We all know the purpose of cliffhangers. Television shows run for a season, and producers want to ensure that their viewers return in the Fall. The best way to do that, since they obviously don’t have much faith in fans’ loyalty if the show itself is great, is a cliffhanger, usually centered on the likely death of a beloved character. “Oh no! They can’t kill him off!”
It’s bad enough waiting around for three months to see what happens. (Don’t get me started on the idiots who plan cliffhangers for premiere seasons and then cancel the show.) I’m starting to see more and more cliffhangers in book series! How cruel must authors/publishers be? Books in the same series are lucky to come out twice a year. Once a year is more likely, and what about those series that authors are in the process of writing? Come on guys, you can’t foresee the future; what if you never write the ending?
Here’s my other thing: television shows are more easily remembered. They run for 12-24 episodes over several months. I read a book in 2-3 days. I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter how amazing the story is; I have a gazillion other books to read, and by the time the sequel comes out, I’ve forgotten not only to look for it, but what happened in book 1! Seriously, I started making a list of authors to periodically Google in case they come out with another book when I’m not looking. Because let’s face it, television previews are all over–well television–the web, Facebook, YouTube, etc. Book release announcements? Not as easy to hear about unless you Follow every author you like.
Ranting aside, I’m all for serial books. However, I think that each book should have a self-contained plot. Even if there is an overarching megaplot with the big baddie that the protag won’t all-out battle until the end (hm, much like the levels in a video game?), there should still be some episodic structure to the book. There are a handful of Young Adult series out that have become so popular (either the authors have gotten lazy or they feel they don’t have to work as hard to keep their readers) that by book 3-4, they become a series of events, a to-do list in this epic journey the characters are on. There’s blood, sweat, and tears, but no triumph, no growth.
There are some great series out there that follow a character or group of characters through various life changes, but each book is complete in its conflict and resolution. Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series is excellent. Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series is good (consequences from one book may spill over into another, but the plots are still contained and resolved). I’d like to add Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, but alas, Book 11 (she made it so far) ended with a cliffhanger–granted, a character cliffhanger, not plot, but still, me annoyed.
I believe I’ve said my piece. What about you guys? Do you feel as strongly about cliffhangers as I do? Do you love them? Do you think they have a valid purpose in books? Do they alienate or ensnare readers?