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Cliffhangers in YA and TV: Joy, Agony, or Both?

Who was glued to their TV screens last week, eagerly picking up where their favorite series left off? 

*raises hand* Two words: The Blacklist. Cheesy lines and improbable scenarios abound, but I’m in it for James Spader and the mysteries. Like many TV series, each episode tends to complete one smaller story arc, only to end on a cliffhanger, which makes me frantic for the next episode. And in typical dramatic TV fashion, the season one finale of Blacklist ended on a giant WHAAA….??

Cliffhangers. I can’t seem to escape them.*

Last week, I hunkered down to finish what I thought was the THRONE OF GLASS trilogy by Sarah Maas. I re-read book one, sucked down CROWN OF MIDNIGHT and raced through HEIR OF FIRE. At the 93% mark in book three, I experienced my first twinge of doubt. How was the author going to tie up the entire story in such a short time?  I dismissed the twinge and read on, but at the 99% mark, the truth proved inescapable. THRONE OF GLASS wasn’t a trilogy like I’d thought, but a five book series. And book three ended on, you guessed it—a cliffhanger.


I wanted to both curse and call the author, demanding to know HOW COULD SHE DO THIS TO ME? (Thankfully for Sarah, I didn’t have her number handy. My hounds’ ears weren't so lucky).  Several minutes later though, a strange thing happened. My initial horror morphed into glee. I might not have a resolution to the series yet, but I still had more bliss-filled hours of reading to anticipate! More Celaena and more Rowan; more Prince Dorian and more wyverns.  Suddenly, the open-ending was full of win.

I’m far from the first reader or TV watcher to have a visceral reaction a cliffhanger. Why?  I can only speak for myself.  I know that when a cliffhanger is used in lieu of resolving a story arc, I tend to feel incredibly frustrated and manipulated. All that reading, for nothing! But mine's not a one-size-fits-all reaction. I think successful cliffhangers abound. For me, they’re found in books where at least some of the existing loose ends are satisfactorily tied up by the end of the story, and the cliffhanger merely serves as a way to introduce suspense for the next installment of the over-reaching series arc. (I think the THRONE OF GLASS series does this very well).

Beyond that, I wonder how much of my knee-jerk howl at the end of a cliffhanger is due to impatience?  I’m a product of a society that prizes instant gratification: I want things, and I want them now. It’s challenging to realize that I’ve invested time and emotion into something, only to be put on hold for the ultimate pay-off. In that sense, maybe cliffhangers are good for me—a lesson in the lost art of patience and positive anticipation.

How do you feel about cliffhangers, and which series are you howling to see continued?
*(The author, Debra Driza, realizes she is surrounded by cliffhangers partly because her last book ended on one. The. AGONY.)
Debra Driza

Debra is the author of the MILA 2.0 series and a master of the fine art of procrastination.

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  1. I always feel like I'm being tricked when I read a book that ends with a cliffhanger, like the whole purpose of the novel was to set me up for the next one.

  2. I don't like total cliffhangers. However, it's okay to leave some things in question when writing a series, just not the most essential "gotta know" things.

    1. I agree with this! It's almost like cheating the reader out of the full experience/story.

  3. I think cliffhangers are good for books that are part of series but by the end of the series there should be a full ending. I suppose if it's done right it can be fine but I usually prefer complete endings. What I always do is end my novels with complete endings but leave it where it can turn into a whole different story. That's how my series started in the first place. It gives readers a chance to decide if they want more & it fuels more ideas for authors.

    S. Elle Cameron

  4. I agree with all my heart with how you put things. I mean, we tend to hate cliffhangers because we don't like to wait to know. If we had the next book right there waiting for us, we would think, boy this story is amazing! But when you add the wait...that's when the problem begins. You are right by assuming this is due to our modern society, because we are not used to waiting. In fact we hate it. If my internet takes up more than two seconds to load a page I'll most definitely get impatient and annoyed. But in a way I feel like cliffhangers do add some touch of adrenaline rush and in the end, to keep you that invested in a story is pure talent. I also think that as a commercial technique, especially with TV shows, they are goood! So yeah, I don't feel hatred towards them it's more like annoying impatience! But we sure get to enjoy the next book when it finally arrives!


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Item Reviewed: Cliffhangers in YA and TV: Joy, Agony, or Both? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Debra Driza