Ending on a cliffhanger...

  • Writing: Input Wanted
  • Thread starter Melbourne Guy
  • Start date

Knowing there is a sequel, are you happy with a cliffhanger?

  • Yes

    Votes: 3 37.5%
  • No

    Votes: 5 62.5%

  • Total voters
    8
  • Poll closed .
  • #1
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My last trilogy was incidental in that the first novel was intended to be self contained, but somehow the story grew up around the protagonist and it needed three books to resolve the narrative. (Actually, it should be four, I left a tease in the last one, but the main story concluded at least, if I ever write book four, it would be a 'Chapter 2' of the protagonist's life.)

But currently, I'm writing what was meant to be multiple books - probably maybe two, probably three - and I'm just about done with the first. It's a space opera, military-ish, and ends with potential destruction of the primary cast.

My question is whether readers are happy with an overt cliffhanger, a literal, "And then the bad guy fired his gun..." followed by the credits. Or whether a softer resolution of the opening sequence is preferred, with everyone immediately safe but the next big shoot out obvious to come.

Thoughts are welcome on the basis that I'll ignore them as the whim takes me...or more so, as the whim of my characters takes me :wink:
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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Many readers enjoy The Expanse novels which don't end with cliff hangers. However, the principal macguffin changes for each novel in new and scary ways.
 
  • #3
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That's true, @jedishrfu, and I'm usually annoyed by pure cliffhangers, where the action just stops mid-stream, especially if you don't know that you're reading a series. At the moment I have a softer resolution written, and it feels more natural for the narrative, but it also bleeds the urgency from the story, so I'm still in two minds. Proofing starts in a week, so I'll have to have it sorted out by then, and unless I can figure out a dramatic dead stop, it's going to be a softer ending.
 
  • #4
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Writing never comes easy. Maybe writeup both ways and let the characters of the story aid you Then let a couple of trusted friends read both endings but mixing up the order like friend #1 gets the first then second ending and friend #2 gets the second then first ending.
 
  • #5
Bystander
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My last trilogy was incidental in that the first novel was intended to be self contained, but somehow the story grew up around the protagonist and it needed three books to resolve the narrative. (Actually, it should be four, I left a tease in the last one, but the main story concluded at least, if I ever write book four, it would be a 'Chapter 2' of the protagonist's life.)
I say, "Chalker," and people in this forum have not been terribly wild. Just something to consider....
 
  • #6
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I say, "Chalker," and people in this forum have not been terribly wild
I presume you are referring to the sci-fi author, @Bystander? It has been a long time since I've read one of his novels, so the cliffhanger aspect is well forgotten. Which style did he adhere to?

ChalkerNovel.png
 
  • #7
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118
Maybe writeup both ways and let the characters of the story aid you
Good idea, I'll give that a try, @jedishrfu, though it's tending to a soft landing based on the character behavior.
 
  • #8
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Also ask them what they liked about your endings and why as you might get added clues for writing and even better ending.
 
  • #9
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I tends to find the described kind of cliffhangers rather forced and cheap. And constraining too.
It's different when the next issue comes periodically, within a week or month. For those kind of writings, it's just a short break while the series is still on the fly, and the next issue is already half one anyway.

But for a book, it's somehow different and the sequel often has a special feeling that without that constraint of cliffhanger the author would have wrote something else and could no longer immerse himself entirely => some grim affect on quality.
 
  • #10
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I tends to find the described kind of cliffhangers rather forced and cheap.
I took @jedishrfu's advice, @Rive, and asked some known readers. One of them gave feedback almost exactly what you've said, so it's enough of a poll that I'm going with the non-cliffhanger ending. Plus, that feels more natural for my writing style and less of a cheat for the reader. It is a series, so the book won't be self-contained, but at least it concludes, rather than just stopping 👍
 
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  • #11
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With respect to writing, have you seen the Jessica Brody book called Save the Cat Writes a Novel?

It’s based on the Save the Cat screenwriting methodology of Blake Snyder which can really give you a boost in writing.
 
  • Informative
Likes Melbourne Guy
  • #12
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118
A friend gave me "PIXAR’S 22 RULES OF STORY (that aren’t really Pixar’s)" by Stephan Vladimir Bugaj, @jedishrfu, and saw that book referenced, but hadn't followed it up. It seems I have a writing cadence and have tried a few times to break out of my style - and a fully blown cliffhanger would do that - but when it comes down to actually getting the words on the page, it does not feel natural.

If the cliffhanger was an approach that did not trigger readers, I would have tried it, but like my attempt at a fast paced thriller, I find it breaks my rhythm for an outcome that I'm not convinced is my best work!
 
  • #13
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I have the whole series of four books. The second one categorizes 5000 movie plots into the 10 categories and various subcategories.

Basically, you decide on which category of the ten categories your story is based, look up the movies under that category and see the 15 beats your story needs and what elements you need to have to make it successful.
 
  • #14
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I'll see if the library has a copy, that sounds useful.
 
  • #15
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In summary:
- book1 covers Blake's method (he wrote the Blank Check movie script and others...)
- book 2 covers the 5000 movies list into 10 categories and subcategories
- book 3 covers marketing a script...

then Jessica Brody took the idea and wrote the novel version of book 1 with some added stuff for marketing a book (I think as I didn't finish reading it yet)

Here's one reference that follows the beat sheet:

https://timstout.wordpress.com/story-structure/blake-snyders-beat-sheet/

https://avfilmschool.com/save-the-cat-beat-sheet-the-15-beats-explained/

Lastly, I found this on Youtube detailing the 15 beats in Interstellar



Anyway, you get the idea. There other examples online.
 
Last edited:
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  • #16
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Lastly, I found this on Youtube detailing the 15 beats in Interstellar
Thanks @jedishrfu, I'll take a look at that. I wasn't enamored with Interstellar, it was ponderous but I gave Nolan kudos for trying to bring string theory to a mainstream movie!

I've just completed my ending, by the way, it's a minor cliffhanger, which a series can support, but nobody is literally hanging on by their fingernails. I found this the hardest closing chapter I've written, normally I have a good idea of the conclusion way before I get there, but not this time. Anyway, now it's done, I can get onto the quality assurance phase and hopefully get it published in time for the Christmas rush :biggrin:
 
  • #17
Choppy
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It seems you've made your specific decision on this, but for what it's worth as a fellow author, I'll weigh in.

Regardless, I think what you want is to give the reader a satisfying experience for having read the book. A cliffhanger can be a useful tool to encourage readers to pick up the next novel, but that will only happen if they're satisfied with the current one. I rarely enjoy books where nothing is resolved at the end. If a cliffhanger at the end of a book seems too contrived, it will leave a bad taste in my mouth, like the writer is more interested in selling a product than telling a good story.

On the other hand, when it's done well it can add to the story. You can have some characters reaching the end of their arcs while others are only partially through. A good example that comes to mind is A Game of Thrones.

Write what comes most naturally to you and see what your editor and/or beta readers think.
 
  • #18
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A cliffhanger can be a useful tool to encourage readers to pick up the next novel, but that will only happen if they're satisfied with the current one.
You've articulated what I've been musing, @Choppy, thanks, and I realized that I couldn't end on a dead stop cliffhanger because I was dissatisfied with it! The first draft will be with the proofreaders next month - including one who is not a lover of sci-fi, that should be interesting - and that's when I'll get a better read on which ending works best.
 
  • #19
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Personally I hate hard cliffhangers even though they are a useful tool to get me to read the next book. I would suggest using a soft cliffhanger since they can make people more interested in the next book while not being annoying. In addition, if a writer uses frequent cliffhangers I am more likely to stop reading/watching due to the cliffhangers or wait until all of the books/episodes are released.
 
  • #20
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or wait until all of the books/episodes are released
That's a good point, @Stephenk53, and one I considered as an option with my first trilogy. The excitement of getting a book out there was too much, though, and I released them as they were written, not all at once. This latest novel will have a soft ending, and mostly because I'm like you...I dislike the hard cliffhanger, it's too much like a hard sell, and that's not my style.
 

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