The Font of All Human Knowledge tell us that Thomas Hardy originated the term “cliffhanger” in 1873 when he left a protagonist from one of his serials literally hanging off a cliff at the end of a particular installment. But of course, as the great Font reminds us, the cliffhanger as a plot device goes back much, much further, at least as far back as the One Thousand and One Nights, in which Scheherazade narrated a series of stories to King Shahryār for all those years of nights, “with each night ending on a cliffhanger, in order to save herself from execution”.
And since then, the cliffhanger has been a tried-and-true hook across a range of artistic media where bringing the customer back is the main objective. Think of how often you’ve seen season-ending cliffhangers in TV and on-demand series, or encountered them month-after-month in a comic book series, or been left dangling over the edge in a novel that makes you wait for a sequel. It works, even though it’s frustrating.
Why the hell, you may ask, is he droning on about the “cliffhanger” device??? You will find out soon enough.