What the ….?? Cliffhangers. Love or hate them?

November 7, 2014

Ah, the good ol’ cliffhanger. The ending that people seem to love to hate. Countless times I have read disappointed reviews due to open endings or cliffhangers. The disappointment almost palpable as the reader tries to come to terms with a lack of closure when they felt they should have because they desire some sense of completion with the ending. And I can understand that, but I can’t say that I have the same reaction. I’m not sure if it’s an attitude in how I approach a story, I don’t know if it comes from reading different types of books growing up than many fantasy readers, but I am actually often a fan of of these endings that meet frustration from other readers. So, the question becomes, WHY? What makes me enjoy these so much more than others? This may be a pointless rambling post as I try to guess speculate reasons for the difference. But, hey! It’s Friday, what better way to spend it than with a pointless ramble.

So, I am sure part of the puzzle is explaing why I like these types of endings. As for open endings, I don’t know for certain, but I feel like they are more common in horror books. For those of you unaware, this is what I grew up reading and it was always my genre of choice until recently. Even if they are not more common in horror, they have still always been my favorite, so I likely gravitate towards authors that favor it. I love a creepy ending where you are never quite sure if all is well or if terror is lurking, waiting to reappear. Endings that make you speculate a thousand different ways the rest of the story could go. Stories that leave you leery of any attempt at sunshine and rainbows. Stories that leave you with possibilities.

And I am not saying I always like them. There is definitely skill involved in getting it just right, so some authors may handle it better, because I am sure there is a balance in getting the right amount of closure with the right amount of mystery for any reader. So, I’m not saying every open-ended or cliffhanger ending works well, but the idea behind them is sound and the reaction amongst readers is interesting.

There are some cliffhangers that I feel are not actually much a cliffhanger. Books where they end on some dramatic event trying to make you wonder what will happen, keep you in suspense until the next book, but in reality they are predictable on at least some level. Both A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin and Daylight War by Peter V. Brett hit this nerve with me. ADwD, I do have some interesting questions related to the character involved in the cliffhanger, in how they will respond to the position they were left in and those I don’t mind. Daylight War made me roll my eyes because there is an actual cliff involved with the cliffhanger. But in reality I don’t feel much suspense as I feel the fate is not as questionable as the ending tries to make you believe. But, the sequels to these have not been released. Perhaps I will be proven wrong with what I am deeming to be predictable. I won’t know for sure until then.

But one thing is absolutely for sure. Cliffhangers are memorable. Open endings are memorable. So when I go to read the next book however long it is until its released, I know where the last one left off. I also find myself thinking about possibilities more with these types of endings, trying to figure out which way the author might take it. I actually quite enjoy this, wether I turn out to be right or not. Blackveil by Kristen Britain ended on a cliffhanger I thought I had figured out, and I was completely wrong. But I had fun thinking about it, and I had fun reading the next one and finding out what really happened.

To me, stories are about possibilities. These endings give the reader more possibilities and more to think about at the end. Not everyone loves them, which is fine. But I don’t like when they fault the author for not tying a pretty ribbon around it defining the outcome with utter certainty. To me, its a stylistic choice. Love it or hate it, but don’t get mad at the author. It’s their story after all and it’s their prerogative to tell it (and end it) however they see fit.

So, how about you? Do you enjoy these endings? Hate them? Does it depend on other factors?



  • Carmel @ Rabid Reads November 7, 2014 at 11:24 am

    I don’t mind cliff hangers overly much because #1 I accept that they aren’t going away, #2 I expect them, and #3 they are a good hook to encourage readers to buy the next installment. I do however hate the abrupt ones, this seems to happen more often in YA than in any other genre. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them cliffies, the story just kinda ends mid-sentence, so instead of getting an OOooh reaction, I’m left with a WTF one instead. Not cool.
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  • Lynn November 7, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    I don’t mind cliffhangers. I think, like you said, in SFF you probably expect them to a certain degree. I mean, it’s nicer if, at the end of the book, the person isn’t literally hanging over the edge of a cliff, but I don’t mind an open ending at all. I can’t deny that sometimes the wait between books can become a bit much if it’s overly long – because you forget some of the previous story, but that’s the thing with fantasy. And, I also admit that it’s better if each of the books has it’s own ending, but, on the whole I don’t mind cliffhangers and it’s understandable, after all, the author wants you to return!
    Lynn 😀
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  • Nathan (@reviewbarn) November 7, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Strangely enough I enjoy open endings but I am not a huge fan of cliff hangers between books. Open threads are of course OK but I want each book to have some self contained story within.
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  • Danya @ Fine Print November 7, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    I know it’s unusual but I actually really like open endings when they’re done right. Not many authors have the skill to really pull it off in my opinion. Cliffhangers are a no-no, but I do like it when a really crucial piece of information is revealed on the last page. Character X is actually evil? Character Y has magical abilities? Yes, please! Keeps me eager for the next instalment without making me too anxious about character deaths…or people going over cliffs.
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  • Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum November 8, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    I think it depends. I’m more than okay with cliffhangers in the cases that wrap up a main story, but leaves a lot wide open – say, a conflict in a larger story arc that will continue with the subsequent books. That to me is a cliffhanger done right.

    On the other hand, cliffhangers like the one in the last Demon Cycle book – I literally screamed WTF! when I reached the last sentence and turned the page to find…it’s over. Same goes for books like the Falconer where the ending comes by cutting off an action sequence mid scene. That just makes me think “gimmicky” and I’m not amused.
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  • Anya @ On Starships and Dragonwings November 16, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    I started reading this post being certain that I would comment about my hate of cliffhangers and that books should be finished stories, but I really really like your argument in the last paragraphs. There are definitely endings that some people would call cliffhangers but I could see being purposely left open by the author with artistic purpose. Generally I would only be okay with an ending like that though if the author was clearly skilled and I loved their writing during the book so was more willing to trust they were making a point instead of just couldn’t think of an ending 😉
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