Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.
I have to be honest that cliffhangers drive me nuts. I hate them. Watching a show on television that leaves me hanging until the next week has me spitting nails, but it also has me coming back the next week to find out what will happen. It is a guarantee to keep you hooked. Cliffhangers can play a role in keeping readers.
When Readers Are Left Hanging
The same thing happens with a book. At the end, readers get angry to be left hanging over that cliff. Their fingers are grasping a thin spiderweb of roots that held the story's climatic end in place. The words that they think will conclude the story one hundred percent actually send them over the cliff's edge. In a desperate attempt to hold onto the story and get their bearings from the fall, they reach out for the roots that last held their attention. Now, they hang there, confused and wondering where they go from there. Needless to say, it brings the reader back when the story is good.
That being said, I find myself now writing books that have cliffhangers. Yes, I hate them, but there is something that draws me to them as a writer. The plummet might be at the end of the chapter or at the end of the book, but they are there. Now that those books are out there for the public to read, I’m finding that there are quite a bit of pros and cons to ending a book with a cliffhanger.
The Pros of Cliffhangers
Cliffhangers bring the reader back for more. Cliffhangers get the reader’s attention and doesn’t let it go. After all, they are hanging on to that root and need to find a way out of their predicament. Cliffhangers also bring out emotional reactions which is good.
Though the reaction might be anger, the reader is involved to a large degree. You want that. If a reader gets to the end and shrugs their shoulders, then the book wasn’t for them. If they want to throw the book across the room in frustration because they have to get the next book to find out what happens, then they enjoyed the story.
They can also be fun to write as they allow the writer to build suspense and lead into more dramatic pages. It is a great marketing tool for authors to establish more sales for the second book and show how the story can continue. But as with anything, there are cons.
The Cons of Cliffhangers
Many readers don’t like cliffhangers. In fact, one reviewer rated my book a star lower because I left the first book in a series with a cliffhanger. They were not happy at all and the review reflected that. There are quite a few readers who like the story to be wrapped completely up at the end with nothing hanging over for the next book. Cliffhangers tick them off.
When you use a cliffhanger, you need to let the reader know there is another book coming. Have some info available to them so they can look forward to the next one and discover what really happens after the cliffhanger. That might take the edge off.
To be honest, that is about the only con I can come up with. Now, most of my readers get frustrated with my cliffhangers but look forward to the next book that will hopefully wrap up the story unless, of course, I leave it with another cliffhanger for another book.
Many Readers Are Against Them
Many readers protest cliffhangers. Some protests are more like mine . . . due to frustration. But others get downright angry and leave bad reviews because there was a cliffhanger. They want everything tied up in a neat ending. They have no desire for any unanswered questions to be left hanging.
I've seen many readers get extremely angry and give the book a bad review because of it. Personally, I think that is wrong as the review should be more than the dissatisfaction of the ending.
What are your thoughts on cliffhangers? Are you okay with them as long as there is a book to conclude the story later? Are you just against them no matter what? Comment below on how cliffhangers cause you to react.
Aryadeep Mitra on January 30, 2020:
I hate cliff hangers!!!! It is not a art.
Ree on May 18, 2019:
People who complain about cliffhangers or any one's art are just a bunch of whiney idiots.
Rushd Bitar from Palestine on October 07, 2017:
I hate cliffhangers :( Haha