Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cliff Hangers - Love 'em or Hate 'em?

Every book I write (and I mean every book I write) ends with a cliff hanger. And then every critique session (and I do mean every) my critique partner tells me to go back and write her an ending. Which I do. Every time.

A couple weeks ago, I finished the third (and final) book in one of my favorite YA series. I won’t say which one so as not to be a spoiler. My problem is that the book had no ending. Well, sure, it had an ending in that it ended. But that’s the best I can give it. When I read the last line, I was instantly flipping pages back and forth, assuming I’d missed something. I mean, these characters were important to me. I cared about them! I worried about them late at night. And now I have no idea how things worked out.

For the first time, I understood what my critique partner’s been telling me. Even though, as a writer, it feels cool and a bit sensational to end on a cliff hanger, the experience is very different for the reader. It’s a bit like a break up over text messaging.

That being said, the trilogy I mentioned is a beautiful, lyrical story, masterfully written--as is every book written by this author. I own them all. So I have to believe the ending was no cop out, but the result of some highly-debated decision to let the reader come to his/her own conclusions.

Which makes me wonder. What would that editorial debate look like? What kinds of factors would . . . (ahem) factor in? Here is my TOP TEN LIST for ending on a cliff hanger:

10. There will be a sequel.

9. The publisher is printing Chapter One of the second book at the back of the first.

8. While the action may come to an abrupt halt, there is still a resolution to the personal relationships.

7. The reader can assume the ending with greater than 75% certainty.

6. You are a crazy popular author and everyone's going to keep on loving you even though you broke their hearts.

5. There is a massive explosion, leaving no doubt that no one survived.

4. You’ve run out of ink.

3. The kids are calling you for dinner.

2. You’re too tired to go on.

And the number one reason for ending on a cliff hanger . . . (drum roll please)


  1. nice one, haha!

    I'm a fan of the complexity of an open-ended ending (or maybe a redundant comment), but I've got to have number 8 anyway, even if 9 and 10 are true also. Nice post, though now I'm v. curious about the series in question!

  2. Haha now I really want to know. I think I only like cliff hangers if their is a continuation to the series, but if its only a single book but the ending feels like it should have continued that's when I start to dislike it.