Can too many cliffhangers become boring?


Thank you so much for answering our questions in so much detail and so promptly!

I'm writing a book which revolves around a kidnapping. I followed the advice that to keep the middle interesting, keep bringing in small problems/ subplots that have to be resolved before the resolution of the end. But I'm just afraid that the three/ four attempts of the kidnapped boy trying to escape just make it boring for the reader who will think 'The author's just trying to elongate the book; obviously, he can't escape before the last chapter of the book.'

Any advice or tips to deal with this situation?

Thank you so much.

Answer: Rather than simply introduce a series of different problems, it's often more effective to introduce one problem but break it into a sequence.

For example, let's say you have an escape attempt. You could present that event as one scene, or you could divide that event into a sequence of four events, so that the escape attempt will have it's own beginning, complication, crisis, and resolution (just as the entire book has those four stages)

For example, perhaps the beginning is an event that gives him the idea. The complication may be assembling the things he needs or coming up with a plan. The crisis would be the attempt itself, and the resolution might be his receiving new restrictions or punishments because of getting caught.

When you turn an event into a sequence, you avoid looking like you're just padding. All the little events are an integral part of a story arc, which itself is part of the larger story arc, so nothing is superfluous.

You can do the same thing with any event in your story, and with any event in a subplot.

For instance, if you took the four events of the escape attempt sequence and divided each of them into its own sequence, and then perhaps did another iteration, you could turn the one escape attempt into enough material for an entire book.

Incidentally, make sure whatever happens in your second act (the middle) is an integral part of the book's overall story arc. That will also help keep the reader engaged.

Comments for Can too many cliffhangers become boring?

Click here to add your own comments

Thank you!
by: Anonymous

Thank you so much! I realized what I was doing wrong - I thought that showing the kidnapper enter the empty room would be more interesting for the reader but I think it will be more thrilling if I show the kidnapped boy's experience as well - it will pull in the reader more effectively.
Thank you!

As for the titular question
by: Jiří Petruželka

I just wanted to note that if you'd look at TV series there's a number of successful ones that are basicly built on cliffhangers and contain an awful amount of them. (Prison Break, 24 ... I'd also add Code Geass, though it's not as cliffhanger-heavy)
They sometimes contain even several cliffhangers each episode and it's still enjoyable.

I can think of a few things you can do to address them:

1) Don't make it about the result but a way. In Code Geass the viewer can be rather sure Lelouch will find a way to win, but it's just fun to wonder *how* he manages it this time. Authors were pretty creative on several occasions.

2) Just add a small twist, he may fail to escape, but he gains an information, or changes the area to increase his further chances, or perhaps slips a note outside ... perhaps it will reach someone? Maybe police gets called to the place, but the policemen is actually revealed to be an accomplice. Or something like that.

3) Shatter reader's certainty. I mean - it's not set in stone the character can't escape till end. What if he escapes in 2/3 of the book, but it's not victory for him yet? This would imho require a goal / plotdevice that would be logical continuation of the former and has to be escalated (raise stakes), so it's actually more exciting when he gets out, not less.


You can make him escape the actual place and manage to elude just long enough to wonder if it's actually the thing, but getting caught again. And he perhaps gains and/or loses something in the process, be it faith, information, an item...

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.