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Status: Drafting the fourth book in the PERILOUS series!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cliffhanger Endings

First of all, my deepest apologies for this past chaotic week of semi-blogging. I saw a lot of new people drop by and comment. I usually am better about getting to your blog and commenting, and I'll try to catch up.

On to the subject of today: Cliffhangers! Merriam-webster defines a cliffhanger as "an adventure serial or melodrama; especially : one presented in installments each ending in suspense." So, basically in writing, what we'd call a series.

In my opinion, there are three different types of cliffhanger endings:

1) Book #1 has a complete resolution. You are left curious about the characters' lives and futures and would read book #2, but the conflict of book #1 is over. Think: The Boxcar Children, Sweet Valley Twins, etc.

2) Book #1 resolves one conflict, but a bigger one is left open. Or a new conflict begins right at the ending. This leaves the reader unresolved and eager to pick up the next book. Think: Fablehaven, Gregor the Overlander.

3) Book #1 is the first half of a story, and there is little or no resolution between book #1 and book #2. The story continues in book #2 right where book #1 left off. Sometimes the characters might think the story is resolved but the reader knows otherwise. Think: Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Maze Runner.

In general, I think that #3 is becoming very popular. And I think it's a smart move on the part of publishers and authors. There's always the possibility that a reader forgets how much they liked the book and the characters between books #1 and #2, especially if there's a lengthy wait in between book releases. That's not likely to happen if there's no resolution. Those characters and that book are going to be on the forefront of the reader's mind, waiting for the ending. (Think: Harry Potter.)

Of course, there are always the moments when you pick up a book thinking it is a story on its own, only to reach the end and go, "No!!! I have to get the other book!!!"

Then there is always the chance that a publisher might be reluctant to take on your book if it's a #3 cliffhanger. After all, what if the book doesn't sell well? They're not going to publish your sequel. It's like asking them to take a chance on two books instead of just one. At least with a #2, the book can stand on its own.

What are your thoughts? Do you like series? What sort of cliffhanger do you like? What kind are you writing? (My book Perilous is a #3, btw. So be prepared to want the sequel.)

17 comments:

David J. West said...

I wondered if mine was a thought in this post.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I thought of yours, David. I haven't finished it (to be honest, I haven't read anything except scriptures this week, and that's been haphazard), but I'm guessing you'd be a #3 also.

Lydia Kang said...

I have to admit, I tend to like the Book #1 type cliffhangers. I like a good amount of resolution when I finish a book. But I may in the minority!

Mary Anne Gruen said...

I don't think Lydia is in the minority.

While some stories may need a #3 model, it's a bad long term strategy for everyone to follow it just because.

A lot of TV shows are doing #3 now. Week after week, year after year, everything's up in the air with no resolution and crashing ratings. Often with the same bad guy. Or the same romantic couple making the same teasing remarks they made two years ago. I'm reading fan sites now calling that style a "cliche," as they get ready to stop watching or reading because they're tired of waiting for a pay off.

Formulas are always trouble. They work for a while, then stall out. The best approach is to always follow the storyline that makes sense for an individual story. Some stories may demand a #3 style. But it would be foolish to force all stories into that mold, especially since a large part of the audience is already calling it a cliche.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I hate #3. It just makes me mad. I feel like I've wasted all this time and there's no resolution. I'm okay with #2 and #1 is great, but #3, grrr!

Stephanie Faris said...

I write middle grade/tween books, and series are HUGGGE in that world. I like writing them and if I really like the author, I enjoy reading them. But as a rule, in most genres, I despise them. I hate picking up a book and starting to read it, only to find it was the second or third in a series.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I'm surprised at how many people dislike #3! Of course if anyone ever writes a book to follow a formula, well, that's silly. The point is to write a book. Then it's always interesting to look back and see which categories your book fits into.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I think you're right, Stephanie, it's very much a YA/MG thing. Series pretty much rock my world there. But it's true, if I pick up an adult book, I expect it to begin and end right there.

Jemi Fraser said...

I sometimes don't read the first book (if I know it will be a #3) until the second book is about to come out. Drives me nuts to wait. I do love series books though - so I do read them, just not until they're all available. :)

Aaron and Emily said...

I like #3 if it's really well written. Because I love a good book and am so sad when good books end. So #3 is like a REaaaaaally long good book. I am actually re-reading Lord of the Rings right now. Of course, there are a lot of different events that are their own stories, so that keeps it satisfying. I think I like them all, especially if I like the characters. Although sometimes, like in #1, I don't like all their stories (think Isabel Dalhousie - like some, dislike some).

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

that's a great point, Jemi. I didn't start Hunger Games until Catching Fire was almost out. that really helped!

That's how I feel, Em. I just want the book to go on and on and on.

Talli Roland said...

I don't mind a few cliffhangers throughout a novel, but too many is annoying (my writers' group always makes fun of Dan Brown - he is the KING of cliffhangers!). I like the major threads to be resolved in a story.

Elisa said...

I actually prefer #2 or #3 over #1 because usually it feels like all the sequals in a #1 type of series get kind of repetitive. Very juvenile, I think. But, Mary Ann's point about not dragging it on endlessly just to keep people coming back is a GREAT one. I'm so sick of WAITING for some conclusions/answers that aren't forthcoming that I just stop reading and/or watching that story. So, I enjoy #3 if you are making it a cliffhanger that already has a definite PLOT to it, rather than just drawing it out to try to make more publications or episodes.

*LLUVIA* said...

I love series! I hate that the story continues on the next book. I want the story resolved and a new one started (like Harry Potter); Maybe that's why I love those books so much!

I also enjoyed Lord of The Rings.

Dominique said...

I think in the case of #1 books, I'm always surprised when I see the sequel, because I think, "Wait, I thought they wrapped everything up. Why is there a sequel?"

In the case of #3, I always feel a bit frustrated, because I do like some closer.

I'm partial to #2 types, because they give me a little closer but also a little to look forward to.

But, then again, I'll read just about anything that comes in a series. Seriously, if it comes in serial form, I can become addicted to it.

Renae Mackley said...

This blog has been interesting to me because I am writing my first novel that I planned to have a second book followup because book 2 is the next generation in the story. I am still deciding but think it will be a book #1.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I'm glad you are finding the blog helpful, Renae!

Dominque, I am like you. I get addicted to series. To be honest, though, I don't always start w/ the first one!

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