Ohhh boy, so this a rather contentious topic – for authors and readers alike. Cliff-hangers, that ancient art of ending a story right where you know readers will be left screaming WHAT! WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?
Well, talking to some of my author friends and following a discussion on cliff-hangers on the Kboards Writers Cafe, you’d think this was the greatest crime a writer could make. And yet somehow, it seems like cliff-hangers are everywhere these days.
You only have to look as far as one of the biggest shows on television for an example. In the last season of The Walking Dead, it was promised that someone was going to die. And the writers of the show really committed. They spent the entire two hour finale moving all of our favourite characters into place so they’d be together for the final scene. Then out comes our new big baddy, with his baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, and you know it’s coming.
Someone is going to die.
And they did! Splat goes the baseball bat and someone’s dead. Only problem is, the writers left out one important part – who. They cut to black without revealing who had died.
And left us wondering for five months.
In all seriousness though, I think this is the perfect example of a cliff-hanger done wrong. The entire season had been about this new bad guy, and the creators had been dropping hints left, right and centre that one of your favourite characters was going to bite the dust. It’s what the season was about. But instead of embracing that, they coped out at the last minute to get people to watch the next season.
That’s a really good way of pissing off your audience. As a reader, I want some sort of closure at the end of a season, some feeling that the last 10 hours meant something.
So, what does make a good cliff-hanger then?
Well, in my humble opinion, it’s when the current plot is resolved and then something new creates the cliff-hanger. Confused? Allow me to use the plot of my first novel, Stormwielder, as an example. The story has two main plotlines: (1) a young man struggling to control his magic, and (2) a quest to find the last descendent of the royal bloodline. There’s a whole lot of other things going on, but that’s the essence of the plot. And come the end of the first book, both of those plots have been resolved in one way or another.
But here comes the cliff-hanger.
At the end of the story, a very important character is killed. This happens after the other conflicts of the story have been resolved, and leaves the reader with no doubt that this characters death changes everything. We’re talking worldwide consequences. That cliff-hanger literally sets up the entire plot for the second book.
And for the year it’s been published, I haven’t had any complaints about that little twist. Read through has been pretty good though ;)
Series: Sword of Light Trilogy
Books in series: Stormwielder (#1) | Fire Storm (#2) | Soul Blade (#3)
Genre: Epic Fantasy/Sword and Sorcery
Pages: 300 pages
Find an excerpt here
Description of Stormwielder (book one):
For five hundred years the Gods have united the Three Nations in harmony.
Now that balance has been shattered, and chaos threatens.
A town burns and flames light the night sky. Hunted and alone, seventeen year old Eric flees through the wreckage. The mob grows closer, baying for the blood of their tormentor. Guilt weighs on his soul, but he cannot stop, cannot turn back.
If he stops, they die.
For two years he has carried this curse, bringing death and destruction wherever he goes. But now there is another searching for him – one who offers salvation. His name is Alastair and he knows the true nature of the curse.
Aaron Hodges was born in 1989 in the small town of Whakatane, New Zealand. He studied for five years at the University of Auckland, completing a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and Geography, and a Masters of Environmental Engineering. After working as an environmental consultant for two years, he grew tired of office work and decided to quit his job and see the world. During his travels he picked up an old draft of a novel he once wrote in High School – titled The Sword of Light – and began to rewrite the story. This book, Soul Blade, marks the final conclusion of that epic tale.