So ever since ALL FALL DOWN (Embassy Row 1) came out a few weeks ago, I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about the massive “cliffhanger” that the book ends on.
Except … To be perfectly honest, it isn’t a cliffhanger.
A cliffhanger means that characters are in imminent peril (hanging off a cliff). I can even go with those who say a cliffhanger means that a book/movie/tv episode ends at a point of maximum suspense with the central questions of that book/film/tv episode being unanswered.
I am not opposed to cliffhangers–and I don’t see the term as an insult! But I do think that "cliffhanger" might be the most misunderstood and misused term in all of fiction. (Beaten only possibly by “Mary Sue”.)
After all, there are people who still complain that I ended the Gallagher Girls on such a “cliffhanger” because we don’t know if Zach and Cammie got married, had kids, what those kids names were and if the kids went to Gallagher or Blackthorne.
So to a lot of people, “cliffhanger” means “there is something–anything–that I as the reader do not know”.
Well, if those are your standards then, I’m sorry, probably every book you’ll ever read for the rest of your life will be a “cliffhanger”.
Where I think a lot of people get confused by the term is when the core plot line of that book is wrapped up and then the author–or storyteller–chooses to introduce something that will alter the plot lines of future stories.
So, for example:
Harry Potter has just competed in the TriWizard tournament. We know how his name got into the Goblet of Fire. We know how he survives. We know who dies. But…at the end of the book Voldermort gets a body. So we also know that the world in which Harry lives is going to be very different from now on.
Is The Goblet of Fire a cliffhanger? No. Does it end in a way that makes you eager and anxious for the next book? You bet!
But that, my friend, is not a Cliffhanger. It is a Game Changer. And I love them so, so very much.
Is the world that Grace encounters in book 2 going to be a different world? Yes. Will she have different worries, questions, and fears? Yes. But for the central question of book one: did the Scarred Man kill Grace’s mother? We have a clear, undeniable answer, and Grace is not in imminent peril. So, no. Not a cliffhanger.
I can understand why some people are confused. After all, you’d better believe I want people eager, anxious, and excited for book two. But to be technical about it, that’s because of book one’s GAME CHANGER.
I’ve been doing this for a while now, and this is what I’ve learned: to keep a series fresh, every now and then you have to change the game. I don’t want to write the same story over and over and over again.
And I am VERY excited for all of you to see what lies in store for Grace in book two.
(Oh and if you think the “cliffhanger” at the end of book one is bad? *evil laugh*)