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What is a cliffhanger? And, how to write one that’ll keep your readers glued to the page.

Betty had a pair of lips on her that were as red as cherries and as soft as velvet; and she knew how to use them.

When Dennis stumbled home drunk off his ass after the company Christmas party, his face painted in Betty’s lipstick, his wife didn’t have time to slap him across his face.

Three steps in the door, dazed and confused, Dennis hit the ground with a thud that sent a quake through the house, sounding like a freight train half-way into the sky realizing it couldn’t fly.

Dennis was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital.

The cause: cyanide.

What is a cliffhanger?

In television, a cliffhanger is an intense, suspenseful ending to an episode that leaves the viewer feeling anxious, excited and curious about what will happen next.

In not so many words… it’s a question without an answer.

Or, perhaps even an action without a cause.

Hit series like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Mad Men use cliffhangers to keep the viewer coming back to the next episode and the episode after that.

Renowned authors like Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway use and have used cliffhangers to keep the reader thumbing through their 300,000-word novels.

A cliffhanger is an invaluable tool wielded by creatives in a variety of different crafts to keep the audience watching and reading and listening.

It can be an invaluable tool for marketers and copywriters looking to sell like hell with the written word, too.

And, if you keep reading, I’ll tell you how to sprinkle cliffhangers into your emails, articles and landing pages to keep your audience glued to the page.

Cliffhangers: the powerful plot device marketers and copywriters desperately need.

If you jump back to the beginning of this article, I wrote a cliffhanger in the form of a super short story.

Surely you noticed.

The short story closed with a climactic event, a cheating husband dropping dead from cyanide poisoning. But, more importantly, it ended abruptly with a question left unanswered…

Who killed Dennis?

However, while you surely noticed this cliffhanger, did you notice the second cliffhanger I wrote shortly after it?

My guess is no.

In the previous section, I wrote…

“And, if you keep reading, I’ll tell you how to sprinkle cliffhangers into your emails, articles and landing pages to keep your audience glued to the page.”

While no, this cliffhanger isn’t nearly as exciting as the murder of Dennis. It left a question in your mind that went unanswered…

How can I keep my readers glued to my emails, articles and landing pages?

Unlike in film or literary fiction, the greatest cliffhangers in marketing and copywriting go completely unnoticed by the reader.

They’re unobtrusive hooks that tickle the reader’s curiosity and keep her reading to the bottom of the page.

They’re wildly effective and if you’re questioning their effectiveness, just look to yourself as evidence… you’re still reading.

Now, here’s how to write a cliffhanger.

When approaching a cliffhanger in marketing or copywriting, view it as simply writing a really badass question and leaving it unanswered.

Let’s say you’re sending out a weekly newsletter and you’re wanting to make sure your subscribers are excited about the following week’s email, at the bottom of the email you can write something along the lines of…

We asked a dozen content marketing managers to tell us their most successful form of content and we heard the same answer again and again and again. We can’t wait to spill the beans next week.

I run two newsletters, you can check them out here and here. Subscribers constantly email me telling me they’re some of the only newsletters in their inbox they actually read. While part of this is because I’m giving away invaluable content, my use of cliffhangers plays no small part in my newsletters success.

Cliffhangers can also be hugely effective in the form of headlines (both for blog posts and sales pages)…

Our clients laughed at how expensive our lead generation service was, until we put $100,000 in their pocket.

While killer cliffhangers are something you have to style depending on the brand’s voice, here are a few generic ones to get you moving in the right direction…

  • You’d never guess what happened.

  • At first, we thought the results were too good to be true.

  • Keep reading to discover how we did it.

  • It was the last thing we would have expected.

  • I’ll tell you here shortly, but first…

Begin thinking about cliffhanger as you watch your favorite TV shows. Pay attention to how the writers and directors are keeping you interested.

As you become aware, try them out in your marketing and copy.

Lastly, if you’re interested in writing words that sell like hell, I talk more about cliffhangers and so much more in my copywriting guide.

By Cole Schafer.


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Cole Schafer