Cliffhangers and When Not to Use Them


I was inspired to write this post after thinking on the frustrating Season 6 finale of The Walking Dead. I don’t want to move anywhere near spoiler territory, so you can look that up independently should you choose.

If you’re an aspiring author and decide you want to write a cliffhanger, I urge you to stop and think twice, even if you’re penning an adaptation of a Sly Stallone film.

Cliffhangers can be a powerful tool to evoke tension and emotion in your readers if utilized correctly, but have the potential to backfire and cause massive amounts of ire and ill will should you misuse (or be perceived as misusing) them. In the latter situation, you run a high risk of your audience accusing your writing of being lazy/sloppy, poorly thought out, or some sort of attention/cash grab. That is nowhere you want to be, so I’m putting a few points below to ponder on before attempting one.

  1. Is this a situation that demands immediate resolution? – Meaning, if you don’t see the event through to the end, will your audience feel tense, or just cheated?
  2. Can you resolve it in an adequate timeline? – My main gripe from the stated example above. You risk losing the emotional impact of the event, and maybe your audience, if you make them wait months (or years) for a conclusion.
  3. Have you provided adequate resolutions to other conflicts in your story? – Again, you don’t want your readers to feel cheated, and everything shouldn’t be held in the highest level of suspense, so make sure you provide them adequate conclusions to other events in your story so a natural sense of catharsis can take place.

Hopefully this short list will help you temper the use of cliffhangers in your writing so they’re only brought out after heavy consideration.

Have you ever written an effective cliffhanger ending? If so, let me know about it down in the comments.


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