It’s actually quite simple. Obvious once you think about it.
Is the cliffhanger a new or recurring question?
If it’s new. It’s a likely good cliffhanger.
If it’s recurring, there’s a good chance it’s going to be frustrating.
If I read a book, there’s a plot. For the book to leave me feeling content, that plot needs to be resolved. If you chose to not resolve that plot at the last minute and instead leave it as a cliffhanger where I need to buy the next book to get the answer… I’m not going to be happy.
But if you resolve the main plot, and because of that resolution a new question emerges. That’s a good cliffhanger. That new question I had no idea I should be asking. That question that is often so much more endearing than the previous one. That’s a good cliffhanger.
A lot of people argue that cliffhangers are bad writing and people should want to come back to your book just because… and they’re not entirely wrong. But it’s a trope, cliffhangers are a trope, and like so many others I love them. Tropes only exist because people like them. I love a good cliffhanger, I love taking a deep breath as I close the book and silently swearing at the author. I love the expectation and the wait. The excitement.
But if a book doesn’t resolve the plot to make a cliffhanger, I will close it with frustration and curse the author in a far different tone. If the next book is out I will ask myself if I trust them to actually resolve it this time? If the books not out I’ll probably try my best to forget about it. Because I feel betrayed, tricked, I don’t feel good.
Right now I can’t actually think of many books with cliffhangers, other than the second book of the Winner’s trilogy (I could go into that but that’s a whole post on it’s own), but for good examples of cliffhangers I think it’d best to look to media these days! An episode that resolves everything and then ends on a new question.
It’s just good. It just works.
What’s your favourite cliffhangers?