This is a topic of some debate among authors and readers, and I’d like to the pose this very question to readers today. I have taken flack at time for the way I end my books from readers and fellow authors alike. Personally, I love cliffhangers, as a reader, and a writer. Sure, when I finish reading a book that ends on a cliffhanger, I have that moment of, “What? No! You can’t end it there!” But, then I rush off to see if the next book in the series is available. Even if it isn’t, I still love the feeling of excitement a cliffhanger leaves me with. I want to keep reading. I’m antsy to get the next book.
Now, with my own books, yes, I have readers who will send me notes telling me how awful it was to end the book there, but usually, like me, the next sentence is happily begging for the next book in the series. On the opposing side, though, I have also gotten comments in reviews or notes from readers and a few authors expressing how much they dislike cliffhangers. Some feel that every book in a series should be able to stand on its own. Some even feel like it’s cheating to end on a cliffhanger, teasing the reader into buying the next book.
I won’t say that I don’t use cliffhanger endings to entice readers to pick up the next book. That is certainly part of it. It’s not all of it, though. Reading can be like riding a rollercoaster. There are ups and downs, heights and falls. Throughout the book you have to create moments of emotional anxiety, fear for the character’s lives or wellbeing. Readers don’t want a static story.
When I write a series, I want that same rollercoaster sensation to carry over the entire series. I don’t want it to be three separate rides with standing in line, forgetting the last ride while you wait for the next one. The wait between books should be more like the rollercoaster cart getting to the precipice of that ride, that moment when you take a breath and either close your eyes or put your arms up in the air, knowing the plunge is about to come.
The same goes for writing, for me. I want my readers to finish the first or second book with a sense of excitement, eagerness, to keep reading. I don’t want them to put it down and feel like they don’t mind waiting for the next one. I want them to be thinking about the ending, about where the story will go next. I want it to be difficult for them not to think about it.
Then, when you get to the end of the series, it should be like getting to the end of the ride. You had a blast, were scared and excited the whole way through, but met the end feeling satisfied because you got everything you wanted out it of it. Those are my feeling on cliffhangers, but I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.