Friday, October 25, 2013

What's in a Cliffhanger?


I get asked a lot about whether series books that I've read have cliffhangers. 
I ask other people the same question about books I'm interested in reading. 
I also rate cliffhangers on my blog, so I spend a lot of time considering this question. 

Sometimes the answer is obvious. Sometimes it is not.


When I created the Cliffhanger Scale, I came up with a detailed description of what I think constitutes a cliffy. Basically, to me a book has a cliffhanger only if it ends when the main character(s) is(are) in immediate mortal danger. Or if the book stops when the characters are in the middle of a stressful plot situation and the action from the current story hasn't been wrapped up. 

However, what usually trumps all of my careful analyzation of the end of a book is my emotional reaction to it (aka my stress levels when the book concludes).

When a books end with a few lingering questions, or after a new revelation, I don't usually consider that to be a cliffhanger (The Raven Boys is a good example of a book that's LOW on the scale). This kind of conclusion excites me, and gives me something to debate as I wait for the next installment of the series. 

Sometimes I read a book that people have told me has a "cliffhanger," but when I get there, I don't really see it. Recently I had a conversation about a book I read, where I didn't consider the end to be a cliffy although another person did, precisely because it asked some questions at the end. 

Basically, what I am saying is that I'm realizing more and more how subjective the idea of a "cliffhanger" is. 

I'm asking you, what do you consider to be a cliffhanger?

Do you have a set of rules that govern your concept of a cliffy, or do your emotions guide your reaction? 




17 comments:

  1. I put off reading Crown of Embers for nearly seven months because I was told it had a cliffhanger. When I finally couldn't control myself anymore I flew into a bit of a rage because the cliffhanger I was anticipating simply wasn't there. It was more anticipatory than anything else, which I loved. I think The Raven Boys is a good example of a low-level cliffhanger, though I know it frustrated me slightly because I hate ending a novel confused. I don't mind ending it excited for the next installment or even emotionally upset, but confusion is a strange feeling to have linger after a book, which is another reason why The Dream Thieves worked out better for me.

    I think Sarah Rees Brennan is notorious for her cliffhangers, though when I really think through them, they're not REALLY cliffhangers. I know the ending of Unspoken is more cruel than cliffhanger, but Untold has an ending that leaves the characters in a total mess, plot-wise, and has you worrying for the life of a central character, which is why I think that's more of a true cliffhanger. I definitely agree with your definition, though. I think the word speaks for itself too - if the book is barely hanging by the edge of a cliff when you end it, it's a cliffhanger. Otherwise, it's just an ending to built anticipation for the next installment.

    Great post, Lauren - I think I rambled a little bit here. Oops! ;)

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  2. I found the ending of The Raven Boys to be a bit cliffy, just as you said, it was low. We were not expecting that and it sets up the next book nicely. Especially since it had nothing to do with Blue, Gansey or Adam who were the main focus as characters in #1. I loved that kind of a cliff hanger. I didn't love the cliff hanger in The Evolution of Mara Dyer though since wth!!!!! I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, THAT IS NOT FAIR. I have all these feels I want to get rid of and I can't unless I get some answers and see how it all ends. Then, we have books like Deity by JLA where you smell the cliff hanger a mile away, especially since we already knew the titles. I mean.. come one, didn't the title Apollyon hint anything to readers? It wasn't a surprise for me what happened at the end of that book. For instance, what happened at the end of Blood Promise with that note sent to Rose? THAT is a cliff hanger. In my opinion at least. I'm so happy that you're always rating the scale, but I agree, it can be very subjective, but I still appreciate you telling us. I feel for you still! It's not always easy to be objective and not let the feelings get the best of us. You've done great though :)

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  3. Sometimes, it's glaringly obvious (the MC in mortal danger, like you said) but other times, it really is based on your emotional feels -- did you yell, "NO!!" and throw the book? Then, to you, that's a cliffie. The next person might say, "Okay. Good. Looking forward to seeing what happens next." and then that's a cliffie, just some loose ends that hopefully will get addressed in the next book.

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  4. I consider a cliffhanger a high stress moment-- where things could go either way for a character--- the worst was Opal by Jennifer L. Armentrout. OH MY GOSH. My heart was racing..... everything was complete chaos..... I closed the book and couldn't move!!! THAT IS A CLIFFHANGER. Or maybe a situation where someone you thought was dead is suddenly ALIVE, but you find this out in the last 3 sentences of the book. That is more emotional, like a ... WOAH- GIVE ME MORE RIGHT THIS SECOND cliffhanger! Kinda like a soap opera-- insane drama always occurs on a friday that leaves you worried all weekend about Monday's episode. hahaha I don't think simply an unsettled ending should be considered a cliffhanger....

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  5. Oh great discussion topic Lauren! I usually consider a cliffhanger to be when the action from the story hasn't been wrapped up. An example of such cliffhanger can be the ending of The Eternity Cure, it about killed me, and we have like a year long wait to find out it's conclusion? Usually cliffhangers also leave me with so many questions that I'm dying to know the answers to, The Eternity Cure is again another great example of this. I know a lot of people hate cliffhangers, but I actually appreciate them, even though they do leave my heart ripped out in shreds, I want this need to read the next book asap, even though I know this won't happen, but a book which keeps me on my toes and wanting more, usually ends up as my favourite! Great post Lauren! :

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  6. I'm with you Lauren, a cliffhanger to me leaves the characters in some sort of hugely dangerous, possibly life threatening situation, OR some piece of information is revealed that changes everything about the story I just read. I just finished THE BONE SEASON and absolutely loved it, but I don't consider that one to have a cliffhanger. Things are unresolved yes, but it still felt like a logical place to stop.

    I don't know if you've read the Fever series or not, but book 4, Dreamfever, is the book I measure all other cliffhangers against. It's my baseline for comparison because it nearly destroyed me. Anything that comes close to that I consider a cliffhanger:)

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  7. You know, I never actually thought about it, I just go, "AH WHAT A CLIFFHANGER" when I'm in emotional distress. So, I guess that's how I would decide. Am I emotionally wrought? Am I in agony that I don't have the next book? Do I have a book hangover? I guess it depends on if you're invested or if there's a huge chunk of information that you don't know. Great post!

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  8. I think it's both. For me it's about my emotional response to the end but also my brains needs to be shouting "NO WE NEED MORE WHY ARE YOU STOPING IT RIGHT HERE?" I feel like those two things have to work together for it to really seem like a cliffhanger to me. Sometimes we get new informations in the end that isn't really a cliffhanger but leaves me interested in picking up the sequel. Great post Lauren!

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  9. It tends to be an emotional response for me. Like if I try to keep turning the pages only to discover there's nothing else, that is probably a cliffhanger to me. Examples are Crewel and the first Mara Dyer book. Crewel ended in an unusual place and Mara Dyer's last sentences provided new information that radically changed my understanding of a situation. They definitely left me on the edge!

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  10. Your definition of a cliffhanger is pretty much mine as well. I totally agree about the Raven Boys, it leaves you with questions and wanting more but it's not something I'm like obsessed over (like the Eternity Cure!) Julie Kagawa knows how to write cliffhangers, I can not wait for the next book. Great topic :)

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  11. I agree with you, it has to be serious or end suddenly with lots of things left unfinished. Books like The Raven Boys aren't cliffhangery, to me, because the main plot was tied up, but there is room for more books to come. I think these days people cry "CLIFFHANGER" far too quickly and too often ;)

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  12. My definition is pretty similar to yours. But I do find it frustrating when after a very important/suspenseful sentence, the book ends. Like the ending for Bloodlines, it wasn't a major cliffhanger but I was still dying to know what happened next! Usually it's the one line ending that I consider a cliffhanger, JLA knows how to do that perfectly. All of her books have a killer cliffhanger but I do enjoy them a lot. It makes the book very memorable, atleast until the next one comes out.

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  13. Great post and thoughts, Lauren. I think Sarah Rees Brennan did an excellent write up on someone's blog about cliffhangers and was "technically" constitutes one. If the ending leaves you in emotional turmoil over everything that's left undone I deem that a cliffhanger! I see Aman mentions Bloodlines in the VA series as a cliffhanger and I totally agree with that! Unspoken was also a nasty one, IMO! Cassandra Clare manages to have me pulling out my hair and so I've sworn off of reading any of her books until the series is complete. :)

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  14. Aside from the HYPE of The Raven Boys, one of the reasons I waited so long to read it is because I thought it had a cliffhanger. Then when I got to the end (AFTER LOVING IT SO, SO VERY HARD) I was like WHAT THAT ISN'T A CLIFFHANGER!!!!!!

    I think you've got some pictured here that are stressful in the way of cliffhangers and some that probably aren't. And some that I've put on hold, again, because of what I've heard. For me, I'd just rather be safe than sorry and do like I did with The Raven Boys. Cliffhangers actually make me feel anxiety and I do not like that feeling as a person that reads to escape. It's always wonderful when I read a series that is completed - like when I read Chaos Walking, it was completed and WHOA YES those are debatable cliffhangers, yes? I don't have to feel that stress - I can just choose to pick up the next book whenever I'm ready. But I put off the Delirium Trilogy (rolls eyes) because of the cliffhangers and I am putting off the Mara Dyer books because I've heard they are stressful cliffhangers.

    It's interesting that a reader above commented that The Eternity Cure ended with a big cliffhanger - it did, but I loved it. It makes me excited for what's next where normally I would be super stressed out. Perhaps this is just an isolated event. For me, probably Cassandra Clare is the queen of cliffhangers and I actually quite reading that series several years ago so I could start back when it was completed because I just COULDN'T HANDLE IT.

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  15. Oh, I think my emotional reaction definitely has a lot to do with whether I see an ending as a cliffhanger or not. And it also depends on how invested I feel in the story at the point that it cuts off. I actually don't mind cliffhangers because they tend to make me remember the events from that book more clearly when it comes to picking up the next book in the series, but I can see how some find them distressing. I, personally, kind of love to be left feeling emotionally distraught and longing for the next book. It means the book has captured me heart and soul, and that's exactly what I'm seeking from my reading experience. :)

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  16. I think I agree with you on this one, Lauren. Well, with as much as you provided here. My main concern is whether the story has a distinct conflict/plot arc that has been satisfied by the end. Like with the end of any of the Harry Potter books: the major conflict in that book has been resolved, but there's still the overarching concern of Voldemort. Or The Diviners: the conflict surrounding Naughty John has been resolved, but the end still hints that there will be greater conflicts ahead for this cast of characters. Or with The Bone Season. I assume you're including it here because it doesn't end on a true conflict either. Even Angelfall wasn't quite a cliffhanger to me...the story is about the sisters reuniting and this installment ends by addressing that. Enticing a reader to want to read the next book is fine, but I don't think throwing scraps of new information constitutes a cliffhanger necessarily.

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  17. Sometimes I feel like the only one who doesn't really see cliffhangers, or at the very least, don't get upset over them. I rather like endings that most people consider cliffhangers. Strong emotions is a good thing when it comes to a story, right? Unless, of course, the feelings are due to the loss of your absolute favorite character. Those are not cool feelings.
    Aaaaaand I'm getting off topic, so I'll leave it there.

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