Cliffhangers

I Hate cliffhangers. I like Larry Hagman, though.Angie James has become my cliffhanger warning sign. She’s like a giant “CAUTION! DETOUR!” sign at the edge of a literary cliff, warning me away lest I cast myself over the edge and get ripshit pissed off on the way down. She’s warned me off three books now that have cliffhanger endings in the middle of the series, thus ensuring that I will wait until I know the story is completed before I try the series.

Why? Because I HATE cliffhangers.

Some of it is based on Ye Olde Romance Reader’s Expectation, wherein I expect the ending to be, you know, the ending, and I expect it also to be happy. Economically speaking, I like to know I’m buying an entire story when I buy a book.

I have heard many authors on Twitter and Facebook complaining that readers who wait for the series to be complete damage the chance that the series will exist at all past a few books.

My answer: series that contain books which end with cliffhangers damage the chance that I’ll buy the series at all, no matter how long it is. Or how awesome. Because I hate cliffhangers.

There are series wherein each book is a complete tale, with a larger story arc to be completed over the course of several books. I’m down with that. What I am so not on board with is a tale of romance with a killer cliffhanger ending that I have to wait to find out what REALLY happened in the REAL end of the book.

Finishing a book with an ending that leaves the characters with a “happy for now” before laying potential groundwork for the next book is one thing – I’m usually ok with that. There are some long running series (cough cough JD Robb cough cough) that stand alone individually but are made more powerful by the over-arching development of all the characters.

And then there are books that end with the written equivalent of Who Shot JR?

I tweeted about this a week or so ago, about how much I hated them, and someone said, “I guess you don’t like tv much, huh?” Different situation.

Who Shot JR? and the Dallas season finale cliffhanger got a lot of press and is still among the best known cliffhangers  - but viewers only had to wait a few months to get the answer when the fall season started up again.

Unless we are talking back to back releases, readers may have to wait six to eight months, upwards of a year or possibly more, find out what happens. And what if something happens to the author (heaven forbid)? There’s a lot of What Ifs in publishing, from contacts to basic mortality. From my budgetary and readerly standpoint, I want the whole story when I buy a book, or I want to know I can buy all the fractured pieces of the story so I can read them all together.

And I appreciate the warning about cliffhanger endings like you would NOT believe. I will wait until Hex Hall 3 comes out before I read Demonglass, Hex Hall 2. I really liked Hex Hall #1, and thought it was terrifically fun YA. But hearing that #2 ends in a cliffhanger means I’ll wait until maybewheneverpants for #3 before I go for #2.

I will wait for Stacey Kade’s YA series to have the answer to the cliffhanger advertised in the blurb for book 2 before I pick book 3. Packed with romance, lovable characters, and a killer cliffhanger, Queen of the Dead is the out-of-this-world sequel to The Ghost and the Goth. What what? Aw HELL no. Thanks for the warning, but not for me. I wait for book 3. And is there a mention of when book 3 comes out? Not that I can find. Daggnabbit.

I often make the mistake of taking cliffhanger endings personally – you might have gleaned that from the vitriolic rage up in here. I find them so offensive and irritating, most especially if I hath shelled out the doubloons for Ye Olde Hardcover.

But at a dinner discussion at RT, I found a lot of readers felt the same way. One said she was unwilling to start a series that had received incredible reviews, whose fans were clamoring for the final installment, because she heard direct from the author that the final chapters of the trilogy would be at least another year in coming. Another said she was irate when she purchased a romance and found herself within a half-inch of the end of the book knowing that there was no way the author could pull together all the plot threads. It was either a deus ex machina magical ending, or a cliffhanger, and either option was bad. And yet she’d invested so much energy and time and emotion into reading the book, she was mad knowing that her time spent would not yield the expected payoff.

Kevin Smokler of BookTour said at a panel he was on at SXSW that inviting someone to read your book is not like a casual date, or having coffee with someone. It’s dinner and a movie and possibly making out afterward: you are asking the reader to spend a lot of time with your book, so you have to make sure that the product is pitched at the right audience who will find their investment of time worth the price.

This fits my reaction perfectly. In my reading, I appreciate the warning signs of cliffhangers, because I get irate when I’ve invested time, emotion and energy only to discover I don’t have the whole story.

What about you? What’s your call on cliffhangers? This is not a new question, (ETA) and Jane is also ruminating on reader feelings about cliffhangers today, but I’m curious if, with the increasing number of series in all different sub-genres, your feelings about cliffhangers are a little different from mine.

ETA: Laurel wrote about her hatred of cliffhangers earlier this month.

And Mandi at Smexybooks had similar feelings.

Categorized:

Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Arresi says:

    I voted “Meh” above, but I treat cliffhangers the same way I treat book series in general – with a few exceptions, I wait until the series is over to read, even if the individual books can stand alone. Even standalone books in a series generally have plots that are unfinished and carry over, and I don’t like getting my hopes up and then getting disappointed. I once read Book I of a series (by a relatively well-known author), and Book II didn’t come out for nearly 10 years. Needless to say, I’m not hanging around for Book III. Also, I’m notorious for hating the last book in a series, so I like to wait and find out whether the quality degrades or the author does something dramatic that I won’t be able to forgive.

  2. 2

    Hate them! Hate them! Hate them!

    I have quite reading one series entirely because not only did a book have a cliff hanger ending, it was not resolved in the next book.  I was still left hanging.  It was the Midnight Louie series and I already owned about 20 of them.

    I am waiting for Beautiful Chaos to be released because I have heard that Beautiful Darkness (book 2) has a real cliffhanger.  I absolutely loved Beautiful Creatures (book 1).

    If I know a book is part of a trilogy, I will sometimes buy them as they are released and wait to read them all at once.  This is only for authors I autobuy anyway.

    I repeat . . . I hate cliffhangers.

  3. 3
    toni says:

    I don’t like cliffhangers unless I know the next book is already out. I, too, will avoid buying a book if I know ahead of time there is a cliffhanger ending.

    As a side rant: I also hate buying a new book and finding out it’s intended to be a series when there is no mention of it anywhere in the blurb, author’s note, etc. There have been a couple of books lately that gave the impression of completely stand-alone titles, but once I’d reached the end there wasn’t a full resolution because another book was being written. Pissed me off! I vowed not to read that author ever again and told all of my friends how annoyed I was about it. Please, a little forewarning would be nice.

  4. 4
    EbonyMcKenna says:

    I hate cliffhanger endings. It doesn’t leave me gasping for more, it makes me scream with frustration. I’ve just invested hours and hours of my time with no end in sight.

    As a reader, I love it when a book has a proper ending, even when I know there is more to come. In fact, it’s even better, because although *this* story is complete, there are more adventures ahead. A satisfying ending makes me happy, which means I’ll be reading more titles by that author in the future.

    I strive for ‘proper’ endings in my novels. I want to satisfy my readers while also leaving it open for more adventures in the future. If I don’t satisfy my readers, they won’t come back.

  5. 5

    I usually come late to the ball, so a book or two of a series might already be available. I prefer stories that pretty much stand on their own but are really part of a bigger picture. I admit that I’m thinking Harry Potter here, and not romance. And I like the series to be somewhat planned so I can figure out how many installments there will be. Now I’m talking about the Outlander series. I believe it’s gone on way too long, simply because Diana Gabaldon, who I think is a fabulous writer, gets the notion, “Oh, I thought I’d be done by now, but I decided to keep going.” Going where? I think we’ve made too many trips around the block. Tell the driver to pull over.

  6. 6
    Kaetrin says:

    I can’t even stand it when someone doesn’t finish a sentence – cliffhangers drive me batshit crazy.

    I saw a review the other day at Smexy Books (which I only read with half an eye because I did and didn’t want to know what happens) of Chloe Neill’s latest in the Chicagoland Vampire series, Hard Bitten, and Mandi couldn’t give it a grade because something happens right at the end which was not good – apparently the author has said to readers “trust me” and the next book, Drink Deep is being released in November this year.  I’m inclined to hold off reading bk3 until bk4 is out so I can read it as one book – problem is I pre-ordered Hard Bitten so now it will sit on my shelf and stare at me for months and months…

    I can also say that I’m eternally glad that I came to the Mercy Thompson series late and was able to read Bone Crossed immediately after Iron Kissed – not so much a cliffhanger but what happened to Mercy in IK so upset me I really needed to see she was okay like yesterday.  I would have been seriously stressed out if I had’ve had to wait for that.

    Are there different rules for UF?

  7. 7
    Sheila says:

    I can’t stand cliffhangers with authors that are new to me.  Authors whom I’ve read, enjoyed and know they will actually follow through on their promise of the happy ending eventually I’m okay with.  I’ll willingly buy the first of a new Nora Roberts or Jayne Ann Krentz trilogy because, number one, I know within a year to 18 months I’ll get the whole story.

    It might be hard on new authors or less established authors that I won’t buy a book knowing its the beginning of a trilogy but why should I invest my time and money not knowing #1, if I’ll even like the book, #2, if I’ll like the series overall, and most importantly #3, if the publisher will even print all three books.

    Cliffhangers to me are usually the problem of the second book in a trilogy.  The first book is usually very good. The second…suffers from middle child syndrome, lots to do, problems to solve, new ones to lay out…inevitably the second book isn’t as good as the first, and then the third has to wind up everything…and sometimes by then…I’ve lost patience and I don’t care anymore.

    That’s the ultimate indicator of a problem for me.  When I don’t care what happens why am I buying the book?  An author has to be something really special for me to buy the first in an obvious series and read it immediately.

  8. 8
    Milena says:

    I hate cliffhangers on TV. Honestly—there were several shows I stopped watching because they ended the season with a cliffhanger. To me, that’s like saying “we don’t trust the viewers will come back because the series is good, so we have to do something to trick them into coming back.” And I don’t like being tricked, sorry.

    I can understand the cliffhangers in books more easily, since some stories are simply too big for a single book. However, I much prefer it when all the parts are released at once, or at least available when I start them. But it does depend on the genre; if a romance or a mystery ended with a cliffhanger, I think I would throw the book against the wall. A wider story arc coming to completion over several otherwise standalone novels, on the other hand, is something that I really, really like.

  9. 9

    Wow! I might be the only one out there willing to comment that I like a cliffhanger. Though I’ll admit that if I have to wait too long for the next book, I lose interest in the story and don’t follow up with what happened. I enjoy speculating and discussing the possibilities with other readers. Of course, more than I like the cliffhanger I like the HEA. Who doesn’t?  Jordan   http://www.evaprim.com

  10. 10
    Hell Cat says:

    Well, SHOOOT! I didn’t realize Goth’s second book was a cliffhanger. Though, her cliffhanger might be different since I’m pretty sure book three is already being written. (The author seems to be, you know, big on the keeping up and the interest pretty much guarantees a deal for it, I’d think.) I might be a tad in love with the heroine in the series so that’s my excusing factor.

    I don’t mind cliffhangers if the second half of it is all but printed. Meaning, it’s in the final stages and it’s not a year’s wait. I can handle 6 months because it’ll allow me to cycle back through the library’s waitlist to reacquaint. Now, if it’s something like the Game of Throes series (if I read it) and I was waiting years for the cliffhanger to be answered? I’d be pissed. So I have to wait until the publication dates are available to read it.

    So I voted “hate them” I think, but I don’t necessarily hate them. It depends on the timeline I’m being given. Like, if Melissa Marr’s books had ended on major cliffhangers before the final one came out and I had to wait a year between? I’d have been livid. Because I was so emotionally invested in the series and I wouldn’t have wanted to lose that internal momentum. If that makes sense.

  11. 11
    AgTigress says:

    The word ‘series’ can have more than one meaning when applied to fiction.  It seems to me that some of the series being written these days are effectively single multi-volume novels, published over a period of years, while others are groups of separate, complete stories that have a common setting and may feature some of the same characters.  I have no objection to the latter, but avoid the former.

    I see a novel, a story, as a single unit, like a picture within a frame, not as a random extract from a whole independent, ongoing fictional world, with ragged edges.  I therefore prefer a novel to have a single, clear story arc that reaches a resolution at the end of the book.  While a cliffhanger ending would undoubtedly irritate me, the mere presence of loose ends, however undramatic, also detracts from my enjoyment.

    The reasons for writing series include practical ones about sales and the establishment of a regular, returning readership, but I think that Milena’s comment above,

    some stories are simply too big for a single book.

    is particularly interesting, since it suggests that the need for sheer length is artistically intrinsic in some cases.  I am not so sure. There seems to be a presumption these days that large size and scope is somehow a virtue in itself, that a BIG novel is, by definition, more important than a short one. 

    On the contrary, concise writing is usually far more powerful than vast swathes of waffle.  I think that the reason that ‘some stories are too big for a single book’ all too often lies with overblown, self-indulgent writing rather than with complexity of concept, and that draconian editing could reduce many of these ‘big stories’ to a perfectly manageable compass.  In some cases, severe editing would also reveal the embarrassing fact that there is nothing much of any interest there at all, that it was all just flummery.  I could cite examples, but that would annoy those who enjoy the works in question.
    ;)

  12. 12
    cate says:

    I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again,  I BLOODY HATE CLIFFHANGERS !!!!  They’re a rotten cheat for the reader.
      We’ve probably all experienced the annoyance of getting into a series of books, only to find that they’ve been cancelled before the final denoument ( Mine was Stella Riley’s English Civil war sequence)
      I was a huge fan of Karen Moning until I read the first of her Fever novels, only to find myself left at the end of that book seething in frustration with the ending. This resulted in my buying the remaining books in the series, but not reading them until the final novel came out, so I could at least enjoy a satisfactory ending without the wait between books….I just had to be patient for 5 years !
      Cheyenne Macray successfully pulled off an ongoing story arc with her Magic series….( it has a very satisfactory resolution) BUT if the series had been cancelled mid arc, I would not have felt cheated, as each individual novel is entire unto itself, whilst adding to the overall   picture.
      My plea to authors considering a cliffhanger ending…..Please DON’T,  they make me loose the will to live !

  13. 13
    Miranda says:

    I don’t mind cliffhangers if I feel there’s a chance that the author will actually finish the series in a reasonable fashion ::glares at George RR Martin::

    I do prefer a warning that the book is actually in a series. I was reading along happily Barbara Hambly’s Silent Tower and getting toward the end when I started realizing “Gee, she has a lot to wrap up….OH HELL NO”

  14. 14
    Katie says:

    It’s the inevitable wait between books that will also rob a cliffhanger of its power.  Sure, it may drive me crazy for a couple of days – that need to know what happens to whom and how.  But then it fades and when I finally get my hands on the follow-up, I can almost guarantee I’ll be reading out of casual interest, rather than a desperate need to resolve the cliff-hanger.

    A resolution with a hint of more… now that’s something I appreciate in a story.

  15. 15
    Isabel C. says:

    I’m in the “don’t mind cliffhangers so much if the sequel’s coming out really soon” camp. I’ll make an occasional exception—waited years for the last Dark Tower books—but not often.

  16. 16
    J L Wilson says:

    When I wrote my series releasing now (Deadly Landscaping Romances), the deal with my publisher was that the books would release back-to-back. We both wanted that so readers would not have to wait between books. So I have an April book, a May book, and a June book. That means I submitted all the books at one time.

    This helped me a lot (kept me in tune with the characters) and it helped my editor (who could easily check on continuity). I didn’t have a ‘cliffhanger’ ending per se but it was more a question of whether Cassie would stay with that man or the other man in her life. It’s not until book 3 that I truly resolve her feelings for both men. Like Katie said, it’s more a “resolution with a hint of more” than “OMG, what’s going to happen next, Aieeee! I can’t believe the book ended!”

    I’m with other folks here: I don’t start a series until I know it has an ending in sight. I’m listening to the Wheel of Time series on my iTouch right now, and I’m almost to the last book—which is due out later this year, I think. I’ve got 1 book to go until that one. Each book is about 30-40 hours of listening (unabridged) and I only listen in small bits on my commute or on the occasional long drive. I think I have it timed just right. I’ll start Gabaldon’s books next after that.

  17. 17

    I’m not a fan of cliffhangers, either. However, like you, I don’t mind a “series” that is created with two or more COMPLETE books. That’s why I like the series with related characters, rather than same H/H in every book. I’m writing my paranormal with two possible endings right now—one that finishes off the main baddy and one that only finishes off the second-in-command (who’s really more of an adversary through the book). That way, if it gets picked up by anyone, it has series potential, but is otherwise stand alone.

  18. 18

    I’ll ‘fess up – I’m an end reader. I was so glad when Kindle introduced a “Go to…End” option in the latest update! And this is why. I don’t want miserable endings and I don’t want non-endings. They drive me demented.
    In a lot of cases, it’s a cheap trick, and I for one don’t like being manipulated that way. I think that’s one reason I don’t like them.
    And I’m a romance reader. So I want my romance. I’m okay if the main couple are happy at the end but there are problems left to be tied up, but that’s not a cliffhanger.
    And series – sometimes you have to sell a story as a standalone and then the publisher will ask for more but only if sales are good. One of the most famous examples is Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. The publisher asked her to make sure that the first book was a standalone, in case it didn’t sell. It did, and the rest is history.
    Dunnett was a great one for cliffhangers, especially the one at the end of “The Ringed Castle,” but I didn’t come to the series until it was complete. I think that’s one reason I didn’t like the House of Niccolo series quite so much – I read that as she released it, and there were cliffhangers galore.

    Stacey is an awesome writer and one of the few YA writers I’ll read (nothing against the genre, it just doesn’t do it for me).

  19. 19
    Andrea says:

    I LOVE a good series, but cliffhangers?  I have enough cliffhangers in my life already!  I dive into a book for a ‘take me away Calgon’ moment, not to create more nail biting moments.  GREAT rant!!

  20. 20
    The Duchess says:

    I am not a big fan of cliffhangers myself, and would much rather wait for the release of most of the series before beginning to read it, so as to avoid an interminable wait for the next. However I wouldn’t say that I hate them completely. Some of the really good books I have read (not romance, I’ll admit, but good books all the same) ended in cliffhangers and the subsequent wait and anticipation did not diminish my enjoyment of the ultimate denouement. I didn’t stop reading any author because I didn’t like how the ending of a book wasn’t really an ending at all, just simply a “tune in for the exciting conclusion to—”. I’d just like to be informed about it beforehand, which I usually am through reviews etc, so that I know to expect it…

    *mutters* … and can avoid reading them till the next books are out…

  21. 21
    Tamara Hogan says:

    I don’t mind cliffhangers. If the writing’s stellar, if the story’s good, I’ll happily wait for the follow-up. My TBR pile is huge, so the wait is no skin off my nose. Then again, I’m one of those annoying people who can stare at a bag of potato chips or M & M’s and NOT take one. 

    No need for immediate gratification here.

  22. 22
    Emily says:

    I hate cliffies. When I borrow or buy a book, I’m looking for a complete story with a beginning, middle, end. If I could sigh, swoon, and smile at the end it’s a bonus but I want an ending. With some closure.

    Cliffies, to me, feel like gimmicks designed to make the reader flail and immediately put the follow-up on their ‘must-buy’ list. However, it has the opposite effect on me, as I tend to put the author on my ‘buy with caution and only after reading reviews because I don’t want to spend money on something that will make me rage’ list. I really need a shorter title for that…

  23. 23
    Booklight says:

    Thank you for summing up my feelings on cliffhangers in this one well-written article. Every time I try to express my feelings on them – usually after finishing a book that left me hanging – I usually just stutter, stammer, get a red in the face, and want to hit something. I too try to avoid them at all cost if possible, but the occasional one sneaks in. My most recent experience was with Diana Gabaldon’s Echo In the Bone. I bought a hard back copy for $2 at a library book sale soon after it was released and celebrated my good forture through the first 1000+ pages or so. Then is came to the end. The lack of resolution was so pronounced, I went to the bookstore that afternoon to check out a new copy – sure that the reason I got such a good deal was because it was defective…missing the last chapter. No such luck. Seriously? The author can’t write a complete story in 1200+ pages when the next book won’t be out for 2 to 3 years?

  24. 24
    Milena says:

    @AgTigress: Oh, I agree with you that big books are not necessarily better than short ones. I dearly wish someone would get Stephen King an editor for his next birthday. But there are stories that have a large scope and simply need the space, too. However, most examples that I can think of come from fantasy or early 20th century.

    On the other hand, I find that the obsession with “tight” writing sometimes backfires, and I can also think of some novels—mostly relatively recent romances—that would have benefitted from an additional 50 pages or so. YMMV, of course.

    Spamword: design79. There are more than 79 ways to design a book, definitely.

  25. 25

    Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series was one cliffhanger after another. Thank God I started the series after all five books had been released or I would have needed to buy them all in paperback just to save my iPad being thrown against the wall.

    I can handle a cliffhanger if it’s exceedingly well-written, vital to the plot and I KNOW the author is going to deilver the next installment in a timely manner. If not…I’ve heard of one reader of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series sending King a photo of a teddy bear bound, blindfolded to a chair with a note that read ‘Give us the next book or the teddy bear dies’. I was tempted to take similar action over Robert Jordan’s Wheel Of Time series, but alas, I fear even that will not end it any time soon.

  26. 26
    Laurel says:

    I am staunchly in the HATE THEM WITH THE FIERY HEAT OF A THOUSAND SUNS camp. Unresolved threads are fine. Introducing a major “all is lost” plot thread in the last page or two is off limits. If an author does it to me even once I check reviews before buying anything else by her so I can avoid buying another cliffhanger without the next installment.

    I even avoid teaser chapters for a book that isn’t out yet. It’s worse than having an itch on the sole of your foot when you are wearing winter socks and boots.

    I posted a nearly identical rant a year ago: http://bit.ly/eTzoSN

  27. 27
    L says:

    I don’t mind cliffhangers. It’s when the resolution is shark-jumpingly bad that makes me want to tear my hair out.

    The best example I can think of isn’t even a book; it’s Gilmore Girls. I still look back on that last season and think “Really? Really? This is how you ended it!?” After that, I swore I’d be much more careful about what unfinished series – book or television – I got into.

  28. 28
    Regina says:

    I, too, wish to buy the complete series of books before reading them for fear of 1.  not being able to find all of said books or 2.  having to wait until the author does some speed writing or 3.  loosing the thread of the series, or 4.  forgetting about the series and moving on just to realize there is another book (or two or three) left in a series and forgetting what the plot line or characters were in the first book(s).  So, writer/authors/publishers DO NOT WRITE CLIFFHANGERS!!!  Don’t you realize that I am a three year old with a toy?  I will loose interest and move on in just a few minutes to something that will keep me entertained. So, if writers want to sell books, don’t leave me hanging in the wind to find out who the killer is because if I have to wait, I might forget and move on to another book and never, ever pick up another book written by you.  That’ll teach you (sticking my tongue out).

  29. 29
    Thwax says:

    I loathe cliffhangers. To me cliffhanger = arc has overtaken plot. For me, a book should be able to stand alone with a beginning, a middle and a satisfactory ending (to be fair, I have to say, happy or sad ending, as long as it is a decent conclusion, although I am personally a happy ending junkie). The arc can have a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of the book, though, as long as the book’s story is concluded, but the arc should always be secondary to the main plot of the story. I am suspicious of arcs, simply because bad writing does often let them take over: they should be well planned and themselves have a distinct beginning-middle-end.

    In TV there are two distinct types of episodic programming, ‘a series’, that has a set of related, but complete stories within it, one per episode (these can also have arcs through the series, but each individual plot is what is important every week), like CSI, or Star Trek,  and ‘a serial’, where each episode forms part of the story, like BBC’s Pride & Prejudice, or any Soap Opera. We usually know what we’re in for when we sit down to watch. Maybe it needs to be more obvious with books – a book sold in parts with multiple cliffhanger endings used to be called a Penny Dreadful, read Charles Dickens’ chapters in Great Expectations and count the cliffhangers. These cliffhanger series are the modern equivalent – I might be more forgiving if they only cost a penny tho’ ;)

  30. 30
    Rebecca Hb. says:

    I admit, most series I read are fantasy/urban fantasy rather than romance. But cliff-hangers are just as annoying there as they seem to be for everyone else. I prefer series’ books where the specific plot of that book is resolved in that book with a satisfying denoument and things that carry over into the next book.

    The last Harry Dresden made me scream with shock that Jim would end the book that way, but not that it was a cliffhanger because he’d already dealt with the actual plot of “Changes”. (And also wrapped up a few major things that have been hanging fire since the early books of the series.)

    Wheel of Time, oh, Wheel of Time. WoT is my nemesis, and the main reason I won’t give A Song of Ice and Fire a chance until it’s complete.

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