Whether it’s on TV–I am currently exceedingly annoyed at Virgin River, Tokyo Vice, and Stranger Things–or in books, I don’t like cliffhanger endings. Nope. Give me a story where–like the TV show Unforgotten, or Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series–where most of the storylines introduced are resolved by the season’s/book’s end. Don’t get me wrong–I love following characters over time but I am not here for having to wait a year to know what happened to them.
So, what are some books with cliffhangers? And am I wrong? Are any worth reading?
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I detest cliffhangers as well. I have no problem with series containing over-arching character development and/or relationships. But each book must have a logical end point e.g. Harry Potter. We don’t get the whole story until we’ve read all 7 books. But each book within the series has a complete story/adventure. I stopped reading Gabaldon’s books when one ended with Jamie mid-chase. That was it. No more for me.
Splitting movies (e.g. Harry Potter book 7 becomes two movies, also Dune) is another big no-no for me. The hours and hours of streaming people do today is evidence enough that our attention spans are just fine, thank you very much. Splitting a book into two films is just a $$ grab.
I hate it, to the point that I would not hesitate to skip a beloved author’s new release if I knew a head of time about a cliffhanger ending.
One drawback about Kindle: I can no longer ‘cheat’. During the print books days, I used to flip a book straight to the last page to ensure it didn’t end in a cliffhanger. Kindle doesn’t allow that anymore so I got tricked a few times as a result.
I’ve since learned to deal with not knowing the ending about a story – as in: I got so mad that I got tricked into buying a cliffhanger book, I stopped buying the series completely.
Why can’t you go to the end in Kindle? I do it all the time!
Don’t you have to own the book first to look at the end? Grace wants to look before buying
Oh! I missed the before buying part!
If I am that worried – which I sometimes am, I detest cliffhangers – I buy the book, check the ending and return it within a couple of hours at most, sometimes even just 15-30 minutes.
I only do that occasionally, as in 3-4 times a year. I try to find out in other ways, via reviews or blurbs, but if there is no clear answer and I would really want to give the author my money by buying her soon after release date, this is what I do.
Good idea, thanks! Although I obviously will do it sparingly the way you do, so as not to abuse the system (so to speak!)
Good ! I hoped you would see my post.
When I was in high school a gazillion years ago, I used to watch soap operas when I was home on vacation. That would mean a gap of several months between episodes. The soaps took care of that problem by starting each episode with an “as you know, Bob,” section. As in, “Karen, I know you’re still upset because your husband was eaten by cannibals when he went off into the jungle to retrieve your kitten, but you need to pull yourself together. Tomorrow your sister Matilda is marrying Keith, her childhood sweetheart, who returned after spending six years in prison because he was mistaken for a Mexican drug lord who was actually his long lost twin.” Or something of the sort.
Perhaps each book in a series with long gaps should do something like that. :-)
Or maybe you wake up to find out the entire previous season was a fever dream!
Thanks for this, because I needed a good laugh today and you definitely provided that!
I agree with previous posts that I consider a cliffhanger to be lack of resolution of the main storyline and that teaser or hook is a good term for a new twist introduced right at the end that leads into the next book or TV season.
I feel a little differently about cliffhangers in books vs TV. Romance novels require a HEA ending by genre definition so I don’t find many true cliffhangers in those books. There are romance series that contain a plot thread that weaves through the whole series and is resolved in the last book and those are OK with me as long as each book in the series has a couple with a self contained HEA. DiscoDollyDeb mentioned one good example, which is Claire Kingsley’s Bailey brothers series, and another is Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green series. Romantic suspense books typically have resolution of the main mystery with each book but can have ongoing struggles in the main characters’ relationship. That does sometimes bother me but I can hang in there as I know that at some point down the line in the series, they will work things out. For non-romance books, I have read series with cliffhangers and never liked those. I love Kelley Armstrong’s Rockton series but I remember being frustrated with the ending of one or two of the middle books. I am of the camp that can’t remember plot threads of the previous book if the release interval is too long.
On the other hand, I don’t feel as strongly about cliffhangers in TV. Maybe it is because I grew up in the 70s and 80s where all the available TV had the format of fall season through spring then summer off. Many shows, especially dramas, had cliffhangers and the summer was spent in speculation, which was actually kind of fun as it was shared by the whole community (“Who shot J.R.?”, etc). Also, summer was only 3 months so you didn’t have to wait that long. However, times have changed a lot with the advent of streaming and maybe that has actually made things worse? Nowadays when a streaming TV series ends in a cliffhanger, not only do you not know if there will be another season but you also don’t know when that season is going to be released! I liked Netfilx’s Sweet Magnolias season 1, which ended with multiple cliffhangers, but there was so long a wait for season 2 that I lost interest and I doubt I will ever watch it.
Don’t know about books. Most of the romances I read are complete. In series, there are the odd secondary plots that don’t always get finished. So there’s that but I don’t know that I’d call those cliff-hangers because the main romance plot gets resolved.
It’s odd that you should mention this though. I ran across an article today about how the writers for Stargate SG1 were always leery of ending seasons with cliffhangers. Mainly because there were several years where they didn’t know whether they were renewed or not.
Stargate SG-1 Had Four Different Endings Written
Since several posts said the term cliffhanger is subject to interpretation, I’ll say how I use it. For me, a cliffhanger is a break in a story with one or more major characters under active threat (like hanging from a cliff). I consider an ending that introduces a new character or plot thread to be a teaser, not a cliffhanger.
Related to the narrative hooks mentioned in one post, I noticed a pattern years ago in many Garwood books: a chapter would end one way, and the start of the next chapter would immediately change that.
I don’t mind teasers, but I don’t like to run into cliffhangers without warning.
A recent example: Harbinger by Wen Spencer was 5 1/2 years after the last previous release in the Elfhome series, it ended in an unexpected cliffhanger, and I have no clue when the next book will be out (not this year, based on the publisher’s scheduled releases). I found this very frustrating.
I have started getting the books in the Naomi Novik Scholomance series, but haven’t started reading the series because my eldest brother warned me about a cliffhanger.
I definitely sympathize with the posts about remembering details and not having time enough to reread long series. Years ago I reread the McCaffrey Tower and Hive series books as each new book came out, but that gets more challenging as series get longer and my available time doesn’t. I just finished rereading all the Lee & Miller Liaden Universe books a few days ago, and that took about 2 1/2 months (squeezing in around new reading).
I knew about the Harbinger cliffhanger from reviews, bought it anyway to support the author – I really want her to go on writing!- but did not even start the book. That is my way of supporting authors I value a lot without anger at the cliffhanger.
That said, I hate cliffhangers with a passion and will only attempt Gabaldon again once her series is finished.
I do think expectations play a role. If you know there is a cliffhanger, and you choose to watch or read something anyway, then you probably enjoy or don’t mind them. But if you are not expecting one, and then you are left hanging at the end of the story, you may not be so happy.
I am agnostic regarding cliffhangers. Sometimes they work for me, sometimes not. It depends what I’m hoping to get out of the story and whether it’s been delivered. I do agree that a really long wait for resolution can be frustrating. I have to really, really love something to be willing to refresh myself after a long time gap, especially if the previous plots were very involved with lots of characters.
Forgot to mention it in my post below but Cancellations. One of the reasons I often wait to read/watch a series is thatI have had both book and TV series canceled with cliffhanger “endings” because I was one of the few watching/reading.
That is the worst.
I also hate it when shows end badly. Like when there are seven seasons and the last one sucks and it ruins the whole thing.
I can’t stand cliffhangers that mean I’ve read an entire book and little if anything is resolved! As other people have said here, I don’t mind overarching plots that continue through a series, like the hunt for a specific bad guy, as long as the main mystery or plot of each books feels like you’ve reached a natural stopping place. I don’t necessarily think of a “hook” as a cliffhanger. You can end a book with a new revelation or event that gives a sort of preview for the next installment and that’s fine with me. As Caz pointed out below, the second Valor and Doyle book Elusive Relations by C.S. Poe, ends this way. The murder plot for the book is resolved, and the relationship is moving forward nicely, but a new piece of information important to one of the characters comes to light at the very end. I can’t wait for the next book, but that doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger to me.
I’m not a TV watcher anymore, but I remember growing up that many dramas would end each season with a big cliffhanger. I hated it!
It depends on the series and my expectations. My memory isn’t that good and I often don’t have the bandwidth or energy for extensive refresher re-reads, so I now often wait until series are done to start reading them. Authors risk losing my interest if they drag things out too long or years go by between books. The law of diminishing returns often comes into play with ongoing series that have no end in sight. At the very least, series need to be very immersive and have characters that keep me interested in their journey or fate. Worse than poorly handled cliffhangers are when series jump the shark and start retconning characters and plot elements (this happens a lot with tv series that are fine for 1 or 2 seasons but squander or change everything they’ve been building up to after that).
I don’t usually mind having an unresolved plot point in a romance series, as long as the main romance in the book is resolved and the unresolved issues are settled in the later books. That said, there is a sci fi/fantasy series that I started reading in my teens (I’m 60 something now) that I have given up on ever reading the final resolution. The author must have gotten bored or lost inspiration because she has gone on to write other books/series and never got around to tying up all the loose ends in this particular series.
As for TV or movie series, I sometimes will wait until the series finishes before I start watching. I waited until 15 years after The Sopranos had ended before I glommed the whole series. I actually prefer the shorter, one season series where there may be cliffhangers from one episode to the next, but everything is tied up at the end of the season. Godless and Unbelievable are good examples. Each show only had a handful of episodes but the complete story was told at the end of the season.
True story… my brother-in-law is not a reader but he loves movies (especially action oriented). He went to the LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring and loved it but was disappointed because of the unresolved ending. He had no clue that it was the first of a trilogy. I don’t know if he ever saw the next two movies.
I am currently refusing to see Dune until both parts are released.
And I’d like to only watch things that are finished but it’s getting harder to find given how old I am and how much I’ve watched over the years.
This is an interesting topic. In the 19th century when books were published monthly magazines, each chapter was supposed to end on a cliffhanger, or with a “hook”, to make people buy the next issue. I assume that’s why authors are still told to end each chapter with a hook.
I haven’t been watching the shows you mention, so I’m not sure how bad things have to be for an ending to qualify as a cliffhanger. I assume they don’t end with Poor Pauline tied to the railroad tracks with the train roaring down at her, but I also assume it’s more than the villain not getting his just deserts and living to fight again another day.
How much suspense is required for something to qualify as a cliffhanger?
I think it’s different in something that you’ll be able to come back to in a short period of time. It’s the gap of a year that I struggle with.
For me, small issues aren’t cliffhangers. It’s big things–did someone die? Is someone about to be attacked? Is something momentous that is horrible or wonderful about to happen before the screen goes black.
I’ve pretty much quit reading non-romance series that aren’t finished and I am getting to be that way with TV series too. I just don’t have the energy or inclination to retain thousands of little details about a series from one year to the next just so I can know what led to the events of the most recent book. I also don’t want to re-read an entire series so I can keep up with the freaking details that happened in books one through ten when book eleven finally comes out. My memory space is too busy trying to recall where I left my car keys ;-)
Same – who has time to re-read a ten book series before book eleven comes out?? I’ve realised that the worst thing though is the sort of book I’m reading now, which is book 3 of a trilogy where the plot is really like one book cut into three (but would have made one very long single title!) and I’m struggling to recall who is who and who did what in the previous book. It’s really frustrating!
That’s it exactly! When a minor character in book three becomes the impetus for book six and I’m trying to figure out what the heck I should be remembering about them it is just irritating.
The cliffhanger that has irritated me most recently is in Mick Herron’s Slough House series. Books 1-6 have no cliffhanger, but Book 7, Slough House, has a MASSIVE cliffhanger concerning one of the main characters.
Book 8, Bad Actors, which was published earlier this year, doesn’t resolve the cliffhanger or even mention it much. WTF!
Uh oh. Now I don’t want to read those books….
I haven’t read the books, but that would drive me crazy! Have you seen the Apple TV series version of them? They changed the name to Slow Horses, and it stars the marvelous Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas. I loved it and am tempted to try the books, so thanks for the warning.
I am thinking about watching it. My best friend loves it.
You’re safe to read books 1-6! They’re very good and the author has a great sense of humour, even though some of the plots are really chilling.
I haven’t seen the series, mainly because I don’t get Apple tv, but also because the author describes Jackson Lamb as looking like the actor Timothy Spall but Gary Oldman is cast in that part. I’m not sure that I could cope with that!
It depends. I don’t mind them if the next book is already out and I can dive straight in! If not, then the wait is often torturous!
That said, I can usually find something else to take my attention afterwards, so I can at least put up with the wait – although if it’s too long, I might well have forgotten about it by the time the next book comes out! I’m okay with books where there’s a self-contained story per book and relationships develop across several books, but I do struggle, however – and am struggling right now – with books that are essentially one long story cut into chunks, because I can’t remember everything that happened in the last book 8 months ago!
I know you (Dabney) don’t read m/m, but for anyone else who comes by to comment, the “to be continued…” endings in C.S Poe’s The Gangster and The Doctor, and Madison Square Murders and in Nicky James’ Elusive Relations are all books I’ve read recently which are worth the wait. It probably helps that they’re all self-published, so the gaps between aren’t too long; the sequel to MSM is out at the end of Sept, there’s a new Magic & Steam book coming early 2023 and the next Valor & Doyle book is out in Oct.
Those were exactly the books I was thinking about! With The Gangster there was plot resolution, but a new twist was thrown in at the end. I can handle that better than reading an entire book and realizing the main plotline for the book isn’t resolved. That said, I’m seriously considering waiting for the Magic and Steam series to be completed before finishing it, partly because I’m not good at keeping the details in my mind. For example, I don’t remember there being any cliffhanger at the end of MSM, and I’ve read it AND listened to it! :-)
Valor and Doyle strikes me the same way, the main mystery/plotline gets resolved, but there is an unexpected new twist that acts as a hook to keep you coming back. I don’t consider the twist in V&D a cliffhanger. It’s more like a preview of things to come! :-)
Yes I think there’s a difference – maybe a subtle one – between a cliffhanger and a “to be continued,” ending.
I’m ok with cliffhangers if I’m expecting them. I read lots of dark romance where the first book in a duet or the first two books in a trilogy ALWAYS end on cliffhangers, so I go into those books knowing that there will be unresolved ending. I used to try to wait until all the books in duet/trilogy/quartet were published before reading them, but that caused too much of a bottleneck in my reading, so now I read the books when they’re available and prepare for the cliffhanger ending.
There are also some series (for example, Claire Kingsley’s Miles Family or Bailey Brothers books) where the central romance in each book is resolved by the book’s ending, but elements of an overarching mystery continue from book-to-book—and that might be considered something of a cliffhanger.
I don’t mind the overarching plots–I love them in the Rocktonbooks and many others. It was so fun to have to wait for four books to find out who Lady Whistledown was!
What I hate are ones where major characters may or may not be dead, kidnapped (I’m looking at you the most recent season of Bosch!), or about to find out whether or not their baby is an alien sort of plotlines.