Writing a Killer Cliffhanger
Anyone that has binged a series in one sitting will know that a good cliffhanger can will keep an audience coming back for more, even when faced with an early start it can force you to squeeze in that extra episode, just to find out what happens next. It’s an excellent tool that if used correctly will compel your audience to come back for more. This can be particularly useful when working on a series, a film in which you plan to create a sequel or even if you’re creating episodes for your YouTube channel.
So how do you create an effective cliffhanger?
First, in order to understand how to make one you need to figure out when the best time to use one is. There is certainly a time and a place for a cliffhanger and just because you’re bringing about an ending doesn’t mean you should use one. In fact if you decide to use one without any follow up it will have the reverse effect that’s intended, aggravating your audience. You should use one once you’ve managed to build up tensions to some degree, remember the idea is to keep your audience “hanging”. That being said if you are going to use one make sure it is at the end of the plot, slapping one in the middle is pointless, the time to use one is when you wish to hook viewers into your next instalment.
There are many ways to create a cliffhanger, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is a life or death situation, which is of course a fine example but it’s not the only one. Think about anything in your life that caused you some form of anxiety or left you in suspense. Perhaps waiting for exam results that determine the outcome of your continued education or for the results of a pregnancy test? Another example could be waiting on a diagnosis from the Doctor or competing in a race; honestly the list is endless and can be used in any genre for just about any subject. In fact, just to put things in perspective, almost every soap opera uses one at the end of each of their episodes.
Sometimes you can create one simply by resolving your plot. Let’s use the results of a pregnancy test as an example; if you were to reveal the results of the test what implications does this have on your characters? Is it the result they had hoped for? Maybe it isn’t? How will this change their lives? The list of questions goes on which is exactly what you want to aim for with your cliffhanger, you are creating questions that the viewer simply must have answered, even if it jeopardises their punctuality the next day.
Finally and most importantly make sure your cliffhanger is abrupt. Think of it as a knockout blow, you want to take one shot at the viewers jaw quickly and leave them reeling with their mouths wide open. After all you don’t shock someone by slowly revealing a point; you all jump out from your hiding places and shout “Surprise!” at the same time.