The Cliffhanger Conundrum

Two days ago, I was pottering around Facebook when I came across a status by Hugh Howey.

Saw Catching Fire yesterday. Love these films, but that felt like half of one. I was waiting on some resolution . . . and then . . . credits.
So glad I don’t resort to cliffhangers like that!

I was interested, to say the least. I have been very impressed with the Hunger Games trilogy, both as a book and as a film series. There are elements that differ in the translation between mediums, but the parts they have changed have been due to trying to alter from a first person narrative. The parts that would be explained by Katniss in the books are explained via Gamemakers scenes and clips between President Snow and the Head Gamemaker of the time. Personally, and this has little to do with the actual matter at hand, I thought they did a wonderful job.

I can completely see Hugh’s point. There is little concrete resolution in the Catching Fire film. This is actually true of the book too. While The Hunger Games came to a reasonable conclusion, Katniss returning to District 12 with Peeta after winning the games, Catching Fire does not. We are left with a lot of questions, and to use the simplest term… is a cliffhanger.

However, the problem with this series, specifically in the end of Catching Fire and the beginning of Mockingjay, there really was no place to end it with a large amount of resolution. There isn’t a single spot where all plots from Catching Fire have ended, and new plots from Mockingjay have not yet begun. In fact, I think Suzanne Collins does a wonderful job of layering plots very much like a round song, those ones where you get to the end of the first line then someone else joins in.

On a side note, my favourite round song is ‘Will I?’ from Rent. It’s a beautiful and very powerful song.

My point is, there isn’t always a good place where every plot in a book has been resolved. A series isn’t always a series of stand alone books that focus around the same characters. There are plots that last for the whole series, there are single book plots, and there is everything in between.

So, the question becomes: Which place is the lesser evil? When have I concluded the most plots and not started others?

I had the exact same problem with Dead and Buryd as Suzanne Collins had with Catching Fire. I had a single book plot, similarly like each of the Harry Potter books, but each individual plot combines to create the full series. Parts of plots from the first book set up elements of the second. I also had a number of plots which span multiple books. Some of these are big plots, and some are small. So, when you have lots of plots, all beginning and ending at different times within a series, where do you cut it off?

Let’s take my crudely drawn diagram as an example of a three book series. The red line is the main arc of the series. The blue are the main plots of each individual book, and the green are all the little plots that happen in amongst the main action. These might be love interests, or spies that need to be found out, for example.

The double black lines indicate the suggested end of each book. Not all plots are resolved where these lines occur, leaving cliffhangers. However, these are still the most beneficial places to end the book, as the main individual book plot, and the highest amount of smaller plots have ended.

Yes, there will sometimes be cliffhangers, I have a cliffhanger in my first book myself, but sometimes, there is very little to be done to eradicate this completely.

Sometimes, cliffhangers are not done to annoy people, or to keep them hankering for the next edition, it simply is because it’s the lesser of two evils.

About chelecooke

Self-Published author of the Out of Orbit series and the Teeth series. UCL Residence Assistant, obsessive cross stitcher, avid reader and TV show watcher.
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