Overused trope or essential storytelling tool? Personally, I love ’em. I love ’em in books and I love ’em in films and TV series. 24, Kiefer Sutherland’s opus, was full to the brim with them. Maybe upwards of a dozen per episode. As the scene fades to the iconic ticking clock, will the villain be unmasked, will the double agent in the CTU be uncovered, will Jack Bauer’s daughter escape (again) from her would-be kidnappers, will they crack the code in time to stop the bomb?
And I would argue you also get cliffhangers of sorts in some forms of music, particularly pop; Michael Jackson throwing in hefty rolls of noise after a beat or two of silence, Phil Collins and his drumming gorilla (OK, I’m confusing my media here) smacking down on the drums on “In The Air Tonight”. It is anticipation, delicious and addictive, knowing something is coming, but not quite sure what form that something will take.
And so, back to writing, as this blog tries to be about for the most part. James Patterson; a huge influence and inspiration for my embryonic writing style, throws cliffhangers around like confetti in his crime thrillers, such as Along Came A Spider with his hero Alex Cross. Patterson’s short chapters, as I mentioned in a previous blog, are more like scenes from a movie, and often end in jaw-dropping moments; unexpected attacks from the book’s evil villain, ground-breaking discoveries by the main detective character, fantastic twists in the plot that trip you up smartly.
There are books that you will enjoy because you want to know the final outcome, you build a rapport with the characters and you want to see them succeed. But you don’t mind putting the book down if the phone rings or if you have to go to work the next day. But there are others that demand one more page turn, one more chapter, one more cliffhanger.
The former (from my book shelves) would be the epics like Lord of the Rings. Not too many cliffhangers per 100 pages, but a beautifully crafted story set in a multicoloured world that rises from the page like a pop up book. The latter would be the crime thrillers I already mentioned, but also some “Young Adult” series like Maze Runner (James Dashner) and Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) excel in forcing you to go and buy the next in the series just to find out what happens next. To throw in something of a curve ball here I would also suggest Terry Pratchett is something of a cliffhanger/twist writer. Of course, his cliffhangers tend to be more for comic effect than to significantly shift the story, but they are still worthy of note, “like the unexpected limbo dancer under the lavatory door of life” (Equal Rites, Pratchett, 1987).
As always, comments are welcome below!
My new fantasy novel “The Jracon’s Burden” is available to download now on Amazon. Enjoy!