The cliff-hanger is a favourite device of popular genre fiction writers. It is a moment of mini-climax, usually involving high stakes, that leaves the reader wondering how it will be resolved. This trick of leaving the reader hanging is one used in films and soaps, too. After all, we are curious and want to know -
1. What happened next?
2. How did the situation resolve itself?
3. How does the hero/heroine get out of that mess?
4. What will so-and-so say now they know that? How will so-and-so react?
Cliff-hangers come in various forms, but the one I'm writing about today is the relationship cliff-hanger.
Does X love me? How do I feel about X? Will my step-child/real child/adopted child/newly-found child love me? These relationship cliff-hangers are all about feelings. Characters are strongly drawn and their feelings shown in great detail and depth, to help readers identify with them and feel an investment in their stories. A relationship cliff-hanger can be a quarrel, a disappearance, a break of some kind, or a moment of revelation - 'Yes I love so-and-so!' - and then what next? Does the character tell the person of their love? How it will be received? This is the stuff of all romance and relationship stories.
In wider relationship stories it may be more than boy and girl - it may be family issues, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters and so on. But the emotions and the relationships, that final decision to either go forward with the relationship or give up on it, is what drives the story.