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September 25, 2013

Cindy Saunders: The Ultimate Cliffhanger

(or what the heck happens next?)

Some authors prefer not to, but I love reading the reviews of my new novel, Double Star.  I view every critique as a learning experience and appreciate the readers input. With that said, I’ve noticed a few criticisms with regards to how Double Star ends.  Some readers feel cheated (and maybe rightfully so) because I’ve left them hanging with unanswered questions. One reviewer wrote: “I hate it when I get to the end of the book, only to find that the story is not complete... Usually when novels come out in multiple volumes, each story within the series tends to stand well on its own. I felt as if I was dropped off the same cliff the main character Ally got dropped off of, and left in the twilight zone.” Mmmm...

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of a cliffhanger: “A cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in fiction, which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction. A cliffhanger is hoped to ensure the audience will return to see how the characters resolve the dilemma.”

I guess there are various schools of thought on what makes a good (versus a bad) cliffhanger. Think about it (for those of you old enough to remember!) ... What would have happened if Gilligan and his crew got off the island or if the Robinsons (Lost in Space) found their way back to mother earth?  The story would be over. I know, deep inside, I never wanted them to get home.  I remember the first time I watched the Wizard of Oz. I was so disappointed when Dorothy woke up because I loved the fantasy world of Oz.  The Dark Tower series by Stephen King (one of my all time favorites) took 22 years to write.  The first book was published in 1982. The seventh and final book was finally published in 2004!  I waited years between books and honestly, when I read the last one, I felt worse because it ended!

Buy Double Star at Amazon

The first version of Double Star was almost 203,000 words. I attempted to go the traditional publishing route, sent out my queries and received many rejections. One agent was actually kind enough to write a personal note and explained that a 203,000 word novel was much too long for an unpublished author trying to break into the crowded YA genre. Maximum word count needed to be 85,000-90,000 words. I was devastated but went back to work cutting the original manuscript.  Granted, there was quite a bit that just needed to go. (I learned a lot during that process!) But I refused to sacrifice my character development and plot line to satisfy word count. I knew **spoiler alert** there was no way Ally was going to find her way home in Book I.  There was too much story to tell so I was faced with a really tough decision. Where to end the first book? I tried to resolve open issues as best I could without creating more questions ... in hindsight, maybe I should have ignored the word count entirely but I was trying to follow the rules. If you know me, it’s not something I normally do!  

What I’d like readers to know is that I didn’t create a cliffhanger solely for the purpose of enticing them to read the next book. It was done out of necessity.  If anyone feels cheated, I am truly sorry but I promise any questions will be answered in Book II. One website I found said, “The best science fiction and fantasy television hooks you with endless suspense... including hair-raising cliffhangers. But only the greatest cliffhangers can make you throw your remote at the screen, and keep you wondering for weeks.”  Although this refers to television, I’m hoping the same applies to books!

So what do you think?  What makes a great cliffhanger?  What is the best or worst cliffhanger you’ve ever read?

About the Author

Cindy Saunders was born in Lowell, MA. She moved to RI almost twenty-five years ago and now considers the Ocean State her home. She graduated from Bryant College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance. When she’s not reading, writing, spending time with her two teenage children (how did that happen?) or working, Cindy tracks down one of her favorite local bands and enjoys a glass of wine. She completed her first novel, Double Star, a YA fantasy, in October 2012 and is currently working on the second book in the series. Double Star is her first novel.
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  1. Thanks so much for the post, Donna!

  2. Terrific post! I loved Double Star and I actually like and understand the need to have a story continue. Now I will admit that I was a little disappointed that I couldn't rush right over and buy book 2 but you can bet that as soon as it is available I will be first in line to snatch it up. Great job Cindy and awesome feature Donna.

  3. Here's my take on book series. I firmly believe series are awesome and I love them, but they have to be done right. I haven't read your book so I cannot speak specifically to whether or not I feel you have done it correctly. The right way to right a book series is to have a major plot line that runs through the entire series and remains unresolved until the final book. However, you MUST also have a minor plot line for each individual book in the series that can be resolved in that book so that your readers get a sense of resolution at the end of that book, while still having a need to read on to the next book because of the major plot line. If series writers don't follow this rule and I feel cheated at the end of the first book (which has happened to me many times) I will never, ever read the rest of the series.