Friday, May 6, 2016

Cliffhangers and Why They Suck

Cliffhangers originally got their start in serialized fiction where the hero was put into an untenable position and the viewer would have to tune in next time or buy the next volume to see the story to its conclusion. At least until the end of that section and the hero was left in another precarious cliffhanger.

Honestly, I don't hate cliffhangers the way they're usually used nowadays. Usually, it seems like they're used to leave plots dangling for the start of the next story in the series. You still get a complete and total story - but there's also a good setup for the next story. That, I'm totally okay with.

What I'm not okay with is when they're used like they were originally.

I just read this free book. I thought it was okay, pretty cool story - even if the main character was way too innocent and naïve for me - right until the last three or four pages. If the book had ended before those pages, I might have bought the next book.

But those last handful of pages were so rushed to injure a close relative of the main character and dump a 'bet you never saw that coming' style cliffhanger at the reader for what felt like the sole purpose of convincing them to buy the next book that I decided not to.

It's kind of the same way TV shows end seasons with putting a character in peril. I'm usually okay with it, because it doesn't feel like it was only there to be a hook to make you watch the next season. Except for this season one of a show I just finished and at the end of the season the main guy has a gun to his head and the screen goes black then you hear the sound of the gun going off.

That felt like it was just there to make the viewer watch the next season. (I'm not going to, but I already kind of hated the show before that moment.)

Now, I understand the theory behind the use of cliffhangers. After all, if the character is put in dire peril, of course you have to keep reading to see them get out of it. Right?

For me it doesn't work like that at all. I see cliffhangers as insecurity from the author - because they're basically saying, my writing isn't good enough, my story isn't compelling enough to bring the readers back - plus they show a lack of faith in the readers - because it sounds an awful lot like the author is saying, the reader doesn't have enough of an attention span to come back to my story if I don't have a cliffhanger.

So, for me, these old style cliffhangers totally fail at doing what the author/creator intended them to do.

How about you? What do you think about the different versions of cliffhangers?