The July WriYe blog topic is “Feelings on cliffhangers? Best cliffhanger you have written” and two thoughts immediately spring to mind.
- I love cliffhangers
- Writing myself into a corner sucks and is to be avoided at all costs
I remember reading Joseph Mallozzi’s blog (he was a Stargate writer) as I think I found the post through googling about the cliffhanger at the end of season 2 of Stargate Universe. Basically his comment boiled down to ”whatever you think is valid because we never thought about it” – they had written one hell of a cliffhanger and they hadn’t decided how they would resolve it. The reason being ”we hadn’t got paid for season 3, so not doing work for free” which is a reasonable point but as a writer myself I was (and am still!) horrified.
The first book I indie published was supposed to be the first in a series of crime/sci-fi novels. I had got a series arc, and notes on the main plots of each of the 7 books. I had written the first draft of the second book before I hit publish on Book One and I was feeling good about it.
Then I tried to revise Book Two.
Oh boy. I couldn’t make it work. It didn’t pass the logic test. I had established these concepts (not quite cliffhangers but for the sake of my point close enough) and they were now set in stone as I had published. I threw Book Two out and tried to start again but that didn’t work either. In the end I was grateful nobody much had read Book One as I just quietly took it down and stuck the entire series in the archive.
Cliffhangers cause suspense
This is a big reason why I love them – in theory they make people want to come back for more so they can learn how the heroes get out of the situation they are in for example.
BUT (and it’s a big but) cliffhangers for the sake of cliffhangers are something people get easily tired of and then dislike. I’m going to use Alias as an example here. Every episode ended with a ”oh no it’s going to be baaaaad!” and then the situation was resolved in the first few minutes of the next episode. It wasn’t earned suspense, it was manufactured purely for that ”ahhhh I need to watch the next episode” and it was like that ALL THE TIME. I got fed up with it and stopped caring. I got fatigued I guess with it all.
A good cliffhanger (in my opinion) is where you have a series, and you have these dangling plot threads. It’s not a temporary problem that will be dealt with in the opening act of the next instalment, it’s a real question that will take time to resolve. It’s not a manufactured cliffhanger, it’s part of the plot. A good cliffhanger is remaining questions, not easily dealt with temporary doom, at least in my opinion.
Know (and test!!) where you are landing
Learn from my mistakes. I totally get the ”I do what I get paid for and nothing else” argument but I have a healthy fear of that personally. I would suggest strongly that writing a cliffhanger without knowing the resolution is incredibly dangerous. Don’t just think you know how it resolves either, be sure the solution has been stress-tested. That ”oh shit” and then ”I can’t fix it” is a horrible, horrible feeling.
With that in mind I can’t actually think of the ’best cliffhanger I have written’ as I suppose I don’t feel like I’ve had a really successful writing project yet. So I’m going to say “watch this space” as an answer to that.