Great Endings: The Cliffhanger

The Cliffhanger is an ending in which the ending of the story is left effectively unresolved. Usually the story must be resolved with the ending, but not so with the Cliffhanger. You purposefully leave out the “resolved” bit of the resolution.

Note: I am not sanctioning here the use of a technique that is rarely needed. If your story can be resolved, than you’ll only make it worse by trying to fit in the Cliffhanger. Remember, the Cliffhanger CAN be final. You can choose to write a single novel with a Cliffhanger element and it is never resolved. But if you plan to resolve the story, please do so fully and don’t excuse it by saying, “It was a cliffhanger”.

That said, the Cliffhanger ending is the one that is most likely to kill your readers. Many a fan has been laid in his or her tomb because they exploded waiting for Avengers: Endgame to release. Please note that the Cliffhanger is something you can either choose to resolve or let be. It’s versatile.

Many films and books have used this ending. Chief among them in my mind is the ending of the first John Carter book (This is where you are left not knowing whether John Carter’s love ends up dying, along with the rest of the planet. Fun stuff, I know). For a movie, Life hits the nail on the head (no spoilers, just watch the movie on your own. Extreme parental guidance required).

But how to write one? Well, for this one, make your planning more meticulous. Decide beforehand what kind of ending you want it to be. This isn’t like an ending where an idea pops into your head and you finish it like so. You have to purposefully plan out if there is a cliffhanger and what causes it. Otherwise, you may end up concocting a bad one.

Second, make sure you choose the right way to launch your cliffhanger. Does a main character supposedly die? Does a planet get blown up? That sort of thing. Decide what sets off your cliffhanger and execute it in exactly the way you choose. Don’t deviate from your planned path, because preparation is key here.

Third, there are two main kinds of cliffhangers, namely suspenseful and hinting. A hinting cliffhanger clearly states that there is more to tell, but leaves the reader thinking contemplatively. Suspenseful is the kind when you GRIND the reader’s sympathies for the heroes into a state of “OhmygoshIneedtoseetheend!!!”

The hinting is subtler and harder. The difficulty in the other comes from crafting characters worthy of sympathies. If you write a story with likable characters, a suspenseful cliffhanger will be much easier. Hinting, however, refers to the uncertain future of the story, which is something neither you nor the reader may know. To hint effectively, create a mysterious object that is the cause of so much intrigue as a center of the plot, and then leave your readers without it being resolved.

Other than that, a cliffhanger can be surprisingly easy to make. The better the story you crafted, the easier a good cliffhanger is to make. This is because a cliffhanger draws on already-created material to manages its potency. So, a good rule of thumb is this: if you want to make a good cliffhanger, do whatever you can to build up your readers’ sympathies. Make likable characters. This is good for any story, but especially for Cliffhangers.

Good luck, and happy writing!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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