Death by Cliffhanger? Write a real ending!

Sher A Hart here. First, a reminder to stop by the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop for a chance at a hardback copy of Hocus Pocus Hotel by Michael Dahl. There’s also a link to sign up for a FREE spot on a book launch giveaway and blog tour for Paul R. Hewlett’s latest chapter book fantasy, Lionel’s Christmas Adventure, due out in November. I would love to post the cover but I don’t want to steal Paul’s thunder while he’s recuperating from shoulder surgery.

Now to the subject of writing from a reader’s standpoint. I don’t like books with a cliffhanger stop. I won’t call it an ending because it’s not. It’s a stop. And that book will end up as a doorstop. Seriously, am I the only one who prefers a book with a full resolution to the problems in the storyline? Am I the only one who feels ripped off when the book doesn’t have a real ending? Not according to K. M. Wieland at Life As A Human who video blogged about this lazy habit. She didn’t call it lazy, but I  think some cliffhanger endings stem from lazy writing. At the very least, from misguided advice.

Far too many books end like a chapter with a cliffhanger tempting me to turn pages. This only works in chapters because the pages are there to turn right now, not next year. Ask yourself, how long can a person hang from a cliff without falling? And what happens when they fall? Usually, death.

I have to assume that writers who hang their audiences from a cliff with no hope of rescue for any time longer than a few hours must be trying to kill their audiences, period. I hear at every writer’s conference I attend that cliffhangers make good chapter stops, not book ends. Yet cliffhanger stops have become as trendy as series books. Talk about mass murder of readers. There’s a better way.

Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Galtt Literary Agency confirmed the need for a real ending at last week’s Southern Breeze chapter SCBWI workshop in Birmingham. She called this a “standalone” book, as in it can stand on its own. How do you know if your first book will become popular enough to support a second? You don’t. She also said your query should be for one book. Sure you can have ideas and outlines for future books, but your first one better not make cliffhanger enemies if you want those people to buy your next book.

What? You thought your loose ends would make me so curious about your next book that I would wait on pins and needles a year or more to read the next installment? Dream on. I’ll read another book next week and another and another and so on. When a year is up, I’ll only remember how much I didn’t like feeling cheated by your stop, and I’ll have a kindle full of other books whose endings I liked better, and those are the series I’ll continue reading.

Yes, there may be a rare exception to my rule. I gave Of Poseidon by Anna Banks 4 stars because it was witty, funny, and had a very believable mythos. Except for a few flaws and that cliffhanger, I would have rated it 5 stars.

On the other end of the spectrum is The Hunt by Andrew Fukada, not good enough to post the cover. The lack of an ending wasn’t the only problem, but it was a big part of the reason I gave the book 2 stars. That non-ending is what made me want to write this post, otherwise I would have relegated the book to the try to forget corner of my mind by now.

Just because a book is part of a series doesn’t mean readers don’t deserve to know how most of the loose ends tie up. Note that I say most. It’s okay to leave a few things open IF the book is part of a series. For a good example of the right balance, read The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa. Except for too many ideas resembling a previous movie and an unsympathetic heroin in the first part of the book, I would have given it 5 stars. But the most important point is that I WANT to read the sequel(s) because I liked the ending, a real resolution to the major problems in the book.

Get the picture?

Then please, write a real ending! If you want to create anticipation for your next book, include a sample chapter at the end of the first. How easy is that? This way you won’t make cliffhanger enemies because reader’s don’t expect a sample chapter to resolve all the problems in the book.

Writers and readers, please weigh in. I’d love to hear whether you want books to be complete, or at least mostly complete. And give me some examples of endings that aggravated or fulfilled all the book’s promises!

Please come back soon for the Dystopian Hop featuring Susan Kaye Quinn’s bestselling Mindjacker series which all have real endings. And guess what else? A Kindle Fire Giveaway by author Crystal Marcos starting on November 1st. Read on,  and thanks until next time!

Share A Heart

Indie author-friendly freelance editor, children's book blogger for picture books through YA, kid lit, SF/fantasy lover with special fondness for middle grade, pun-loving SCBWI member, meter-maid for poetry and rhyming picture books.


  1. I don’t like a cliffhanger ending either. I like the story to be wrapped up at the end. Hopefully will read this post and take the advice. 🙂

  2. I have to agree with you, I want a book with a satisfying ending, not a cliffhanger ending. I will await the next book because of the writing and the characters, to journey with them again, not because you leave me hanging.

    • I totally agree, Suzanne. One of the reasons I want to rewrite my ending even though it isn’t a cliffhanger is because I didn’t have the word count leeway until they upped our allowance again. That’s the writing and characterization I want people to like enough to wait for. Thanks!

  3. There’s no excuse for not having a real ending. Makes me wonder if the author is still trying to figure out what happens himself, and is just putting off the decision for later.

  4. Sorry it took me so long to comment on your post Sher. Great post! I remember the first time I felt really cheated by the cliffhanger ending. It was a movie, not a book, but it was Empire Strikes Back. That movie ended with no resolution and an obvious need for another movie, which by the way, wouldn’t come out for over a year. You nailed it here. Well done! There is nothing wrong with a series (I hope not since I have written one:) but each book needs, I repeat, needs to have an ending. Sometimes I love characters so much I want a sequel or series. But that is why I want to read more, not because I have to. In my house those books aren’t doorstops, they support trinkets above my cabinets. Thanks Sher, great work & thanks a million for helping me since my surgery.

    Paul R. Hewlett

    • You’re welcome, Paul. You know, a lot of the books I remember loving over the years have been series, but I’d say the vast majority are books with real endings like yours. So write on!

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