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Cliffhangers: is the Suspense Worth it?

Katherine Marciniak

Staff Writer

Katherine is an over-caffeinated avid reader, writer and college student. She was featured in the anthology Once Upon an Apocalypse, and loves to beta read and edit when she has the opportunity. She’ll do more impressive things after she’s finished her tea…and this next chapter.

*Slams down a mug of tea, looks bitterly off into the distance* You want to know what I hate? (You probably don’t, but you’ve gotten this far). Cliffhangers.

To emphasize why I don’t like them, I could just end the article here, or, like, three sentences ago. But I do have a wordcount to fulfill, so by gum, I’m going to talk about cliffhangers.

I think, in most cases, it’s super lazy writing, or rushed series-creating. The author pitched a single story to an agent, who then said, “Let’s make this into three books!” And the author panicked while tripling the size of a single story. “Shoot, in my original draft, this is where I put my climax…um…to be continued. Yeah, that works.”

Obviously, that’s not the case for every cliffhanger in existence. There are some good ones out there. I can’t think of any, but I know they’re there. I’d also argue that there are genuinely good ways to use most literary techniques. Unfortunately, some of these techniques, like cliffhangers, are abused and overused.

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Because cliffhangers occur at the end of a story, I finish the book with a bad taste in my mouth about the whole thing. It ruins the whole reading experience for me. It could have been a fine book up until the final “…”

For me, when a book leaves off like that, even if I really want to see what happens, and even if the Goodreads reviews are decent for the sequel, I refuse to read the next book. Yeah, it’s a little spiteful of me. Maybe even a little harsh. But here’s the thing: when I picked up the book to read it, I wanted to follow the full plot arc. I dove in to get closure on this single book, on these characters, on the problems they’re having. I guess in reality the author doesn’t owe anything to the readers. Yet, if the author can’t land the plot in the first book, I’m going to be super hesitant about picking up potential sequels. Fool me once, shame on you, right?

That’s why I think it’s a sign of really good writing when an author can pen a whole series of books but allow each book to function as an individual story. I’m going to keep reading because I care about the characters or the world or both. I don’t want to feel obligated to keep reading because I want to see how book 1 ends.

*Takes a long swig of tea*

But if you want to know what really gets me going…

Well. You’ll just have to find out next time, won’t you?