So many ways I could go with this one:
- The cliff our economy might be about to fall off of any day.
- The yawning cliff of despair at the thought of another four years of this.
- Or the cliff of letting go of everything stable I had in my writing life and either snagging an agent and a big publisher or going it fully on my own.
But today I want to focus on a different type of cliff – the cliffhanger.
People either love them or hate them – that moment when you approach the last few pages of a book and realize the author’s going to leave you hanging.
Did Bill the elf live or die after the Swamp Dragon bathed him in blue balefire?
Did Xlym the Intrepid escape the supernova blast that engulfed his space station?
I’m old enough to remember one of the grand-daddy cliff hangers of them all – “Who Shot J.R.?” For those of you who may be – ahem – a little younger, it was the start of spring in 1980. “Dallas” was wildly popular, and Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing was the villain everyone loved to hate. At the end of the season, a gun fires, the identity of the shooter is shrouded in darkness, and J.R. goes down.
It’s hard to explain this to folks who didn’t live through it. There were T-Shirts and talk show mentions and worldwide speculation – it was insane.
For eight months, the network milked it, and it wasn’t until November that we finally got the answer. 90 million Americans – a third of the country – tuned in to watch on that fateful day.
There’s never been anything quite like it, before or since.
Which brings me to book cliff hangers. I’m sure there have been some memorable ones too. I’ve used them myself in the past, though I’ve always wrapped up the main book, using a cliff hanger more as a teaser intro to the next book.
People who hate them will give you a variety of reasons. What if the author never publishes the next book? What if it’s another year or more before we can find out what happens next? What if the author dies?
People who love them savor the mystery of it all, love to speculate on the outcome, and are willing to wait for the answer. Up to a point.
I’m diving into a new trilogy, set in the world of “The Last Run.” It’s a linked series, and I am doing what I never have before – three cliffhangers, one of them which will be shocking (and hopefully therefore memorable).
Will it work? Will I hook readers who want to know more? Or will I turn those off who don’t want to wait?
If they don’t get picked up by a publisher, I’ll probaby finish all three before releasing the first one, and set up a fairly tight release schedule, to assure readers that they only have to wait for three or four months for the next book in the series.
It’s a risk – hence my own cliff-walking fear. But it’s also a thrill to execute it, and I hope that feeling will transfer to my readers.
So here I go – one step forward and a thousand feet down.
Wish me luck!
To my writer friends, do you write cliff hangers? If not, why not? And to my reader friends, love ’em or hate ’em, and why?