Shmuck Bait is the name, I think coined by one of the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul writers, where a cliffhanger or shocking ending leads the audience to believe something major has changed. For example, the appearance that a major character has died. But when the next episode/issue/book starts, the character is fine.
Of course, this kind of thing can work if it's done right. Always about context. Writers WANT the audience to be invested, and worry about the fate of the characters. And the audiences want that too. So it's on the writers/creators to when it's legit, and when it's a cheat, and whether it's too much of a cheat.
Annie Wilkes, in the book “Misery”, remembers her ability to spot Shmuck Bait when she watched movie serials as a child. She would watch a chapter that ended with the hero's car going off a cliff, and then when seeing the next chapter, and learning that the hero jumped out before the car went over, would be outraged.
Annie was a discriminating viewer - she knew the guy hadn't jumped out of the car in the previous chapter. This skill of hers is bad news for the author she's forcing to write a book that resurrects a character in a believable way – but that's a whole other story. I believe she references this in the movie version of Misery as well.
Have you ever felt cheated as a viewer or reader by Shmuck Bait? Have you ever used it – or avoided it – in your own stories?
See you next time - I'm now jumping from a plane with no parachute, so you'll have to tune in to see what happens!
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Banes at 12:00AM, Feb. 9, 2023
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