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.
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.
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.
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.