Creating the Cliffhanger Ending

I excel at cliffhangers, or so I thought. I have a tendency to plot fiction using cliffhangers as chapter endings.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, a cliffhanger leaves the reader in suspense. As a chapter ending, it leaves the reader wondering what will happen next. Whose behind the door? What was that noise?

For this to work, you need to create tension. The reader needs to believe the character is at risk. But I just watched Shannon Thompson’s conference session, “How to Write a Series.” Among the topics she discusses are the various ways to end your book, including the cliffhanger ending.

I just finished reading Murder at the Mansion by Sheila Connolly. In short, Kate Hamilton is contacted by a high school friend.  Her home town is in trouble and the town council thinks that Kate has what it will take to save it by bringing in much needed tourist dollars.  Everything hinges on the historic mansion built after the Civil War by Henry Barton.

Connolly creates a top notch cliffhanger in the ending of this, the first book in her series. First of all, in Murder at the Mansion, we learn who killed the victim and why.  Let’s just say that if you are mean-spirited and spend your time mocking other people, don’t turn your back on them.  Because this is a murder mystery, the title is a dead giveaway. The main plot is the murder. That is resolved.

But the subplots?  That is where the cliffhanger element comes into play because we don’t find the answer to any of the subplots. Those are going to carry into other books.  We don’t know if Kate and her friends will manage to save the town.  Kate still doesn’t know much about Henry Barton who built the mansion.  And there’s also a romance subplot.  Will Kate and the hunky historian develop a relationship?  Readers who want the answers to these questions will come back for books 2 and 3.   

I’ve never written a book with a cliffhanger ending. I guess if I’m going to excel at cliffhangers, I’m going to have to do it and do it well!

–SueBE