No one likes to be left hanging – or do they?
I ask the question because I’m starting to doubt myself. Cliffhanger endings seem to be in vogue at the moment, but I find them incredibly frustrating: You wanted to know how it works out? Sorry, you’ll have to buy the next book for that. Grr.
As a writer, I understand the fashion for trilogies and series and the commercial thinking that lies underneath it: hook your reader once and they’ll buy all three/five/seven/twenty nine, but I think this is starting to short-change the reader. I don’t want to be manipulated into reading an entire series – I should be enticed into that by compelling characters, a gripping plot, and powerful writing.
I actually read a recommendation the other day (to be fair, this was from a marketer, not a writer) advising that a “sure-fire” way of getting newsletter sign-ups was to end your novel on a cliffhanger, then offer subscribers a “bonus chapter” wrapping up the loose ends. I spent a minute squinting at the screen, wondering if I was the one taking crazy pills. Was he seriously advocating publishing an UNFINISHED book in order to drive newsletter sign-ups? Surely to goodness that wouldn’t work? I’d despise and detest any writer who did that to me.
Just in case you think I’m a ridiculously demanding reader who expects every single loose end to be knotted so tightly it’ll never come undone, I promise that’s not the case. I don’t mind an open ending. I think that’s what I write myself. Every ending is also a beginning and there’s always a sign of something else ahead for the characters, but each book tells its own complete story so it can safely be put down once the last page is read.
I know I go on about her a bit (quite rightly, imo), but Marissa Meyer provides an absolutely perfect example of how to write a series in the Lunar Chronicles. Each volume tells a story and can be read alone, but there’s also an overall story arc for the fictional world which drives me (and millions of others) to keep reading.
The distinction for me is whether I end a book satisfied or frustrated. Satisfaction is good, frustration is likely to end with me throwing the book across the room. Reading is an enormously pleasurable activity, after all. I want to want to read an author’s next book, not feel forced into it.
Do you agree with me, or is that the stupidest opinion ever? Do you love or hate cliffhanger endings? Please add your point of view in the comments below.
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