CLIFFHANGERS: THRILLING LEAP OR PERILOUS PLUNGE?
I’ll say it right off: in general, I don’t like cliffhangers. That said, I agree that some of the most enjoyable and successful series ever written have had cliffhanger elements. Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy, Lewis’ Narnia series, and of course, Rowling’s Harry Potter series, all have some long story arcs that were not resolved until the last book. Why were these authors so successful at luring readers to each next book without leaving them frustrated or disappointed with the ones they just finished? In a word: closure. Whether in one of the books mentioned above, or in other popular series such as Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels, each book has both an individual plot arc that is wrapped up and resolved, as well as a continuing arc or arcs that thread through all the books.
Series allow authors to develop, complicate and expand the lives of characters over the course several books. Still, each novel needs to feel finished and complete to the reader. Each episode requires a denouement- a satisfactory conclusion for the reader.
Now, lets bring into the series fray Kindle Unlimited, a new subscription service sold by Amazon. For $9.99 a month a reader may download ten books in one fell swoop and as books are read and returned, download another. However, authors do not get paid the for downloaded title unless the subscriber reads beyond 10% of the book before returning it. Here is what author Matthew Kadish suggests among others: Keep books short – 10-20 pages, or roughly 4k-8k words. This is to make certain if the subscriber only reads the first or second page, the 10% threshold is reached. The author gets paid. Break books up into serialized content if they are in KU-heavy niches. Kadish says KU heavy niches are Erotica, Romance, Mystery/Thriller, Short Stories, & Children’s Books. I am curious where Kadish is getting his information. We haven’t even had a royalty check on KU books yet. What authors in those niches he describes are giving him sales figures? Nor has Amazon announced how many customers have subscribed to KU which has only been on offer for six weeks or so.
Do you think it is good for your writing career or building a platform of readers to chop your books into shorts so that after every one and a half chapters you write The End? Do you believe a reader will buy the next one and a half chapters without a satisfactory solution to a story, a love match or a mystery?
Here are a few comments from readers and reviewers: Do you agree or disagree?
“If the book is good, we will read the next one. Don’t stoop to tricking readers.” ~ Michele Biring-Pani, Raven Reviews.
“Even if another story… is to follow, that doesn’t exempt the story from needing its own ending. I expect that to be fulfilled each time I open a book, and I get frustrated when it’s not.” ~ Victoria Grefer, Creative Writing with the Crimson League.
“Ticking readers off with a cliffhanger is not the best way to endear them to our stories.” ~ K. M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors.
“Endings… can make or break a book. A reader may forgive a weak beginning, but never a weak ending.” ~ Shiloh Walker, Heroes and Heartbreakers.
“I will never buy or read another series book until the entire series is published.” ~ anon. Amazon Discussion Forum.
“I hate cliffhangers. I feel cheated.” ~ Reader. Same Discussion Forum.
It takes not only powerfully engaging characters and plot to survive an abruptly truncated story, but also the forgiveness and empathy of the audience. The Empire Strikes Back comes to mind; we all groaned when it simply stopped, but its engaging multiple plots – full of danger, adventure, and humor – and its beloved characters saved the day. I can’t think of many other instances, either in books or in film, where an abruptly cut-off story fared as well. Engaging characters and a strong over-arc will draw readers to a series. But! To keep coming back for more, readers need and prefer a well-told story with a satisfying conclusion to the episode portrayed in each book in the series. Authors who slam the door on a key scene and leave the reader dissatisfied may soon discover readers posting dozens of scathing reviews. It happens.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever read a book with a cliffhanger?
Did you buy the second or third in the series? Were you annoyed or complacent?