Is That a Cliff I See Yawning Before Me?

Cliffhanger endings. Like ’em or loathe ’em?

For me…both. It depends on the medium. In serialized fiction, they’re good. In TV shows, they’re fine. Book and movies? Not so much. I suppose that’s because, with the other two formats, I expect cliffhangers and I know my resolution is coming soon and I won’t shell out a lot of cash to get it (as I mentioned in my last blog, I’m cheap)

When a movie ends in a cliffhanger (Pirates OTC 2 anyone?), I get annoyed. Sure, I was planning on seeing #3, but I don’t like feeling pushed into it.

Same thing with books. My classic example? A series I enjoyed until a book ended with the heroine finally picking a romantic choice…and we wouldn’t find out who until the next book. I was pissed. Had the next one been paperback, I would have bought it, but it was still hardcover, so I felt I was being pushed into buying the more expensive format…and I hate reading hardcover. Never read another book in the series. Yeah, it was a small thing, but I’m cranky and I’m stubborn.

Now, as I launch a young adult trilogy next year, the first book ends in what I suspect some will call a cliffhanger. I’d call it a hook. I’m probably splitting hairs, but when I give writing workshops, I talk about ending chapters with “hooks” to keep the reader turning the pages. To me, a cliffhanger is having the character pick a romantic interest…and making the reader wait a book to find out who it is. A hook is ending the book at a point where the protagonist is obviously in deep sh*t (it’s YA, I can’t swear), but she’s not hanging from a cliff, about to drop at any second.

I have agonized over this ending. It’s a trilogy with an overarching plot, so there was no “resolution” possible yet.

Originally, I did end it with a true cliffhanger. Everything goes to sh*t…curtain drops. Ouch. I knew I could never do that to readers. So I added a chapter, answering some questions and getting the protagonist into a temporarily safe place–a cave on the cliffside, if you will.

I know I’ll catch flak. And I may piss some readers off–which I hate to do. If it was me reading the book, I think I’d be okay with it but, yeah, I might feel a little manipulated into buying the next book to get all my questions answered.

So, toss in your ten cents. How do you feel about cliffhangers? About hooks? Is there a difference?

If an author clearly states this book one of a trilogy, do you expect an open ending and unanswered questions? Or do you want a temporary wrap up?

Kelley Armstrong is the NYT bestselling author of the urban fantasy series, The Otherworld. For info on her novels or to read sample chapters, check out her website at www.KelleyArmstrong.com.

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4 Comments

  1. But you’re allowed to swear in Ya – just ask Holly Black 😉 It’s only in junior fiction that you can’t swear 😉

    Have a lovely day! 🙂

  2. I loathe it when a story is left unfinished. I like ongoing plot points that continue throughout a series or hints at things to come, but when I get to the end of a book, I want it to actually have an ending. I guess a good illustration of this would be the great way the Harry Potter books were done — even though you were pretty sure he’d be back, Voldemort always suffered a solid defeat at the end of the books.

    I won’t even watch 2-part television shows until I have both parts recorded and can watch them back-to-back. It just irritates me.

    I also get annoyed when something is hinted at toward the end of a book to keep the reader’s interest going on to the next book in the series, and then that hint turns out to be a a gimmick that has no actual substance or point in the subsequent book. I feel conned because by the time that second book has come out (or whatever book number it is), I’ve been thinking about that hint and all the possible meanings and repercussions it could have for quite some time.

  3. If a book were advertised as the first of a trilogy I would expect lots of unresolved issues. That’s why if I’m going to read a trilogy I wait for all the volumes to be available. If I had started to read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy before the concluding volume came out I think I still would have enjoyed it and would not have been pissed off about what the author left dangling but I’m glad I didn’t have to cuz I tend to forget a lot … I know there are nuances of the Harry Potter books I’ve missed because I’ve forgotten lots of characters & some detail while waiting for the next volume. But Rowling wrapped things up pretty good in each book, so long as you didn’t mind the growing threat of old youknowwho off in the wings.

  4. When I was a young adult I swore all the time…….anywho…

    Stories today, whether on paper or film, typically have a shorter denouement. When The Exorcist came out, the falling action had to take a long time, simply because they had to ensure the audience that the little girl was no longer possessed by the devil. That movie already stirred up a lot of controversy; Imagine how people would react if the movie ended right after the exorcism, and they didn’t know if the girl made it through or not.

    I like a quicker falling action, because I don’t like to linger after a climax, but I don’t like cliff hangers either. I remember being upset by endings that just ended with no resolution.

    In the second pirates movie, I specifically remember shouting out profanities in the theater as Kiera Knightley made out with Johnny Depp in the end
    (That was uncalled for on so many levels ;-))
    I was so angry about that, I don’t even remember the ending!


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