25th November 2020
5 Tips on Writing a Cliffhanger Ending for Your Novel
A “cliffhanger” ending is one that ends a story on a tense, unresolved moment (such as leaving a character dangling from a literal cliff).
But how can you write a cliffhanger ending for your novel that will leave readers gripped? We have a few tips to share:
- Think about whether your story really needs a cliffhanger ending.
- Think about what type of cliffhanger is best for your story.
- Make sure to resolve the main conflict driving the narrative.
- Set up your cliffhanger throughout the rest of the narrative.
- Hint at the future, but don’t get bogged down in exposition.
Below, we look at what you can do in more detail.
1. Is a Cliffhanger the Best End to Your Story?
Not every tale has to end on a moment of tension, so a cliffhanger ending isn’t always the best solution. Ask yourself:
- What do other books in your genre do? Are cliffhanger endings common?
- How else could I end the story? Would it feel more natural to do so?
- What would a cliffhanger ending leave unresolved?
If you’re using a cliffhanger as a gimmick, you risk annoying your readers. And you should never end on a cliffhanger just because you don’t know how else to end your story! Only do it if it fits with the story you’re telling.
2. Think About the Type of Cliffhanger to Use
A cliffhanger ending can take many forms. Common types include:
- Leaving the story in a perilous situation. Who can forget the ending of The Italian Job, with the bus dangling over the cliff edge?
- Creating ambiguity about what happens next, such as in Fight Club, where the narrator discovers he hasn’t escaped his situation after all.
- A character revelation that contradicts something we thought we knew. Maybe someone we thought was a good guy was a baddie all along!
All these will create a situation where the reader wants to know more, but make sure to pick an ending that will work with the rest of your story.
3. Your Story Must Be Complete
Even if you end on a cliffhanger, your novel still needs to feel finished. Simply stopping before the grand finale where the hero confronts the villain won’t work: it will feel incomplete, like you’re just teasing the reader.
Instead, focus on resolving the main conflict (i.e., the thing that has driven the narrative forward) in your story first. After that, you can introduce the cliffhanger ending to set up the next story or create a sense of ambiguity.
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4. Set Up Your Cliffhanger Ending
While a cliffhanger ending may involve a twist, it shouldn’t come completely out of the blue. Rather, you should plant the seeds throughout your story.
For instance, if your story ends on the protagonist discovering a shocking piece of information, you’ll want to leave clues for the reader earlier on.
This might be a passing comment made by a minor character, or a warning that the protagonist ignored to continue their quest. But it should be something seemingly innocuous that takes on a new meaning when its significance is finally revealed, leading to your cliffhanger ending.
5. Hint at the Future
Finally, if you’re planning a sequel to your novel, give some hints about where the story might go next. For instance, imagine your novel ends on the protagonist victorious, only to discover the antagonist was just an agent of an international spy ring! You could end there, with your lead character shocked at their discovery, leaving the rest ambiguous.
But you could also hint at what might come next. Maybe the protagonist swears revenge. Maybe they realize they need to go on the run. Or maybe they discover a conspiracy and set out to reveal it to the world.
You won’t want to overdo this – nobody likes a massive, suspense-destroying infodump at the end of a story. But hinting at the future is a great way to engage the reader’s imagination and set up your next novel!
Expert Novel Proofreading and Editing
If you are writing a novel, whether or not it has a cliffhanger ending, we have expert editors ready to help with the proofreading.
You can even try our services for free and see the results before you pay a penny! Just get in touch today and let us know how we can help.
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