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What is a cliffhanger?

Updated: 12/19/2022
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8y ago

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A cliffhanger is the practice of ending a story or novel (or chapter!) that leaves the character in a seemingly impossible situation, such as hanging off the side of a cliff. The purpose is to make the story so interesting that the reader turns the page or buys the next book in the series.

Cliffhangers were very common in books and films. Edgar Rice Burroughs used cliffhangers in many of his John Carter of Mars books, and almost every serial magazine story or silent film of the day ended with the hero or heroine in some life-threatening danger.

The term may have originally come from the serial novel "A Pair of Blue Eyes" (1873). It is popularly connected to early movie serials, more than one of which featured a hero falling or being thrown from a cliff. When the next episode was shown, there would usually be some new factor that helped him survive (e.g. a ledge, a lake, or a tree), or a scene showing that he was not the person who actually fell.

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