My book ends on a cliff-hanger. This is not a new development, nor is it an accident. I’ve asked around and looked at some opinion polls, including one I conducted myself on the QueryTracker boards, and I know that there are many mixed opinions out there. Some say that it’s lazy. Some say that they are manipulative. Some say they love the suspense of them.
Obviously, I fall into that third category because I have always intended to leave book one open. When I think of successful cliff-hangers, I immediately think of a trilogy that most people I come across haven’t heard of (but it’s one of my all-time favourites for so many reasons). And here they are:
The Paradise War trilogy by Stephen R Lawhead. I can’t adequately express my love for these books, but the main point for this post is the ending of the second book. It ends on the BEST cliff-hanger I have ever read, and it is one of the things that inspired me to use that device in my own work. There is no warning, no apology, explanation… it ends with a jaw-dropping pulse-racing moment and it just DROPS you. (Keep in mind that when I read it, the third book was still a year away from its pub date – talk about torture!) A little difference, of course, is that he is a master storyteller, and I am writing my debut novel. Something to aspire to, for sure, but what if I’m not there yet?
And that’s what I’m now wondering. Am I being lazy with my ending? I certainly don’t feel like that’s what I’m doing. I want to tell a bigger story than one novel, and I love ending in a way that leaves you thirsty for the next installment.
But then I read the ending of Divergent. Or Pivot Point. They’re both the beginning of trilogies, and their stories continue past the endings of these books. But while they leave a few questions open, they don’t end on cliff-hangers. They end. They have satisfying endings in and of themselves, even while you’re waiting for the rest of the story. You want to keep reading because of the world, or the characters, or the bigger story that’s ongoing. But if you stopped reading after that first book, you’d be okay. You’d have a story that felt complete.
So which is better?