Damsels in distress, the clock is ticking, someone’s about to go over the edge. The Perils of Pauline, where she would be put in a dangerous situation, especially hanging off a cliff to keep from falling many feet below to her death. Would she escape? The term “cliff-hanger” comes from the silent film era. Click to Tweet #amwriting #creatingsuspense
History of Cliffhangers
Back in the 1800s, books were rare in the hands of common folk. But they could read a newspaper or magazine. Charles Dickens had most of his earlier works published in installments. Readers could afford that, when the price of a full-length hardback book was out of their price range.
It was Dickens’ job to create a hunger for the next installment. So, he ended the current installment with a need to read on, that wasn’t satisfied until the next one came out.
How to Use a Cliffhanger
If suspense is all about hiding things from the reader, then how does a cliffhanger hide? You don’t want the reader to feel as if they are being manipulated. They’ll stop reading if they sense that. But there are a couple of ways to disguise an upcoming cliffhanger.
First, the reader must bond with the Lead. The reader must be fully engaged with the Lead character, all their struggles, triumphs, tragedies. The Lead must have personal stakes that endanger everything he wants, everything he is, and cloud his future. Your goal is for the reader to identify so much with your Lead character, they don’t realize the technique you just used to put your Lead in a cliffhanger. It must be a natural consequence of how you’ve built up your suspense.
Secondly, change up the intensity and the type of cliffhanger you use. Your novel must be exciting, creating suspense along the way. Use the different types of suspense we’ve looked at the last couple weeks to help you naturally develop a situation into a cliffhanger.
We’ll be looking at the different types of cliffhangers over the next couple weeks. Cliffhangers create page turners. Click to Tweet #amwriting #creatingsuspense