This is not a great question but I use a lot of cliffhangers. And I have a habit of making cliffhangers in the end of every chapter that I write just to hook the reader. The question is, is it a good idea? Won't it look monotonous after a while into the novel?
3Actually, its an OK question. It is specific but not too limited.– Schroedingers CatJul 4, 2012 at 9:43
1I think you need to tell us your definition of "cliffhanger." Hero facing death? Heroine about to file for divorce? Secondary character deciding whether to get pizza or Thai?– Lauren-Clear-Monica-IpsumJul 4, 2012 at 12:26
3Lauren, I think its pretty clear what a cliffhanger is. From Wikipedia: A cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in fiction which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction. How is deciding whether to get a pizza a cliffhanger?– Shantnu TiwariJul 4, 2012 at 14:34
2I asked for clarification because I wanted to know how XORGate was defining it. I define a cliffhanger as "life/limb/heart in jeopardy." XORGate's definition (surprise + Oh no!) affects my potential answer.– Lauren-Clear-Monica-IpsumJul 5, 2012 at 0:53
I would say no. Not for a book.
Regardless of how you are defining cliffhanger, I don't think you need an aaiiigh!! moment at the end of every single chapter. A chapter should end for a reason, but that reason doesn't have to be a shock, reversal, discovery, or threat to life/limb/happiness.
If you use the same trick or tool repeatedly, in the same place or the same way all the time, it gets old. Your reader becomes jaded. You wouldn't use the same sentence structure over and over, right? You mix it up. So why use the same narrative tool?
Soap operas and lengthy serials need cliffhangers because the story never ends. You need a reason for the audience to keep returning. A book is pretty much by definition a finite narrative. (Even reeeeeeally long ones like A Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings.) At some point the story will come to a conclusion, and you hope your reader will complete the journey with you, so you can afford to end an internal arc because the larger arc of the entire story is still going.
If you have a neverending story, then you have to use cliffhangers to drag the audience along, because there's no quest to finish. There's no The End coming — you have to give the audience something to come back for.
1It's a sad truth. Shows like 'Glee' and 'The Vampire Diaries' get renewals on-demand while others like 'Fringe' sacrifice a limb for each new season. The general public (read: the current young/main demographic generation) hate endings, for everything. So a show about someone meeting someone then leaving, etc... every single episode gets 10 seasons (SmallVille/Gossip Girl) while others that need you to identify with a character's goal get 5 at best (Fringe/V). Jul 5, 2012 at 22:42
@Lauren, I just saw this. I was going through the list of my own past questions and I clicked on this and I just saw this. I guess something went wrong with the notifications. I don't know. Thanks for the answer. Sorry for marking it accepted... after 2 years. I feel like an asshole, really. Sep 20, 2014 at 21:37
1@AminMohamedAjani no worries! Better late than never! :) Sep 21, 2014 at 12:48
Ending each chapter on a cliff hanger is a plot device used in some genres, like thrillers. Dan Brown uses it extensively in his books, as do some other writers. If well done, they can make the book more exciting, and gives it that 'can't put down' feel.
On the other hand, if done badly, it irritates the reader, as it seems the only purpose of each chapter is to put the hero in even more trouble. Also, if your characters are boring, the reader might just say, go ahead and die already. Certainly I've thrown away books where the hero was getting caught by gun toting henchmen every five minutes, just so each chapter could end in a cliffhanger. And this was in the first 3-4 chapters.
So, I'd say no, they should not be used in every chapter. My advice (as a reader, as I have no experience as a writer writing cliffhangers) is:
- Don't have too many in the first part of the book. You need some time to develop plot / character etc.
- Cliffhangers do better near the middle / end of the book. By this time the reader identifies with the characters, and understands what's at stake in the plot.
- Make sure the cliffhanger is a part of the plot, and not just added to make the reader keep reading.
If not sure, put your book away for some time and then read it as a reader. Do you feel the cliffhangers make the book enticing, or like a soap serial, their only purpose is to get you to the next week / chapter?
Proper tense cliffhangers should be kept for a few occasions, otherwise your readers will guess what is happening, because they know it needs to have a problem by the end of the chapter. Like Eastenders.
However leaving the ends of chapters in limbo - unresolved, with the characters walking off to certain death, while you take up another thread of the story will have a similar effect, of keeping the readers going and wanting to know what is going to happen to them.
At the same time, resolving everything raised in a chapter during that chapter is boring, as there is no sense of long-term development of the characters and situations. Sometimes, you just need to move the characters on in a chapter, and prepare for something later.
Does the edit say anything incorrectly? Jul 4, 2012 at 10:26
I don't agree. I have read books (names escape me) where the authors do this all of the time, and it works to keep you reading. It gives the sense of a set of stories intertwined, and you always want more of all of them. Jul 4, 2012 at 10:36
OK, then you have a contradiction. Do you or don't you recommend per-chapter cliffhangers? -I do know how it works (on me as a reader) and I can remember several stories (books and films) that did it very well. So my question was "Is the edit incorrect to you?" because of the apparent contradiction. Jul 4, 2012 at 11:00
But they aren't cliffhangers - they are just interruptions in the story. I don't recommend crises at the end of each chapter. If you want to keep people reading, then not closing the stories is the route I suggest, but these are not cliffhangers, IMO, just breaks in the particular storyline. Jul 4, 2012 at 11:17
1Then no, don't have too many cliffhangers. But also, don't resolve everything from a chapter within the chapter. Jul 4, 2012 at 12:35
Monotonous cliffhangers seems like an oxymoron.
In principle, I'd have no problem with consistent chapter-ending cliffhangers, provided that it didn't get overdone. After all, pretty much any literary device can be overused.
In this case, overdoing it would depend more on quality than quantity. The more you use a literary device, the better you'd be at using it, lest it become worn and trite. If these cliffhangers are forced, corny, cheesy, or contrived, then even every third chapter would be too much. But if they provide a natural, intriguing, riveting free-flowing transition into the next chapter, without being repetitive, why not?
So, would a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter constitute overuse?