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Cliffhangers: For Them or Against Them

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Gina Bernal, romance lover, Carina Press editor, former editor for Rhapsody Book Club, blogged about cliffhanger endings. They are a common literary mechanism dating as far back to the earliest days of printed mass fiction. The serial depended on it. (The first novel to appear in serial form was Tobias Smollett’s fourth novel, The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves published in 1760,  free here at Project Gutenberg.

Wikipedia notes that the cliffhanger may have originated with Thomas Hardy in 1873 with the serialization of A Pair of Blue Eyes.

Gina is both for them and against them.   She says that she will read them but in the end, wonders if some of the magic of the stories wear off, not living up to the reader expectation.

While a cliffhanger ending won't necessarily completely ruin a good book for me, it doesn't make me particularly happy either. For me, a cliffhanger is not a wholly satisfying conclusion, especially after having spent the previous however-many pages invested in the characters and their journey. Yes, there's an Incarceron sequel in the works (Sapphique in 2011), but I can't wait that long. I can't wait for the same reason I love the immediate downloads of ebooks, why I wait to watch entire seasons of TV shows on DVD and why Nutella never quite makes it onto my piece of toast. I'm an instant gratification kind of person.

Worse, the cliffhanger sets up certain expectations that often go unfulfilled.   The wiki article quotes Trollope as articulating this same criticism:

all serial writers used the cliff-hanger even though  Trollope felt that the use of  suspense violated “all proper confidence between the author and his reader.” Basically, the reader would expect “delightful horrors” only to feel betrayed with a much less exciting ending.

I think, like Gina, I have a love/hate relationship with cliffhangers. On the one hand, they do keep your interest. On the other, I am not satiated at the end of the story. I feel like I haven’t gotten the payoff that I invested the time and thought I would receive. Further, the build up never seems to pay off and I don’t always feel fully satiated without a conclusion.

Knowing that there is a cliffhanger ending can actually work to tamp down my excitement for a story, or at least I find myself trying to suppress my interest.

So why do some cliffhangers work better than others? I think that it can depend on a few things. First, if you aren’t terribly invested in the characters or you are losing interest in the series, the cliffhanger isn’t as bothersome. Second, if you think that the cliffhangers will be resolved shortly (as I feel is the case in the Hunger Games trilogy) or are fairly confident as to how the cliffhanger will turn out (as in the Gail Carriger series).

So where do you stand? Cliffhanger yes or no? If yes, why? If no, why? When does a cliffhanger ending work and when does it not?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

66 Comments

  1. Katharina
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 04:50:30

    I absolutely do understand and “get” cliffhangers when the story is too long and has to be told in several books, see Karen Marie Moning’s Fever or CL Wilson’s Tairen Soul series. You can also sometimes encounter mini series where the romance plot is self-contained, whereas the underlying mystery plot finds resolution only in the third or fourth part, as happens in Nora Roberts’s In The Garden trilogy. I can accept the concept of cliffhangers, as long as I don’t get the impression the author only wants me to sell his next book. The main focus has to lie on the story and whether it is in need of being told in the span of several installments or can come to conclusion in one single book.

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  2. HeatherK
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 05:02:14

    From a reader perspective, cliffhangers only work for me if I came into a series late and the sequel is already available. I’m not a patient person. I hate to wait. It’s not something I’ve very good at. My memory is also not that great, so if the wait is too long, I’ll probably forget what I read and forget about the sequel. Yes, I write things down so I won’t forget them, only to turn around and lose the note(s).

    Then again from an author’s perspective, I think it’s aslo dependent upon the situation, the story line. Sometimes, you just can’t complete a story arc within the normal confines of a novel. So does the author let the story suffer by cutting it down to fit into the novel length and prevent the cliffhanger? Or does he/she let the story flow naturally, even if it ends up being several books long? I guess I’m for the let it go where it goes, even if that conflicts with my reader views.

    Clear as mud, right?

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  3. Mireya
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 05:15:25

    I hate cliffhangers. That is the reason why I’ll not read “Changeless” nor have picked up Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series. This applies to other series as well.

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  4. Cara McKenna
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 05:28:00

    I can handle a cliffhanger as long as the excitement and action involved are lesser than the book’s main resolution. Hmm…that wasn’t worded well at all. I think each book must have a big finale of its own, otherwise it feels like a majorly unsatisfying tease. I’m all for a book that ends on a finale, tying up the individual strings of its main plot. Then, if the author wants to drop a bombshell that won’t be resolved until the next installment-’totally fine with me. But there has to be satisfaction of some kind at the end.

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  5. Maili
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 05:37:49

    I generally avoid cliffhangers, but don’t mind if a book series is a confirmed trilogy within a reasonable span of time.

    Any longer than a trilogy and/or a book per year? Not interested.

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  6. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 06:01:37

    It all depends on the story for me as a reader.

    As a writer, unless it’s a long story that just can’t be told within the span of one book, I avoid them.

    But the RS trilogy I’m doing for Ballantine, there are cliffhangers. The first two books will end on one, because the mystery of the series won’t be resolved until the third book-it runs through the entire series. Fortunately, they are being released, back to back (consecutive months) so hopefully, it won’t be too bad and drive my readers too crazy… O_O

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  7. nicole
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 06:03:18

    It depends on how well it’s done. The cliffhanger for Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead felt right to me. Rose was on her way to a new journey.

    Cliffhangers that come right in the middle of a scene are book-to-wall worthy.

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  8. Booklover1335
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 06:05:26

    I don’t mind a cliffhanger in a series as long as it meets the following requirements

    a) if the H/h love story has been resolved, and the cliffhanger involves an overall plot for the series, not this one particular love story, or the cliffhanger leads you into the next love story with a new H/h.

    b) not too much time has passed in between books…I tend to loose enthusiasm for it and often times can’t remember all of the details if too much time has passed.

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  9. jmc
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 06:14:01

    I don’t object to cliffhangers as a literary or film/TV convention. But on a personal level, my need for immediate gratification makes them not my favorite. In fact, I’ve been on the fence about starting Ariana Franklin’s A Murderous Procession since reading the review here. Keishon has me mostly talked into reading it…but I’ve not managed to get past the first chapter, knowing that the ending will not be “complete”.

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  10. GrowlyCub
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 06:14:35

    I’m not overly thrilled with cliffhangers. These days, with back-to-back release schedules I’m more resigned to them, but for books that do not come out immediately, I usually end up giving up on a series.

    I think the time lag between Changeless and Blameless is too long, for ex.

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  11. Keishon
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 06:18:46

    Depends on the story. Cliffhangers can work really well in a self-contained storyline/series within a year’s time and in that case I don’t mind them. But if they are utilized to just ensure a new book contract or to keep a series going for x amount of books (and we readers can generally tell when this happens) then no, I don’t care for them at ALL. So I guess you can say I am for/against them in certain situations.

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  12. Jennifer Estep
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 06:35:05

    I’ve written a few mild cliffhanger endings in my Elemental Assassin series, especially at the end of Spider’s Bite. Nothing too scream-worthy, and I wrote them because I knew the books would come out fairly close together (three in one year).

    For me, it’s about wrapping up the main story in the book, but giving the reader enough of a tease about future plot threads to make them want to read the next book in the series. So maybe they’re not exactly cliffhangers then.

    As a reader, I’m kind of meh about cliffhangers. I think they’re okay in some genres. I kind of expect them in epic fantasy books since the story is, well, so epic. What annoys me is having to wait years in between books, which seems to happen a lot more with epic fantasy books.

    I’d feel a little cheated at a cliffhanger in a romance, though, just because of the expectations that I have for the couple to have their HEA. The only cliffhanger I can remember working for me in a romance was at the end of Pleasure of a Dark Prince by Kresley Cole. Even then, it seemed like more of a set-up for future books than a real cliffhanger about the main couple.

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  13. Miranda Neville
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 06:38:57

    The term cliffhanger implies that the writer has elicited an intense level of curiosity and excitement from the reader. Speaking for myself, when I’ve been wound up like that I don’t want to wait 6 months, a year or more to be satisfied. But a writer who tamps reader expectation down until she’s ready to deliver the final pay off wins my respect. I’m thinking of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series; we wonder about the hero’s mysterious background through six long books but only about halfway through the last do we become consumed with curiosity to find the answer.

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  14. Kimber An
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 06:48:23

    I’m neither for or against them. It feels too formulaic otherwise, like making all Romance novel heroes brown-haired Alpha Males, good grief.

    It all depends on the story. The beginning and the ending should compliment each other. The story ought to be satisfying.

    If the author tacks on a cliffhanger just ’cause she thinks it’s cool or it will sell the book or she’s trying to hard to bridge a series, then it is obvious and I hate it.

    If the author tacks on a Happily Ever After because it’s for a Romance genre publisher and it’s required, but the story doesn’t support it the story feels stupid. The reader is angry and feels cheated. The author really needs to look into subbing for another genre.

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  15. Joy
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 07:10:12

    Cliffhangers? I hate them, but they really, really work well if the next book is already available, that is, if I liked the first book I will run out for the next one like a junkie looking for his next fix.

    On the other hand, if the lag between the cliffhanger and the release or availability of the next book is too long–it stops working. By the time I can get the conclusion of the story, I may have completely moved on, not only forgotten most of the first book, but perhaps knee deep into another genre entirely…

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  16. Gina
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 07:10:46

    I don’t think I was ever bothered by a cliffhanger until I got hooked on the FEVER series by Karen Moning. The first book was a WOW, second book packed a punch, by the third book I was like… More Questions? No Answers? Really, another year of this? Book 4 had a huge cliffhanger but I’m so disenchanted with the mystery by now that I may just sit in the coffee shop of B & N, browse the 5th book for my answers and leave it on the shelf unpurchased.

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  17. RStewie
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 07:17:16

    Cliffhangers are fine with me, but I have to admit I will wait for the whole series to come out if I know there are going to be any. So maybe they aren’t ok with me, but I have found a way to deal with them??

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  18. Aoife
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 07:27:37

    I really hate cliffhangers, to the point where they can completely spoil my appreciation of the book I am reading, and influence my decision as to whether or when I will buy the next book. The resolution of the the cliffhanger very seldom justifies the tension that the cliffhanger itself created. I was so angry at the completely unexpected cliffhanger at the end of Laurie King’s Language of Bees, part of one of my favorite mystery series, that I have no immediate plans to buy the follow-up, which is releasing this month. I feel ruffled and annoyed at the way A Murderous Procession ended, especially since I know Franklin (as Diana Norman) sometimes does things with her characters that don’t make me happy. (Trying to avoid spoilers). The ending of Incarceron irritated me less, but I’m still on the fence over whether I’ll bother to pick up Sapphique when I’m in England next month. I may just stand in Foyle’s and scan the ending without buying the book itself.

    For me, the bottom line is that most cliffhangers, including the one in Collin’s Catching Fire, feel manipulative. Intellectually I understand why an author might need to break up a longer story arc, and choose to create the “hook” into the next book, but my reading experience has been compromised, and worse, my trust in the author has been damaged.

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  19. Jody W.
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 07:31:31

    Cliffhangers work better for me in serial, and shorter, format. TV shows, for example–because I know I get the next part next week (not so thrilled about them at a season end). With a book or movie, I’m not as much of a fan unless what we’re talking is an actual trilogy/series that could technically be all one piece of work (LOTR). I think a book told in shorter segments with cliffhangers would be kind of fun, though. Fun subscription service? It would have to be pretty cheap so the final amount was the same as a regular novel or slightly higher.

    I don’t consider blatant hints about the next tall, leather-clad brother being set up for a romance novel as a cliffhanger if the main story is resolved. No, it’s just pimpin’.

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  20. CEAD
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 07:42:53

    It depends a lot on how the author handles it. I tend to prefer multi-plotline multi-volume series because of their complexity (short stories tend to bore me), but I also hate unnecessary sequels, so in a sense I’m almost looking for dangling plot threads, if not outright cliffhangers. But not all authors are capable of pulling this off.

    It also depends a lot on the genre. In fantasy, as long as the author executes it well and there’s been some sort of intermediate payoff, I’m fine with a cliffhanger ending. But in romance, I want the primary romance to be resolved by the end of the book, and if it isn’t, I’m seriously irritated. If there are other dangling plot threads, or characters who are clearly being set up for future books, that’s fine.

    (Actually, I really like it when an author successfully sets up a relationship between two secondary characters over the course of several books before giving them their own. Not all authors do this well, however.)

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  21. Jill Sorenson
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 07:45:55

    I like to be kept in suspense, so I’m not *against* cliffhangers, but I prefer a satisfying ending.

    With The Hunger Games, I had no idea it was the first in a series. Imagine my surprise when the story just…broke off! I almost threw it against the wall. I was not amused! The second book I knew what I was in for, so I finished that with a shrug.

    So I guess it’s about reader expectations for me. I’m anti-spoiler (it worked against me that time!), but pro-cliffhanger, as long as I know I’m reading a series.

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  22. Christine Rimmer
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 07:49:38

    Give them to me at the end of each chapter, if possible. At the end of a book, um, no. At least not for the major character/storyline. You can give me a cliffhanger for a secondary story that will take center stage in the next book. That works. Would that be pimpin’? That’s fine. Or if it’s a saga kind of series, you can give me a hint of what the next step in the journey will be. But at least, I want to feel the story has reached a satisfying conclusion in terms of the main conflict and story arc of that particular book.

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  23. Lynn
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 07:55:58

    I avoid all books with cliffhangers due to the long release periods between them. Especially if it’s used as a hook for an author to suck in readers and make them wait a year between books. That might appeal to others, but not me.

    I would say that a well placed cliffhanger is ok IF the first book was too large and needed to be split, and of course readily available to me. That has only happened to me once and I got lucky.

    I don’t do waiting well period.

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  24. Cliffhangers « Angela Benedetti
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 08:05:22

    [...] at Dear Author has a post about cliffhangers up today, with a survey asking whether people like them or hate them or don’t care. [...]

  25. Angie
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 08:06:50

    I find cliffhangers at the end of a book irksome. If the whole series is available for me to read straight through, then fine. But publishers these days are quick to kill a series that’s not performing up to spec, in which case the readers will never get that final rat pellet at the end. And readers like me who want the whole thing before starting contribute to the cancellation problem, but I’m not willing to invest my attention and suspense until I’m sure I’m going to get the final pay-off. (Frex., I’m really happy not to be a GRRM fan right now. :P )

    If it’s something like Lord of the Rings, which is actually a single novel published as six books (using “book” as a subdivision of a novel, like “part”) in three volumes, where the three-volume thing was for the sake of production convenience but IIRC the whole thing was done at the time he turned it in, that’s fine. But if it’s going to be stringing me along for years with one cliffhanger ending after another, I can wait.

    Angie

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  26. kinipela
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 08:14:26

    Cliffhangers are especially bad when you don’t even know when the next book scheduled!

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  27. Bianca
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 08:15:08

    I am impatient, so no – no love for cliffhangers from me. ;)

    I’ve actually been burned by the cliffhanger before (book series where the last book ended in a ‘hanger and the series is still unfinished, 10 years later), so I don’t read series books until the entire series is finished. For example: GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate, Patricia Brigg’s Alpha and Omega, etc. I won’t read until I know the series has been concluded.

    I do this with television too, though. I only watch TV series after the whole thing is over (and it’s on DVD). I guess it’s part instant gratification and part not wanting to get shafted by a series not continuing.

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  28. hapax
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 08:18:12

    Huh? INCARCERON ends with a cliffhanger? As a certain Spaniard once observed, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

    I make a huge distinction between a cliffhanger — dumping a potential total plot reversal on a major character in the last paragraph or so — and leaving the reader with unanswered questions.

    The first is authorial cheating. It’s a refusal to resolve the story’s narrative and/or emotional arc, or worse, a blatant marketing effort to start a new one in order to sell the next book.

    The second is life. It’s world-building. It’s an acknowledgment that the world of the story is too big, the personalities of the chararacters are too deep to be contained in this one particular tale — there are always more stories to be told, and some of them we will never get to hear.

    I love the second kind of story. How frustrating and shallow would it have been to finish a book like INCARCERON and think, “Well, that’s all there is to say about *that*!”?

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  29. Jane
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 08:21:08

    maybe the reader’s distinction depends on her own reaction to the book. Sometimes a “shallow” response stems more from a lack of connection rather than a reader deficit.

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  30. hapax
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 08:43:05

    Whoops, yeah, should have made it clear that the “shallow” description is referring to the story, not the reader.

    Don’t get me wrong, when I’m in the mood for that kind of story, I really really want to close the book thinking, “That’s it, the King has returned, justice has been served, everybody gets their HEA, nothing more to see here!” Closure is *satisfying.”

    But the books I love best, the ones I return to again and again, are the ones that leave me feeling tht the characters have a life, and their world holds adventures, that goes on and on even after I stop reading.

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  31. LG
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 08:59:00

    For me, it depends – how long will it be before I get to find out what happens next? If the wait isn’t too long (don’t ask me what “too long” means – that depends, too), then I tend to enjoy the tension. If the wait is too long, then it’s just annoying. But, with the Internet, it’s now possible to deal with the waiting by hunting down lots of other fans and doing things to pass the time – whether it’s discussing plot details to death or reading/writing fan fiction (one of the reasons I’m not against fan fiction and tend to be baffled when authors like, say, Anne McCaffrey crack down on it hard, is that I think it keeps the world and stories alive in fans’ minds until the next official installment from the author comes out).

    Do I hate it when something ends in a cliffhanger and the darn thing is never finished? Yes, yes I do, and that’s happened often enough that sometimes I wish stories weren’t allowed to end in cliffhangers unless the next part was already prepared and waiting.

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  32. Julia Rachel Barrett
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 09:21:42

    I have the following issues with cliffhangers – unless I wait to read the entire series when all issues have been resolved:
    1. It’s a marketing tool – generally. I’m not fond of marketing tools. Very often each installment is short and I feel cheated out of a longer story.
    2. By the time the next book comes out, there’s the real possibility that I have either lost the thread of the story – especially if the story was not incredibly memorable in the first place, or I have lost interest entirely.
    3. I too am an instant gratification person and I don’t have a lot of free time – that’s why I watched the Firefly series (loved-loved-loved it) all at once on DVDs, as I have True Blood, Battlestar Galactica and Thirty Rock.
    4. I guess only George R.R. Martin gets a pass from me because his books are so long and complex – however, even he borders on losing me because of the time he takes to write each installment.

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  33. senetra
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 09:23:56

    I don’t mind cliffhangers. For me, they fall into two categories. The last Kate Daniels book had an ending that made me think “I want to see how this goes” and I’m looking forward to the next book. Same with early Stephanie Plum.

    Changeless ended, and I was thinking “Oh, crap, I have to wait until September?!”

    I wonder if it’s based on my connection to the story/character or how much of a bombshell the cliffhanger actually is, because I love Curran and only like Conall, but I love werewolves, and now I’m just rambling.

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  34. Elaine
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 09:26:09

    I think that was why I disliked the end of Changeless: it feels manipulative, not part of a greater story arc. But it also points to my lack of engagement with the story. Usually I read a novel in one sitting but Changeless took me four or five days. I kept realizing that I didn’t really like the viewpoint character. Although I found the world building interesting, it wasn’t enough to carry the whole burden of the story.

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  35. Elise Logan
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 09:32:38

    Cliff hangers only work for me in specific circumstances – if they are meant to end there. I hate being left waiting for another book or follow-on.

    But, if the cliff hanger IS the end, that can work – but only in certain cases. Horror is a great example. The best of King’s work (IMHO) leaves the end hanging – and that’s usually in his short stories. The impossible ending – when the characters have painted themselves into a corner and can’t get out, but you don’t want to see their tragic ending – like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Thelma and Louise.

    So, for me, cliff hangers can work – but not as a lead for the next in a series. Unfinished business is one thing, but really leaving me hanging while I wait for the next book? That just ticks me off.

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  36. Gina Bernal
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 09:36:15

    @hapax I understand what you mean about the ending of INCARCERON not neatly fitting the description of a suspenseful cliffhanger. Alas, there’s not a simple term for “ending that only tied up some bits, but left me wondering what’s going to happen to so-and-so and what’s-his-name, how things will play out for the hero and heroine and why that-guy did what he did.” :) Overall, I enjoyed the book and thought the author’s world was imaginative. Still, it doesn’t mean I don’t wish the sequel was coming much sooner than 2011.

    My love/hate relationship with “cliffhangers” stems from my own impatience as a reader. I just hate waiting! Sometimes it’s worth it, and other times it’s a cheap trick. Just like an ending that ties things up much too neatly can also leave me feeling cheated. It’s all in the hands of the author and how the ending is treated.

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  37. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 09:39:09

    I’m not a big fan of the cliffhanger simply because in this uncertain publishing era, I don’t feel like I have an air-tight promise that I’ll get the next installment. Otherwise, I’m mostly ok with them.

    @Mireya:

    Changeless doesn’t have a cliffhanger ending. It’s a self-contained story with an open enough ending for sequels.

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  38. Marianne McA
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 09:43:18

    I never know if that gizmo records my vote. ‘Your last request is being processed. Please wait a while …’

    I strongly don’t like cliffhangers. More than that, I don’t like unresolved story arcs. I read a lot of series, and I’ve no problem with an overreaching story arc, but I want the story within the book I’ve been reading to be complete.
    For example, one of the Temeraire books had the dragons returning to England from China, but they didn’t. The book stopped before they were home. No resolution of anything. To me, it just read as if someone had stolen the last couple of chapters. If the dragons had returned home (resolution of the immediate story arc), but there had been larger issues unresolved for later in the series, I’d have been fine with that.
    AS it was, I stopped following the series.

    Kelley Armstrong did the same in ‘The Summoning’ and I’d really enjoyed it up till then. But I didn’t buy ‘The Awakening’ because I’ve such a bad reaction to books that tail off.

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  39. Jessann Burton
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 09:58:59

    Depends entirely on the series, author and book. KMM’s Fever series has had some serious cliffhangers the last couple of books and they serve their purpose, getting me totally revved up for the next installment.

    In other cases, cliffhangers can be the final straw that make me drop the series. The last Black Dagger Brotherhood book I read had a cliffhanger ending, and it helped me realize that I didn’t really care what happened next.

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  40. Aoife
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 10:05:18

    Shallow I may be, but yes, for me, Incarceron qualifies as a cliffhanger. One issue is resolved, kind of, but so many other plot elements have either been left hanging or had additional complications that there was no sense of closure. In contrast, the Kate Daniels, Mercy Thompson, Alpha and Omega books aren’t cliffhangers as far as I am concerned because the issue/conflict for each particular book has been resolved.

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  41. Maura
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 10:39:46

    I don’t like cliffhangers. But I don’t like series books, either- I like my stories to be nice and self-contained. If a book ends on a cliffhanger, it makes me feel like the author or publisher has set me up to buy more books- that not only irritates me, but it also pulls me right out of the story that I may have been enjoying up to that point.

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  42. Jane Lovering
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 10:46:06

    @Angie – yeah, I’ve known a couple of authors get a series pulled from underneath them. Luckily neither of these writers specialised in the ‘cliffhanger’ ending, because boy would I have been annoyed to be left dangling over major plot threads! Anyone writing cliffhangers had better be damned sure that their publisher is going to publish the entire series!

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  43. Alla
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 10:58:24

    As a rule I hate cliffhangers, hate them with passion. Mainly because as several readers commented upthread I consider them to be a marketing ploy designed to make me buy a next book in the series. Now do not get me wrong, I do not mind unanswered questions at all, especially if the series are not done, but please spare me the unknown fate or potential death of the main character, please. It will just make me incredibly angry and may just do the opposite of what writer intends and give up on the series. I suppose minor cliffhanger I am also willing to tolerate, but nothing that concerns major characters.

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  44. Allie
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 11:53:18

    I like Estep response. I think I would be okay with them if the books were coming out within a short span of time. I do not like cliffhanger endings if it will take a year before the next book comes out due to people’s memory. I find it fustrating due to the fact that I cannot remember what happen in the last book. I don’t re-read books since there are so many more books I need to read until then. I wish that authors would give some sort of a conclusion instead of “scream worthy” cliffhangers.

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  45. valor
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 11:58:31

    I do not mind a cliff hanger as long as there was a proper denouement of some kind to the main thrust of the narrative. A cliffhanger that introduces the narrative of the sequel does not bother me. If, on the other hand, the cliff hanger truly represents the fact that the narrative was not completed, then I want a longer book, not a cliffhanger.

    One particular cliff hanger I HATED ended the book in the middle of a sentence. Literally. The MIDDLE of a sentence. And it took about 3 years for me to get the next book. The character was literally on a cliff (bridge over a cliff, I suppose) for 3 years, stuck in the middle of a sentence. It was awful.

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  46. Verona St. James
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 13:17:32

    I really, really, REALLY hate cliffhangers.

    For example: I read the first book in Ann Aguirre’s Corinne Solomon series “Blue Diablo” and I loved it up until the last few chapters and THEN it has a HUGE cliffhanger: a really important conversation left midway through with a very important question left unanswered. I was SO mad! It was almost worse than leaving the characters in mortal danger. That made me decide I wasn’t going to read that series until it was done.

    Same thing with Aguirre’s Jax series. The second book undid most of the first book, and THEN it ended with an emotional cliffhanger. I said WTF? and decided I wasn’t going to read THAT series until it was all done either.

    So I actually think it’s detrimental to a series to end every book with a cliffhanger. I as a reader have to trust you’re not going to screw me over if I follow your series. (And that does apply to more than just cliffhangers…)

    About the only cliffhangers I can remember not minding were in the Hunger Games series and that’s only, as said above, because I knew they would be resolved in relatively short order. Although the ending of the last book was a doozy. My sister had been reading the series with me, but she skipped to the end of that one and decided not to read it until the last book came out and everything was resolved.

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  47. becca
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 14:26:18

    I won’t – simply won’t – read books with cliff hanger endings unless it’s in the context of a well-defined multi-volume book (like the 5-volumes of the Belgariad that makes up one book) – and even then, I won’t get into it until all the volumes of the book are published. I’ve invested too much money and emotional energy in the first 2 volumes of a trilogy where the third book simply was never published. For the same reason, I wont’ get into endless series, unless (like the JD Robb books) each book has a defined and clear ending.

    endless series with cliff hanger endings between books (I’m looking at the latest Dresden File book) seems to me to be a cheap way for the author to guarantee that I’ll buy the next book – and I won’t play that game.

    can you tell I feel strongly about this?

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  48. becca
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 14:50:33

    I’m going to modify my response – slightly. I have to know and trust an author to buy parts of a defined series as they come out. I eagerly purchased the four volumes of Lois Bujold’s Sharing Knife series at publication date, because I trusted Lois to write all four books satisfactorily. I purchased Nora’s In The Garden trilogy as they came out, because I trusted her to finish the series – and really, each book ended it’s own story line, so I was content. But an author has to be in that rarefied select circle before I’ll buy a book with a cliff hanger ending.

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  49. DS
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 15:02:43

    “Does Nell yet live?” when I think of cliff hangers I think about the US fans of The Old Curiosity Shop who supposedly lined the wharf to get spoilers about Nell’s fate from the incoming passengers. That was the 1840′s.

    I’m not crazy about cliffhangers and I sometimes think that what is described as a cliffhanger is someone just left in an ambiguous state. But if you want me to pick up the next book, it had better have been a very good book before the cliffhanger happened.

    I did used to hate– was it Dark Shadows?– where there would be a soap opera cliffhanger at the end of the week and the pick up scene the next Monday would have been changed so the situation was not as hopeless as it appeared. I recognized that as cheating even then.

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  50. MaryK
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 16:36:00

    Let’s not forget the cliffhanger endings that never get resolved because the series was cancelled.

    If I know there’s a cliffhanger (which I usually do because I’ve researched the book), I almost always wait until the series is complete not just because the ending might not be satisfactory, but also because I want to make sure there is actually an end!

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  51. mb
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 16:40:01

    Cliffhangers are problematic for me. I think that a poorly done one will anger me to the point that I feel manipulated by the author and decide not to continue with the series. Adriana Trigiana’s first Valentine novel was that way for me. I was so ticked off by the ending that now I’m definitely not planning to read the next two. She lost me as a reader for that series. There are other series that I’ve felt the same way about.

    The book needs to end with a good satisfying bang, a HEA, and some catharsis. If the author wants to include some foreshadowing for the next book in the series, fine! But I need that satisfying ending. Otherwise I feel manipulated and dissatisfied.

    I don’t mind however if the author heavily foreshadows the events in the next book to set me up and gives me a teaser! It can be suspenseful, that’s great–it’s a teaser! In fact, I usually like it when they publish the first chapter of the new (not yet published) book at the end of the book. That’s a good way to make me watch for the upcoming book and put it on my TBR list.

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  52. Mara Ismine
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 17:22:35

    Hi! Wandered over here from Angela Benedetti’s link. I hate cliffhangers. I avoid serials in any media. I lose interest when I have to keep waiting for the next part. I’m all for instant gratification.

    I’ll show my age and offer my definition of a cliffhanger from TV – “Who Shot JR?”. For those of you too young to have suffered “Dallas”, evil brother JR Ewing was shot in the last couple of minutes of the last episode of the series – no clue who shot him or if he was dead or alive. I hated that ending to the series and never really watched again because I expected the same treatment.

    The same applies to books. I don’t like cliffhangers. I want some resolution. I want a warm fuzzy moment. I want to know that the main characters are alive and as safe as they can be. I don’t want something really bad happening to one of the main characters on the last page.

    I don’t mind if they still have to finish the quest, save the world, get home or otherwise tidy up a few loose ends. The Belgariad didn’t make me want to throw the books, but I was waiting for the next one impatiently.

    The only time a cliffhanger ending is good is when it is a hanging ending and there is no more. Using films as examples: Butch and Sundance, The Italian Job (original) those endings make you scream with frustration at the time, but they are wonderful.

    If I know that an author uses cliffhangers I’ll avoid them or wait until the series is complete before buying. Any book that ends half-way through a sentence deserves to crash and burn. Cliffhangers don’t work as a marketing ploy for me.

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  53. Victoria
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 17:41:15

    “I am not satiated at the end of the story. I feel like I haven't gotten the payoff that I invested the time and thought I would receive. Further, the build up never seems to pay off and I don't always feel fully satiated without a conclusion.”

    Bingo!

    KMM’s Fever series is the only one I’ll tolerate this from. Otherwise, I think it’s a literary tool that’s long since outlived its welcome. I became absolutely unglued trying to read Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series because literally EVERY book had an apocalyptic cliffhanger. When you’re hit over the head with that sort of thing over and over, after a while, it actually becomes boring, and though I love the characters, I have no real interesting in picking up the next book when it comes out.

    It was such a relief to me to pick up J.D. Robb’s In Death books and find an ongoing character relationship written by an author that knew how to tie up one story arc per book. It was an even bigger marvel that she can do so while continuing to develop plot points and without leaving behind an abused reader. That seems to be a forgotten art among authors nowadays.

    While Changeless is on my Kindle and was a book I was greatly looking forward to, the minute I heard it was yet another one to suffer this malady, I pushed it down my TBR list. I likely won’t read it until Blameless is released, and hopefully that won’t have the same issue. If it does, I’ll be kissing off that series until it reaches its end. Life’s too short for me to have to deal with this sort of thing again and again!

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  54. Bonnie
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 19:10:27

    I don’t like them unless they are old, already written and ready to read. I don’t want to wait for months or years. I’m already pissed off at Diana Gabaldon for her last book. God knows how long we’ll have to wait.

    And I’m kind of worried about that kitty in the pic. Poor thing.

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  55. Elaine
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 19:31:05

    Don’t worry. Kitty will fall in a snowbank and be just fine.

    I’d forgotten about Caine’s Weather Warden series. The cliffhangers destroyed my desire to continue reading the series.

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  56. SonomaLass
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 20:14:28

    I don’t mind cliffhanger endings if I love the book, even though waiting can be hard to handle. Yes, sometimes the sequel never comes, but if I didn’t love the book(s), that’s no big deal. If I did love it/them, I don’t regret the experience. Heck, I re-read Melanie Rawn’s Exiles every couple of years, even though the second book ends with everything hanging and the third book is never going to happen. I just like the books that much.

    The end of Changeless didn’t bother me at all. It felt like logical story development to me, not artificial build-up for the third book. Six months is a while to wait, but I have lots of other things to read during that time. And I know the third book has been written and will be published, barring cataclysmic events.

    I think that readers who hate waiting for resolution in a later book have a lot more tools at their disposal now. It’s not hard to find out whether that’s the case and then wait for the trilogy (or whatever) to be completed, or to avoid starting a series that looks to be ongoing. Avoiding books that push your bad buttons is a lot easier than it used to be!

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  57. Kate Pearce
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 21:01:46

    It depends on the author and the trust I place in her/him.
    For example, the ending of “Scales of Gold” by Dorothy Dunnett literally made me howl with anguish-because I knew it would be at least 2 years before I got to read the next installment-but that was part of her immense skill as a writer and I forgave her-eventually…

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  58. Victoria
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 22:50:14

    @SonomaLass:

    Melanie Rawn’s Exiles….**sob** I keep hoping someday, some miracle will occur and we’ll get that final book. Wishful thinking, I’m sure. I still reread the first two a couple times each year as well; they’re outstanding.

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  59. Kaetrin
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 01:44:34

    The only time I can cope with cliffhangers is when the next book is imminent or actually in my TBR pile (preferably). I came fairly late to the Outlander series for ex, and the cliffhanger of book 2 would have done me in I think! But, fortunately, I was able to start book 3 immediately so I didn’t have a blood pressure event. Of course, I’ve now read book 7 and I’ll be waiting forever for book 8 and there are cliffhanger-y things in there – I heard the author say this was because after book 2 there was an outcry re the cliffhanger, then she did a nice wrap up in a later book (I forget now which one) and people said “oh what a nice end to the series”. So, now, she says, she doesn’t do major cliffhangers but she makes it clear the story’s not finished. In any event, I’m not a fan (even though I love the books).

    Sometimes, the cliffhangers within the actual book drive me batty – and I am then forced to read all night to find out WHAT HAPPENS!!!

    I prefer a nice wrap up. I’m like that IRL too!

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  60. Kris
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 02:06:30

    I really hate it when books end without some sort of a satisfying conclusion.

    Of course, there are series. I’m currently reading one, but though I’m curious what happens next, the first book didn’t just… end.

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  61. cate
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 03:15:32

    I absolutely HATE cliffhangers. I have all Monings Fae novels ….To date I have not & will not read one of them until the story is resolved.
    …She’s BARKING I hear you cry…NO I’m not. I love KMM as a writer, but I love the story to finish at the end of a book…Not carry on ad infinitum a la Robert Jordan. So, there they stay in all their hard backed glory until the last book is published.
    …And, as has happened with other series & other writers…Lets hope that last book gets published !
    What am I whittering about…Stella Riley’s English civil war trilogy….Only 2 books published…Years down the line, I’m still hacked off,that I never got to read that concluding novel

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  62. GrowlyCub
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 04:01:47

    And while we are talking unfinished series: Ann Maxwell’s Firedancer books. Things were just getting interesting and then poof and no plans ever to finish according to her husband. sigh

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  63. CEAD
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 06:51:50

    @SonomaLass, @Victoria: Oh, God, me too!

    I never know whether to recommend Exiles to other people or not. On the one hand, it only sets more people up for unceasing frustration; on the other hand, they’re just so good.

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  64. MaryK
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 13:25:05

    @cate: I’m waiting on the Moning books, too. :)

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  65. If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence you tried. - Southern Fried Chicas
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 20:37:03

    [...] Dear Author opened up a discussion on cliffhangers as hooks for sequels. I see them as a good thing in some circumstances.  Like if the story is so plot/character intensive, that it requires a two or three book series to lay it all out.  Unfortunately, sometimes the reader is baited to buy the next book by a strong cliff hanger, only to be disappointed by a weak/thin plot and wooden characters.  As a reader, are you turned on or off by cliff hangers?  Has one ever disappointed you? [...]

  66. Sara
    Oct 27, 2010 @ 12:42:58

    @cate:

    I quite agree. I think it is quite unforgivable for the publishers (Headline)to have cancelled the Ms Riley’s contract before publishing the final volume.

    I have emailed Headline about this writer but they don’t answer emails (or not mine anyway).

    You could try and see if they answer you:

    [email protected]

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