1. TLK
    Offline

    TLK Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2013
    Messages:
    272
    Likes Received:
    35

    Cliffhangers

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TLK, Jun 29, 2014.

    Hi all,

    Just wanted to get your opinions on cliffhangers, be they at the end of an entire novel (or any work) or just at the end of a chapter.

    The reason is is that I've heard many people say that they're a "gimmick" or a "cliche" and that they shouldn't be used. Now, I can sort of see where this opinion's coming from, i.e. being a writer who's skills are such that they can't make their normal writing exciting and hence use cliffhangers to try to keep the reader interesting.

    I'm not the best writer in the world, far from it, but I think I'm good enough that people find my writing engaging. It may not be of publishable quality but of course I'm working on that. However, I still find that employing cliffhangers every now and again is useful. I'm about halfway through the second edit of my novel and I've used three so far. One is the classic "omg he's dead", another features a blinding flash of light and a character blacking out and in the third we discover that all of the characters' carefully laid plans were all for naught. All of these are at the end of the chapter. If all goes well though, one of the planned books in my series will actually finish on a cliffhanger. Or at least that's what I'm thinking now.

    I may still be a novice, but I can't see how these cliffhangers are harmful to my writing, nor how they would make it seem amateurish. They're not overused (only thrice in about twenty five chapters) and in each instance I can imagine myself, were I the reader, not being able to put the book down at the end of that chapter. It may be a matter of personal taste (like prologues seem to be) but, personally, I can't see how cliffhangers can be a bad thing, provided you don't overuse them and, like with everything, the rest of the writing is of good enough quality.

    I'm not expecting my use of cliffhangers to sell my book, but I do think they'll make it more exciting.

    Thoughts? Opinions? Am I deluded?

    Thanks in advance :)
     
  2. TWErvin2
    Offline

    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2006
    Messages:
    2,529
    Likes Received:
    561
    Location:
    Ohio, USA
    Giving a reader a reason to read on (the next chapter), using a sort of 'cliff hanger' is perfectly fine. Doing it at the end of a novel, however, will have a good chance of frustrating, if not angering, readers, especially if the next novel in the series is not available.

    Even then, a reader generally expects a full story arc or a satisfying read. Does that mean that everything has to be wrapped up tightly, with no ongoing questions or concerns that may loom in the future? No.
     
    sunsplash and Cogito like this.
  3. ddavidv
    Offline

    ddavidv Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2013
    Messages:
    357
    Likes Received:
    240
    Location:
    Pennsylvania, USA
    I use them occasionally. I just did one where I jump around between 3 different characters throughout the book, and they are now all coming together at once for a climactic showdown. My chapter-ending cliffhanger is a scene where the MC is being stalked in the woods by a 'bad guy', and decides to at least try to kill him before he kills her. The scene ends as she steps out from behind a tree, arrow pulled tight into the bowstring of a archery bow, and her fingers deftly release the shot. I stop there, and then switch to another character's perspective. I don't think it's 'gimmicky'; it is simply a tool to add tension to the story. Having read through twenty-odd prior chapters, the reader will know the outcome will be told. It's just a convenient way to make them want to read ahead and find out what happens, even if it's brought in from another character's view.

    I do not like stories that end with ambiguity, so won't foist one on my readers. Maybe it can be pulled off in a series, but I still wind up feeling 'cheated'.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,998
    Likes Received:
    5,506
    I think that cliffhangers at the end of a book are unacceptable.

    Inside a book, many/most books are going to have "Ooh! What's going to happen?" moments. Those are inherently cliffhangers. Given that, then I guess the question would be whether you charge on toward the resolution, or interrupt the action with a chapter ending, a scene shift to another scene, or both.

    I think that the reading audience has watched so much television that they tend to expect those exciting moments to stop for a "commercial break". I think that that can be a problem if there's a risk of the reader forgetting what happened--if you work up a bunch of excitement, and then you shift away to another scene, and then shift back, you might feel a need to do the equivalent of a "Previously, on 'My Novel'..." You don't want to damage your novel by treating it like a different form of media.

    On the other hand, there is ample precedent for written works being released in serial form, and I'd bet that they involved plenty of cliffhangers.

    So I'd say that they're fine, but be careful.
     
  5. Annalise_Azevedo
    Offline

    Annalise_Azevedo Member

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2014
    Messages:
    60
    Likes Received:
    13
    Location:
    Australia
    Personally, I rather read cliffhangers during the novel. It usually gives the reader a reason to continue until the end. But according to some people, I have a habit of giving big cliffies. While I don't like them at the end, but if it's pulled off right it could be an excellent way to follow up with the next part.
     
  6. stevesh
    Offline

    stevesh Banned Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2008
    Messages:
    968
    Likes Received:
    646
    Location:
    Mid-Michigan USA
    Me, too. There are two major suspense writers who incorporated cliffhangers at the end of their last books. They've seen their last dollars from me. If you want me to read your next book, make me glad I read your current one.
     
  7. TLK
    Offline

    TLK Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2013
    Messages:
    272
    Likes Received:
    35
    I can see where you're coming from but, for me, cliffhangers are at their most effective when there's a gap between the cliffhanger and what happens next, i.e. another chapter in which you follow another character. But in the instance I'm on about, the story is linear, only following one group of people, so the gap between the books serves as the gap.

    After having written that though, there is another part of the story that is different that I could bring forward to act as this gap, which is not a bad idea at all.

    But saying that, what I had in mind for the novel in question (the one that ends in the cliffhanger) is the novel where the war swings vastly in favour of the bad guys, and everything starts to go wrong for our heroes. The idea is that the readers will be thinking "oh no, how are they ever going to win?". The cliffhanger that comes at the end of this novel is the main characters taking a gamble to try and swing the war around but their move is anticipated and essentially they're caught in a trap. And that's where it would end. To me it makes sense to end a novel that's about stuff going wrong with an event such as this.

    @ChickenFreak 's points about TV is a very good point though. I plan to write out rough drafts of the entire series before trying to get the first book published, so hopefully if I do succeed, the sequels in the series won't be long in-coming and my readers won't forget. I can also do a "re-cap" so to speak that does avoid the "previously on" thing, i.e. a character's reflections on the current state of affairs.

    Tricky decisions.
     
  8. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,383
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    I don't always use them but I think they are essential for a page turner. When I was working on my nanowrite project, a horror, I used cliffhangers, and when I was working on my Untitled Road Trip Thriller ( now hesitantly called Vulture Bait ) I used the cliffhanger. The good thing about it is it can help you develop an instinct of not trying to wrap up a days events or a scene before going on to the next chapter. Instead you find yourself cutting where you know the biggest anticipation is going be to keep your reader reading.

    Not a big fan of cliffhanger endings. I remember reading The Girl in The Box by Ouida Sebestian as a young girl and hated it's ending. I could see it coming, but still.... I hated it.
     
    jannert likes this.
  9. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,829
    Likes Received:
    7,360
    Location:
    Scotland
    I'd say a cliffhanger ending to a chapter is fine every now and again, BUT only if the following chapter lives up to the cliffhanging promise. Your situation really does need to be hanging over a cliff. How you get off the cliff is what the reader wants to find out.

    Ending a chapter with OMG he's dead! and then starting off the next chapter with actually, he's just taking a nap... can be very VERY annoying to the reader. It amounts to literary false advertising.

    One of the real 'rules' of fiction: keep your promises.
     
    peachalulu likes this.
  10. A.M.P.
    Offline

    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,032
    Likes Received:
    1,131
    Location:
    A Place with no History
    I personally don't like cliff hangers for the most part and hardly ever use them myself. They just don't really fit in with the sort of writing i enjoy reading or writing myself.

    @jannert
    G.R.R. Martin better not keep some of his promises in that case...
     
  11. Inkwell1
    Offline

    Inkwell1 Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 30, 2014
    Messages:
    144
    Likes Received:
    10
    Cliffhangers are, of course, good and bad; many, many people have used them over the decades, but that means they must be useful, right? Right! They engage your reader, and though it may frustrate them to tears, I like picturing the people who read my books showing a little emotion and shedding a couple tears.
     
  12. TLK
    Offline

    TLK Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2013
    Messages:
    272
    Likes Received:
    35
    @jannert , what do you mean about "keeping promises". For example, if I one of my characters appears to die right at the end of the chapter but then is revealed to be ok in the next because, I dunno, he's wearing a magic ring or something. Ooh, or a suit of mithril, like Frodo when he got skewered by the Cave Troll. Would that be ok, or not?

    I guess you're saying that, after the cliffhangers, something good has to happen? Rather than just using cliffhangers and then saying the exact opposite thing has happened in the next chapter?

    I'm a little confused, to be honest...
     
  13. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,829
    Likes Received:
    7,360
    Location:
    Scotland
    I apologise. I didn't put that idea very clearly, did I? o_O

    If your cliffhanger ending to a chapter promises a dangerous or difficult situation that your character will struggle to deal with, make sure you don't resolve it by: oh, by the way, fooled you—he wasn't dead, he was just taking a nap. He wasn't under attack from zombies, it was just his auntie Irene bringing him a plateful of biscuits.

    The purpose of a cliffhanger is to ramp up the reader's excitement and worry. If that excitement gets punctured in the next chapter (or the next chapter that deals with that particular issue) then your reader is going to feel cheated.

    Frodo got skewered by the Cave Troll and for a few moments his companions feared he was dead. I'd have to read back to remember exactly how that scene was written, but I seem to remember we readers knew he was wearing a mithril coat beforehand, so it wasn't such a mindbender after all. His companions didn't know he had one, so they were fooled ...but I don't think we were.

    Anyway, I think if your cliffhangers promise that something dire is happening or that something is going to be very difficult to deal with, then you need to keep that promise to your reader. Make sure something dire DOES happen, or that the situation IS very difficult. Otherwise you risk losing the readers' trust.
     
    TLK likes this.
  14. Ulramar
    Offline

    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 6, 2014
    Messages:
    799
    Likes Received:
    243
    Location:
    My own fantasy world, living the good life
    What if a cliff hanger at the end of the novel is past the current plot conflict, and opens it up for the next book? A new character is introduced at the last minute? It didn't upset too many people at the end of Catching Fire in the Hunger Games Trilogy **SPOILERS**, "Oh Katniss by the way Peeta was captured by the Capitol, District 12 was burned by the Capitol, a revolution has begun and we're heading to the not so dead District 13". I'd be doing something kinda similar to that with a reintroduction to a character with plot importance to the next story?
     
  15. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,998
    Likes Received:
    5,506
    As I see it, some rules are flat-out "this makes the book less valuable to the readers" rules, and some are "this will prevent a new work from getting published" rules.

    This example seems like a melding of those two rules. For the first type of rule, the book did need to resolve its major conflict, and you say that it did. Resolving that but initiating the next conflict seems to break the second kind of rule. My guess is that the first book of Hunger Games was complete in itself, and that it was massively famous before that book was published with a cliffhanger. I don't actually know the Hunger Games books, so I could be wrong about it.

    This ignores the question of "books" that are so long that they end up being multiple volumes. In that case, each book may not resolve its conflict, but that's because each book is not really a book. Lord of the Rings would be my example here. Again, you'd need to be bigger than a new/unknown book to get away with that. Stephen King, for example, could probably get away with publishing a multi-volume multi-cliffhanger "book".

    This is all pure opinionating and guesses.
     
  16. TLK
    Offline

    TLK Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2013
    Messages:
    272
    Likes Received:
    35
    @jannert , that clears things up nicely, I understand now. Thanks a lot for that advice! :)

    Would this count as a cliffhanger though? I know something shocking is revealed but, to me, cliffhangers are an immediate heightening of danger or tension. So, something like "Katniss watched as the capitol soldier struck Peeta on the back of the head and dragged him away" would, in my opinion, be a cliffhanger ending, whereas the current ending is kinda different. It's like a cliffhanger... but you've got a harness on.
     
  17. ToeKneeBlack
    Offline

    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2014
    Messages:
    592
    Likes Received:
    207
    I've got some cliffhangers at the ends of some of my chapters, but putting them at the end of every chapter would be going too far.

    I wouldn't put a cliffhanger at the end of my first story, because if lots of people don't like it, there will be a disappointed few who would like to see more.

    There are going to be a lot of unanswered questions by the end of the first story, but I don't consider these to be elements of a cliffhanger.
     
  18. Ulramar
    Offline

    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 6, 2014
    Messages:
    799
    Likes Received:
    243
    Location:
    My own fantasy world, living the good life
    This is further down the line and I would only do this ending if I could get away with it (most likely I won't). It would been in the epilogue. The main character returned home from the war, his son checks the mail and he comes back, "Oh dad by the way you've got mail." He opens it and it's his dead fiancee's sister, who he presumed dead. It's not like I just dropped the old plot at the end of the book and intended to pick it up at the start of the next.
     
  19. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,829
    Likes Received:
    7,360
    Location:
    Scotland
    Hmmm... I'd have to see how it actually pans out when written, but in general, I'd say introducing a new character or a new situation at the end of a book isn't necessarily a cliffhanger. Indeed, it might be an interesting way to end the book, by basically promising another–but not making the 'other' mandatory.

    The reader should walk away from the book feeling satisfied. It's not a problem to leave them feeling that there will be more to come for the characters in their lives, but they need to feel this particular phase of the characters' lives is over, done and dusted.

    If they enjoyed your book, they will want to read the next one, especially if it contains some of the same characters, or is set in the same world.

    On the other hand, look at George RR Martin. He basically ends each book with what amounts to a cliffhanger ...and he's very popular. Me? I lost interest in this approach a LONG time ago. It feels too much like a soap opera—one that needs the plug pulled on it. Characters come and go, but the story never ends. He's lost me, and you might lose your readers as well, if you employ the same tactics. That's the risk you take by creating endings that are always left open.

    I'd say think about it this way. How would your readers feel if you never wrote another book? If they'd be angry because you left your story dangling, then I'd say you've got a problem. If they'd be happy with what you gave them, then you're probably okay.
     
  20. Chad Lutzke
    Offline

    Chad Lutzke Member

    Joined:
    May 31, 2014
    Messages:
    64
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Battle Creek, MI.
    I agree with everything @TWErvin2 said here.

    The only time I've seen it done successfully (and I loved every minute of it though it was also a bit frustrating) was when Stephen King did it with the Green Mile when it originally came out in 6 different books.


    ~Chad Lutzke
     
  21. Siena
    Offline

    Siena Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2012
    Messages:
    249
    Likes Received:
    51
    Totally disagree with that. Keep the audience, surprised, interested, hooked, hanging, wanting more…...
     

Share This Page