This week’s video explores the pros and cons of using a cliffhanger to end books within a series.
Writers are told all the time they need to end their scenes, chapters, and even books—if they’re part of a series—with cliffhangers that will force readers to choose between either reading on to find out what happens, or, alternatively, dying slowly and painfully of curiosity. But is this really good storytelling? When it comes to scenes and chapters, we can say that, generally speaking, cliffhangers are not a bad idea. In fact, they’re a very good idea when they keep readers racing through our pages. Really, the only the problem we need to be aware of here is making sure the cliffhangers don’t become monotonous.
On the other hand, a cliffhanger at the end of a book itself is an entirely different matter. The truth is most readers don’t really like cliffhangers at the end of a book. After investing hours in a book, with the goal of discovering whether or not the heroine survives her horrific kidnapping, only to find out they have to wait a whole year until the next book comes out, you really can’t blame readers for their frustration.
And yet authors keep slapping cliffhangers on the ends of books within a series. Why? Why do we do this? The answer, of course, is obvious. We want (scratch that, we desperately need) readers to buy the next book in the series. But the irony here is that ticking them off with a cliffhanger that leaves all the story questions unanswered is not the best way to endear them to us or our stories.
There are better ways to get readers to read on to the next book—not least among them strong plots, concepts, characters, and themes. If readers love what you’re doing, they’ll read on just to spend more time in your story world. When you’re writing a series, you’ll certainly have loose ends that will carry over from book to book. But there’s no reason each book can’t have a solid beginning, middle, and ending of its own.
Cliffhanger Thumbnail – The Microsoft Office Clip Art Collection
First published on Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors
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