A What Cliffhanger? happens when a chapter ends with a shocking turn of events, but the author doesn't tell you outright what it actually is. It commonly involves abuse of the word "something", implying that the "something" will be revealed at the very beginning of the next chapter, making you wonder why the author didn't just put the shocking revelation at the end of the previous chapter for untold amounts of extra drama and suspense. Instead, we are left to wonder what the plot twist will be.
Sure, it might get you to read the next part (if it doesn't take too long to get released, or if you haven't figured it out for yourself already), but it's a lot less fun and a lot more annoying than a "proper" cliffhanger.
See Also: Cliffhanger Copout, when a creator tweaks with a story's continuity of events when resolving a cliffhanger or outright denies to follow through on a promise to reveal important information from one chapter to the next.
Not to be confused with Pseudo-Crisis, which at least gives the appearance of a proper cliffhanger before getting resolved in two seconds after the break.
- squirrelking's So Bad, It's Good Metal Gear Solid fanfic, Fight of Metal Gears. Also, Halo: Halos in Space by the same author ends with Joe Chief on the losing side of a battle, and then he "saw something and went to it and picked it up and said "no we win" to himself." Read ahead at your own risk: The next installment reveals that the 'something' was "big wepon." DUN DUN DUNNN!
- The Da Vinci Code had a One-Paragraph Chapter in which Robert Langdon and his date see a thing inside a box. Whatever the grail was, it wasn't that thing. (The thing turned out to be a cryptex, i.e., a tube that had a puzzle to be solved for it to open.) In fact, done frequently in anything written by Dan Brown. It's pretty much the end of every chapter.
- The fourth book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Feast For Crows, has a scene in which one character is told to make a choice between death and treachery, refuses the choice, and is about to be hanged for it, and she says an unspecified word... and that's the last we hear of her in that book. In fact, it's the last we hear of the book. It's implied, by the fact that she shows up alive in the next book, that she chose treachery.
- In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, as Harry makes it into the chamber where the titular stone is being held, he's shocked to see that its would-be thief isn't Snape... and the chapter ends there. Only at the start of the following chapter do we learn who the thief is: Professor Quirrell.
- This was baited-and-switched in Robert Rankin's The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, proving there's just no limit to recursive subversion of a trope. Eddie hands something important to Jack, who asks what it is - "it's a Macguffin". Except we never get a better explanation than that - it's only ever referred to as a McGuffin, and when it inevitably turns out to be important, what it actually does is entirely unexplained as well. It's that kind of book...
- A Series of Unfortunate Events reveled in leading the reader to believe something only for it to be contradicted soon afterwards. Especially when the reader is kept guessing what the acronym VFD stands for, only to have it revealed several different times, and most of those times to be false.
- In The Sight, one chapter ends with Larka being shocked at seeing Wolfbane in person. It's only at the beginning of the next chapter where we find out it's because he's her brother who she thought was dead.
- Several episodes of Doctor Who had this problem.
- One episode of "Death to the Daleks" ends with the Doctor and Bellal about to walk into a room when the Doctor tells him to stop, pointing at the white and red-tiled floor for no immediately apparent reason. note It was the result of poor pacing, as the episode was scripted to end on a scene of the Daleks getting closer a few minutes earlier.
- Season 22 was originally shown in the UK in 45-minute chapters instead of the usual 22-25 minute episodes. When that season was shown in America, each episode was arbitrarily cut in half to fit in with the remainder of the syndication package — resulting in the story simply stopping (often in very odd places) instead of ending on a proper cliffhanger.
- An example from Vengeance on Varos: One 22-minute cliffhanger is placed inexplicably on the Sixth Doctor irritatedly deactivating the TARDIS' scanner screen, rather than a shot of a guard firing on the TARDIS from a few seconds before.
- Syndicated versions of The Five Doctors also suffered this, as it had originally aired as one 90-minute special. One such cliffhanger was simply the Master descending some stairs after one of the Doctor/companion duos left the room, despite the fact that the viewer would already know the Master was also in the Tower.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power ends its first season with the creation of the titular rings of power and Sauron heading for Mount Doom. Both scenes lack any dialogue and give no clue about what is going to happen next season.
- From Lost: "We ain't takin the plane, freckles. We're takin' the sub."
- And of course the season three premiere, which ended by revealing Ben's name. Yeah, it was nice to know the real name of "Henry Gale", but it's really just a random name, with no significance to the story, yet it's played for Luke, I Am Your Father-level drama.
- "What would it take to train an army?" This obviously wasn't meant to set up something that would pay off in an episode or two, but rather a whole arc, and an Aborted Arc as it turned out.
- Happened in the second season of Supernatural. For the first 8 episodes, Dean had been keeping a dark and terrible secret from Sam, told to him by their father and also withheld from the audience. The preview for the ninth episode showed Dean saying "Dad told me something... something about you," and Sam asking in consternation, "Dean, what did he tell you...?" Everyone got very excited that The Reveal was finally coming, even though most of the fandom was already fairly sure they had worked out more or less what the secret had to be. When the episode aired, those turned out to be the last lines spoken before the series went on hiatus for over a month!
- The sixth season finale of The Walking Dead ended with Negan picking one of Rick's group to beat to death. The actual attack was seen entirely from the victim's point of view, obscuring who it was. The fans were unamused. Taking it further, the seventh season premiere opened in the aftermath of the attack, and it wasn't until about twenty minutes into the episode that we finally learned what happened.
- Kingdom Hearts II ends with Sora and the gang finding a letter in a bottle from King Mickey, with no implications for what the message entails besides it being something shocking. This was likely because II wrapped up most of the loose ends from the first game and Chain of Memories, and they knew the franchise was lucrative enough for sequels but weren't sure what those sequels would entail. The Updated Re-release, made after the future of the franchise was more clear, avoids this by containing a more explicit teaser for Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. We wouldn't find out the purpose of the letter until Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance, nearly 6 real-life years later.
- Kingdom Hearts III has two of these in the ending. Xigbar reveals that he was manipulating Xehanort all along and is actually Luxu. He clearly has plans of his own, but when asked what they are, his only response is "I hope you like long stories." Then we see the real Black Box that Pete and Maleficent were searching for all game, but the scene cuts before we see it opened, or find out why it's so important.
- Overwatch had its third "Archives" event note end this way. The last cinematic suddenly cuts to Doomfist talking to a mysterious person whose face is obscured, then Doomfist offers Talon's help to that person, who lowers their hood... revealing a character that no one had ever seen or heard of before. The character was eventually revealed as Null Sector’s leader Rammatra, three years after the Archives event was released.
- Done in this Sluggy Freelance strip.
- Done much more frustratingly here. Sluggy Freelance updates daily, so nobody suspected that the cliffhanger would go unanswered for nearly three months, but that's exactly what happened due to Oceans Unmoving, a truly ambitious sci-fi chapter that revisited a long-missing character but otherwise introduced an entirely new cast.