If there's anything I love to hate more, it's a cliffhanger. I will spend an entire novel hoping for one, while praying to the book gods that I'm wrong. I'm invested emotionally, allowing the author to string me along, hoping the characters pull through unscathed. But I'm also twirling my villain mustache; crossing my fingers the author has planned something totally naughty. Make no mistake about it. I want all the bad to happen. In spades. Is there a better time to experience something as wicked as this? Other than when you're out being an actual, honest-to-god evil person, that is. Probably not.
Even better than reading it? Writing it. When I got the chance to add a cliffhanger to the end of my debut novel, Archetype [Dutton Adult, $26.95], I didn't hesitate. To be honest, I started planning that sucker during the first act. I wanted it to be epic. I wanted to give you the biggest shock of your life. Why? Cliffhangers make the story memorable.
To prove my point, here are my five favorite cliffhanger endings:
#5: Divergent by Veronica Roth
I'll never forget staring at the closed book, mind racing, thinking, What will become of Tris and Four?! I mean, damn. People are dead, the factions are all falling apart, and nothing will ever be the same. A part of me just wanted Tris and Four to return to Dauntless. Back to where they were happiest: jabbing needles in their necks and running through their personal fear landscapes. Three books later... *sobs*... I still want that.
#4: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Need I even say it? I mean... Peeta. District Twelve. All the sad. All the delicious sad. Tick, tick, tick... Ugh.
#3: Opal by Jennifer L. Armentrout
To this day, I will never forget how damn heartbroken I was. I'm all glassy-eyed because Daemon's yelling Katy's name. Telling her he loved her. I. Was. Heartbroken. Thanks a lot, Armentrout. You broke me.
#2: Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead
People. People. Richelle Mead is capable of some serious cliffhangers, but I will never get over this one. Never. The last line alone... "I set off, off to kill the man I loved." Really?! Slayed. Slayed! I love to hate you, Richelle. I really, really do.
#1: Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning
Let me put this into perspective... This came out in August 2009. Ended on a cliff (literally) with a main character dead, and I didn't know which one. And I'm dying. Because it's probably the hero of all anti-heroes, Jericho Z. Barrons, but it could be anyone else. I spent until JANUARY OF 2011 wondering who died. Given that amount of time passing with any other book and I would have forgotten, but no, I thought about this monthly. I was obsessed. Ask anyone.
So now you know what keeps me up at night.
On the flip side of all this, there are some readers who believe the worst about authors who decide to take this route. They feel tricked into some twisted, dark scheme cooked up by the publisher to make more money, like the cliffhanger has solidified the sale of the next book.
Just know that for me, personally, I write cliffhangers because I love them. Of course I want you to buy the next book, because I'm proud of it, and dang it, I turned San Francisco into a freaking island! Who doesn't want to see that? But more importantly, I want you to experience that racing heartbeat, and I want you to break into a delicious cold sweat, and I want you to gasp, and I want you to drop an F-bomb large enough to level an entire city block. And I want you to love to hate me.
Hey, I'm just paying it forward, people.