by Alan Orloff
Author of Killer Routine
Let’s talk about cliffhangers. You know, those teasing, tantalizing endings of scenes, chapters, books, TV shows, and movies that leave something—something vitally important—up in the air. Love ’em or hate ’em, they are an oft-used technique of storytelling.
Cliffhangers probably started back with the cave people. “Hey, Og. Your cave wall painting don’t show what finally happen in hunter versus mastodon fight.” “Well, Grog, you have to come back next month to see how it turn out.”
I remember cliffhangers from my youth (no, I never did any cave drawings). On the Batman TV show, the part I episodes would always end with Batman and Robin in some dire predicament— locked in an airless chamber or tied down on a conveyor belt heading for a buzz saw. Then the deep-voiced announcer would implore us to come back next week, “same bat time, same bat station.” I always used to tease my little brother that this time (this time, for real!), Batman and Robin would not survive (sorry, bro!).
Then there was the famous Dallas episode that had the whole country asking, "Who shot JR?" (Larry Hagman even graced the cover of Time.) You can bet I tuned in the following season to find out! (And I was sure bummed it was that pretty little Kristin—I kind of liked her.)
What about cliffhangers in novels? I’ll admit, I’m a proponent of using cliffhanger chapter endings. I don’t want my readers to close the book at the end of a chapter; I want them to keep turning pages as fast as their fingers can. Of course, cliffhangers have to be used judiciously. I wouldn’t want to be accused of being too manipulative. (Even if my kids say otherwise!)
However, I draw the line at the end-of-book cliffhanger. It’s one thing to compel a reader to turn the pages of a book in front of him or her. In my opinion, though, it’s something else entirely to “force” a reader to acquire another book to find out what’s going to happen. One recent example springs to mind. For the record, I’m a huge fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. But in 61 Hours, he ends the book with Reacher in big trouble, and you have to wait until the next book to find out what transpires. I would have been happier if the book were titled 62 Hours, and the situation was resolved in the end. I haven’t read the next book in the series yet, Worth Dying For, (so no spoilers, please), but I’m guessing by the time I do, the suspense I felt at the time will have waned considerably.
What do you think, dear blog reader? Are you a fan of chapter cliffhangers? How about novel-ending ones?
Thanks for inviting me to guest blog, Daughters—it was a pleasure!
The first book in Alan Orloff’s Last Laff Mystery series, Killer Routine, is now available, at your favorite booksellers. His debut mystery, Diamonds for the Dead, came out last April and was a finalist for the Best First Novel Agatha Award. For more information about Alan and his books, please visit www.alanorloff.com.