Cliffhangers. Readers or TV watchers know them all too well. You are sitting there enjoying your entertainment when a new big, intense plot line is happening. Maybe you know that it can’t re resolved in the time/space remaining or maybe it sneaks up on you. Either way the book or the show ends before that Big Thing is wrapped up. I’m not talking about some plot lines still having major questions left unanswered, I’m talking your favourite character was thrown off a cliff and the next page is blank, not telling you if they lived or died.
I still remember the first novel I read that had a ‘cliffhanger’. It’s still sitting on my shelf and happens to be one of the first, if not the first, major book that I bought myself. Definitely the first book I bought in a book store and not at a school book fare. Now this ‘cliffhanger’ was not so much someone being thrown off a cliff as the novel finished without tying up all the loss ends and I hadn’t realized it was a series. In other words it’s not really a cliffhanger, but it introduced me to the concept of them. More recently, I have read several novels back-to-back that have ended this way.
I will say it out loud and proud. I really hate it when novels end in cliffhangers.
Cliffhangers are not inherently bad and should be avoided at all costs. It’s a way to get readers excited/interested/anxious to pick up the next book and know what happens. It can be a way to push the plot forward. I do actually like so called ‘mini cliffhangers’s within a novel, typically at the end of a chapter, that push you to continue reading and resulting in you being miserable the next day because you stayed up all night reading.
However, most of the real, genuine cliffhangers I have experienced have not been necessary: they did not add to the plot lines going on in the series and resulted in more anxiety then anything else. Often times the next book has not yet been published and it just makes the wait uncomfortable.
I believe books should be able to stand on its own. Some books, it seems, have a cliffhanger at the end just so that they author can sell the next book. If your book does not entice me to read the next one a cliffhanger is not going to either. Often times if I’m not enjoying the book or think it’s just an ok book which ends with a cliffhanger at the end I’m even less likely to read the next one. If the next book is not out yet and will not be out soon I am very likely to lose interest or be so mad at the authors for putting me unknowingly in that situation that I won’t read the next one to spite the cliffhanger.
When a book ends in a cliffhanger and the next one picks up well after whatever it was finished and brushes it off as if it was no big deal that we waited for at least a year to figure out what was going to happen, I lose faith in the author. This has happened to me recently and I have stalled in finishing off the book because I’m so disgusted with it, though I will admit I have predicted why the author choose to do this (I predicted this well before the ‘cliffhanger’ actually happened to be fair, so I wasn’t surprised when it happened) but I haven’t cared enough to finish reading the novel to determine if I am right.
So please, please authors. Think long and hard before including a cliffhanger at the end of your novel. Are you doing it because it is necessary or because you need a way to get readers to buy the next book.