Friday Fun – Cliffhangers

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Cliffhangers. Some people love ’em. Some people hate ’em. Which side of the debate do you fall in, and does your opinion change depending on whether you’re thinking about a story you’re reading vs. a story you’re writing?

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: In general, I’m not a huge fan of cliffhangers between books. I recently read the middle book in V.E. Schwab’s “ADSOM” trilogy, A Gathering of Shadows. After finishing the book, I commented that it felt like “an entertaining set up for whatever is coming in the third book.” It made me chuckle when, later, I read the author’s comment in her postscript note that she made it all the way through so-and-so-many novels without “the dreaded cliffhanger.”

While I like end-of-chapter cliffhangers, end-of-novel cliffhangers are mostly annoying. Even though I know that there’s more coming, I feel like I’ve been the victim of a bait-and-switch scam. I’ve invested all this time in a story that offers no closure. To me, that feels like the story hasn’t kept it’s promise. And then, if I’m reading a series as it’s published, I have to face the long and arduous wait to the next release date. Ugh.

Nope. I prefer each novel in a series to be a complete story that can stand on its own. You can have end-of-chapter cliffhangers as tense as you like, but make sure that when I get to the last page of the book, I’ve got that fully satisfied feeling of having been on a fabulous journey that went somewhere and brought me home … not that I’m only halfway to wherever I’m going and have to wait another twelve months for the rest of the story.

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin: I like linked fiction, and I love page-turners – which I define as a book so engrossing that I don’t want to get off the couch until I’m finished reading it – but I’m not a fan of cliff-hangers. It should also be known I have a low tolerance for suspense that involves danger. In fact, every fall when my friend Archer Mayor‘s new Joe Gunther mystery appears , I save it for the Christmas holiday so I can read it in one go. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t finish it before bedtime, I can’t get to sleep. For better or for worse, I’m one of those people who finds ordinary life sufficiently engrossing. Not a thrill seeker.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I’m like Jamie in that chapter-to-chapter cliff hangers are fine; end-of-book cliffhangers, not so much. I’m familiar with Archer Mayor’s books, and am with Deborah in wanting to read them in one sitting. Quite the page turners!

I can’t think of any particular series now that ever left me with a cliffhanger and a year before the next book. I read several series and although the novels pick up after the last, they don’t *have* to be read in order to be appreciated. Each novel is a standalone, and I prefer that with the continuing stories of the characters.

When it comes to TV, cliffhangers at season’s end is typical — and I do find it frustrating to have to wait months to see who survived The Disaster.


Julie Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes: I don’t mind page turner cliffhangers, and I try and use them to build suspense in my novels. I also try to leave a “I wonder what’s going to happen in the next book” questions at the end of my novels, but I do think that answering the major plot questions is important. As a reader, I don’t like to have to wait for a year to know what happens, so I don’t do that to readers. RE TV cliffhangers, don’t you hate it when googling who didn’t renew their contract answers that question?

7 thoughts on “Friday Fun – Cliffhangers

  1. I quite enjoy the chapter to chapter cliffhangers, but I do feel short-changed when the cliffhanger is at the end of the book, and leaves me wondering “Sooo, how did it all work out?” and then I think – “What…I just spent days reading this book, waiting to see how everything is going to work out and then you leave me with this?” I feel cheated.

  2. I enjoy cliffhangers in the moment, probably just for the shock value of them, but the longer I have to wait for the resolution, the more frustrated I get, I sometimes even forget about them if I’m not that hooked in the first place. And the longer I have to wait the more underwhelming the resolution always feels. So I do prefer chapter-to-chapter cliffhangers, but if there’s one at the end of every chapter, like in a Dan Brown book, they become exhausting and lose their impact.
    But I’ll always love the actual moment of reading/watching a cliffhanger, that “Oh no, how are they going to get out of this one!” feeling is quite an instinctive one, I think, even when you know they’re going to get out of it somehow.

  3. I agree novels should be able to be stand alones. Cliffhangers on tv or in a novel are annoying. I have found myself interested in a series after it has come out so being able to read the first two books than…I had to wait and wait. By the time the third book was released I had lost interest in the novel and the characters. Series are great, but I like them when they focus on a couple characters and wrap up their story in one novel and than move onto other characters in the next novel.

  4. I have to agree with everyone who dislikes them at the end of books or TV series. A story should be good enough to make me want to read/watch the next one without such a cheap trick, which fails anyway because I forget (eventually, certainly by the time a year has gone by) the details, but am left annoyed and frustrated – not the feeling a writer should want to leave their audience with! Especially with TV when they don’t make the next series, just gone through that with Home Fires. It did not need a cliffhanger to keep me watching, yet now I can never know if people are alive or dead after a plane crashed into the village! Lazy writing, I think.

    I tend also to feel a bit that way with regard episodes/chapters, but not so much. I like to be able to put a book down and go to sleep, and a chapter break ought to be a good point to do it. If the story and writing is good enough, I will be back – or even if not, I am one of those who try and finish even a book I am not enjoying much (trying to break that!) although I do understand that I am probably in a minority there. I also hate when a chapter is left at a cliffhanger but the next chapter is about another character and so is the one after and you either have to flick ahead lots of chapters and risk spoilers, or give up and wait impatiently and somewhat distractedly, unable to really get into that part of the story while the other is still unresolved.

  5. I think that you can have novels in a series be standalone stories, but also include a cliff hanger that relates to the overall story arc. If it’s a trilogy, for instance, you can use a cliffhanger to set up the next book in the series while still having resolution for the story at hand. This device is used in television drama all the time. I don’t subscribe to the adage that it’s a devious way to get the reader to read your next book. Isn’t that one of the goals of authors? If the reader enjoyed the story, they can read or not read the next in the series. As an indie author, it’s not like the prices are so prohibitive that this can’t be a realistic expectation.

  6. Cliffhanger: dangling over an edge of a ledge with the ground a long way away; or a hero/heroine tied to the railroad track with a train bearing down. Bang! the book ends. Wait for the next one. Not my favorite thing. What I like is a story with a definitive ending, yet leaves faint tracks leading to possible new directions. Susannah Clarke did this with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. A complete story with a bittersweet ending. I closed the book satisfied, and yet seeds are strewn that could blossom into a new tale. By the way was I dreaming or did I hear somewhere there is a sequel in the wings? If I had three wishes, my first would be for half Ms. Clarke’s creative imagination. Wish two would be for half her power to forge that imagination into words. In spite of my extensive reading of British History, she convinced me the Raven King ruled the North. :}

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