The Pros and Cons of Having a Cliffhanger Ending – Guest Post by Matthew Keith

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?

cliffhanger, flickr

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.

cliffhanger, flickr

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”?

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  4 comments for “The Pros and Cons of Having a Cliffhanger Ending – Guest Post by Matthew Keith

  1. March 16, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    I love and hate reading books that have cliffhanger endings. I absolutely love it when I already have all the books in the series. That way, there is no need to take a break in reading the story.

    I don’t like it as much when I have to wait for the rest of the books in the series, but I still wouldn’t want to miss reading them. Have I ever thrown a book when it ends in a cliffhanger? I’ve been tempted to, but I’ve not; I wouldn’t want to damage the book. And if I read it on my Kindle, well, if I threw my Kindle, I might break it.

    So, I guess that makes me “Cliffhanger Pro.”

  2. Stephen Helmes
    March 18, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    I’m a mixed reader when it comes to cliffhangers. I am one of those who want closure at the end. However, if there is another book coming, there needs to be something to keep your mind wondering, something to make you say, “Huh? What?”

    I agree with what Matthew said in this article about life never ends. Great analogy! The story goes on and on, and if you enjoy spending time with the characters, this is a treasure, knowing there is more on the way. But let there be some closure at the end, like mentioned in this article, taking life in segments. Every story should have an ending, but a loose thread is always welcome.

    • March 18, 2017 at 5:17 pm

      Appreciate your comment, Stephen. It is good to know there are those out there who share my view. Quite a few of the reviews on my books, in spite of them saying they enjoyed the writing and story, were very nasty about this aspect of (some of) the endings. I was really shocked to see that kind of feedback following the release of my first book. I’ve gotten thicker skin since then, and still use cliffhangers in all my series books 🙂 Unless it’s the final installment, of course.

  3. Stephen Helmes
    March 18, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    When it comes to entertainment, whether be books, music, movies, whatever, they are like ice cream. There are thousands of flavors out there, and few agree on which is best. Some like chocolate while some like vanilla. I encourage readers, when reading reviews on the books you are curious about, pay attention to what they are saying. there is a difference in a poorly written book and a book that they personally didn’t care for. It would be a shame to miss out on a great book simply because someone gave it a bad review due to them not liking a cliffhanger ending. Matthew, as writers, yes we have to have thick skin. Can’t make everyone happy. Write what you would enjoy reading, and there are those out there who will share your favorite flavor.

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