Hey everyone, Flobo here! Today I want to talk to you about about one of those literary devices that just seem to be timeless. The Cliffhanger!
I don’t have to tell you the importance of a cliffhanger. If you are a fan of television (or movies within a franchise), you know the reason why there’s cliffhangers is get the audience to tune back in for the next installment. You put your heroes in a predicament that is just so “large” that there’s just not enough time to solve it in one sitting. If the story is strong enough, your fans will follow you on the next adventure. The key phrase is strong enough. The obvious problem that arises is that there’s an obligation to finish the adventure or risk backlash. For example if you wrote a cliffhanger episode of a TV show and the show got canceled, or if you wrote a cliffhanger novel and the novel series goes out of print, you are more or less stuck. From a creative standpoint, your work will suffer if it seems to your readers that you stretched out plot details for the sole reason to justify a cliffhanger. It’s a cheap tactic, and a lot of second rate book series and television shows do this all the time.
The last thing you want is to be inundated from e-mails from your fans asking where the conclusion to your story is. (Or worse, fanfic!)
There is a decision you have to make as to whether a cliffhanger is worth the risk. On one hand, if you have a justified reason to provide more than usual background for your characters or setting, splitting up your book or script may play to your advantage. For example, let’s say you have a labyrinth-like thriller on your hands. The majority of your work is waist-deep in plot, but you feel that there should be more attention given to your character’s backstory, then maybe a split (or a larger tome) could come in handy. In general, mysteries and thrillers tend to be ripe for serializing. Why? Because the plot points,twists, and discoveries of clues present a clear natural break for people who aren’t even students of the writing craft to latch on to.
Conversely, straight drama pieces or comedies really should be told in one sitting. Especially considering the time between you release episodes (sometimes days, other times years) it would be harder to hold on to your audience.
This is why soap operas had become the masters of the “twist ending”. I’m sure you’ve seen the parodies. Man loves woman for forty minutes and on the last minute of an episode the woman says she doesn’t love the man in question, but her LOST TWIN SISTER DOES! DunnDunnDunn . It’s a gimmick, but since it’s melodramatic, we chuckle at its sheer absurdness.
The reason I write this post is because when I wrote a short story called “Legacy” it was more or less self-contained and all was well. When I made a second short story based on the characters called “Progeny” I ended it on something that could be considered a cliffhanger. Whew, were people divided! I was cast as a manipulator, someone that used a “trick” to hook people for the next episode, even though it wasn’t my intent (at the time). I am in the process of writing the third installment now, but only because I love the characters as opposed to “finishing the saga”.
Just some food for thought. Happy writing everyone!