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The Pros and Cons of Cliffhanger/Serial Storytelling in Movies/Books/TV, Etc.

Discussion in 'Archive: The Amphitheatre' started by Nabooty_Call, Jun 13, 2002.

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  1. Nabooty_Call

    Nabooty_Call Former RSA / Obi-Wan Impersonator star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 11, 2000
    From the STAR WARS films to X-Men comics, Flash Gordon serials to Doctor Who and Deep Space Nine TV stories, I've always been a fan of telling a story in which fairly short installments end with either a cliffhanger or opening for other chapters in a story to be told.

    The Pro's of this imo are that there's always more story to tell, the mythos the story grows out of seems deeper than mere episodic storytelling for the most part, and if done well, they lead you into actually wanting to find out more about various topics.

    The Cons are that the further installments can become burdened by the past stories, overly repetitive, convoluted, self-referential or fan-pleasing at the expense of a potential new audience or new story elements, and you never reach the true end of the tale.

    It seems like a lot of TV shows especially have become semi-cliffhanger, in that a story arc happens over the course of a season, but you need not watch every episode except a few key examples, to get the larger story, and each episode usually has closure in and of itself.

    Do you prefer more hybrid stories, employing a loose story arc formula, more cliffhanger stories, or more episodic stories, where each segment is self-contained and only the most modest of changes takes place in the central story or characters' lives (a la Star Trek: TNG), and why ?[face_plain]

  2. Maveric

    Maveric Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Oct 17, 1999
    Like everything else in life, cliffhangers can be overdone.

    I will break my opinion down into different levels:

    If the author is a capable writer and is able to carry a storyline effectively, a cliffhanger can be a good thing. Especially for the author as they have established a fan base.
    The turnaround time of the author. If an author takes two or more years per book (R. Jordan, Tom Clancy, GRR Martin) the faithful followers may become disenchanted with the series and forget the plot.

    There is relatively low cost in seeing cliffhangers. They can keep the audience attracted to the characters and their situations, thus making them more inclined to return to see the conclusion.

    Soap Operas! My mom watches them all the time and a cliffhanger occurs every week!

    "River, I don't know if Cloud is your daughter or Creek', your evil twin brother!"

    Well, you got to keep them coming back, and sometimes a comic will risk shoddy dialogue to cover a very implausible event in a storyline (yes, even for a comic book).


    What drove me from comics was that when I read them in college I lived off of a very limited budget, and every year X-Men and Spiderman, and the entire Marvel Universe would have these huge crossovers that made you buy other comics to get the whole story.
    That was okay if, for example you collected all of the Spidey books, but then when it crossed over into 12 other books that you had no intention of reading, you were forced into buying them, unless you wanted to miss out

    In the Star Wars universe, I do not read the comics. That is an addiction I have gotten passed ( I use that term for me because it was, I mean no offense to anyone). I do not like it when the books reference the comics, as I personally do not view them as the same SW universe.
  3. Rogue1-and-a-half

    Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece star 8 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Nov 2, 2000
    I prefer a loose story arc mostly. Character changes in one episode of a television show or one movie of a series should not be written off in the next installment.

    One of the best examples of this is the X-Files. One of the most complex myth arcs in television. And the character change and growth was amazing through the sixth season at least. The characters were realistic in the ways in which they reacted and grew under pressure. I also like the idea of many characters that walk in an out: ie. X, Deep Throat, the Lone Gunman, Smoking Man, Krycek, Marita Covarrubios, Agent Spender, Agent Pendrell, Skinner, Kritshgau, etc. It's fun to trace characters in this manner.

    One drawback is the occasional cheap resolve. For instance, too many times on season enders, some character ends up dead, only to be resurrected next season. This is pointless, offensive to my knowledge of story structure and pandering to the audience at it's lowest.
  4. Mastadge

    Mastadge Manager Emeritus star 7 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Jun 4, 1999
    In terms of TV shows, I think DS9 got it right. B5 was too, as you put it, self referential and fan pleasing.

    Do you prefer more hybrid stories, employing a loose story arc formula, more cliffhanger stories, or more episodic stories,

    In terms of television, I'll just say that MacGuyver and DS9 got it right -- and they went two completely different ways. In terms of books, I HATE episodes. There should either be a predetermined arc or trilogy structure of some sort, or each novel should be its own novel. For a good example of how not to do things, check out Terry Goodkind.
  5. Maveric

    Maveric Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Oct 17, 1999

    How can you not like the fact that Kahlan almost gets brutally raped in every book? C'mon man! Get with the program!!!!

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