Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Can't Hold on Much Longer!!

Remember this from Between the Lions? This is a true cliffhanger. We do not know if someone is coming to Cliff Hanger's rescue or if he will meet his demise when he loses his grip. 

And we have this definition for cliffhanger from dictionary.reference: a situation of imminent disaster usually occurring at the end of each episode of a serialized film (or book).

If, at the end of the book, the characters are left in imminent danger, it's a cliffhanger. However, if the reader is simply left with unanswered questions, that technically is not a cliffhanger. 

To help understand this, first let's looks at the two types of books labeled series. In one type of series, say in the cozy mystery genre, the books have overlapping characters--the detective, his side-kick, and perhaps the police officers he/she works with. By the end of each book, the mystery is solved. If it's romance, the couple live happily ever after. In other words, the conflict in the fictional world has been resolved.

Nevertheless, loose ends may be left dangling. In the cozy mystery, perhaps there's a subplot, perhaps a romance budding between two minor characters. This may continue into the next mystery in the series. We see this in TV shows all the time. Think about Psych or The Mentalist. We normally do not get upset if everything is not neatly tied up at the end of each episode.   

That's what most of us think of when we hear the term series. There is, however, another type of series, often called the serial.The Harry Potter books and The Hunger Games are examples. The entire series tells the story. In the first book of The Hunger Games, Katniss has won, but the world is still left in conflict. The Capitol still maintains control. And you know what? It's not a cliffhanger. There's resolution of the main conflict, the game Katniss participated in. President Snow has not been dealt with, but this is not Katniss:

The same with Harry Potter. Voldemort is still at large but Harry is safe and sound (relatively speaking). 

Unanswered questions do not equal cliffhanger. It's that simple. 

This is Katniss, not hanging on a cliff. 

This, folks, is a cliffhanger! (And I remember being a little angry when I watched The Empire Strikes Back all those years ago. It was an eternity before The Return of the Jedi released.)

Cliffhangers do exist. Sometimes, however, the label is misapplied. Let's be careful to choose our words wisely!

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