Confessions of a Cliffhanger Queen


“You left me hanging!”

I frequently hear some variation of this sentiment in reader reviews, comments, and emails of my books. As each of my series have progressed, and I am releasing more books than ever, I can see a clear trend in my writing.

I write a whole lotta cliffhangers.

This is fascinating to me because if we take a step back and examine the humble beginnings of Edge of Shadows, my very first novel, I’ll let you in a little secret. I originally wrote it with a closed ending. The end was THE end. I reworked that story ten ways to Tuesday. I thought I was on the final stretch, but something nagged at me. That something that said this story was a whole lot bigger than I was giving it credit.

That idea came from my beta readers. They were asking me questions about the events leading up to the final scene, and I realized that I had two choices. I either could go deeper within EoS to explain the events unfolding, or I could open it entirely and continue the journey- and answer those bigger questions along the way.

I’ve shared before that there is no higher compliment than having readers tell you that they want MORE of what you’re writing. As a reader myself, I love engrossing myself into the characters and stories of my favorite authors. I’m a bit monogamous that way. When I find an author I like, I have a tendency to stick with them through multiple books. But my favorites are those that involve characters I’ve met before.

So, I decided to really jump into the deep end of the pool, rewrite the end of EoS, and plot out a trilogy.

The other thing that I should point out is that I have a long history of watching episodic TV, and the stuff that I like to watch seems to lend itself more to the cliffhanger endings. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, anyone?) Answering a smaller subset of questions within one installment while carrying over a couple of really large overarching themes/questions across multiple installments is what I cut my teeth on as a kid.

You could say that I’ve been conditioned to cliffhangers. They are what I know, and I know them well.

As a reader, I understand why people might be a bit frustrated with this approach. With the internet and mobile technology, we have gotten used to instantaneous gratification in our lives. We want what we want, we want it right now, and we don’t want to wait for it. I get it.

But there is something to be said for the slow build of tension and suspense as we wait for the next installment of our favorite book, TV series, or movie. Think about that little ball of excitement in the pit of your stomach that gets bigger and bigger until you just think you are going to explode! Assuming it meets your expectations, there is a sense of sweet satisfaction and pleasure. If it’s really good, you want MORE. Even if it’s over and the curtain goes black. When you are invested, you always want more.

That’s the experience that I am trying to create for my readers. I’ve seen authors accused of trying to make more money by having cliffhanger endings. (I’ve been subtly accused of that myself.) I can’t speak for all authors, but I can speak for me.

If there’s more story to tell, I’m going to tell it, and I think it’s my job as a writer to create an environment of suspense and intrigue that whets your appetite for what’s coming next. That’s why I write cliffhangers, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

(photo credit: oddsock)