Cliffhangers–Can You Take It?
Caution: Rant Ahead
Is it just me?
It seems to me that some readers just can’t handle suspense. They say they want it, but when you give it to them in the form of a cliffhanger—they don’t like it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah—I get that we want a sense of closure at the end of a story—Happily Ever After or Happy For Now or even Everybody’s Dies. But in a series, delayed gratification comes with the territory. It’s actually what makes me buy the next book and often the previous books in the series.
I love being part of a book cult—hounding book store managers for the latest release, stalking authors on social media (mostly) to find out how the new book is coming along. Anticipation!!
Ahhhhhhhh! And then…then….
Do you remember those Scholastic book order sheets you used to get at school? I lived for those. I could usually manage three or four books on my meager allowance, but if I really needed more moolah, Mom would grudgingly advance me a bit. Now I see this was a parent-hack. She created my book habit, and, like any dealer, she’d happily give me a little taste just to keep me hooked.
I was particularly addicted to fantasy but I lived in the ancient time of no Interwebs. My local library considered fantasy the work of Satan (or as the community sometimes referred to that dark and silky lord: Satin.) It was hard to find a good fantasy book that didn’t have disgustingly saccharin princesses and man-‘splaining princes.
When The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, appeared on the book flyer, I checked the box beside the title immediately. As I recall, my order arrived at about the same time as summer vacation. I spent many happy hours that summer in Middle Earth.
You know what? That book ends with the Hobbits still on the run from the Black Riders, and Gandalf missing and the mysterious qualities of the Ring still un-explained. I remember the Time of Misery very clearly. I think I read The Fellowship about three times before—oh, Bliss—both The Two Towers and The Return of the King made it into the Scholastic Book Flyer.
At last, I had The Two Towers in my hands—along with a bowl of cottage cheese and an apple. I spirited all of us away to a quiet spot where no one was likely to interrupt, leaned my back against a tree, and opened the book. To this day, I remember the excitement and the absolute joy of that experience.
Even series that do tell a complete story in one book leave you hanging about some things. I’m thinking of Janet Evonovich’s Stephanie Plum series and Sue Grafton’s A-B-C series. Those ladies do masterful jobs of weaving the long story—the evolving main characters—into neat mysteries. The anticipation is still keen. The excitement of a new release and the contentment of sated curiosity still just as much fun.
But maybe it’s just me.
Tell me what you think about cliffhangers. Are you up for a true series of books that leaves you in a late-model quandary at the end of each book? Do you like the character evolution through a long series? What has to happen to keep you haunting book stores looking for the next installment? Are cliffhangers a pet peeve or, like me, do you live for the suspense?