Cliffhangers — A Love Hate Relationship

By Sherry enjoying unusually nice summer days for August in Northern Virginia

Almost everyone my age will remember the summer of “Who Shot JR” from the TV show Dallas. JR (a nasty, manipulative man) is shot, but the audience doesn’t see the killer and had to wait until the fall to find the answer. I don’t even remember who the killer was, but I do remember all the speculation.

The first cliffhanger I remember in fiction was in a Janet Evanovich novel High Five. At the end of the book Stephanie Plum calls a man and asks him to come over. He shows up, but we don’t know if it’s Joe or Ranger. I remember getting to the end and having mixed emotions about having to wait a year to find out. You can bet I bought the next book in the series as soon as it was published.

Shows from Game of Thrones to The Walking Dead to Friends to Downton Abbey have ended seasons with cliffhangers. And authors such as Susan Collins (Hunger Games series), Stephan King (Dark Tower series — readers had to wait six years for the next book), and J.K. Rowling have all ended books at a suspenseful moment.

There is some disagreement about what a cliffhanger is. Some people think it’s any ending that leaves an unanswered question which means books like Gone with the Wind, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Gone Girl are books with cliffhanger endings. To me those endings seemed more ambiguous than cliffhanger. While researching cliffhangers I came across a Pub Crawl blog by Erin Bowman. You can read the full blog here. She makes a distinction between hooks and cliffhangers. It resonated with me.

One of the reasons cliffhangers are on my mind is because of how my fourth book, A Good Day to Buy, ends. The reaction to the ending has been interesting. People either enjoyed it or hated it – there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground. I wrapped up the crime, but I didn’t wrap up Sarah’s relationship woes. When I started writing the book it wasn’t with the idea of ending it with a hook big or small. It just came about naturally as I wrote the book. Sarah has a big life decision to make. I didn’t have room for another 20,000 words to resolve it. And I’m not sure seeing every little details of her though process/angst would make for interesting reading.

People are passionate about the topic. If you search “cliffhangers” you find lists of books and TV shows. One list on Goodreads is: Ending That Make You Want To Scream.

Novelist Charles Reade said, “Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait.”

Readers: How do you feel about cliffhangers or hooks at the end of a book? Have you ever used one in your writing? How did readers react?







Wicked Wednesday- Shows I Haven’t Seen

Jessie: In NH, wondering if putting away my heaviest coat will tempt a blizzard to pay a visit?

In keeping with our “Things I Haven’t” theme on Wicked Wednesday this month we’re talking about shows we haven’t ever seen. You know, the ones everyone is talking about around the water cooler but you just have no interest in? Take it away, Wickeds!

Edith: I’ll jump right in here. ALL OF THEM. Okay, I’ve seen the first season of House of
Cards until it got too merciless. And I’ve watched and loved all of Downton, Grantchester,orange is the new black and Call the Midwife so far. But Orange is the New Black? Zip, even though I’d like to see it. Big Bang Theory? Modern Family? The Sopranos? Secrets and Lies? Even the modern Sherlock – no, despite how many friends I have who like these shows. Ditto for any other new and most older TV shows. What can I say? I don’t have time for shows. A friend long ago called me a “cultural desert” and he wasn’t far off. I did see all of West Wing live and mourned deeply when it went off the air. Same for ER. But these days (okay, blame Facebook if you must) I don’t even get enough reading done. And books take precedence way above television.

Sherry: I’ve never watched an episode of The Simpsons. They come up regularly as crossword clues — I never get them. No Sopranos here either — maybe I’ll get to it some day.

Jessie: The Walking Dead has not made my list. I love paranormal, supernatural and anything otherworldly, except zombies. I have zero interest in zombies. They’re ugly , reek of desperation and don’t let me get started on the scope of their dialogue!

Barb: I confess I’ve never seen Breaking Bad or The Wire.  I know, I know. Everyone says the writing is amazing on both of these, and I fully intend to stream them. Someday. Also, I’ve never watched an episode of CSI. Although I have to admit, the new CSI: Cybercrimes is tempting me, mostly because of the cast. Law and Order, only the original and long, long ago.

Liz: I’ve never watched Downton and I feel like I’m the only person on earth who hasn’t. Barb, I’ve never watched The Wire either, although it’s been on my list for years now. I still fully intend to watch it someday, along with Orange is the New Black, Castle, and the rest of The Americans (I’ve seen the first two episodes and loved it, just never got back to it). Someday…

Julie: OK, unlike Edith, I think television is where a lot of really creative work is happening. The short seasons NetFlix and Amazon Prime are creating? Some of the best writing around. Given that I am a wicked wimp, gruesome doesn’t work for me. I also, for whatever reason, am not watching comedies at all, though I know I am missing something. Two shows that I haven’t seen, and need to (in my television loving, story craving, world)? Mad Men and The Wire. Like Barb, CSI Cybercrimes interests me. May add it to my DVR.

Readers, how about you? Which shows have you somehow missed?