A cliffhanger is a literary device in which a story or a chapter ends suddenly and dramatically at a moment of high tension or suspense. The term originated from serialized stories where episodes ended with the protagonist in a precarious situation, often literally hanging from a cliff. Cliffhangers are designed to leave readers eager to find out what happens next.



How Writers Use Cliffhangers

Writers use cliffhangers to:

  • Create Suspense: Keep readers in suspense and eager to know what happens next.
  • Engage Readers: Increase engagement and maintain interest in the story.
  • Encourage Continuation: Prompt readers to continue reading or anticipate the next installment.
  • Highlight Pivotal Moments: Emphasize critical points in the narrative.

Types of Cliffhangers

Action CliffhangerEnds with a dramatic action scene, leaving the outcome uncertain.A character is left hanging from a cliff, literally or figuratively.
Emotional CliffhangerEnds with an unresolved emotional moment.A character is about to confess their love, but the scene ends abruptly.
Mystery CliffhangerEnds with a mysterious event or revelation.A character discovers a shocking secret, but the details are not revealed.
Dilemma CliffhangerEnds with the protagonist facing a difficult decision.A character must choose between two equally dire options.
Surprise CliffhangerEnds with an unexpected twist or surprise.A seemingly dead character suddenly reappears.

Rules of Cliffhangers

TimingPlace cliffhangers at strategic points, such as the end of chapters or episodes.
PacingBuild up to the cliffhanger gradually to increase suspense.
ClarityEnsure the situation is clear to the reader, even if the outcome is not.
RelevanceMake sure the cliffhanger is relevant to the main plot and characters.
ResolutionPlan for how and when the cliffhanger will be resolved to avoid frustrating the reader.

Examples of Cliffhangers in Different Media

Cliffhangers in Literature

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceJ.K. RowlingEnds with Dumbledore’s death and the reveal of Snape as the Half-Blood Prince.
A Game of ThronesGeorge R.R. MartinEnds with the fall of Eddard Stark and the rise of the conflict between the houses.
The Hunger GamesSuzanne CollinsEnds with Katniss and Peeta’s victory but hints at future rebellion.

Cliffhangers in Children’s Books

Percy Jackson and the OlympiansRick RiordanOften ends with Percy discovering a new prophecy or threat.
The Chronicles of NarniaC.S. LewisEnds with the Pevensies discovering a new adventure in the magical world.
A Series of Unfortunate EventsLemony SnicketEnds with the Baudelaire orphans facing yet another perilous situation.

Cliffhangers in Poetry

The Waste LandT.S. EliotEnds with an ambiguous conclusion, leaving readers pondering its meaning.
The Rime of the Ancient MarinerSamuel Taylor ColeridgeEnds with the mariner still haunted by his past actions.
Ode to a NightingaleJohn KeatsEnds with the poet’s uncertain reflection on reality and imagination.

Cliffhangers in Songs

Bohemian RhapsodyQueenEnds with the line “Nothing really matters,” leaving listeners in contemplation.
StanEminemEnds with the reveal of Stan’s tragic fate, leaving the story open-ended.
Hotel CaliforniaEaglesEnds with the eerie line “You can never leave,” leaving listeners with a sense of mystery.

Cliffhangers in Movies

InceptionSpinning Top SceneEnds with the spinning top, leaving the audience unsure if Cobb is still dreaming.
The Empire Strikes BackVarious ScenesEnds with Han Solo frozen in carbonite and the reveal of Darth Vader as Luke’s father.
The Matrix ReloadedNeo’s FateEnds with Neo in a coma, setting up for the next installment.

YouTube Links:

  1. Inception – Spinning Top Scene
  2. The Empire Strikes Back – Various Scenes
  3. The Matrix Reloaded – Neo’s Fate

Cliffhangers in Advertising

The Most Interesting Man in the WorldDos EquisEnds with “Stay thirsty, my friends,” leaving viewers wanting more.
Old SpiceOld SpiceEnds with a humorous twist, prompting viewers to look forward to the next ad.
Think DifferentAppleEnds with a call to action, inspiring viewers to explore further.

YouTube Links:

  1. Dos Equis – The Most Interesting Man in the World
  2. Old Spice – Various Ads
  3. Apple – Think Different

FAQs about Cliffhangers

What is a cliffhanger in literature?

A cliffhanger in literature is a literary device where a story or chapter ends suddenly and dramatically at a moment of high tension or suspense, leaving readers eager to know what happens next.

How does a cliffhanger differ from a regular ending?

A cliffhanger leaves a story or chapter unresolved, maintaining suspense and encouraging the reader to continue, whereas a regular ending provides closure.

Can cliffhangers be used in all types of writing?

Yes, cliffhangers can be used in various types of writing, including literature, poetry, songs, movies, and advertising, to create suspense and engage the audience.

Why are cliffhangers effective in writing?

Cliffhangers are effective because they create suspense, increase engagement, encourage continuation, and highlight pivotal moments in the narrative.

Related Devices


A literary device that keeps readers on the edge of their seats by creating uncertainty about the outcome of events.


A literary device that gives hints or clues about events that will occur later in the story, creating anticipation.

Plot Twist

A sudden and unexpected change in the direction or outcome of the plot, often used to surprise the reader.


A literary device that creates a sense of anticipation and anxiety in the reader about what will happen next.

Dramatic Irony

A literary device where the audience knows more about the events or situations than the characters, creating tension and suspense.