Let it be known, right from the very beginning of this post, that my future published books will always have a cliffhanger. If they’re a standalone, obviously they won’t, but if it’s a duology, the cliffhanger is coming in the first book, and if it’s a trilogy, the cliffhanger is coming in the second book. I freaking love cliffhangers so much, and they’re such an excellent tool when it comes to writing, not just for the story, but for keeping your readers hooked.
I know a lot of people probably just rolled their eyes at me because menina! We’re not supposed to write for anyone but ourselves! These are our stories, and we’ll only put a cliffhanger in if it fits the story! But I’ve got a whole lot of tudo bem, have fun with that in response because sim, we are writing stories for ourselves, and the stories that we eventually publish should come straight from our hearts, but if we’re publishing them, we’re also writing them for our readers, and we have to remember them while writing.
Not gonna lie, the cliffhanger at the end of the first Saints duology gives me major hell yeah vibes. I can’t wait to hear readers absolutely shrieking at the ending. It’s one of those where no one is safe, and you don’t know if anyone’s alive by the end, but you’re pretty sure at least two people are dead, and it’s just utter chaos. The same thing goes for the second book in sister witches. It’s a little more safe in that one, but everything that the entire book was building up to has just been cracked wide open, and you leave the second sister witches not really sure if everyone’s going to make it through.
And no matter who you’re writing for, cliffhangers make for really exciting and fun storytelling. I’ll never forget the comment one of my CPs left me in the second sister witches, “You know, it just occurred to me that not a whole lot had happened yet, and there’s only three chapters left, and now I’m preemptively mad at you.” Or seeing them realize, halfway through the last chapter, that there’s absolutely no way everything is going to be wrapped up in time. And damn if that isn’t also my favorite thing while reading.
I get such masochistic joy out of being about twenty pages from the end of a book and going oh shit. You just know when there’s a cliffhanger coming because too much still has to happen, and there’s too little book left, and man, but that’s the good stuff. Chaos is about to ensue, and characters are going to be in trouble, and anything is possible. I love when an author takes the story and just tips it on its head.
The more I think about it, the more I think cliffhangers are what really make series good. There’s got to be some reason for why you’re extending past a first book, and if you’re not defeating a villain in the first book, what are you doing? I loved the finale for The Age of Darkness for Katy Rose Pool, but I’ll be the first to admit that the ending of the third book was a little much. The villains evade the MCs something like three or four times, and it starts to feel repetitive pretty quickly. Story-wise, it made a lot of sense why Pool did it, but it was also pretty loosely held together, and that’s where cliffhangers come in handy. (The cliffhanger for the second book of Pool’s trilogy is insane.)
In the first sister witches, the Big Bad is defeated at the end because that’s the purpose of the first book. We’re introduced to our characters, get to know the lay of the land, and fight a single conflict while the larger conflict is slowly brewing in the background. If I’d wanted sister witches to be a standalone, two major things would have had to happen: a) Theodore, the demon, could not have been bound to his father, and b) Wren, the villain, would have needed a much larger presence. Wren isn’t the Big Bad of the series, though, just the first book, and once we’ve figured out that first conflict that cracks open the world a little, it’s time to actually dig in.
At the end of the first sister witches, the real villain comes into play. Theodore goes toe-to-toe with his dad in a do it you won’t moment of false bravado, and it lays the playing field for what’s coming next. But I don’t want his father defeated in the second book because that’s not the purpose of it. The purpose of the second book is world expansion, the coming together of separate covens, and building a community of badass women that will always lift each other up. But how are we supposed to get from Theodore’s father showing up at the end of the first book to defeating him in the third book?
I won’t lie, the second sister witches is slow, and it still needs a lot of work, but the ending? You know that’s when his father comes topside for real and shakes everything up so bad that the third book promises to be wild. The cliffhanger at the end of the second book is necessary because otherwise? It’s a duology. The entire purpose of the second book gets condensed into about a third of the book, and there’s a ton of action that happens way too fast and feels like we’re on a freight train. Sister witches needs to be a trilogy, no matter how much I love duologies more, and the cliffhanger is what takes the larger plot of a truly chaotic villain and appropriately stretches it over three books.
The same can be said about duologies, too, though. You need a reason to stretch a story out over more than one book, and the way to tie those together is through a cliffhanger. At the end of researcher & librarian, it feels like everything has come to an end. Freddie has done the big, bold thing he set out to do, and no one died along the way, and everyone seems like they’re happy, right? But there’s been an undercurrent throughout the first book, a reminder that they aren’t safe while Freddie’s father is still out there, and the only way to end the first book is by finally introducing the danger that Freddie’s father will bring into the story.
Otherwise, what’s the point of a second book? Other than me desperately wanting to continue hanging out with those characters, there isn’t. Either I’m creating a story arc that can stretch over several books with big events that hook it in place, or I’m writing a PWP fanfic.
And you need that hook. If you want to keep your readers reading, you need to continue to hook them. I know that people get so stressed out about first lines, and I’m definitely one of those, but it’s for a good reason. Often times, a kickass first line will be the deciding factor on whether or not someone picks up your book. A compelling cast of characters will tell a reader if they want to devote their time to something. A cliffhanger will keep them hooked into your series and come back for more. And I know it sounds like we’re just here to sell, but if you’re looking to publish, you’re looking to sell, and the way to make your readers come back again for more story is to promise them that they’re not going to regret it through a mad, wild, jaw-dropping cliffhanger.
I recognize that there’s a whole other side to this argument of when a cliffhanger makes sense and when it’s just for the shock factor, but that’s a conversation for another time, and I’m just here to flail about my love for good cliffhangers today.