Thursday, January 28, 2021

Have Your Say - The Cliffhanger Dilemma

 

Sketch by Ingmar Drewing

It's not a new trend: in the 1800s, the likes of Charles Dickens and George Eliot had their works published as serializations, and readers had to wait (patiently or impatiently, it made no difference) for the next installment to come out. What is new(er) is the ability of readers to post instant reviews and voice their disapproval of an author's reader-baiting tactics. Like these in the image below (click image to enlarge). 

This author and series will remain anonymous, for obvious reasons. One of the reviews mentions three books, but the series has developed into at least six books since that was posted. Aside from the complaints that the books in this series are far too short to be sold as full-length novels, the biggest grumbles stem from the cliffhanger endings blatantly intended to hook the reader into purchasing the next installment in the series. So intent is the author on this tactic that, apparently, some of the books are truncated at odd points in the story, leaving some books without a completed plot arc.


When I began my latest Middle Grade series, Draconian Rules, I was determined to make each book a complete story, with one or two loose threads that will be developed in later books. Personally, I get nervous about the idea of publishing something that is essentially "unfinished", where I might be unwilling or unable to complete the series. I want to feel happy that the book that is sent out into the world comes to a satisfying conclusion in its own right, just in case it happens to be the last book I manage to publish.

What do you think, Red Pencillers? Are cliffhanger endings a clever and lucrative tactic, or a quick way to damage reader trust and stall your author career (at least until you begin again with a new pen name)? How do you feel as a reader if you come to the end of a book and realize there is no ending unless you buy the next, and the next, and the next?



Elle Carter Neal is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Convoluted Key (first in the Draconian Rules series), the picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or check our her programme for new writers at Fully Booked.

Photo by Amanda Meryle Photography

12 comments :

  1. I do not like cliffhangers at the end of a novel.

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  2. Like Pat, I dislike cliffhangers, whether they are books or movies. As a reader myself and a writer, I think they're a disservice to my readers, who have the right to expect a satisfying read and a conclusion that doesn't leave them hanging over a cliff or compel them to purchase and read another book that may end the same way. Just my opinion.

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    1. Decades ago when I was putting out my senior journal in Colorado, I serialized some stories contributed by my readers. A very pointed letter from one senior told me that was very unfair because older readers want to know what happens but may not live long enough to find out. She was quite upset. While this view may seem
      more applicable to seniors due to their advanced years, it could apply to all age groups. Particularly now, when life is uncertain, I believe all readers deserve a complete story. But this doesn't mean something from one story cannot be carried over to the next book (a romance among others), just not a cliffhanger.

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  3. I agree with you both. I remember years ago starting an epic fantasy trilogy and getting so deeply into it that I felt I should binge read it as quickly as possible in case I died before I could finish the final book and find out all the answers. I think I was around 25, so it definitely applies to any age. I banned myself from doing anything risky for the duration of my reading of that trilogy!

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  4. I usually hate them! I've only been able to tolerate them with a few series.

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    1. I'm currently reading a series to my kids that has each book end on a ridiculous cliffhanger that is resolved within the first chapter of the next book. It's become so obvious we no longer even react to them. We'll finish the series because they're funny, not because we absolutely have to find out how the protagonist is going to get out of the latest crazy ending.

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  5. Those obvious "to be continued" cliffhangers will put me off a series and author. I read one mystery, not knowing it was going to end abruptly without a conclusion to the main plot thread and I was sooooo angry. Maybe because I'm old and a curmudgeon and started writing stories when they had to have a beginning, middle, and end, but I won't start a series that ends so abruptly I drive off the cliff reading toward an ending that isn't there.

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    1. That would annoy me too, Maryann. Luckily the cliffhangery series we're reading at the moment does resolve each book's mystery, at least, but I don't think we'll bother with any of the other series this author has written. Her writing is not good enough to warrant putting up with these silly cliffhangers. That's two strikes.

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  6. I don't like cliffhangers either, unless it's at the end of a chapter. A few years back, there was a big to-do when an erotic romance writer wrote very short books in a series and made quite a bit of money. After a while, readers were irate when they realized they'd been snookered into buying one book after another to see what happened. It might still be going on in that genre, which I neither read nor write anymore. People don't like to be hoodwinked.

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    1. Ha ha. Cliffhangers at the end of chapters are the culprits of all of my children's late-to-bed-on-a-school-night/ can't-get-up-in-the-morning maladies ;-) Especially my daughter who insists that she will have nightmares if we leave the story right at that point (and then the end of the next chapter the character is in an even worse predicament). I fall for it every time.

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    2. At least they're reading. Good for them and for you.

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    3. Yes, I’m sometimes tempted to write on the late slip for school - “Reason: reading”. LOL

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