Blackjack: Take your OTP and put them in a casino. Character A is an attractive Blackjack dealer. Character B is a determined gambler who can’t seem to stay away from Character A’s table.
Today, let’s take a look at a writing technique that is both loved and despised by fiction-lovers everywhere: the infamous cliffhanger. A cliffhanger is defined as an end to an episode of a serial drama that leaves the audience in suspense. This also applies to books, movies, and fanfiction chapters. When used correctly, it can keep the fans on their toes while drawing them back in for each update. When used badly, mass fan rage can lead to a drastic decrease in viewership and/or readership.
The question is this: How can cliffhangers be used in a way that leaves the readers in suspense, but doesn’t infuriate them enough to make them drop the story altogether?
To answer that question, I’ll present a personal, specific example of what I find to be a bad kind of cliffhanger, and what I find to be a good kind through my own experiences, and say why I think they’re good or bad. From that, we can figure out what makes or breaks any cliffhanger.
Who Will Die?
This is probably the most infuriating kind of cliffhanger and/or story hook I have seen. The premise is simple: Someone’s going to die, but we won’t know who until the next episode! Oooh, the suspense!
Yeah, no. It’s a cheap, stupid tactic that shows that the writer has no faith in the plot itself. If the threat of a mystery death is what you need to keep people coming back, you’re doing something wrong. It sucked when Animorphs did it. It sucked when The Walking Dead did it. It will always suck.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with building tension. If there’s a situation happening where someone is going to die, but we don’t know who until it happens, that’s a wonderful way to up the suspense. You may choose to do a cliffhanger where it’s left unclear whether or not the killer found someone. That’s a good cliffhanger.
What I’m specifically talking about is a scenario when you know without a doubt that someone is about to die, or has just been killed, but you have to wait until the next installment to find out who. If you’re going to kill someone, go through with killing them. Don’t bullshit the readers. Trust me. They can see right through it.
Another sucky kind of cliffhanger, which is closely related, is showing a character being gravely wounded, then ending that installment, leaving the fans to wonder whether the person is dead or alive. First of all, these cliffhangers rarely result in the character in question actually dying, so it’s lost its effectiveness over the years. Second, it’s cheap. If you’re going to kill a character, kill them. If you’re going to injure them and have them in critical condition for a few episodes, do that. But establish which it is before cutting things off. Otherwise, fans will only talk about that, and not anything else that happened in that installment, as any other events will cease to be important in their eyes.
Basically, don’t use death as a cheap tool.
On the flip side, we have an example of one of my favorite kinds of cliffhangers, provided it’s done right. A Character Revelation is any moment that reveals something shocking about a character. It could be that someone we thought was dead is actually alive, that someone has secretly been part of the mafia throughout the series, or that they’re an alien species. The possibilities are endless!
The reason why these kinds of cliffhangers work is that it leaves the fans in suspense while giving room and time for their imaginations to come up with what will happen next. They have a whole week (or month, or year, depending on the kind of installment) to come up with theories, ideas, and predictions based on this new reveal. Let’s be honest: Fan theories make up a huge part of any fandom.
Another reason why this kind of cliffhanger works is that it basically means that the next episode/book/etc. will then devote a good amount of time to explaining that reveal. This leads to character development, backstories, and other juicy bits.
What’s really good about this kind of cliffhanger is that it focuses on plot and character, rather than using cheap shock tactics to keep the fans’ attention. It puts trust in the fact that this reveal will mean something, and will shock fans while making them desperately want to find out more. It’s the tantalizing, lovely suspense that makes us shake our fists while smiling fondly at the same time.
Looking at these examples, I think I can tell you how to differentiate a good cliffhanger from a bad one: Is it respecting the audience and the story? If the answer is yes, you have a good cliffhanger. Does it use cheap shock value in order to get an overblown reaction? If the answer is yes, you have a bad one. It’s quite simple when you get down to it.
Use tactics that are specific to the plot, and trust your audience to appreciate them. Stay away from cheap strategies that leaves the audience asking a simple “Did they, or didn’t they?” question over and over again until the next installment. Your fans are smarter than that, and you are better than that.
As always, keep writing and peace out!
Hello, everyone. Today’s post is a Fandom Spotlight, where I basically ramble about different franchises I have loved in the past or present, and what my experiences were. For the earlier ones, my experiences were mostly personal and without the influence of an outside fandom. As we move forward more, you’ll see how I became more and more invested in fandom communities over time. Enjoy!
If I was to pinpoint my first ever fandom, I would have to point to the Scooby-Doo cartoons. I started watching them when I was a toddler, and have had an ongoing love for the series ever since. I adored the goofy antics of Mystery Inc. I loved the retro music. I got a kick out of the traps. Most of all, I loved the hilarious situations that Scooby and Shaggy got themselves into, especially when they involved food.
I still remember the first episode I ever watched: “A Halloween Hassle at Dracula’s Castle.” It was from The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries, which involved Shaggy, Scooby, Daphne, and Scrappy traveling together, though this episode also had Fred and Velma. In this episode, the gang goes to a Halloween party at a castle of real monsters, who want them to help scare away a ghost. It was a simple, fun story, like most of the episodes were back in the day.
Fun fact: Most of the early episodes I saw had Scrappy in them. Since I didn’t use the internet as a small child, I was entirely unaware of the hate that Scooby’s nephew was subjected to. I honestly loved the little guy, and still do. He always struck me as a plucky, excitable puppy who was always ready to fight the bad guys and protect his uncle Scooby. This led to a deep feeling of betrayal when I saw the live-action movie in theaters, and had to see one of my childhood icons become the villain. (Seriously, stay away from the live-action movies. They are trash.)
Scooby-Doo is important to me in a lot of ways. Not only was it the first multi-episode show that I really got invested in, but it contained my first ever OTP: Fred/Daphne. I always enjoyed the relationship between the two, especially since they never got mushy with each other or kissed. (Young me wasn’t a fan of kissing.)
As I grew up, I became exposed to other, more modern series in the Scooby-Doo universe, including A Pup Named Scooby-Doo and What’s New, Scooby-Doo? The latter series was, in my opinion, the last good series featuring Mystery Inc.
And now I’m entering Unpopular Opinion Territory… Here it is: I did not enjoy Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated.
Now, before anyone jumps down my throat about how I’m a “Scooby-Doo purist,” I was honestly excited about the series when it first came out. I loved the idea of a darker, ongoing plotline involving the characters I knew and loved.
The problem was that these weren’t the characters I knew and loved! Fred was a trap-obsessed moron instead of the level-headed leader I grew to know. I mean, he was dumbed down a bit in What’s New, Scooby-Doo?, but not this much. Daphne was a Fred-obsessed fangirl, effectively ruining what had once been my biggest OTP. Velma…oh lord, what did they do to Velma? She was a crazy, manipulative bitch who constantly tried to get in-between Shaggy and Scooby due to being in a relationship with the former. Hell, even Scooby didn’t resemble the cowardly, lighthearted dog I knew. I specifically remember one episode when he found out about Shaggy’s relationship with Velma, and refused to talk to him, insisting that his best friend choose between him and Velma.
Seriously, what the hell? The Scooby I know would never put Shaggy on the spot like that! In every situation where Shaggy had a girlfriend in the past, Scooby was nothing but supportive. (Except for the live-action movie, but that was trash, as I have already stated.) There’s also the fact that Scooby Snax don’t exist in this universe, and the fact that Scooby doesn’t even talk the way he’s supposed to. He talks normally, instead of using r’s in most of his words. Did these people even watch the old series?
Honestly, the only character who acted like himself was Shaggy, and that only caused me to hate the series more, since it seemed like the poor guy was always being caught in the middle of a bunch of teenage angst and drama.
Sorry. Getting into ranty territory. My point is that this series didn’t feel like a Scooby-Doo series. If you want a dark Scooby-Doo story where the characters actually act the way they’re supposed to, check out the movies, especially Zombie Island and The Witch’s Ghost.
At the moment, my favorite characters are being represented in the cruddy Stay Cool, Scooby-Doo, and it honestly feels like my first fandom is on the verge of dying. It had a good run, though. And I’ll always have the memories, and the DVDs, from my childhood years.
I’ll always look to Scooby-Doo as my initiation into loving a franchise, growing up with a set of characters who felt like my friends, having an OTP, and eventually writing one of my first fanfictions. It’s an incredibly embarrassing, horribly-written fanfiction, but we all had to start somewhere, right?
Peace out, and Scooby-Dooby-Doo!
At the Con: The characters are at a convention. Is it a convention taking place in their universe, or a modern day AU? Is it an anime convention, a gaming convention, a furry convention? Which of the characters dress up? Which of them go to get drunk and stumble around the raves? What madness ensues?
If you’ve ever been in a writing workshop, you’ve probably heard the words cliché, trope, and plot device so often, you gnash your teeth at the very mention of them. “This plotline is clichéd.” “I’ve seen this trope a million times.” “This character is an obvious plot device.”
Well, contrary to popular belief, clichés, tropes, and other common storytelling devices are not bad things to use in moderation. Tropes, devices, and clichés only became as common as they are today because they worked in the past and continue to work now. The trick is figuring out when to put them in, and how to tweak them to make them your own.
When I talk about tropes, I’m referring to common scenarios and ideas used in fiction. Some examples include the Love Triangle, the Tall, Dark, and Mysterious Character, and even something as overarching as the Good vs. Evil Conflict. Tropes are pretty unavoidable, as there is a trope for almost any story idea that has been used more than once.
Therefore, you’d might as well embrace the use of tropes! That being said, it is generally best to focus on tropes that fit in with what you’re trying to write. It’s also important to not use tropes that will obviously annoy your readers. If you do, try to change them in a way that makes them new and less annoying.
For example, why not take the Love Triangle (one of my least favorite tropes of all time) and put a twist on it? Perhaps Character A has no interest in Characters B or C. Maybe the three of them could end up in a poly relationship. There are many possibilities that don’t include endless pining and one indecisive bitch of a character going back and forth for fifty chapters.
Depending on your story, you might want to look up common tropes for your genre, or try to determine what is more commonly-used by other writers. That way, you can be aware of them and use them to your advantage instead of accidentally creating an uninspired cardboard cutout of a plot.
Clichés can be a little harder to work with. By definition, a cliché is an idea that has been overused and is associated with a lack of original thought. However, many things that could be considered clichéd continue to exist today. Why? Well, it’s because people still love them and are familiar with them. Therefore, it’s possible for a writer to use them.
Let’s start by looking at a saying that one might consider clichéd: “His heart pounded with excitement.”
I’m guilty of using that phrase and variations of that phrase rather frequently. Sometimes, I’ll use the classic “pounded with excitement” saying. Other times, I change it. For example, when describing the excitement of a strong, powerful character, you might say that “His heart beat like war drums.” If the character is falling in love, you might say that “His heart fluttered like a caged sparrow.” Depending on the imagery you use, you can get across that the character’s heart is beating due to his excitement without directly saying it.
Now, if you’re writing something that is meant to be filled with clichés, such as a sappy, straightforward romance or a basic sword-and-sorcery battle, feel free to lay them on. I’m known for scouring the internet for simple, fluffy fanfictions that are full of every soppy romantic cliché imaginable. Sometimes you need to read or write something basic. Don’t be ashamed of that. Just write it well.
A plot device is a method used in writing specifically to move the plot along. Some are more recognizable than others, and it is good to know when to use them, when to change them, and when to cut them out.
Let’s think of the fantasy genre. A common plot device that many fantasy writers use is to make the main protagonist an orphan, either at the beginning of the story, a few chapters in, or before the events of the book even start. This gives the protagonist a greater amount of freedom to act, a backstory that can allow for some unique character traits, and a motive for revenge depending on how the parents died. The Harry Potter series, for example, utilized this device very well. Just by doing one small thing with the plot, several corners are cut when developing the main character and rationalizing their actions. It’s also helpful if this device has a significant effect on the other characters and the rest of the world in question.
Using a plot device for the sake of character development is usually a good thing, unless the device is contrived or unneeded. A good example of this is the RWBY series, where two characters were built up together as best friends who would soon become something more. This development was followed by the sudden, unnecessary death of one of these characters before she could get sufficient development. In killing this character off, the writers turned her into a convenient plot device to further the development of her love interest, which is incredibly cheap and a waste of a perfectly good character.
A good rule of thumb with plot devices is to ask yourself what you want to read. Ask: “Would this make me want to throw my computer across the room in anger if I were to read it from someone else?” If the answer is yes, don’t do it! This goes for the tropes and clichés too.
So, there you have it. The annoying trends that won’t go away are actually there for a reason, and can actually be used to a story’s advantage. Just be very careful, as the line between paying respectful homage to a common idea and creating a cookie-cutter scenario that will put your reader to sleep is a thin one. Always remember what you would want to read, and use that as your guide. At the very least, people who think like you are guaranteed to love it.
Ah, hate-shipping. You either love it, or…well, anyway. Hate-shipping is when two (or more) characters are shipped together, despite the fact that they actively hate each other in canon. People look at the mutual glares, and choose to see sexual tension. Insulting statements are really veiled flirting attempts. Even physical assault can turn to foreplay when the shipping goggles are in place.
You’ll find it in every fandom, but why? Why do people seem so keen on putting enemies together in a romantic situation? Well, believe it or not, I think I can provide an explanation.
First, we need to look at the history of romance in fiction. Until very recently, there was a common theme in romantic comedies. Look up any old movie involving a romance, and there’s a pretty good chance that the couple in question starts off despising each other. Over the course of the story, we see several hijinks and comedic moments that ultimately lead to them realizing that they love what had originally repelled them. Usually, this moment of revelation comes very shortly before the end, meaning that most of the movie consists of anger and bickering.
With this basis, is it any wonder that people nowadays have similar thoughts when they see characters going at each other? For years, contemporary romance has either been bickering, or drawn-out pining mixed in with love at first sight. Between the two, the bickering relationship is definitely the more interesting one to watch.
Admittedly, there is an appeal to the idea of seeing people develop over time, moving past their differences until they reach a point of friendship. This is especially satisfying if the characters in question are characters we’ve spent time with and have grown to like. Think of Zuko and Team Avatar from Avatar: The Last Airbender. They were enemies for most of the show, but we the viewers saw that there were similarities between them, as well as a sense of nobility and goodness in the supposedly-villainous Zuko, to the point where we were begging for him to become friends with the rest of the main cast. Romance, for many, is the logical next step in that type of progression.
Another reason people like hate-shipping is the hotness factor. Let’s face it: rage kissing and anger sex can be really stimulating to read if it’s done right. There’s a fine line between passion and assault, but if that line is carefully treaded, the reader is treated to a messy, gripping, animalistic scene that is meant to get the blood boiling. Sometimes, that’s all we need.
At the end of the day, however, I feel that the main appeal is simply in the bickering. Let’s face it: We all love characters who bicker. Who are the best friends? The ones who give each other shit, of course! What relationships are the most laid back? The ones where they’re repeatedly dissing each other and then laughing afterward. Hate pairings provide bickering with an extra level of shade, which is always entertaining, especially if both sides give as good as they get.
Ships are built on what character interactions we find the most interesting, and hate is interesting. Even if it wouldn’t work in real life, it’s a thing we can imagine in fiction and have fun with. So, whether you’re a hate-shipper or not, try to understand where people are coming from and respect their ships.
Though please, for the love of all that is holy, do not use hate-ships as a basis for what you think real romances should be like, okay? It’s called fictional shipping for a reason!
Office Space Cheer: The characters all work in an office building. Every day, someone keeps on bringing in homemade food for the break room. Each time, it’s something that one of the workers particularly likes. Who’s bringing in these treats, and why?