Readers: How Do You Feel About Cliffhangers?

This is the first in a series asking readers what they do and don’t like in fiction. Please, readers, let us know what you think! We authors want to give you what you want.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, or maybe I should say a ledge, and assume that at least some readers are like me and don’t like cliffhangers.

My husband and I were watching Criminal Minds, Season 2, on DVD the other night. At the end of the last episode, all the main characters get into their various look-alike black FBI-issued SUV’s, and then the scene flashes to a black SUV blowing up! Grrr! We’ve learned the hard way to already have the next season’s DVD in hand before watching the last episode on the disc, so within minutes we knew whose vehicle it was. Our annoyance was short-lived, this time.

I find full-blown cliffhangers even more annoying in novels. Awhile back, I read a debut novel in a mystery series by an indie author. The story had come to a satisfying end, and then, as the loose ends were being tied up, the protagonist’s boyfriend suddenly disappears. I turn the page, and there is a note from the author telling me I should run, not walk, to my computer and order the next book in the series.

I don’t think so!
Instead, I vowed never to buy another book by that author. I was offended by this blatant manipulation.

Now I don’t mind if an author leaves something dangling a little bit, such as a budding romance or hints of some other new development in the protagonist’s life. But please don’t hang me off the cliff! I get vertigo.

Then again, I know that semi-cliffhangers, have become a bit of a trend in some series and trilogies. I just finished reading a friend’s debut novel and she did this. The initial story, in which the young protagonist is running for her life from her abusive father with the help of her boyfriend and a stranger from another world, is resolved. But there are lots and lots of loose ends dangling when you turn the page and discover the book is done. What saved the day for me, the abhorrer of cliffhangers, was an excerpt from the beginning of Book 2 in the trilogy. It gave enough hints of where the tale was going next to turn the sour taste in my mouth to a whetted appetite. Well done, Myndi Shafer! (I highly recommend her book, Shrilugh)

And then there are soap operas–those time-honored, slow-moving series on daytime TV, and sometimes during evening prime time. I will confess that even I watched Dallas, in its first rendition. And I had an aunt who would do you bodily harm if you got in her way when she was trying to get home in time to watch her “afternoon stories.”

How about it, readers, do you like wandering along paths close to the edge of the cliff? Or do you get vertigo like me?

All of these pictures were taken at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland (gorgeous country!)

Just how tolerant are you of loose ends at the end of a book? Do you have any other pet peeves about how some novels are written?

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)
We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Mondays or Tuesdays. Sometimes we blog again, on Fridays or the weekend, with something just for fun.

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  • Reply
    September 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks for the shout-out Kassandra! I'm so flattered that you read Shrilugh! I definitely took a chance ending it the way I did…hopefully most readers will be like you, satisfied with the tease of the next book. 🙂

    I'm a big fan of cliffhangers – I love knowing that the story is going to continue…BUT I hate when a story's next book doesn't do the cliffhanger justice. I'm terrified of making that mistake!

    Great post! Big love,

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    September 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Glad to give your book a plug, Myndi. It was great. Still thinking about the characters several days after finishing it, which to me is always a sign that they were realistically portrayed. Of course, now the pressure is on to get the next installment out, before our fingernails break off. 🙂

    • Reply
      September 10, 2012 at 11:07 pm

      *squeee* Love that you're pondering the characters. And yeah, feeling the pressure. Trying to keep my cool and work like I always do – slow and steady – but it's tough!!

      So sorry about the fingernails – you have my permission to treat yourself to a Shrilugh-necessitated mani!

    • Reply
      September 10, 2012 at 11:09 pm

      Ack – my first reply got eaten. Basically I said I'm FREAKING OUT that you were still chewing on characters after the fact – totally makes my day. And that I'm going to need a Shrilugh-enduced mani as well – finished book two has been tough!! Good, but tough.

  • Reply
    September 10, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Cliffhangers…hmmmm. No, I can't say I'm a big fan. If I get hooked on a tv show, I always dread the end of the season because I know there's a big one coming. Even in mysteries, I like that particular story to be completely wrapped up. Finality, that's one thing we don't get in everyday life that fiction can give us. I guess that's why I won't read serialized novels either. Great food for thought!

  • Reply
    JoAnn Bassett
    September 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Hi Kassandra,
    Guilty as charged. I'm a fan of cliffhangers in some instances, but they don't always work. I used to LOVE the TV series “24” because every episode left poor ol' Jack teetering on the edge of disaster. It became the norm of how every episode would end. I got a DVR (and I really hated to give the cable company one more penny) so I could sleep nights not worrying about missing the next episode. But as Myn says, there must be some resolution in the following episode, book, whatever. And I think adding the first chapter of the following book to the cliffhanger book is a great idea. I have a cliffhanger book in my series (I only did this once, however, because it does feel like manipulation) and it got mixed response. Some loved it; others said 'no fair.' So, like every other rule of writing, it depends…

  • Reply
    September 10, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    I enjoy cliffhangers in TV shows, as long as they are working towards a conclusion.
    I really dislike cliffhangers in books. I read a book to see how the protagonists changes, and how they defeat the antagonists. sometimes it's enough for me to see one of those happen, but rarely. I really want to see the bad guy defeated. I dont' care if it's the over-arching villain, but at least one or two have to go down at the climax!

  • Reply
    September 10, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    I like cliffhangers that leave the reader/viewer hanging a little, but not too much, otherwise it can be really frustrating. I won't reveal any spoilers, but I think Sherlock (the TV series) does a great job with cliffhangers, especially at the end of Series 2. We get just enough information to be eager to watch the next season to figure out what happened.

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    September 10, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    Great comments, ladies! Even some of our misterio press authors tend to do a little dangling (hmm, not sure that came out right). I think it's one part a matter of taste, and one part how well it is done. Is there enough closure? And are the danglies tantalizing without being too frustrating?

  • Reply
    Coleen Patrick
    September 10, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    I'm okay with hanging a little. I watched the first season of the TV show The Killing and was very mad at the way they ended the season. So much so that I didn't even watch the second season, except for the very last episode to finally learn whodunnit. It was just too long to wait!

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    September 10, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    Hey Myndi, saw your replies on the Blogger dashboard but they don't show up here. Our reply function is messed up and we can't figure out how to fix it. Don't tell Blogger but we're considering finding a new home.

    Next time I'm out your way or you're coming to Florida, we'll have to get manicures together. Between new release nerves (mine are building for my next book, coming out in Oct/Nov) and hangin' from them dang cliffs, the old fingernails are getting to be a bit of a mess.

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    September 10, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    I agree, Coleen. The length of time you have to wait is a big part of it. I didn't mind waiting a week to find out what happened next on Dallas, but not a whole summer!

    How many folks out there remember the “Who Shot JR” Dallas season finale? I too watched the first show the next season to get the answer, and then didn't watch again.

  • Reply
    Lynette M Burrows
    September 11, 2012 at 2:02 am

    I like cliffhangers as long as they are well done. If it gives me enough information that I can feel closure of the main story, and teases at future stories, it's okay. But a cliffhanger that isn't answered, especially if the next book isn't even written (and often isn't written/published for years??? Not gonna play that game.

    Somehow, on a TV series, I'm okay with most cliffhangers. If it's a cheat, like “Who Shot JR,” I won't watch any more. If it's a the hero's been shot and you gotta wait until next season to find out, yes, he survived – well, it's TV. I guess I expect a lot more from books. 🙂

  • Reply
    September 11, 2012 at 4:18 am

    I love the cliffhanger in a series, TV or book, but then, I am a series reader. I like a story that goes on, but not on and on and on… I think that Jaqueline Carey does trilogies brilliantly; each one connected and intertwining but separate, with yes, a cliff-hanger that makes one long for the next book! I will say, that I also like a conclusion. I have stopped reading a few series that have gone on far too long. Everything doesn't have to necessarily end tied up with a pretty bow, but so long as the end is it.

  • Reply
    Karen McFarland
    September 12, 2012 at 1:46 am

    Hmm. What an interesting topic Kassandra.

    Do I like cliffhangers? Not particularly. I am not a trilogy kind of gal. I enjoy reading stand alone novels. That's not to say that I don't enjoy re-reading the book. I love to do that. As a new writer, I find that helps me get inside the author's head and learn from her/him. Then I like to move on to the next story.

    By the way, I've been to the Cliffs of Mohor. Beautiful! 🙂

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    September 12, 2012 at 3:45 am

    Hmm, it looks like we're close to tied, with maybe those who like at least a little bit of a cliffhanger slightly in the lead. General consensus seems to be that it's got to be well done, with a satifying sense of closure of the main story, in a reasonable period of time. Great comments, ladies! Thanks for stopping by.

    And I believe our site is haunted or something. I just noticed that only Shannon's and my pictures are showing. The ways of Google Blogger are dark and mysterious.

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