about it, but you can't go around trying to please everyone because that's just not possible.


message 41: by E.P. (new)

E.P. | 66 comments Oh, and hugs back!


message 42: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments The zombie rises lol

Kind of harsh Ann...but I dig it!


message 43: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments Amen E.P., nice to finally see the other side of the argument given some support :)


message 44: by Tim (new)

Tim Rees | 732 comments WTF ends in a cliffhanger, but it fits the story as it is a glimpse into the life of a young man whose life crashes from one drama to another in a very short space of time... I have only had positive feedback on the cliffhanger ending with readers desperate for a sequel I may or may not write...


message 45: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments And that is the beauty of the cliffhanger! Executed properly it leaves the reader begging for more!!


message 46: by E.P. (new)

E.P. | 66 comments Yeah, I think the issue is not cliffhangers per se, but poor writing. A good writer will use literary techniques and tools effectively; a poor writer will not. There are certainly writers out there who use cliffhangers poorly, just like there are writers who misuse adverbs. I just started rereading "Ulysses" and I note that Joyce uses adverbs in almost every sentence.

It is true that there are readers out there who have a strong objection to cliffhangers, but there are also readers who have a strong objection to short stories, long novels, bad language, anodyne language, too much sex, not enough sex, too much violence, not enough violence...you get the point. And all of those things *can* be bad, but they can also be highly effective storytelling vehicles. I'd say it's not the topic or the technique that is responsible for the goodness/badness of a work, but the intention and effectiveness of its use. I have *extremely* strong objections to anything that smacks of sexual assault, pedophilia, and cruelty to animals, but I've certainly read works that deal with those topics in a heartfelt and sympathetic (to the victim) manner.

Hmm, that's gotten a bit off topic, but basically what I'm trying to say is I think it's up to the author to decide what techniques and topics work for you. Not everyone is going to love what you do, but as the author it is your right and responsibility to decide what is best for your text. A poorly executed cliffhanger is irritating, but as you said, Eldon, a good cliffhanger is thrilling.


message 47: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2329 comments I had to read The Color Purple in college and didn't find it horrible, though I could see where some might take issue with the lesbian undertones.


message 48: by Marie Silk (new)

Marie Silk | 1022 comments These are some great points! Pretty much every book will get 1-star reviews, cliffhanger or not. I am trying to learn to write the book as it is meant to be, not based on what a review might say. I am sorry if I was discouraging before with cliffhangers.


message 49: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 704 comments Marie wrote: "These are some great points! Pretty much every book will get 1-star reviews, cliffhanger or not. I am trying to learn to write the book as it is meant to be, not based on what a review might say. I..."

Every opinion is valid and appreciated...no apology necessary Marie!


message 50: by E.P. (new)

E.P. | 66 comments The issue for my friend who didn't like The Color Purple was just that she found the descriptions of Celie's suffering difficult and upsetting, not that it was "offensive" in the way that's normally meant, although I don't think she saw the difference herself at the time. Readers (and writers) have to learn to differentiate between what is writing on disturbing themes in a healing manner vs. a titillating one. It's not as easy as people might think.

As for cliffhangers, I think it's good to know that there are readers out there that find the mere presence of cliffhangers so upsetting that they will automatically give a 1 or 2 star review just for that, even--probably especially--if they liked everything else. I guess as an author you just have to decide if that's worth it to write the book the way you want to write it.


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