cliffhangers

X-Files Fic: Au Cafe Pequod, Chapter 4

Previous chapters: One | Two | Three


ORADOUR-SUR-GLANE, HAUTE-VIENNE, FRANCE
EARLY JANUARY 1944

The evening of Sunday, January second, finds Mulder making his way through snow-covered back and side streets, taking the longest, most deserted route possible to Marguerite Scully’s house. Thanks to his encounter with Oberst Spender a week ago, he had been forced to decline her original invitation for the Sunday after Christmas, but she was kind enough to extend it a second time.

This time, however, Scully is not escorting Mulder to her mother’s house herself. At Mulder’s strong suggestion, Scully left the cafe in the morning of New Year’s Day to spend the weekend with her mother, after taking care of everything that would need doing to open the cafe on Monday. She will stay the night at her mother’s, rather than walking home with Mulder, and head back to Cafe Pequod after helping Mrs. Scully with the morning chores on the farm. Mulder has relayed Hauptmann Skinner’s warning to her, and though Scully has been, predictably, dismissive of any threat to herself, she knows risking being caught out after curfew again would be unwise. Mulder misses her company on the long, cold walk through town, but the idea of Oberst Spender coming after Scully terrifies him, and so he wraps his overcoat tighter around himself and plods on.

Mulder hasn’t seen Scully since her left her at her door on New Year’s Eve. He had badly wanted to risk one more quick kiss before he left, but it seemed madness to risk being caught by some drunken soldier making their way back to camp. Tonight, they’ll be in the constant company of her mother, but Mulder’s hoping hard that, at the end of the evening, Scully will at least see him to the door by herself. He wonders if she’s spent as much of this interminable weekend thinking about their kiss as he has.

Mulder is also wondering about how their evenings in the cafe will progress after this. Will they still sit downstairs, in full view of the windows, as they have every night so far? Or will her upstairs parlor no longer be reserved for special occasions? The thought of spending every evening upstairs, alone with her, sitting next to her on her sofa, maybe dancing again, maybe doing a bit more than dancing…. The shiver that runs down his back has nothing to do with the cold.

It’s clear enough to him that when it comes to kissing, Scully has had plenty of practice. She might blush whenever Mulder hints at his feelings for her, but she was not even the slightest bit shy in his arms on Friday night. He has no doubt that if he had not leaned down to kiss her as the clock had struck twelve, she would have taken matters into her own hands. She invited him up to her apartment to be alone with her with no hesitation at all, not the least bit concerned that Mulder might think her forward. She is bold and confident, no shrinking violet, and while Mulder knows exactly what his mother would think (and what her mother would probably think, as well), in his eyes, it’s just one more thing for him to love about her.

Physically, she is self-assured and unafraid.

Emotionally… Mulder gets the feeling that the territory in which they find themselves is as unfamiliar to her as it is to him.

Mulder feels his gait quickening as Mrs. Scully’s farm comes into view. Lights blaze warmly in the downstairs windows, and he can see shadows moving back and forth behind the curtains. Lots of shadows. He frowns. Did Scully mention that anyone else would be eating with them this evening? He crosses the yard and knocks smartly on the front door. He recognizes Scully’s quick, crisp steps on the wooden floor inside, and the door opens.

“Mulder!” Scully exclaims, her face alight. She glances over her shoulder to be sure the front hall is empty; then, too quickly for him to respond, she stretches up on tip-toe to give him a peck on the lips. He grins.

“Good to see you, too, Scully,” he says.

“Please, come in.” She shuts the door behind him and takes his coat. He turns to go down the hall to the dining room, but she lays a hand on his arm, stopping him. “We’ve got some extra company tonight,” she says. “One of my mother’s hired hands is here with his wife and his two daughters. You don’t mind, do you?”

“No, of course not.”

“We’ve told them who you are, but….” She chews her lip nervously. “The girls may be a bit uneasy around you. The uniform, you know?” He hangs his head.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I wish I had something else to change into. Are you sure it’s all right for me to be here? I can come back next week-”

“No, no!” says Scully adamantly. “They’ll warm up to you, I’m sure.”

“I don’t want to make this meal unpleasant for them, Scully,” he says. Mrs. Scully has been very welcoming towards him, it’s true, but Mulder is well aware that to a French child, there is little these days more frightening than a Nazi uniform.

“It will be fine,” says Scully, taking his arm firmly and leading him to the dining room. The reception Mulder receives when they get there, however, makes him think it will be anything but.


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Cliffhanger tips

Cliffhangers are fun! You get to put your character in a precarious position and then not let the reader know what happens until later. The idea is that since some of the stuff has to happen later anyways, you might as well put readers in a position where they want to find out what it is.

Some people like to have a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. This is fine if you position your chapters so that each one ends where a tense point in your story already is. If you find yourself manufacturing cliffhangers just so you can place one at the end of each chapter, however, stop. You will end up with a bunch of awkward and anticlimactic points in your story because not every spot that looks like a good end for a chapter can effectively use a cliffhanger.

A short yet revealing sentence with its own paragraph for emphasis can make a great cliffhanger (“He was behind me.” “I fell out the window.” “They were werewolves.”). Do it all the time, however, and it will start to get annoying. If you use cliffhangers often, save these sentences for only the most important ones.

A hero hanging from a cliff by one hand keeps readers interested because they want to see how he gets out of the situation you set up (or if he dies instead). Changing the situation afterwards by making the cliff only ten feet high is anticlimactic and breaks a kind of promise you made to the reader by setting up the situation to be so interesting in the first place. 

If you discontinue a published or posted writing project on a cliffhanger, it’s nice to give your readers notes on how it would have gone.

If the protagonist has gotten out of a certain situation before, putting them in a similar situation doesn’t make a good cliffhanger. “Oh no, the protagonist is outnumbered! I bet he won’t use his super fire spell like he did the last time he was outnumbered!” This works for building tension in general, not just in cliffhangers.

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RICK RIORDAN & NOT-CLIFFHANGERS & TROLLING

When a book is too good...

I hate when you read a book that’s so good, yet so devastating. I hate those stupid cliffhanger endings that have you gaping in shock and you have to read and re-read and re-read because you can’t believe the writer wrote that. I hate how the stupid book lingers behind long after you’ve closed it and it’s all you can think about and you feel disturbed by how emotional you are over it.

I hate it, but i absolutely love it.

Kid Klingon

Kid Klingon” by RegularJOE

My mom and I walked into the waiting area.  She signed me in.  By that age, some of the kids signed themselves in, but I still let my mom do it for me.  I was probably ten.  A dozen or so boys my age (and their moms or guardians) sat waiting as well.  Some were studying their lines.  Some were playing Game Boy.  That was all normal.  But this was not a normal audition.

If you want to be an actor, you have to audition.  No, let me rephrase that.  If you wanted to work as an actor in television and movies in the early nineties, you had to audition.  I started going on auditions when I was five years old.  I’d go on three, four, five of them a week, often two on the same day, after school.  My mom would work on the material with me.  Also she’d drive the car.

Auditions have their ups and downs.  On the one hand, it’s great practice to study and perform all that different material trying out for different roles, day after day.  On the other hand, it frames the whole thing as a competition, a yes-or-no question.  Did I get the part?  Yes or no.  I’m not sure that’s the healthiest attitude for a budding artist to have towards the creative process.  Ideally, art is about self expression, embracing the present moment, things like that.  Not about winning or losing.

These boys were there to win.  So was I.  It was a cool fucking part.  To play a Klingon!  For those of you who’ve never watched Star Trek, a Klingon is a kind of species that has a body very similar to a human’s, but a head and face that’s pretty different.  Their hairline is way high on their head, like a Samurai, and the top half of their skull ripples into menacing bumps remnant of some kind of dinosaur.  Also they’re the baddest warriors in the known universe.  There had never been a kid Klingon before.  But there was about to be.

When you go on an audition, you never find out until later whether or not you got the part.  After you’re done performing, they say thanks very much, you leave, and you wait.  Usually, you wait for days.  Sometimes you hear back, and most of the time, you don’t.  If you don’t hear back, it means you didn’t get the part.  I’d been doing it for years, so I had gotten used to this.  My mom and I always used to say: “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” meaning don’t get your hopes up about any particular part, but instead let it be a wonderful surprise if it works out.  And that approach worked most of the time.  But like I said, this was not a normal audition.

Today, after performing, they asked us not to leave.  We all stayed.  And we waited while each boy went into the casting director’s office, came out, and sat down as the next boy went in.  It was because of the extensive prosthetic makeup involved in playing a Klingon.  The production schedule was tight, so whoever got the part would have to go into makeup tests that very night.  That meant they were gonna read all of us, and decide on the spot who’d be sent on to makeup.

When I went in, I thought I was pretty good.  I had built up a decently accurate radar for reading a room.  Sometimes I left a room just knowing I was gonna get it, and usually when I felt that way, I was right.  Although sometimes I thought for sure I’d blown it, only to be surprised several days later with good news.  And of course, sometimes I thought it had gone well, but then never got the call I’d been hoping for.  This time, I thought I did a pretty good job, and I thought they liked me, but I couldn’t tell for sure.

I thanked everybody in the room, took my exit, and sat back down with my mom, while the casting director called in the next boy.  We waited.  My mom asked me how I felt about it.  She never put any pressure on me about getting parts or not.  She just wanted to support her kid doing something I clearly loved doing, and she put great care into not letting the process fuck with my head.  I was fortunate.  Not all “stage moms” are so cool.

One by one, all the boys went in and came out.  After the last boy was finished, the casting director came out, thanked us for our patience, said they were gonna make their decision as quickly as they could, said she’d be back out shortly to tell us who was getting the part, and then disappeared.  We waited.

Finally, the casting director reemerged.  Everyone stood up, although we hadn’t been asked to do that; it was like we were compelled by some kind of unspoken competitive instinct, bravely awaiting the news of our fates.

“Thanks again for your patience, everyone,” she said, “you guys all did a great job, and it was a tough decision.”

My optimism had been growing inside me over the last half hour or so since I’d been in the room.  I imagined hearing my name coming out of her mouth.

There was a pregnant pause, and then she spoke again.

“The role of Alexander will be played by…”

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Canceled TV Shows That Ended on Major Cliffhangers

We left Ned (Lee Pace) and Chuck (Anna Friel) on her aunts’ doorstep, waiting to reveal that she was alive. And although an epilogue gave viewers a sense of what was to come, the unanswered questions — how did Ned explain himself? Did he ever tell Olive about his gift? — still hang in Coeur de Coeurs’ colorful air. The facts are these: We’re still not over Pushing Daisies.