Do you like cliffhangers in novels?

Posted on March 21, 2012 (Subscribe to Blog)

I received a comment the other day (see Island of Fog Book 5: Roads of Madness on March 12) that made me ponder and cogitate. Shannon said:

"When I finished the last [book] I was so angry at the ending, and myself for reading it so quickly. Now I have the next book to look forward to."

This is similar to two other comments I've received about Lake of Spirits. Now, according to feedback, the general consensus is that Lake of Spirits is the favorite in the series so far; everybody seems to love the Jolie character. So should I be worried about "Oh, you absolute rotter!" comments when the book ends on a cliffhanger? Does such a cliffhanger spoil it for you?

My wife mentioned that a cliffhanger like that is not a problem when the next book is due 6-8 months later. And she knows I'm going to follow through and get it done. Hopefully readers will have learned by now that I won't keep them waiting for too long; Island of Fog was first published in April 2009, and the next (the fifth in the series) is due around August 2012, so that will total five books in 40 months, an average of a book every 8 months – exactly as I said above. Can't I be excused for having a cliffhanger? It's really no different than a TV show ending on a dramatic note; The Walking Dead just finished and is due back later in the year – and sure, it's frustrating having to wait, but if everything had ended all squared away and with no hint of what's coming, then would we be so eager for the new season?

All that said, I don't do cliffhangers for the sake of cliffhangers. The first three books in the Fog series are a trilogy, which of course means three parts of one arcing story. Island of Fog is open-ended, while Labyrinth of Fire ends with a cliffhanger. The third, Mountain of Whispers, rounds off the story and could have completed the entire series. But I wanted more, so I added an Author's Note in which I said that future books in the series would be standalone stories. I meant it at the time... but then I disregarded my own words and wrote Book 4, Lake of Spirits, with the biggest cliffhanger yet! The reason for that was not to create "false excitement" but simply because I suddenly saw a new trilogy opening up. And yes, this means that after Book 5, Roads of Madness, I'm committed to writing Book 6.

Beyond Book 6? I honestly don't know.

Anyway, what do YOU think of cliffhangers in the Fog series? What do you think of cliffhangers in general? Does the end of Lake of Spirits make you mad, or is it just because you enjoyed it so much you didn't want it to end? Or both? Does the availability of the next book make a difference to the way you feel about it?

Your answers might help me decide how I end Roads of Madness. The story will continue in Book 6 no matter what, but I'm willing to take into account opinions about whether individual novels should be more "complete" in themselves, or if cliffhangers are okay.

By the way, I'm now at the end of Chapter 8. Considering I started on February 15th, I've written quite a bit more than my original goal of one chapter per week. Who knows, maybe it'll be ready to roll earlier than planned...

Comment by ANDY on Wednesday, March 21, 2012...

Cliffhangers are fine. If you are reading a series of books which follow on then it's great to be left desperate for the next book, albeit somewhat annoying if the next book isn't due yet! Some series are merely linked but the story does not follow on, in which case a cliffhanger would be strange. The question is, can you avoid leaving a cliffhanger on book 6 or can you end it neatly? Anyone giving odds on book 7? ;)

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Wednesday, March 21, 2012...

All good points, Andy. My own Book 6 would definitely end neatly, because it would mark the end of the second trilogy. My question is whether I should avoid a cliffhanger at the end of Book 5, the "middle" book of the second trilogy. My aim at the moment is to NOT end on a cliffhanger, but sometimes the story takes over. That sounds cliched, but it really happens.

Book 7 could happen, but I just don't know. At the moment I'm on the fence, but then again I wasn't expecting a Book 4 either. When I got to the end of Book 3 I knew I had to continue. So when I get to the end of Book 6, maybe I'll be yearning for Book 7. :-)

Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on Wednesday, March 28, 2012...

I think a cliffhanger is fine. Book 5 provided plenty of story, resolved Jolie's part and set up a great surprise for the next book. Where I have a problem is when a book sets up the primary conceit and then doesn't get to it until the end of the first book. There was a recent YA book I read that did just that. It teased that there was something outside of the fence and then took the whole first book to get to the outside. It then stopped with no forward progress on the outside, which was a very apocalyptic scenario, my favorite. By the time book two came out, I had truthfully lost interest. I read the first few chapters and was disappointed. The first book was slim and read like half a novel. Your books always pack so much in them and never read as half a book.

Comment by DONNA CONNERY on Wednesday, June 27, 2012...

I don't mind a cliffhanger, however, I feel the next book needs to come out within a year or so at the most.

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