I was writing a short story recently. It happens fairly often, so it was nothing unusual. What was unusual was that this short story was the first in a possible series of such stories. The idea was the stories would form a sort of history for a larger novel.
I finished the story, leaving a massive cliff-hanger, and let a friend read it. That friend proceeded to complain that I ALWAYS write cliff-hangers and to hurry up and write the rest of the story.
That started me thinking. Authors, editors, and publishers are always talking about the “hook”. This hook, which shall henceforth be called The Hook, is some interesting fact, sentence, paragraph, etc, which grabs your reader and holds his interest. A story without a Hook can survive, but a Hook makes the story immeasurably more likely to succeed with readers.
In a world where a minimum of effort can gain a great many readers (read minimum as “much less than necessary in the days before the internet), why can’t author’s use cliff-hangers as hooks?
A half-decent short story is more likely to be read to finish on a casual whim than a full novel. This is mostly because a short story requires a great deal less work from the reader, therefore he’s less likely to toss it aside because it’s not immediately interesting. But if that short story IS good and concludes in a cliff-hanger ending, the reader suddenly wants more.
Even if he didn’t particularly slaver over the ‘awesomeness’ of the story, the simple fact of being denied the climax of the story will often send the reader on a hunt for the conclusion.
I can think of several author’s whose series I was not thrilled with, but whose books I continued to read because I HAD to know how the rest of the story turned out.