Ending a chapter with a cliffhanger is a powerful device.
Not every chapter necessarily needs to end in this way. In fact, that wouldn’t generally be advisable and, for some genres, would be entirely inappropriate.
That said, not every cliffhanger is going to be a literal matter of life and death – and therefore, they can probably be used more frequently than many writers believe.
In some stories, there won’t be a single life or death cliffhanger – and yet, there will still be cliffhangers, of some kind. A line of dialogue, containing a revelation or an accusation, can often provide the perfect cliffhanger.
A cliffhanger compels readers to continue beyond the chapter they had originally intended to read.
That’s the aim, anyway.
Many writers make the mistake of keeping the suspense going for too long.
There’s actually nothing wrong with providing a resolution to a cliffhanger almost immediately, in the following chapter. More problems will inevitably arise, and the plot will continue.
Delays can sometimes be effective.
So, yes – you can even finish on a cliffhanger, and then switch to a subplot. But do so with caution, because you do risk losing readers, in the process.
As for continually switching between different knife’s edge situations – I don’t claim that this can’t work out, but it definitely takes skill, and wouldn’t work well in many stories.
When it comes to ending an entire novel on a cliffhanger: rarely advisable, in my opinion, unless you’re planning to write a sequel, or the book is part of a series.
Or perhaps an epilogue could provide some sort of resolution. But, in general, I would reserve cliffhangers for chapter endings.
In a previous post, I discussed how to build suspense and tension in your fiction, which definitely ties in with this subject.
I personally do tend to use cliffhangers, of various kinds, a great deal, in my own writing. They’re one of my favourite aspects of fiction, both as a writer and reader.
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