How to Write a Cliffhanger

by CJ McDaniel // December 29  

If you’ve ever bought a second book in a series or watched a movie sequel because you were desperate for closure, then you are a victim of a successfully executed cliffhanger. Authors who know how to write a cliffhanger are responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in book sales every year. Learn to do the same in this article!

So what is a cliffhanger anyway? A cliffhanger is a plot device that is used to keep the audience intrigued and anxious to find out what happens next. Essentially, the cliffhanger puts the protagonist or the lead character in a precarious situation and leaves them in that situation, which creates enough suspense to compel the reader to read the next chapter or book to see how the story unfolds. 

Factors to consider when writing a cliffhanger

While cliffhangers offer an exciting opportunity to create suspense and shock that help make a story interesting and engaging, most writers are often confused by the challenge of creating and using cliffhangers. Here are a few factors to consider when writing a cliffhanger.

Tip 1. A cliffhanger should be abrupt

Abruptness is a major requirement for an effective cliffhanger. When a cliffhanger takes too many sentences to execute then it is no longer a cliffhanger. If the the quality of suddenness and abruptness are lost  then so is the suspense. Essentially, you want to shock and surprise the reader then end your chapter or book. This leaves the situation to be resolved in the next chapter/book. 

Tip 2. Cliffhangers should come at the end of the plot

A cliffhanger has to be strategically placed at the end of the plot or chapter for full effect. Placing a cliffhanger in the middle or start of the plot or chapter would fundamentally undermine the purpose of the cliffhanger, which is to create a feeling of suspense and shock in the mind of the reader that leads them to turn the page to find out what happens next.

Tip 3. Resolution should not be too slow

Writers often make the mistake of delaying the resolution of a cliffhanger for too long under the impression that it would help prolong suspense that captivates the reader. However, when the resolution is delayed for too long the reader’s anxiety peaks and hits a sharp decline, then frustration sets in, causing them to put the book down. The resolution of a cliffhanger should be in the following scene or chapter, as most readers do not want to wait endlessly to find out what happens to their protagonist. Don’t let your story drag on too long without resolving the cliffhanger!

Tip 4. Ending a book with a cliffhanger

In theory ending a book with a cliffhanger seems like a good idea. But don’t do it unless you are planing on writing another book to resolve the cliffhanger! Using a cliffhanger in a standalone or the last book in a series leaves readers frustrated, instead of giving them a feeling of satisfaction that comes from knowing the outcome of events at the end of a book.

Tip 5. Crafting a cliffhanger

A writer must be proficient at creating cliffhangers as it is crucial to the buildup of a story. Not all cliffhangers have to be life or death situations, but to be effective the author must create problems worth caring about. A cliffhanger could feature a student anticipating his grade score and finding out that he fails, or a girl struggling with how to tell her parents she is pregnant and the parents find out anyways. There are countless opportunities to create cliffhangers in a story; all that is required is being able to create problems and setbacks that make for a robust and intriguing plot.  Depending on the story, cliffhangers should evolve naturally and fit seamlessly into the story for a captivating effect.

About the Author

CJ grew up admiring books. His family owned a small bookstore throughout his early childhood, and he would spend weekends flipping through book after book, always sure to read the ones that looked the most interesting. Not much has changed since then, except now some of those interesting books he picks off the shelf were designed by his company!