We went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug yesterday. Martin Freeman brought his quirky, endearing style as Bilbo, Benedict Cumberbatch was silkily menacing as Smaug, and Ian McClellan’s Gandalf finally got to use some magic. (I never have been able to figure out why Gandalf would rather sword-fight an enemy than blast him to kingdom come with a nicely timed burst of magic. I mean, really?)
Others have already written about how far astray the movie has wandered from the book, and the overlong video-game action sequences. But if only the director had–
Okay, pretend this post ends right now. Just ends. Boom. Like in the movie, where Bilbo looks out and says, “What have we done?” and the screen goes black. Are you frustrated? Wondering what the heck I was going to say? Well, as a reader, I am. Because I’ve just run into one of my pet peeves: the cliffhanger ending.
Now, cliffhangers have a long tradition in both written works and visual– film and TV. “Tune in next week to see what happens to our heroine!” My appetite is whet and I’m anxious to read/see the next installment. Hey, it’s only a week away. I can wait.
Now let’s talk about movies or books, where the payoff won’t come for months, if not a year or more. When a movie has a cliffhanger, I’m not thrilled, but I can live with it. I’ve invested only two or three hours of my time. But when it’s a book? I’ve just spent 6 or 8 hours or a couple of days or whatever reading it. Do not reward my dedication with a cliffhanger ending.
Authors, let me tell you. I will not be happy. I will not buy your next book. If the reviews tell me a book has a cliffhanger ending, I won’t buy it to start with. Call me old fashioned, but besides being annoyed and frustrated, I feel cheated. I feel conned. I spent my money and time on your book and you didn’t deliver a complete story that actually has an ending. You clearly don’t trust me to love your writing, your characters and the world they inhabit, and the only way you can convince me to return is with a cheap trick. Don’t. Do. It.
Should you leave dangling loose ends? Go for it. Loose ends are a great launch for a new story and make the book I’ve just read feel more realistic. Can you lay the foundation for the next book? Absolutely. That’s intriguing. But please, please. Finish the story. Resolve the conflicts. Fix the problems. You can still have a series, but don’t leave me stranded at the end of the book–
Or totally lost if I pick one up out of order. Then I’ll really be frustrated.