How to Tell the difference between a cliffhanger & non-ending in books
Most writers AND readers believe that a cliffhanger and non-ending in books are synonymous with each other, but just like dark-haired love interests & villains-they’re similar but not the same.
Yes, a Cliffhanger & non-ending are two different things.
Firstly, why is this important? Who the hell cares, you ask? I have this savior complex for all those poor readers out there missing out on AMAZING books because a reviewer said the book has a cliffhanger and what that reader then heard is the book has a “non-ending” and never reads that book. And every time a reader misses out on a good book, a small piece of their soul dies a little.
So, what’s the differences between a cliffhanger and non-ending? Let’s get into it. (Writers, don't forget to listen up)
To begin, a cliffhanger occurs at the very end of a book (or movie) that establishes NEW yet RELATED conflict to the main storyline, characters, subplots, etc. The key differences here is NEW. What this is doing is allowing the reader to get a glimpse of what’s coming in the next book. Typically this happens with series, although if the author is particularly wicked, they could end a standalone this way, as well and leave the reader with an “oh shit!” moment. Either way, the main story goal and conflict has been RESOLVED, and the cliffhanger is establishing new conflict, which is the main difference between a cliffhanger and a non-ending.
Non-endings are just that...
Secondly, a non-ending is completely different from a cliffhanger. Like we discussed in a cliffhanger, the main conflict and story goal is resolved and completed in whatever capacity that happens. In a non-ending, that doesn’t happen. Whatever the primary goals of the characters and the plotline they weave through does not get its ending-let alone a happy one. Typically, the book stops mid-climax, right before the readers are expecting the conclusion to the entire book’s conflict. However, the book simply ends. Hence, there’s no resolution to the primary conflict of the book and therefore it’s a non-ending.
It's valid to be upset, but are readers like us upset over the wrong thing?
what if you're missing out on an AMAZING book because you think it's a non-ending but it's really a cliffhanger
Furthermore, perhaps I’m sick of cliffhangers getting such a bad rap. They’re unfairly hated on when seven times outta ten, a reader is complaining about a nonexistent or false ending. What if you’re a hater of “cliffhangers” and you see a review of a book that ends on a cliffhanger? So you say NOPE! F-that business. In addition, you believe that book ends in a non-ending, when in reality you’re probably more than okay with my version of cliffhanger and you just missed out on a really damn good book. Sad.
There's nuances with the cliffhanger...
Thirdly, Google defines cliffhanger as: “an ending that leaves readers in suspense”. This can technically go both ways, but I believe it’s telling us that my explanation is correct. That IS what a real cliffhanger does, (admittedly so does an non-ending) but a good cliffhanger is SUPPOSED to leave readers in suspense, that’s the point. That suspense sets up the next book, keeps readers excited through the publishing process, or to buy the next book. However, to me, a good cliffhanger is masochistic gold. It gets me to feel something, and isn’t that what we want as readers?
In addition, I think we need to be less harsh on authors when it comes to cliffhangers. If you hate them still as I explain them-that’s your right to read what you enjoy. However, if my explanation has changed your opinions, I implore you to share this blog post, explain the differences to your book buddies, clarify with the author if their book is indeed a real cliffhanger, or a non-ending. It could make a difference and it could mean you find your next favorite book and next favorite author. But beware, most authors and readers do not follow my logic and you can inadvertently find cliffhangers in place of non-endings and vice versa.
Lastly, if you want to dip your toes into a safe cliffhanger that’s exactly like I described, I recommend you read The Mark of Chaos and Creation, a YA Scifi-Fantasy novel with a metaphysical twist you won’t see coming and a SAFE cliffhanger that will have you gasping but also gives you the ending you need to feel satisfied. It’s got a 4.8 rating on Amazon as of posting this blog post. You can also read the first two chapters for free here.