King Shahryar’s wife cheated on him, so he beheaded her in rage. Her beheading wasn’t enough to assuage his anger, so he picked up a gruesome habit of marrying a new woman each morning and beheading her each night. He did this to many wives for many nights until one woman—Scheherazade—told him a story. But Scheherazade didn’t complete the story. Instead, she stopped at a point of high tension, promising to continue the story the next night if King Shahryar acquiesced. Shahryar agreed, and the woman lived another day. Scheherazade continued her story, again ending on a cliffhanger. She did for One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, weaving fascinating tales like Aladdin and Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves, and by the final night—the king had fallen in love with her, and she was never beheaded.
How’s that for a happy ending?
Cliffhangers are a plot device affiliated with low-brow pulp fiction or TV series—To Be Continued…Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel. While hopefully none of us find ourselves under the terror of a heartbroken king, we can use the concept to our advantage. A few ideas:
- Start small. If you have a big presentation or an important report looming and you don’t have time or energy to finish it, start immediately. Open a document, add a title, and create an outline. In seconds, you’ll have created momentum, so getting going later will be easier.
- Stop halfway. When working on a long project, abruptly cut yourself off in the middle of your work. Stop writing mid-sentence. When you return for the next session, you won’t wonder where to begin—you’ll start where you left off.