Whether you like to be left with questions or prefer to have the plot all bundled up neat and tidy by the end of a story, it is a never-ending debate among both authors and readers: does a cliffhanger ending make a story better or worse? Or is it just plain laziness on the part of the author?
Full disclosure—I’m one of those authors who regularly employ the use of cliffhangers for my trilogies. Let the tomato throwing begin.
A cliffhanger ending can disappointment some readers, no doubt—especially in longer novels. By the time they’ve read hundreds of pages, they’re well invested in the characters and plot. They want some sort of closure. I can tell you from some of the reviews on my own books, some readers want to throw the book against the wall and never look at it again when they realize they have to read another book to find out how it all ends. There’s probably even a few choice curse words involved.
But I see it this way: life doesn’t end. Segments of our lives end, but unless the author has killed every main character in the book, there’s always more story to tell. From my viewpoint, especially when I’m writing a trilogy, it makes sense to break the story up into segments. Each segment (each book) has a plot that comes to a conclusion, but at the end, there is a clear lead-in to the next segment. I believe that’s the primary difference between a trilogy (or any specific-numbered set) and a series. A series implies an ongoing group of stories. A trilogy implies a story taking place over three volumes.
There are readers who won’t read a book if they know they’ll be left with questions at the end, period. They check the reviews first; if they find the word “cliffhanger,” they don’t even try the free preview. And I understand their perspective: it’s part of the escape mechanism. They want to be left feeling good after they turn the last page and finally put the book down. They want finality.
For others, they’re excited when they find out there is more. I’m that kind of reader. If I really like a story, it’s always because I’ve identified or fallen in love with the characters. The closer I get to the end, the slower I read because I don’t want my relationship with them to end. If I get to that last page and there’s a cliffhanger, it’s like a reward. It means I get to enjoy an entire additional book, spend more time with the characters.
I’m sure there are plenty who will read this and have something to say on the subject. Which are you—“Cliffhanger Pro” or “Cliffhanger Con”?