Cliffhangers

Jo Zebedee

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I'm reading a book at the moment - a YA sci fi - and I'm enjoying it. It's a well known author and a best-selling series.

But! Practically every chapter leads to a cliffhanger. And most of them don't turn out to be that big a deal in the next chapter. I'm about a third of a way through and feel my ablity to be shocked has been crushed. In fact, my interest is waning because of the cliff hangers.

Is it a YA thing? Or learned from the films? Or lazy writing (although I suspect it's tight writing to keep finding the place to leave the chapter). Anyone else like some room to breathe?
 
Are the cliff hangers big deals?

I try to end each chapter with a hook for the next but it can be as simple as her father has told her she will work as a scullery maid and then next chapter she is in the kitchens.
 
Springs, I read Steelheart by Sanderson and he did this. Every chapter had a cliffhanger but my issue is that it was written in first and you instantly find out what happens. I feel like cliffhangers are better utilized when you have to wait a couple chapters to get back to that characters part.
 
Anya, no they're da-da-daaaaaaas.
Ratsy, you might have the nail on the head there. A lot of ya is first - and it's the quuick resolution which irrks more than the cliffhanger per se.
 
I might call it a tense moment since the resolution is on the next page. Internal cliffhangers do tend to have chapters in between. I'm not even sure those should be called cliffhangers. They are more like teasers so the reader knows after a slog though these next few chapters I'll find out what happens.

When ending a chapter its always nice to finish the scene in some form that seems complete and I suppose if they figured that that tense moment was a good complete spot to stop at then there's not much to do but read on. It does tend to work as a way of making you more curious about what will happen than wanting to put the thing down: or it should.

I tend to try to write each chapter like it's the first chapter, so I try to have a hook in the first paragraph.

But that does not stop me from cliff-hanging a chapter when it ends the scene where I expect the scene to end.
 
I know why the author does it - and how - and am not averse to nice cliffhanger myself. What I'm asking is, if it's overused, if it has a detrimental effect on tension because, frankly, I'm beginning to think, everytime I read one, yawn, this will be nothing important. It also makes me wonder how much substance is in the book if the only way to keep the reader interested is to lay a false conflict.
 
I love cliffhangers, but they shouldn't be used just willy-nilly. They should be used to help build tension. My favourite stories have a lot of cliffhangers, but its sort of like:

Good guy is about to get his power, but you don't see it until a few chapters later, and all the while you are waiting for this moment (and have an idea what's going to happen), waiting and waiting, and bam the resolution comes in, you finally get to see the good guys magnificent power, which defines the meaning of badassery, you are jumping out of your seat in excitement at this climatic event, and you leave feeling satisfied because that moment has just made your day...

Or maybe that's just me... But a story should be able to work, and be readable without the cliffhangers. I personally believe that cliffhangers are merely an effect added to heighten the tension and should be strategically placed by the author. If you can't write the story without cliffhangers, then you probably need to rethink the plot, or something else.

Of course, i may be wrong in my views, but that's just my 2c.
 
Speaking as a reader, frequent cliffhangers do defuse the tension. They are also predictable, and hence boring.

IMO, delays in resolution are tricky. A delay can increase tension, but if the delay is too long, I may no longer care by the time the cliffhanger is resolved, particularly in stories with multiple protagonists.
 
I very much dislike overused cliffhangers too, and not just because they become boring (like any lack of variety) and defuse tension. They are also an obvious sign of the author telling me what I am supposed to find interesting or exciting, and I resent being treated like a four-year-old.
 
I think some of you are using the word cliffhanger too broadly. A cliffhanger is when the flow of the story is interrupted mid-action without resolving the scene. Such as, someone pulls a knife on you, fright, end of chapter. (In the next book we find out that he gave you a haircut.)

I find those very annoying, especially if the matter is trivial or contrived. It's an artificial way to create tension. The plot of the story should be able to do that on its own. Having people wonder what happens next is all right, even necessary, but you don't need a cliffhanger for that.

Another bad example: army commander is annoyed about some underlings, wonders what to do with them and makes a decision, but won't tell the reader what it is. Many pages later we find out she sent them on a dangerous mission against the enemy, which they accomplished successfully. Revealing the decision would have created more tension without a cliffhanger.
 
Ah, yes, there's rather too much of that happening for my liking, too, frankly, especially a narrator in first who decides not to think about all the things he's seeing in others' thoughts. Hmmmmm. Being sold a cheap pup, methinks. Which is a pity cos the book is good and didn't need all these things.
 
I suppose it's the same as most techniques- works quite well if used in moderation in the right places, but loses its effect if you just keep re-using it.

Or, even worse- every now and then I read a book that ends on a cliffhanger, and there is no sequel to clear it up. :mad:
 
I suppose it's the same as most techniques- works quite well if used in moderation in the right places, but loses its effect if you just keep re-using it.

Or, even worse- every now and then I read a book that ends on a cliffhanger, and there is no sequel to clear it up. :mad:

Even with a sequel, please don't shoot JR. (I'm showing my age here, I guess. Shooting JR was the 1980 cliffhanger for a show called Dallas.)

I recently bought and half read David Weber's new Safehold book, having waited so long for it that I can't remember what the cliffhanger was in the last book. Now that I've been told that this book finishes on an even greater cliffhanger, I don't think I'll finish it. The prospect of waiting another year for resolution of another cliffhanger is too much. I'm done with the series.
 
I think its fine to use them if its every now and then - not every single chapter. For instance, if you were writing a long action scene that's a bit of a mouthful for one chapter, I would find it natural to break it midway at an exciting point, using it as a "to be continued..."

But you'd have to mix it up with other chapters that have a "proper" end or it would be too predictable.
 
What Wendigo said.

In general I can live with them, even when they're used a bit too regularly. I just finished reading a YA trilogy where most chapters ended with a dum-dum-DUUM moment, and though I noticed it, it didn't bother me.

They don't annoy me unduly if the story/ writing is otherwise good.

I also agree with Stephen (while I'm agreeing with people) that YA tends to do it well. Middle grade books tend to as well -- so much so that my son flatly refuses to let anyone finish reading to him at the end of a chapter because they are the worst places to stop.

It's maybe one reason children's books are such intense and enjoyable reads that I find myself awake at 2am unable to stop reading (that happened to me a couple of days ago with The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas). That doesn't tend to happen with books aimed at adults which perhaps have more mature payoffs and fewer cliffhangers... (and the ones that don't are often appallingly badly written -- as if there's some trade off between making something exciting and writing it well).

While I'm ranting, books where there's a cliffhanger and then you have to wait through three chapters of someone else crossing a bog or researching ancient Egyptian manuscripts(*) drive me insane. Far, far more than cliffhangers that turn out to have not really been especially exciting.

(*) I also just read The Deceit by Tom Knox, which had a fabulous, terrifying English witchcrafty story so horrible it made my toes curl intercut with a mildly interesting romp through Egypt visiting monasteries to find out the meaning of some ancient manuscripts. Either would have been fine on its own but they were intensely frustrating mixed together and I found myself skipping a lot of the Egyptian stuff to find out what was happening in England.
 
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That doesn't tend to happen with books aimed at adults which perhaps have more mature payoffs and fewer cliffhangers... (and the ones that don't are often appallingly badly written -- as if there's some trade off between making something exciting and writing it well)

I suppose the mark of good writing is that it keeps you interested enough to keep reading without there there having to be a particular "hook" to make you have to come back to see what happened. After all, some books are good enough to make me want to go out and buy all the author's stuff. Some I've bought to see how the series ends but otherwise wasn't that fussed.
 
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I think so. You can get away with an awful lot if the writing is skilled and engaging. I think writers like Robin McKinley do it especially well.

However, I don't think hooks are necessarily a problem -- I like them very much -- but they don't need to be groaning with effort. Anything that makes you want to read on is presumably a hook of some kind?
 
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