The tiller got stuck when I switch on the tines

Claudia's blog

At the end of last year, I received the book The Father's Legacy for review. It is the 2nd volume of the 7-part chronicle "The Clifton Saga" by Jeffrey Archer. The book started with an arrest (the end of Volume 1) and ended with a trial. The 1st book with cliffhanger that I have read. Although I had not read Volume 1, it was not a problem to understand the content despite the lack of previous history. The Clifton family tree at the front of the book was also helpful, which I really appreciate when there are many characters in a book to keep track of things.

Since Jeffrey Archer is one of my favorite authors, I also read the first volume afterwards. And meanwhile also Volume 3 - 6. Volume 7, the last, will appear in November 2016:

  1. Only time will tell
  2. The sins of the father
  3. Best kept secret (inheritance and fate)
  4. Be careful what you wish for
  5. Mightier than the sword
  6. Cometh the hour
  7. This Was a Man

All volumes openly end at the most exciting moment with a cliffhanger (an arrest, a court hearing, a car accident, the explosion of a bomb, a shot). And anyone who has ever read a book by Jeffrey Archer knows that he is a master of building tension. At the end you can hardly put the book aside, because you really want to know how it goes from there, so that at the end you won't even be released from your tension. According to Wikipedia, a cliffhanger is mainly associated with television series, soap operas or even continued movies and stands for the open outcome of an episode at its peak, with an answer in the next episode. The term has its origin in the novel "A Pair of Blue Eyes" by Thomas Hardy from the year 1873, which appeared as a monthly series in a magazine, and a scene in the steep slopes of the Bristol Channel, where Henry Knight is only on one Can hold on to tufts of grass so as not to plunge to certain death. The cliffhanger scene tied the reader to the serial because the tension was only released in the next issue of the magazine / newspaper, a method of customer loyalty that was widely copied. Well-known films with Cliffhanger are "The Lord of the Rings", "Harry Potter", "Star Wars" or "Back to the Future".

Another example with cliffhanger is the "Emma Harte Saga" by Barbara Taylor Bradford:

  1. A woman of substance
  2. Hold the dream
  3. To be the best (and reach for the stars)
  4. Emma's secret
  5. Unexpected blessings (a gift from fate)
  6. Just rewards (in the end love waits)
  7. Breaking the rules

The first volume was published in 1979 and described the story of 14-year-old Emma Harte from 1904, who was way ahead of her time and an impressive person. In 1984 there was a miniseries. Even after her death, Emma Harte played an important role in all volumes through her legacy and the values ​​for which she stood. It was about family secrets, quarrels and intrigues. The sixth volume ended completely surprisingly for me with a cliffhanger, when it turned out at the end that the arch enemy of the family did not have a fatal accident and the reader could suspect that he would continue to mess around to harm the family. In 2009 there was the last band so far that didn't meet my expectations at all. Some topics are exhausted at some point and the story is told. Even a cliffhanger doesn't help if the tension effect doesn't deliver what it promises.

The phenomenon of the cliff hanger has already been investigated and named the Zeigarnik effect after a colleague of the Bluma Zeigarnik research group, in which experiments have shown that, under certain conditions, one remembers interrupted actions better than completed ones. However, the effect could not be replicated, which is why the phenomenon is considered controversial. And yet the cliffhanger seems to have a great effect and is used again and again in books, films and television series. The tension is greatest towards the end of the book or film and is only released in the next episode, only to end with a tension effect. If you look at how many thousands of episodes some daily soap has already behind it, it is precisely because of this tactic that viewers seem to watch each new episode for months or years. But there are also series that were canceled at some point because nothing new was offered and the audience numbers no longer met expectations (e.g. the US TV series "Dallas" or "The Denver Clan"). The cliffhanger is therefore not a guarantee of success.

But is it really just the tension at the end that makes us read or watch the sequel?

Who doesn't know the Sissi trilogy? After the success of the first film in 1955, there were two more in 1956 and 1957 with Romy Schneider and Karlheinz Böhm. A fourth part would probably have been a box-office hit if Romy hadn't refused. And the films didn't end with cliff hangers, Sissi or the story of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth simply spoke to people's hearts.

Or take the movie "Pretty Woman" with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. The film ended with a happy ending and there were many people who wanted a sequel. The new dream couple shot together again "The bride who doesn't dare", but it was not a sequel to "Pretty Woman". Also a good movie, but nowhere near as cult as the first one. But the everyday problems Edward Lewis and Vivian Ward would have had after the wedding might have been less romantic. Not only tension, but also romance and feelings stimulate us to dream and speak to us.

Or let's take the world-famous 7 volumes Harry Potter by the English writer Joanne K. Rowling, which tell his story from the age of eleven to almost adulthood, and which were also filmed with great success. A fantasy novel series that magically inspired young and old in the truest sense of the word. Sorcery, magic or parallel worlds fascinate us and speak to us in the same way.

But also adventures by pirates (e.g. "Pirates of the Caribbean") or in space (e.g. "Star Wars") captivate us in films and books. We want to know what else happens when we have had exciting adventures with the heroes and a sequel comes out in the cinema / television or as a book.

Or let's take a look at a few of the numerous television crime series:

  • "Tatort", where since 1970 various investigators (mostly duos) have been investigating in various cities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
  • "Derrick", the best-selling German series in television history, which was broadcast in over 100 countries around the world and ran from 1974 to 1998.
  • "The old one", which started in 1977 and until 2016 had four chief inspectors.
  • The special commissions "SOKO", which have been investigating in Munich, Cologne, Wismar, Stuttgart, Kitzbühel, Vienna and Leipzig since 1978.
  • "A case for two" from 1981 to 2013, where there was always only one private detective Matula, but four different lawyers one after the other. A new edition was started in 2014.

In crime novels, the tension effect is at the beginning. A crime (usually a murder) occurs that is solved and ends with an arrest. What is it that makes such series so successful that they have been running for years? Interesting and exciting investigations, but also the personality of the investigator, play a role when it is often unclear until the end who the perpetrator is. As soon as the audience numbers drop because the cases repeat themselves, everything becomes predictable, the broadcaster makes attempts to swap actors (often a radical counterproductive makeover) in order to make the series a success again. If that fails, she will be hired.

There are both books and films that reach a large number of people even without a cliffhanger. The best example are the films by Rosamunde Pilcher and Inga Lindström in the Sunday evening program, which, if it is not a multi-part, which of course always ends at the most exciting moment, always have a happy ending (with multi-part only after 2-4 parts). After the usual jealousy scenes, misunderstandings and intrigues, the couple is guaranteed to find each other at the end. There is no tension here, but relaxation at the end.

Tension, feelings, magic and adventure captivate us, stimulate our imagination and make us curious about how things will go on. But when we dive into another world in a film or book, an image emerges in us, a tension effect can also be frustrating in the end. If the hero is hanging on the slope and we don't know whether he will survive, we wait impatiently for the sequel, have high expectations that may not be fulfilled in the sequel, and are immensely disappointed. In daily soaps, the tension is usually resolved very quickly, only to encourage us to continue watching with a new moment of tension at the end. With books we often have to wait longer for the continuation. For example, a trial that is adjourned because the jury cannot agree is extremely unsatisfactory.

If the wait is not worth it, it is similar to clickbaiting, according to Wikipedia a lurid headline that leaves a so-called curiosity gap. The reader is given just enough information to arouse their curiosity, but not enough to satisfy them. Both clickbaiting and cliffhanger have the purpose of reaching (more) people. They can both arouse curiosity and high expectations and not always keep what they promise in terms of tension.


What is certain is that an oversupply of everything makes it more and more difficult to attract and hold attention. What has proven itself is often copied, often until it no longer has any effect. Completed things are completed and checked off for me and therefore "forgotten" at some point. While unfinished things stay in my mind until they are done, because I still have to do something. I am concerned with an open ending, because for me a book or film is or should be a story with a beginning and an end. I prefer a "correct ending" but have nothing against a sequel if I liked the characters and the plot. Finally, after the "happy ending" (e.g. a wedding) it continues and offers material for further episodes. I don't like an open ending without a continuation at all.

I didn't like at all about the Clifton Saga that every book ended with a cliffhanger. I also thought about not buying the other volumes for this reason. But since Jeffrey Archer is one of my favorite authors and has never disappointed me so far, I gradually bought all the available volumes. The seventh and final volume will be released in November 2016 (hopefully with a correct ending).

And what do you think of cliff hangers?