Whenever I finish a book, it falls into one of three categories: fantastic, okay, or bang my head repeatedly against the wall awful. Most books fall into the “okay” category. Finding a fantastic book, or a terrible one, doesn’t happen all that often. That’s what makes them so memorable.
I recently read two books that fell into those rare categories. That’s not to say that one was terrible and the other nearly perfect, but the endings certainly fell into those categories. And one interesting aspect of those books was that both happened to be the first book in a series.
That fact, and the endings of both books, made me think about how I would end the first book in a series. I really, really liked the way one of the books ended. It gave me closure by resolving one part of the plot while leaving plenty of avenues open to be explored in book two.
The other book, however, frustrated me at the end. Absolutely nothing was resolved. I pretty much expected to read Check out book two to find out what happens next! I felt cheated. Like the author had built up the story, throwing one thing after another at the protagonist, only to write themselves into a hole that they didn’t have to pull the character out of until book two. It gave me absolutely no sense of closure.
I understand the allure of using a cliffhanger. It can force readers to buy the next book in order to find out what happens next. But it’s important to note that the author isn’t encouraging the reader to buy the next book. They’re forced to pick up the next book if they want to find out what happens next.
Sure some readers might like having a cliffhanger. They might be enthralled by the characters and want to see what happens in the next part of the saga. Or maybe they love how the author tells the story. But there will be those readers—like me—who will hate it and won’t even borrow the next book from the public library.
So I’ve come to a conclusion about how I would end the first book in a series. I’d make sure the readers felt like the last page really was the last page and not wonder if they’re copy of the book was missing another fifty pages. There would be a resolution of at least on plot point, maybe more. And there would be a reason for the reader to pick up the next book. It might be a larger part of the story that I didn’t resolve or just another adventure that would further challenge and develop the characters.
How do you feel about cliff hangers at the end of books? Has the ending of the first book ever turned you off reading the second book?