1. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Cliffhanger

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Chinspinner, Jan 7, 2015.

    Now I understand that novels need suspense to keep people reading.

    But in popular literature this seems to have been translated into a recurring sense of imminent danger for the protagonist. At the end of each chapter some contrived sequence of events will mean that (s)he is about to get shot, captured, pushed off a cliff. Am I the only one that considers this a lazy way to write, and a tedious way to read?
     
  2. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    I wouldn't blanket it as "lazy", because I'm sure that there are stories wherein that works very well. That's not to mention that if it's actually keeping the tension taut, then it's good writing by definition and so can't properly be poopoo'd; everyone knows what happens when you blow too much air into a balloon, though.

    I don't write in chapters, so I'm probably safe from having done this, fortunately.
     
  3. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    It is a bit of a relic from the days of serials, I'd imagine. Readers would have to invest more money to find out what happened and would probably be less likely to do it for a bit of dialogue. Like everything, it has its place. But at the end of every chapter? (I'm looking at you, Dan Brown.)
     
  4. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    When a cliffhanger starts a new conflict for the following chapter, I don't see it as a problem necessarily. When the cliffhanger ends during the climax of the conflict that happened in the current chapter, I do think it can be a problem.
     
  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe it's cus I grew up first with Japanese anime and manga, as well as Chinese drama series, but it's the norm there to always end on a cliffhanger. Anime series sometimes not, depending on what kinda genre it is or the target age group, but manga always ends on cliffhangers, as does every episode in a Chinese drama.

    So when I see cliffhangers in English books - unless it comes at the end of the book - I don't really notice, to be honest.

    And if it's keeping you reading - or at least most of its readers reading - then it's doing its job, really. I don't believe every cliffhanger has to be about whether the MC's gonna die or get kidnapped though. It could be as simple as what decision is the MC going to make regarding this particular event you've been invested in, or that moment right before he confesses his love to someone. These are cliffhangers too, albiet less dramatic. I think if your cliffhangers are varied in type, you're fine.
     
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  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It doesn't have to be super obvious. It can be simply an unresolved issue at the end of the chapter. I remember Joe Abercrombie having done cliffhangers in a fun way. He picked up from where he left off in the next chapter, but I still found it really engaging, and usually they weren't too in-your-face gimmicky. It's nice when a chapter reaches a conclusion, but there also has to be something there to keep the reader interested. After all, you have to think about the flow and composition of your novel to keep your readers on board. If you don't adhere to the "rules", there's the danger of your story getting stagnant or rushed or confusing.

    What I would be worried about (learn from my mistakes ;)) is throwing too many things in the air and not concluding enough, or not having enough "hooks" to keep the story dynamic.
     
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  7. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Recent suspense and mystery fiction seems to be using this ploy more frequently. Cliffhangers at the end of chapters strike me as a sign of a (as you said) lazy author who can't sustain the story any other way. Cliffhangers at the end of books (presumably to get me to read the next one) make me abandon the series.
     
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  8. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Funnily enough, so was I.
     
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  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Depends on the book. When I was doing my Nanowrite project last year, it was very cliff-hanger-y. I wrote about three pages a day and every three pages felt like a mini chapter - the James Patterson school of mini chapters! lol. I think it worked for what I was doing - kinda sci-fi/fantasy/horror. Remember the genre writer is also trying to compete with t.v. watchers and a lot of their readers are advent t.v. watchers who are used to commercial breaks with their stay tuned moments!
     
  10. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Talking of which, I used to hate cliff hangers at the end of episodes of TV shows; but now you get a cliff-hanger at every fucking ad break in certain shows. Has ADHD become an epidemic?
     
  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Probably. I was reading about Eli Roth and he said he vomited watching Aliens and he wanted to create a movie like that - I mean how gross. But to me that sums up a lot of what's going on. It's harder to create complex emotions in a reader/viewer but it's easy to manipulate and instigate the simpler emotions - it's easy to manipulate suspense by delay, it's easy to trigger disgust, it's easy to produce cheap laughs or provoke anger. What's worse is everyone who does this gets the publicity.

    So how/why does a fashionable writer buck what works? Especially if they want to be financially successful.
     
  12. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    My pet favourite project, Biopaint—before I shelved it in order to learn the craft—had a minor cliffhanger (bumphanger? stairhanger?) at the end of every scene. As long as it isn't something blunt like a literal employment of the term, I'm not against reading or using them.

    I think the smoothest ones simply introduce a new element and leave the event or revelation for the next chapter. For instance, I'd rather Sir Sword encounter a trio of black clad knights and cut to black, instead of learning that they're hostile before I finish the chapter. In other words, I want to be wondering what this means, as opposed to how he will get out of this one. I know he's going to survive anyway, so it's hard to be curious about the latter setup (unless it's a GRR tale, in which case I'll be on seat's edge).
     
  13. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    With this I agree. It doesn't have to be a huge crisis to be resolved, but you have to read the next chapter. Laurel K. Hamilton, I think in some of her earlier Anita Blake novels did this pretty well. Sometimes the stakes were upped, or a new revelation, or the situation had changed, or violence was impending. To do it right takes talent, and isn't necessarily lazy writing.
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2015
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  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You want the reader to want to turn the page. Cliffhangers need not all be some life threatening incident. It can be something like a person uncovering a secret and the characters are now having to face the exposure. It might be the protagonist finds the gold key. It could be the river is rising and the cat is nowhere to be found.

    There is nothing wrong with this technique of ending chapters on a note of uncertainty.

    You don't have to use the technique. You don't need to use it to end every scene/chapter. I think one should look at cliffhangers as one more tool in the arsenal. Just as you learn the technique of drawing a reader into a scene, or the technique of making your character 3 dimensional, it's a tool. It may be the right or wrong tool for your story or the chapter, but I see no reason to throw out any of my tools.
     
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  15. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That's because TV shows for the most part involve formula script writing.
     
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