Why Closure is Important in Cliffhangers

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by Millie Ho

I’ve always wondered how Breaking Bad managed to get away with so many cliffhanger episode endings AND leave us with a feeling of completeness at the same time.

After re-watching the series for the second time, I think I have the answer: closure.

When I first started writing my Long-Suffering Manuscript, I thought closure was only possible at the end of the story, after the protagonist defeated the antagonist, reclaimed lost turf, reconciled with loved ones, etc, but that’s not true at all.

Watching Walter White transform in each episode, however minutely, has taught me an important writing lesson:

CLOSURE SHOULD BE PRESENT THROUGHOUT YOUR BOOK, NOT JUST AT THE END

And this is especially important if said book contains a cliffhanger in every other chapter.

Using the pilot episode as an example, I break down this Closure Within A Cliffhanger idea, identify how episodic closure is established by the show’s writers, and why I’m now looking for more ways to insert closure into my chapters and scenes.

My main takeaway:

Closure = Understanding + Transformation

CLOSURE DOES NOT MEAN GETTING RID OF A PROBLEM

It simply means your protagonist has transformed because of the problem, and we, as readers, viewers, and audiences, can understand the protagonist and his/her situation better.

At the end of the day, if you’re not rewarding your readers with occasional moments of closure, then they’ll feel like they’re wasting their time by investing in your book. By saturating each narrative milestone with closure, you’ll create a more enjoyable reading experience.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Millie Ho. Millie is a writer and illustrator from Toronto, Canada. She uses her blog and YouTube channel to document what she’s learned about writing from both the writing process and from books, TV shows, and films.

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17 thoughts on “Why Closure is Important in Cliffhangers”

  1. I entirely agree with this. I loved the Breaking Bad series and so admired the writers. After reading Brian Cranston’s autobiography, A Life in Parts, I could see how each episode received careful treatment as it’s own separate story as well as part of the whole. This was an entertaining and insightful book.

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  2. I didn’t think of it like this before. Every single good book I’ve read is peppered with closure, and a deeper understanding of the characters after each chapter. Closure is also a great way to develop a character’s personality. This was a really good read, I was thoroughly interested. You could say this post gave me writer’s closure to a problem I have been trying to get my head around for a long time. 🙂

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  3. Fascinating thought. I believe you’re right. Closure can and does happen many times throughout a story – not just at the end. In fact, in some books, especially those planning sequels, the end may have very little or no closure.
    Great, thought provoking post.

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  4. Huh…it was on the tip of my brain, but I couldn’t figure out what I liked about certain shows and stories that did the cliffhanger thing, but that explains it well. There’s nothing that feels lazier than when every little thing is finally closed up in the last few pages, as if the author was checking things off a list. It feels manufactured. Closure DOES happen in different ways and at different times. That’s awesome. I’ll have to keep this in mind.

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