YES! IT’S InstaWrimo time again, and we’re down to the last four posts for this preptober. Today, we’re talking about cliffhangers and I know exactly what I want to focus on.
I don’t know about you, but I love a good cliffhanger. As long as we’re talking about a chapter in a book ending in such a way that you must continue into the next chapter. Books, or films, ending in cliffhangers should be banned. Yep, they seriously annoy me so much I’d ban them all of I could. But for the purpose of this blog post, we’ll focus on cliffhangers in storytelling, regardless of where they appear.
In case you didn’t know, a cliffhanger is what we call a plot device, which is a fancy way of saying that it’s a technique that some writers use to move the plot forward. Normally, the cliffhanger leaves the main character in a situation, or with a dilemma, at the end of a chapter and we can’t help ourselves. We need to know what happens next.
Etymology being one of my favourite subjects, I can tell you that the word cliffhanger has been used since the 1930s, but it refers back to English novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy. It is in his novel A Pair of Blue Eyes that we find the cliffhanger that gave us the term. Hardy’s novel was published as a serial in Tinsley’s Magazine, and one of the instalments ends with Mr Henry Knight (one of Miss Elfride Swancourt’s two love interests) actually hanging off a cliff. And the readers had to wait until the following month to find out whether he survived.
Even though Hardy gave us the term, he wasn’t the first to use cliffhangers as a plot device in his writing. No, it was actually quite a common feature in medieval storytelling tradition (remember Sheherazade?), but it was the great Charles Dickens who made it popular in the 1800s. He pioneered the serial novel in the Pickwick Papers, thus making literature widely accessible (not to mention affordable), and not just something the upper classes could enjoy.
To this day, the cliffhanger remains popular and some writers, like Dan Brown, have made them something of a characteristic style choice. Which you could say puts them in good company. I guess it was this nod to history that I found so charming when I recently read a Wattpad-novel structured in the same Dickensian style. Well, that and the fact that the author made homage to Keats in their pen name, The BelleDame, and mentioned MacBeth in the opening chapter. Yes, I’m a sucker for literary elegance and/or cleverness.
The BelleDame has found an interesting solution to the reading-on-the-tube dilemma. It’s hard to keep track of where you are in a story when there are frequent interruptions, like every time the tube steps at a station and the hustle and bustle of your fellow commuters disturb you. Using cliffhangers in the same manner as the old serial novels, and cutting each chapter down into bite sized chunks, the writer solves two problems at once.
Making it easier for the commuting reader to keep track of their progression through the story, and giving them a strong enough incentive to return to the story after the next stop is a pretty clever idea if you ask me. From a Wattpad algorithm point of view it is simple brilliance. Having 90 chapters instead of, say, 20 means more registered reads and more potential votes for your story. Provided you can get people to read it to begin with, of course.
The story in question, which I highly recommend that you go and read for yourself, is called In The Blood and is available to read for free on Wattpad. It’s a YA story about young people dying gruesome deaths in North London, and there may just be something paranormal about the whole thing. Go check it out and let me know what you thought about it.
How about you?
– Do you have a favourite (or recent) cliffhange to share?
Let’s talk in the comments below or send me a message via socials. Also, remember to post the links below if you use any of my prompts in your own posts. I’d love to come over and see them.
Thank you for your visit!
© Evalena Styf, 2021
Writing prompt from #NaNoWriMo Preptober InstaWrimo Challenge: 28 October, 2021. “Cliffhanger”
The #InstaWrimo is a photo challenge for Instagram, but it works just as well as a daily writing prompt.
Here are the daily writing prompts for NaNoWriMo’s preptober challenge. It’s never too late to start, so let’s get into it. Together.