What Is a Cliffhanger in a Story?

A cliffhanger in a story occurs when the author leaves the reader or viewer unsure of what happens to the main characters involved. The story ends suddenly, almost in mid-scene, with no real resolution to the plot. Cliffhangers are popular in books, television shows and movies where sequels are planned.

The purpose of the cliffhanger is to create suspense and interest in a sequel or coming chapter. According to Literary Devices, the cliffhanger dates back to ancient literature. In the story "One Thousand and One Nights," a king orders the death of the queen. In order to avoid her fate, she tells him a story each night that ends in a cliffhanger, and he continues to delay her death to find out what happens next.