Book Nerd Problems #23: CLIFFHANGERS

Posted August 28, 2014 by Debby in Book Nerd Problems, Discussions / 15 Comments

This is a periodic discussion feature here at Snuggly Oranges about the many problems one can run into as a book nerd.

#23. CLIFFHANGERS

I’m actually surprised I hadn’t covered this topic already, because it seems like a rather obvious one. But I dunno about you guys – lately, I’ve been hit over the head with terrible cliffhanger after terrible cliffhanger. Now, I’m not saying that ALL cliffhangers are awful. Indeed, it’s a technique that can be well done and have me on the edge of my seat, salivating for the next book in a series. BUT, they are not all like that. In fact, I would say there are a few different types of cliffhangers, and I want to talk about them a bit today.

The “Wait, Nothing Happened in this Book” Cliffhanger

Now, this is the cliffhanger that I’ve encountered multiple times lately – and it’s the one I hate the most. This type of cliffhanger occurs when, you’ve been going along just fine with a book, but realize that the plot has been lacking just a little bit. Suddenly, things actually start happening – there’s some intrigue or some action – and then the book CUTS OFF. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE INTERESTING PART. AFTER NOTHING HAPPENED IN THE REST OF THE BOOK. Maybe they used the rest of the book for world building or romance or whatever, but let’s be honest – that’s probably not why we picked up that book. We picked it up for PLOT. AND YOU JUST LEFT US HANGING??

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If I can sum up the plot – including the revelations and conflicts – in one sentence, you’re in freaking trouble mister. It just feels like such a cop out – just a way to jump on the series bandwagon. Look, I know series are popular, and I know that if you’re writing a fantasy or sci-fi novel it could be hard to fit it into one book and give enough development to the characters and the world. But I do feel like each installment of the series needs to have a conflict and a freaking resolution to that conflict. If you don’t, you’re not going to get me to care enough to read the rest of the series. You’re just not.

I’m honestly considering instantly dumping all the series that end book 1 with this kind of cliffhanger. I have had it. If you only have one large conflict, consider not writing a series and just fitting it into one slightly larger novel. What’s wrong with that?? I mean, less monies, yes, but also less annoyed readers, so rly.

Examples:
  • The Jewel by Amy Ewing: As much as I liked the world building of the book, when the romance took dominance over the story, I wanted to *headdesk*. But seriously, nothing happened in this book until the last 40 pages or so. That’s unacceptable. View Spoiler » Your attempt at suspense failed. Please try again. Or no. Don’t. DON’T FUCKING DO THIS AGAIN.
  • The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien: Admittedly this had a bit more plot than The Jewel – which is why I gave it a higher rating – but it went on and on inciting intrigue and teasing about these mysteries, and then it just ENDS in the middle of a scene and I couldn’t even freaking tell you what happened there. Could not. View Spoiler »
  • Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly: I can really sum up the plot in one sentence. View Spoiler » And even that sliver of plot wasn’t exciting – View Spoiler » This book was a total snoozefest.

The “Tip of the Iceberg” Cliffhanger

This is somewhat related to the previous type, but much more satisfying. This type of cliffhanger occurs when the book did clearly have it’s own plot including some exciting scenes with reveals and a conflict resolution, but just when you think you’ve made it out and the book could stand on its own, they come with some derivative of, “But there’s more to come.” “We’ve only just scratched the surface.” “But now we have to get ready for the war.”

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Now, this is not always a bad thing. I mean, if the plot was intriguing enough and I have an emotional connection to the characters and the romance or something, I’ll be excited as hell. I mean, the ending is pretty much neatly tied up, but there’s also the promise of more to come.

But. There are those cases where again it feels like a cop out to jump on the series bandwagon. I feel like in some cases, the book really could have been a standalone. It was working well enough, and you’re just holding back that last CRUMB that would make everything fall into place – instead, you’re now going to stretch it and milk it and force us to wait for years before you finally resolve everything – and probably the ending will be a total mess because the series lacks direction. SAD.

Examples:
  • The Diviners by Libba Bray: I would argue The Diviners did this to an extent, because after the conflict was resolved, it actually spent 40 pages or so opening the door to the plot of the next book. It did annoy me a bit, because for the rest the book could have stood on its own, and I feel like it would have been better to end when the action ended. BUT I am enticed enough by the beautiful writing and EVIE AND SAM, so I will continue on.
  • The Shadow Prince by Bree Despain: This book DEFINITELY did this, and it bordered on not having enough plot that I would almost put it in the former category. But I was intrigued by the world building and I did feel there was enough action in the plot. But after sitting through FIVE HUNDRED pages, to hear that we barely scratched the surface, and now the real story is beginning? UGH NO. RAGE. As much as I liked all the Greek mythology, I don’t think I’m continuing with the series.
  • Meridian by Josin L. McQuein: This is actually the middle book in a series, but I thought it was going to be a duology. The book was boring, though there were some battles and stuff, but the problem is that it lacks direction – I can’t tell where the story is going or what the POINT of it is. So to reach the end of this one, which was also quite chunky, and hear that well NOW it’s time for war – that was just a battle – UGH. NO THANK YOU.
  • Pawn by Aimée Carter: Admittedly I liked this book, and I feel like it’s one of the stronger dystopias to come out lately. But the way the ending was a cop out to make this a series? Dude, come on. View Spoiler » The series really could have ended there, but then we wouldn’t be able to milk it. I still dunno if I want to give the sequel my time and money because of that.

The “Gasping for More” Cliffhanger

But finally… there’s the good cliffhangers. These usually happen because the characters, romance, and plot were already so excellent that they all served to get me deeply emotionally invested in the story. Then the author just decides to put a STAKE THROUGH MY HEART and make me cry for days. Emotional trauma alert.

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Now I’m not advising authors to try their best to break their readers’ hearts, but generally, I do really like these cliffhangers. They really carry that last shocking sucker punch that leaves me impressed and begging for more. It’ll make the book overall that much more memorable, and it will almost certainly ensure a pre-order of the sequel. (Or a binge read of the series if it’s already out.) Basically, I’ll be on the hook and counting down the days till I can finally have MORE.

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Examples:

Let’s Talk!

What do you think? Can you think of any other types of cliffhangers? Which cliffhangers worked well for you, and which made you want to KEYBOARDSMASH in rage? (Remember not to spoil in the comments, please! Not everyone has read every book!)

Let me know in the comments!

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15 responses to “Book Nerd Problems #23: CLIFFHANGERS

  1. You basically summed up everything I have to say about cliffhangers! The ending of Everbound killed me so much and I swear that series is one of my favorites, but I honestly can’t bring myself to read the last book Evertrue because I know how it ends, and that just sort of ruins the fun for me.

    As for Catching Fire, I was lucky enough to have Mockingjay with me right when I finished Catching Fire, so the cliffhanger didn’t kill me as bad since I knew that I could pick up the next book immediately.
    Tori @ Bookish Affairs recently posted Life of a Blogger: FearsMy Profile

    • Oooh, Evertrue is a horrible book to be spoiled on. But I get you, the ending was very disappointing to me, and I loved the first two books so much. Everbound’s ending tore my heart out, for real.

      Same – but still, I did not let myself even catch my breath in between those books, I had to start Mockingjay right away. In that sense, the cliffhanger still has a strong effect.

  2. Great post! I think cliffhangers can be done right, but more often then not, they aren’t. I’ve also had soem books use a type of cliffhanger, where the current plot has been resolved and then a new plot starts, just so it can get cut off with a cliffhanger. I mean why not start the new plot in the next book then?
    I do have read some cliffhangers, like the ending of Released (Nogiku series #3) by SJ Pajonas that had a great cliffhanger. It made me anxious for the next book, but it was also a great way to end this book and keep people looking forward to the next book, with just that little tidbit from the cliffhanger in the back of their minds. It was brilliant.

    JUst like Tori I could read Mockingjay right after Catching Fire so that cliffhanger didn’t bother me that much. Actually cliffhangers kinda seem to lose their frustrating aspects if you can start the next book immediately.
    Lola recently posted Book Blitz: Someone Like You by Karen RockMy Profile

    • Right, The Diviners totally did that: start up a plot right at the end to cut it off. That feels like such a cheap trick x_x but at least the rest of the book was excellent. The frustrating thing is that there’s more than 1 year in between those books, so it’s even more frustrating.

      Yeah, I also read Mockingjay right after, but still – once I finished Catching Fire I started Mockingjay RIGHT AWAY. Like, no breaks allowed. None.

  3. Yun-a

    I think the ending for Liar’s Moon (Thief Errant #2) by Elizabeth C. Bunce fell somewhere in between types 2 and 3. The conflict was mostly over, loose ends were tied up, and then bam! Cliffhanger. The worst thing about it is that the publisher dropped the series, so the story will probably never end.

    • Oooh that’s the worst. I’m hearing more about series that were dropped and yeah, that makes cliffhangers so risky. On the one hand, an author can feel like if it’s a strong cliffhanger it’ll cause readers to demand the next book, which could make publishers cave. But on the other hand, if they just put in a cliffhanger just cuz and interest in the series is minimal, then they’re going to leave their readers hanging forever 🙁 It makes me respect what Victoria Schwab did with The Archived, letting each book function as a standalone. But I guess authors could also always self-publish the next book if they really wanted to.

    • Exactly, it’s more like a prequel novella in that case – and come on, can we stop with that? =/ I don’t understand that authors, publishers, and editors find that okay in some cases. *glares at The Jewel*

  4. The Daughter of Smoke & Bone series has some cliffhangers. The good kind, where the author writes a beautiful, well-developed story and then rips your heart out near the end of the book so you just have to find out what happens to these characters you’ve become so attached to.

    The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare had a cliffhanger. It was also a pretty good one, since it related to one of the characters and the author had done a good job of developing them and making us care about them, so we wanted to find out what happened next!

    One not-so-great cliffhanger that I recently read was in Neverland by Anna Katmore. The book didn’t even need a cliffhanger; there was not enough plot for one, and what was there was seemingly resolved in the first book. The only reason I can see for the cliffhanger is to get two characters back together so they can spend the second book making out (which is pretty much all they did in the first book).
    La Coccinelle @ The Ladybug Reads… recently posted Review – Future FlashMy Profile

    • Hmm I read DoSaB two years ago but don’t remember much about it, so if there was a cliffhanger I forgot. But Laini Taylor’s prose and creative storytelling would make whatever ending she gave it okay, haaha. I do hope I can finish that series this year.

      Oooh, I have 57 Lives on my shelf. I will keep this in mind, but good to know it’s a good cliffhanger.

      I haven’t read Neverland, but that sounds super annoying -.- *crosses off list*

  5. My first thought: I HATE THEM.

    But that’s not really true. It really depends on the type of cliffhanger. The one from The Jewel was the perfect example of a cliffhanger that doesn’t work. And yes, The falconer is one of the books that made it work. It’s still a horrible way to leave us hanging, but it’s nicely done.

    You basically have said anything about it. The ‘nothing happens and suddenly I stop’ type of cliffhangers are horrible and I can’t stand those. ‘Gasping for more’ work the best for me, I think, even when it makes the waiting for the sequel even harder.
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted Review 283. Amy Ewing – The Jewel.My Profile

    • Haha, thanks Mel. The nothing happened cliffhangers are the absolute worst, and I can easily ragequit series because of them. Why do authors think that’s okay? x_x

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