Questions and Cliffhangers

Storytellers are manipulators: we make the audience care about the characters, giving them reasons to identify with these imaginary people, then we hurt them*. Maybe not physically or even financially, but emotionally for sure.

For this is how story is made.

But when we are writing our tales of gut-wrenching woe, how do we keep the reader reading?

Conflict is often mentioned, but more basic than that are questions. We raise questions and then we answer them, but not necessarily immediately and not evenly.

“It is the question that drives us.”

– Morpheus, “The Matrix”

The questions raised can be of many different kinds, scopes and urgencies, and the questions themselves may be raised in varying ways. All of these elements can be mixed and combined to produce different textures and levels of tension.

Tension is what we are looking to induce: not knowing is one thing, but wanting to find out is what makes the reader read.

Putting these questions at the end of a chapter, or even a book, is one way to draw the reader forward into reading just one more page.

The Story

I am concerned with this at the moment because I am writing the season closer for A New Dawn. The player characters have learned of their abilities, that they are not alone, and they have thwarted a robbery. Writing the linkages between those sessions has been pretty simple: the first session ended with the bank wall across the road bursting outwards, for example – it was obvious what the question was there: it was obvious how to do the cliffhanger.

Crafting a satisfying closer this time is going to be interesting.

[*] normally I would disambiguate this pronoun, but here? The ambiguity is appropriate.

2 Replies to “Questions and Cliffhangers”

  1. i read a blog post once about how to write serial fiction (by somebody who had never written serial fiction), and at one point he said, “Of course, every installment has to end with a cliffhanger,”

    Wrong, (I was very polite, especially because it was my first time of that blog, but in my head I was making an obnoxious game-show error noise.)

    “The questions raised can be of many different kinds, scopes and urgencies, and the questions themselves may be raised in varying ways. All of these elements can be mixed and combined to produce different textures and levels of tension.”

    I agree, and in fact I’d make it stronger. Rather than “can be,” I’d say “should be.” If every chapter has the same rhythm, and always ends with the same type of question, then you’ve got a formulaic, Hardy-Boys type story, which won’t appeal to many sophisticated readers.

    As you say, once you’ve done the bank wall bursting outwards once, then you’ve got to vary it up. 🙂

  2. Patrick says:

    Great read, thanks for putting this up.
    I do hate when I’m reading a book and there’s the “over dramatic music/cliff hanger” ending… Very much puts me off if the book ends but the “story” (whatever was happening) hasn’t had some kind of resolution or if the story requires several books to complete, there needs a respite phase. “We haven’t beaten Emperor Bad, but he was pushed back, and we can take a moment to gather our forces / clues….”

    I look forward to reading your posts regularly

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