I Would Never Leave You Hanging, It Just Feels That Way

Oct 20, 2023 | Fiction, Writing

Sideways question mark with embedded lights.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Not all cliffhangers are the same. At least, I don’t think so.

If you hate cliffhangers on principle, you’d probably take umbrage with that statement and that’s ok because you’re probably not the audience for this argument.

Both Coming Darkness and Dreaming in Shadow end on what I like to call “soft” cliffhangers—a bookmark moment, if you will.

I wrote the books on a bell curve—intro, climax, resolution—a curve that glides down to a natural stopping point, a point in the overall story where a reader could place a bookmark and go about their business until the next installment. If by the end the reader wants more, then I’ve done my job by engaging them in the story. But that segment of the overall story is complete.

I like to compare my approach to the first Lord of the Rings movie. Was I ready to go kill some orcs? Hell yes. But I’d sat there for over three hours and even though I wanted to sit for however long it took, three hours was an acceptable stopping point. The story that needed to be told was complete and everyone splitting up for various and sundry reasons was enough of a break to stop things there. To me that kind of ending is “take it or leave it”. Do I want to see the next movie, or read the next book? Sure. Do I need to because not knowing will bug me? No.

What I’m seeing recently is the opposite. Authors using the cliffhanger in manipulative and torturous ways.

OK yes, cliffhangers are manipulative by nature. Was I among the millions of people giddily waiting a whole summer to find out Who shot J.R.? or Who shot Mr. Burns? Absolutely. But I remember that being fun. I loved those shows and the fact that they gave us a puzzle to mull over engaged me even more.

The way I’m finding cliffhangers now isn’t fun, or engaging.

I just finished a book I was curious about—it was the first book in the series. I found it interesting, but the tone and setting wasn’t really my cup of tea, therefore I had no plans on reading any more of the books.

It was a sexy thriller—the two male leads had been flirting and circling each other the entire book, the question of trust hanging between them. I wrongly assumed the question would be answered and resolved by the end.

Instead the question was answered—the book literally ended on a resounding No—immediately opening up other questions and ramping up the tension, making the story’s ending deeply unsatisfying because I only cared because of their relationship!

The mystery was interesting and was resolved satisfactorily, but I wish the book ended on the question of trust. On an inhale, so to speak. I wish it had given me more of a choice. Am I engaged enough to follow through to the exhale, or am I satisfied with this hope? Do I truly want to read more or do I need to for closure?

But here I am, not particularly interested in the events of the next book other than their relationship. Here I am concerned that the author won’t give me a satisfying resolution to the relationship question before the end of the six book series. I don’t know. I like a good through-line as much as the next person, but I’ve never been a fan of the “relationship obstacle course” trope.

I see how this can be viewed as hypocritical on my part—I can dish it but can’t take it, right? Maybe so. All I can say in my defense is that I do my best to tie up immediate loose ends. I would never really leave you hanging, it just feels that way in the moment.

So, I’m curious. If you read either book did you feel that I adequately whet your appetite for the next book or were you incensed by lack of overall closure? I’d really love to know.


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