August 13, 2012

A Writer's Life - Hang on in there!

When you write you usually have a beginning and an end. If the former has been done reasonably well chances are the reader will make it all the way to the latter. Naturally the how is of utmost importance. The first few pages lure the reader in and the last are supposed to make the reader feel like they just ate a satisfyingly big piece of chocolate cake. With whipped cream. And maybe a scoop of vanilla ice.

The thing is that it doesn't even depend so much on whether it's a stand alone novel or part of a series, the end can still leave a few threads open and questions unanswered. This doesn't always have to be a bad thing though it can occasionally make you cry out in frustration. Personally I do like it when you can think the story to its end all by yourself. Stories which let you, as a reader, decide on whether the heroine opens the door or not, all metaphorically speaking. Though I may add that this kind of end has to fit the overall plot and not feel like the last page, or even chapter, of a book is missing.

Just like the inevitable last sentence in a fairy tale some books are meant to be continued in your mind. Others will wrap things up with the very last sentence. And then there are those leaving a character literally dangling over an abyss. On a thin thread. Sequel out in a year or so. Waaahhhhhhhhh!!

Don't get me wrong, I like a good cliffhanger as much as the next person, and equally I love to write my stories in a way where you do get closure but can still continue painting a picture of what might happen next in your mind. Then again, maybe this is just the way I see it, and what appears obvious and final to me can just as well make readers bang their hands against hard surfaces.

Copyright by Smashing Picture

So the question would be - to cliffhang or not to cliffhang?

Pardon my creative misuse of the word.

Is it something authors do naturally? I honestly don't know. Some do, some don't. We certainly don't want to drive our readers up the wall. At least not too much. Of course, a bit of teasing is ok.

Is it something authors do to make people want to continue a trilogy or series? Now we're getting somewhere. I am definitely leaning toward the affirmative here. There are definitely merits in dangling a tiny little carrot in front of the readers nose, to make them curious about what will happen next.

Is it something an editor might insist on? Good question. I appreciate a good amount of feedback and input, but letting someone possibly pressure me into an ending that goes against anything I had in mind for that last page? I don't think so.

But, as is the case with many things, tastes differ. Some are suckers for cliffhangers while others hate them with a vengeance. And this is where trilogies come in. It's almost a distinguishing mark of trilogies to present you with a cliff and a long looong drop. All you can do then is to hang on in there and hope for the sequel to be published rather sooner than later.

Writing the end of a book that's part of a trilogy, well, you have to walk a very fine line here as an author. This is definitely about more than the next possible adventure. Here you need the well balanced combination of tying up certain threads while leaving one or two questions open. And even when you feel you've got it just right, readers might disagree and get a wee bit indignant about how you handled it. Leave readers with a burning curiosity is preferred to let them stew in utter frustration until the publication date of the next book.

Readers. Do you generally like cliffhangers or do you rather steer clear of them? And have you ever thought about how hard it is to write the end of a novel, not to mention one that's part of a trilogy?

Writers. Are cliffhangers part of your storytelling or do you avoid them? Do you agree that trilogies need a big of cliffhanging to make them work?


  1. I found while writing my novel (unpublished, first draft complete) that it was hard for me to even know where the chapter breaks were, never mind how to end it! I have to say personally I hate cliff-enders, I like even in trilogies to have a sense of some wrapping up or at least story plots picked up and ended, in each book. I think it takes careful plotting and understanding how to start and end storylines and pacing is key to this.

    Are you thinking of doing a trilogy? Or has someone suggested you should end your book with a cliff-hanger? As a reader, I do want most of the storyline resolved for me, since I have signed on to take the journey with the writer to the end. I want to know the writer has presented the challenge, and resolved it. So I certainly try to do the same in my writing, also.

    Have you found that you write cliff-hangers naturally?

    1. Funny you should ask, I am indeed writing on a trilogy (in addition to half a dozen other projects, oh my). I'm not going to lie - wrapping up threads at the end of each part to present some level of closure, yet keeping readers on their toes at the same time, is one hell of a job. It's a bit like tightrope walking, really. Oddly enough, sometimes it comes indeed naturally, other times it's like pulling teeth.

      As much as I don't mind cliffhangers (if well done) I must add that nothing gets me more agitated than books that seem to be missing the last chapter. I don't mind if some things are left to the imagination, but the major threads should be tied up.