Post: Attention authors—open endings and cliffhangers, not the same


Writing an ending is probably one of the biggest challenges fiction authors encounter when creating stories. Some authors prefer to write their endings before the rest of the story. Have you ever tried that? Many authors mistakenly think that open endings and cliffhanger endings are the same, when, in fact, they are quite different. Understanding the differences between them may help you determine which ending style is best for your next novel. 

Open endings and cliffhanger endings are similar in that they each leave a reader with unanswered questions or unresolved issues at the end of a book. The similarity between the two stops there. Let’s look at each ending style separately so that you can better understand their unique attributes and choose which one works best for your characters. 

Authors may want to leave an open ending in certain situations

An open ending in a fiction novel means that you are leaving specific issues unresolved and want your readers to speculate “the rest of the story.” For example, in a romance novel, two characters might come face-to-face or walk away together as the story ends. Readers are left to wonder whether they will get married. Authors using open endings are not necessarily going to produce a sequel or series. They simply leave readers with multiple possibilities that allow for conjecture regarding what might happen after the final paragraph. 

A cliffhanger ending lets readers know there is more to come

As opposed to an open ending that allows readers to “create the rest of the story” in their own minds, a cliffhanger ending is a way to say, “Stay tuned for more!” Such endings often surround a climax in the story or a specific issue that hasn’t been resolved. On the other hand, sometimes a cliffhanger focuses on an issue that readers thought was resolved, then changes everything and leaves them hanging. An example of this would be a character who was believed to be dead throughout the story showing up on a doorstep in the final scene. 

This is a cliffhanger ending that would not only shock readers but would leave them in heightened anticipation of your next book. Of course, the worst thing authors can do is use cliffhanger endings, then not write a sequel or series. This would disappoint readers and deter them from becoming loyal fans. 

Can the two endings be combined?

Authors might want to use a combination of the open ending style and a cliffhanger ending in a fiction novel. While you want to avoid overwhelming or confusing your readers, it’s okay to leave a few unanswered questions and surprise them with a sudden turn of events at the same time. Overlaying open endings and cliffhangers requires great skill. You might want to try writing each type of ending separately before incorporating both into a story.