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Cliffhanger

 

Disciplines > StorytellingStory Devices > Cliffhanger

Description | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Description

The cliffhanger ends a story or segment of a story with a situation of great excitement or danger.

Example

In the Lord of the Rings, there are several story strands and Tolkein often leaves one strand at a cliffhanger (eg. with Frodo and Sam trapped by Shelob) whilst catching up with what is happening elsewhere.

Many soap operas use the cliffhanger at the end of each episode to keep people coming back next time for more.

Discussion

The cliffhanger uses the Zeigarnik effect, leaving the reader or viewer with an incomplete scene and hence sustaining the tension within the story.

Movie-makers use this principle sometimes to create demand for a sequel. There is also a danger in this where audiences leave the movie feeling frustrated that all loose ends are not complete. A typical such ending is where an imprisoned bad guy is able to escape, a hero or other important character is shot, or a supposedly-slain monster seems not to be completely dead.

Cliffhangers can even be used in negotiations with actors. If an actor is playing up, then the producer may decide to end a season with the actor shot or leaving home. Whether or not the character appears in the next season then depends as much on contract negotiations as audience demand!

See also

Tension principle, Zeigarnik effect, Split

 

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