Cliffhangers: The Best Way to Engage an Audience

Bill Smart

To avid readers who are lost and yearning to find meaning and emotion

Keywords: Cliffhanger, Storytelling, Possibilities, Danger

When looking at rhetorical theories and terms there are a lot of different meanings and fundamentals that cause the reader to stay engaged and want more. But after careful examination and various hours of research, I argue that the best way to engage a reader and leave them wanting more, is by writing a story or speech that has a cliffhanger or various cliffhangers. When writing the best thing one can do is have trust between themselves and the audience. The audience relies upon you to deliver and give them a memorable lesson that is going to stick with them, and after various trials, I have come to the conclusion that the best possible way to do this is through cliffhangers.

Now as an avid reader sits here and reads this, I am sure you are confused and wondering, “How can cliffhangers be important to a story or even rhetoric in general?” And this is a great question, but before fully immersing oneself into this, an avid reader needs to first understand what a cliffhanger is and why it is important to an audience and even us as the readers. According to the Cambridge dictionary, a cliffhanger is “a story or situation, often dangerous or of great importance, where two opposite results are possible and you do not know what the result will be until the last moment.” Now we as the “avid reading” audience need to break this definition up into three different parts. The first part is going to be about how we need to start off by sitting here and thinking about what they mean by “often dangerous or of great importance”, and why this is essential to the cliffhanger of a story. Then the second part is going to be about cliffhangers and how they give the possibility of having “two opposite results possible.” And finally, the third and final part is going to be about how “you do not know what the result will be until the last moment.” All three of these parts are essential to the importance of cliffhangers and if you are able to understand this you will be able to fully understand how to write a better and more intriguing story.

First, when talking about cliffhangers, we need to understand that in order to incorporate an effective cliffhanger one needs to make it “dangerous or of great importance.” This is important because it shows us the reader that in order to make a good cliffhanger the audience needs to be on the edge of their seat and waiting for what is about to come next. This cannot be a scene that is not fundamental to the structure of the story. For example, if I was telling a story about a murder trial, I would not make the cliffhanger about the color tie the defendant was wearing. This would not engage the reader because it is not of “great importance” and definitely does not tie into the theme of “dangerous.” Instead, I may make the cliffhanger about the verdict. Because this is the end result of all the events that have transpired beforehand, and the end result to which everyone reading wants to know the answer too. This ties into both the themes of “dangerous” and “importance.”

Second, when talking about cliffhangers an essential part is the knowledge that there are “two opposite results possible.” This again is an extremely important theme and although it may seem simple it is a rule that can be ruined very easily. A lot of times in speeches or stories the author sets up the story with major giveaways as to the outcome or message of the given prompt.

When this happens it makes the reader zone out and not be engaged in what is going on, due to the fact that they already have come up with an answer as to what is going to happen. Therefore, when trying to use a cliffhanger it is important to give insight into various possible outcomes and be as detailed about what may happen as possible. This will keep the reader engaged and locked in on the story because it will make them feel like at any moment the answer is going to come to light. For example, if we go back to the courtroom, the verdict is a great cliffhanger because there are two possible outcomes, the person is guilty or not guilty. And due to these two possible solutions the reader is locked in and personally attached to what the outcome of the cliffhanger will be.

And finally, when we look at cliffhangers, we see the importance of using them correctly and how to set the story up so that “you do not know what the result will be until the last moment.” This is such an essential part of cliffhangers and one needs to understand that the entire engaging and interactive part of cliffhangers is that throughout your writing you give insight and clues in order to keep the reader guessing to the point where he or she has a guess as to what is going to happen, but they do not truly know yet. Giving this guessing insight and not revealing the truth until the last moment will leave your reader in awe and engaged in the reading the entire time.

In the end, when looking at cliffhangers there are three essential steps to take in order to engage your reader and leave them wanting more. First, cliffhangers are “often dangerous or of great importance.” Second, cliffhangers have “two opposite results possible.” And finally, “you do not know what the result will be until the last moment.” Each of these steps is fundamental to learning what a true cliffhanger is, and what you as an avid reader need to do in order to lock in the meaning of the story. Without cliffhangers in writing, there would be no mystery. And therefore, writing would be bland and way too forthcoming to not only the reader but also to the audience. But thanks to cliffhangers avid readers are able to stay engaged while at the same time guessing what is going to happen next. Due to all of these great things about cliffhangers, I truly feel that this rhetorical term and method is the most effective way to tie an audience into the reading or story at hand. I feel that no other style of writing is able to do this while still being able to stay on point and on topic.

Works Cited

“Cliffhanger: Definitions and Examples.” Literary Terms, 27 Sept. 2017,

“Cliffhanger.” CLIFFHANGER | Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary,

Henchman, Anna. “Hardy’s Cliffhanger and Narrative Time.” The English language notes 46.1 (2008): 127–134. Web.

Martin, Gary. “’Cliff-Hanger’ – the Meaning and Origin of This Phrase.” Phrase Finder,

Poot, Luke Terlaak. “On Cliffhangers.” Narrative, vol. 24, no. 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 50–67. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/nar.2016.0001.

“What Is a Cliffhanger? Definition, Examples of Cliffhangers.” Writing Explained,


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Feeling Rhetoric Copyright © 2022 by Bill Smart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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