Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cliffhangers

This week I entered Lilah Pierce's Last Line Blogfest to be held May 1st. I'm excited - I've never participated in a blogfest before. I have no idea yet what I'm going to post. It doesn't have to be the last line of a story, it could be the last line of a scene or chapter instead (plus several lines before). Thinking about endings got me thinking about what I like in an ending, and the kinds of endings I like to write.

When I attended Highlights Writer's Workshop at Chautauqua two years ago, a publishing industry professional warned us against using cliffhangers. She said they were devices and not organic. This bothered me. Many of the books I can't put down end chapters with cliffhangers, and I like to include them in my own writing as well. I think they're fun to read and write. I wouldn't end every chapter with a cliffhanger, certainly, but I don't shun them either.

So I was wondering what everyone else out there thinks about cliffhangers. Do you use them or avoid them?

24 comments:

sarahjayne smythe said...

I think the key is organic. It's pretty obvious when a writer sticks a cliffhanger into place as a plot device. Stories have rhythms like other living things, and cliffhangers have their place.

Wendy aka Quillfeather. said...

As I'm writing for children, I avoid cliffhangers like the plague.

In the real world I don't like them anyway. I need a definitive ending - usually a happy one!

But that's just me. Simple :)

Lilah Pierce said...

Hey, thanks for the shout out! I'm glad you're excited for my fest.

And, really, it depends on where the cliffhanger is for me. I think I've made it WAY clear that I love ending my scenes with something cutting (I can't help it! Its like a drug and I'm addicted!).

But, for the ending of a book, I think cliffhangers are kind of overdone.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I love it when a chapter leaves me wanting more...I don't like it when a book or movie leaves me hanging at the end...

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I always liked cliff-hangers, Susan. I use them a lot in my novels to keep the interest high in my tale. Thanks for the mention of Lilah's contest. What with the blood madness I deal with daily, I had forgotten. Roland

Susan Fields said...

Sarahjayne - great point about the key being that they have to be organic. I agree they have their place, but shouldn't be forced.

Wendy - happy endings are nice, aren't they?

Lilah - ooh, I'm looking forward to reading your entry in the blogfest, sounds like you write some great endings!

Sharon - I agree, I don't like to be left hanging at the end. I was actually thinking about chapter endings that make it impossible to put the book down, I wouldn't try to end a book that way, though I'm sure other people are able to pull it off.

Roland - Thanks for your input, I'm glad to hear someone else likes writing cliffhangers! I'll probably have the blogfest at the front of my mind right up until April 30 and then forget all about it on the big day - that sounds just like something I would do.

Susan R. Mills said...

I use cliff hangers at the end of chapters, but I would never use one at the end of a book. I think we owe our readers a true ending.

Niki said...

With my writing course I learnt to have that page turning factor at the end of each chapter and to make sure the story is all tied up at the end with a satisfactory ending.

Susan Fields said...

Susan - I agree, I wouldn't try to end a book that way. After reading 300+ pages, the reader deserves to know what happened.

Niki - Thanks for the input, it sounds like your writing class approves of cliffhangers, then? But a satisfactory ending is a must, I agree!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Chapter endings are different than the story ending. I like hooks at the end of chapters - reading and writing. But at the end of the book, there should definitely be a satisfying end. If I read a cliff hanger in a book, I feel like pitching it across the room!

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

I try to leave a little something undiscovered at the end of each chapter. Sometimes they're true cliffhangers. Sometimes, it's just a wondering about how a character is going to react next. At the end of the book, though, I want everything wrapped up.

Tara said...

Cliffhangers have their place; they're a great way to keep readers reading. I use them, but not for every chapter, certainly.

Talli Roland said...

My writing group *always* mocks my cliffhangers. But I love them! If the goal is to keep people reading and push the pace forward, I say: use 'em!

E. Elle said...

I have a hard time writing them because I like things to get summed up. But the only reason I don't LIKE them in books is because there's no way I can put it down when a chapter ends with a cliffhanger.

Now, if the entire BOOK ends with a cliffhanger, that just ticks me off. Hehe.

arlee bird said...

It depends on the genre and the nature of the story. If it's all mindless action driven story with nothing to deep I think the cliffhangers are great because they keep me reading and the book is merely for entertainment anyway. If the book is a bit more literary, I like for each chapter to be able to stand alone and actually I don't mind so much if that kind of a book ends with a "cliffhanger" because if the book is designed to make the reader think then an unresolved ending can make the reader think more if well done.

The other night I watched the film A Serious Man, which ends abruptly. I was frustrated at first, but now I've been thinking about this movie a lot and really think the untidy ending was great because real life is often untidy.
Lee
Blogging From A to Z April Challenge

Jai Joshi said...

There's nothing like a great cliffhanger to get the readers turning pages. I love them!

Jai

Piedmont Writer said...

It depends on the chapter. Sometimes I leave the reader with one, other times I leave them with the mundane. Depends.

As for a book, no way, that needs a Happily Ever After.

Theresa Milstein said...

I just read something about this, and I wish I could give credit to the author. Was it Stephen King's On Writing or Les Edgerton's Hooked? Each chapter should end so a reader wants to continue, but not so much that he can't get up to get a drink. Now, I aim for that.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I like cliffhangers and I do use them. I think they're fun! :-)

Susan Fields said...

Terry - I know what you're saying, it is pretty unsatisfying to be left without a good conclusion. The book I just read kind of ended that way, and I'm still wondering about it...

Amy - yes, keep 'em moving forward. It does get a little frustrating when you know you need to get to bed and you can't put the book down, but isn't that what we as writers aim for anyway?

Tara - I'm really seeing a trend here, most people do like and use cliffhangers. Hooray! I didn't want to have to give them up.

Talli - I know cliffhangers make me move on to the next chapter, for sure. And I'm sure it's only the most loving kind of mocking!

E. Elle - I really like ending with a cliffhanger in my writing, it definitely makes it easy to pick up the next chapter!

Susan Fields said...

Lee - you know, I've never considered leaving an untidy ending, but I did just finish a book last night that left its main question unanswered. You know what the mc thinks is the answer, but even she's not sure. To tell the truth, I've been thinking about that book all day. Maybe it's not such a bad thing to leave a question out there after all.

Jai - Good! I'm so glad to hear other writers agree with me.

Anne - yes, I wouldn't want to end every chapter with a cliffhanger. I imagine that would get old pretty fast (especially late at night when I need to get to bed!)

Theresa - I'm about to start reading Hooked, so I'll be able to let you know if that's where you read it. Sounds like solid advice.

Shannon - I like them, too, I'm so glad to hear others feel the same way!

Jen said...

Yay for blogfests!!!

As far cliffhangers go I'm not one that uses them well okay so I'm a bit of a closet cliffhanger but it's all for a purpose so how harmful can it be! lol

T.J. Carson said...

BLOG AWARD! on my page for you :)

Lorel Clayton said...

I like cliffhangers. It doesn't have to be ana ctually hanging over the edge of a cliff about to die sorta scene (but if it is, I definitely start the next chapter!). I'm happy with a cliffhanger that leaves you asking "what happens next?". Maybe there's been an internal conflict introduced, or a revelation for the character, or a reversal. If the chapter ends with them going to sleep, I want to sleep too.