A cliffhanger is a storytelling technique where a scene or episode ends at a dramatic moment, leaving the audience in suspense about what will happen next. The term “cliffhanger” comes from the idea of a protagonist hanging from a cliff, with the audience wondering whether they will survive or fall to their death. Cliffhangers can be used in a variety of media, including books, movies, TV shows, and even video games. They can occur at the end of a chapter, scene, or episode, or even midway through a story.
What is CLIFFHANGER — definition and meaning in simple words.
In simple terms, a cliffhanger is a type of ending that is unsettling: instead of resolving the conflict at the end of the story, the author leaves the reader in suspense without answering many questions.
- A cliffhanger is when a story or storyline ends abruptly or when there is a major plot twist that remains unresolved. It’s a technique used to create suspense, but most importantly, it leaves unanswered questions that make the reader or viewer want to come back to find out what happens.
- The cliffhanger is a particularly popular and widely used technique in television, whose success depends largely on the audience returning to watch each week with episodes to be continued.
- A cliffhanger ends an act, episode, or even an entire season when some or all of the main characters are exposed to some kind of danger, and the audience is forced to wait for the outcome. The title “To be continued” is often used here. Usually, the longer the viewer is forced to wait, the greater the danger.
The origin of the term “cliffhanger”.
The word comes from the idea of “hanging off a cliff” (this is a literal translation of the term): where the future of the character and the plot of the story leaves readers or viewers “on the edge” of knowledge.
In the middle of the 19th century, a genre of literature intended for a predominantly adolescent male audience became very popular. In the United States, these stories were called “penny dreadfuls,” and in England, “nightmare penny dreadfuls.” Many of these literary works were written in the form of serials, and readers received only one or two chapters in each new issue. To keep readers interested in the melodramatic storylines, the authors often used a plot device that later became known as the “Cliffhanger”.
The cliffhanger ending began with some heroic characters literally hanging off a cliff. Sometimes the hero clung to the edge of the cliff or grabbed a tree root, branch, or stone. The point of an exciting event was to leave the character in a dangerous predicament until the next chapter comes out. Will the hero fall to his death? Will he be saved at the last moment? Will they turn out to be a villain? All of these possible outcomes will arouse the reader’s interest and almost certainly guarantee the purchase of the next novel for a dime.
The cliffhanger, as a plot device that creates intrigue, eventually found its place in the world of silent cinema. Series such as The Perils of Pauline usually feature heroes or heroines trapped in seemingly inevitable situations. Many popular Western series have used variations of the cliffhanger to create intrigue.
Serialized TV shows also use cliffhangers to keep viewers engaged on a weekly basis. If a show’s storyline consists of two parts, the first episode usually ends with a cliffhanger. Without some kind of tense, unresolved ending, viewers may not feel the need to watch the second part. If one of the show’s regular cast members is in danger, viewers often feel a strong need to see the storyline resolve in the next episode.
Examples of cliffhangers in literature:
- One of the most famous cliffhangers in literature occurs in “The Empire Strikes Back” by George Lucas. The book ends with the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, leaving readers eager to find out how this will affect the story and the characters.
- In the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling, each book ends with a cliffhanger that sets up the next installment. For example, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” ends with the return of Lord Voldemort, setting the stage for the final three books in the series.
- Another classic example of a cliffhanger in literature is found in “The Fellowship of the Ring” by J.R.R. Tolkien. The book ends with Frodo and Sam entering the dark and dangerous Mines of Moria, leaving readers wondering whether they will survive and complete their mission.
Examples of cliffhangers in movies:
- The Marvel Cinematic Universe is known for its use of cliffhangers to keep audiences invested in the story. In “Avengers: Infinity War,” the movie ends with the villain Thanos achieving his goal of collecting all the Infinity Stones and snapping his fingers to wipe out half of all life in the universe. The cliffhanger leaves audiences wondering how the remaining heroes will defeat Thanos and reverse the damage he has caused.
- The first “Matrix” movie ends with Neo declaring that he is “The One” and flying away, leaving viewers eager to see how he will use his newfound power in the sequels.
- In the “Star Wars” franchise, “The Force Awakens” ends with Rey handing Luke Skywalker his lightsaber, leaving audiences wondering how he will react and what role he will play in the next movie.
Examples of cliffhangers in TV shows:
- “Game of Thrones” is known for its use of cliffhangers, particularly in its season finales. One of the most memorable cliffhangers occurs in season five, when Jon Snow is betrayed and left for dead by his fellow Night’s Watchmen. The episode ends with Jon lying in the snow, leaving viewers wondering whether he will survive and what his future will be.
- In the TV show “Lost,” each episode ends with a cliffhanger that keeps viewers tuning in for the next installment. For example, the season one finale ends with the discovery of a hatch in the jungle, leaving viewers wondering what is inside and who built it.
- “Breaking Bad” is another TV show that used cliffhangers effectively. In the season four finale, the episode ends with Walter White successfully poisoning a rival drug dealer and laughing maniacally, leaving viewers wondering how he will get away with it and what his next move will be.
- “Arkane”. A wonderful, and perhaps the best, adaptation of the League of Legends game universe so far. The series boasts an excellent visual style and musical score, but its biggest advantage is the characters, their story arcs, and the story in general. The first season of the show ends with a cliffhanger, where we are shown all the main characters without completing their stories, and the last shot of Jinx launching a rocket into the meeting room leaves the ending open and tense.
The importance of cliffhangers.
Cliffhangers are an important tool for storytelling because they keep people coming back to watch each new segment, such as a weekly episode of a TV show. A show or book series is considered successful if viewers are interested in the storyline, because then they will want to keep watching or reading. Thus, as long as the breathtaking storyline creates questions, fans will want answers.
The purpose and main function or goal of cliffhangers is to leave the audience in suspense at the end of the story. Often, this anticipation is a desirable effect for a book series because it encourages readers to buy the next installment in the series.
In conclusion, the cliffhanger technique is an effective tool used in storytelling across different forms of media. By creating suspense and leaving the audience on the edge of their seat, it captures their attention and makes them want to find out what happens next. From its origins in literature to its current use in serialized TV shows, the cliffhanger is an enduring technique that will continue to captivate audiences for years to come.