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The Dos and Don'ts of Writing Cliffhangers

Every writer has a love-hate relationship with cliffhangers. I personally hate reading them, but love writing them. However, every now and then, there comes a time where I read a book that ends with a cliffhanger and I can’t even get mad because it’s so well-written.

What makes that perfect cliffhanger? Most importantly, how does one craft a cliffhanger that won’t make readers want to throw the book out the window afterwards? Here are four rules of thumb that you might want to keep in mind if you're thinking about ending your book on a cliffhanger.

1.) DO give a little hint on what may happen next for your characters. We need a proper ending, and you can have a proper ending even with a cliffhanger. You just have to make sure to leave at least a couple little hints of how it might be resolved. (Ex. Avengers: Infinity War. How’s that for a cliffhanger ending?) If you end things too abruptly, your readers won't feel satisfied. (I know, of course you want to leave them wanting more, but they still need to be satisfied with this book if you want them to come back for the next one.)

2.) DON’T kill off a major character on the very last page of the book. Killing major characters off near the end of a book is OK. Right on the very last page? In most cases (but not all!), not the best idea. Similar to the first point, ending a book right there runs the risk of feeling way too abrupt for your readers to process. In order for something as major as a main character death to have the emotional impact it should, your reader (and your other characters!) need a second to see and feel the fallout.

3.) DO hint at the cliffhanger beforehand. It could be a simple sentence such as, “Don’t forget, the bombs are being dropped on Friday at 8 a.m. sharp.” Maybe the protagonists forget this, and are caught in this unfortunate location at the end of the book. Obviously, you may want to pick something a bit less morbid than a bomb dropping, but the choice is yours!

4.) DON’T drop a bomb (see what I did there?) on your readers. The cliffhanger shouldn’t just come out of nowhere. If it does, it may come off as sloppy to your readers or come off as a rush to finish your novel. There’s nothing worse than everything looking like it’s going to work out only for it to crash on the last page and end with no explanation.

How do you feel about cliffhangers? Love them or hate them? Let us know in the comments below!

Author spotlight

Rose E.F.

Intern at Swoon. Hopeful cultural anthropology and history major. Part-time writer and professional bowler. Full-time Nasty Woman.

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