Copyright 2018 by Gary L. Pullman
Fandom wikis are only as good as the typically anonymous fans who compose the site's articles. For this reason, they shouldn't be used unless one has seen the series—and the particular episode of the series—about which an article comments and knows, therefore, whether the information the fan-writer provides is reliable. (I have found that, in most of the articles I've read, the articles' contents are reliable.)
I mention Fandom wikis because, for writers, these websites can be a gold mine. For example, my wife and I are late to the party in watching Blacklist, a series I suspect I enjoy more than she does. Currently, we're in the middle of season three. One of the features I like about the Blacklist Fandom wiki is the list of questions that appears at the end of many of the articles on the series's episodes. From a writer's point of view, these lists suggest how, whether in writing a stand-alone novel or a series of novels, a writer can maintain suspense by leaving questions he or she has developed open (i. e., unanswered) at the end of a chapter or a section of chapters of a stand-alone novel or at the end of a volume in a series of novels, much as television series leave such questions open at the end of each episode and at the conclusion of each season.
In effect, such open questions are examples of the cliffhanger, a plot device that leaves readers hanging alongside protagonists at the edge of a precipice, literal or figurative. Charles Dickens popularized the cliffhanger, but it's been around since ancient times.
The wiki provides both a synopsis and a detailed summary of each episode, and then lists a series of “Unanswered Questions” that keep viewers in suspense, motivating them to return again next week (or, if one is binge-watching on Netflix, to watch the next episode as soon as possible).
Here is the synopsis of the first episode of season one, “Pilot”:
Ex-government agent and one of the FBI’s Most Wanted fugitives, Raymond "Red" Reddington mysteriously turns himself in to the FBI and offers to give up everyone he has ever worked with including a long-thought-dead terrorist but under one condition – he’ll only talk to newly-minted female FBI profiler, Elizabeth Keen with whom he seemingly has no connection. For Liz, it’s going to be one hell of a first day on the job and what follows is a twisting series of events as the race to stop a terrorist begins.
By clicking on the title, a hotlink, one accesses the page of the site that's dedicated to this particular episode, which offers a detailed summary of the episode and the “Unanswered Questions” it implies. Here are the “Unanswered Questions” that “Pilot” suggests:
- Why did Red refer to the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list as a “publicity campaign” and a “popularity contest”? He was/is on the list and deserved the listing.
- What was in Red’s briefcase?
- Why did Red surrender his aliases?
- Why was Donald Ressler, an FBI agent, involved in an operation to assassinate Raymond Reddington? Even for the CIA, the chance of such an illegal operation being exposed would make it risky. Even if the foreign government approved the assassination, why include an FBI agent? Why did Harold Cooper not know of the assassination attempt?
- How did Ranko Zamani fake his death so that the FBI believed he was dead? Was Eric Trettel involved?
- How much does Red know about Cooper? He sensed Cooper’s presence because of the “hubris.”
- Why is Red helping the FBI now?
- How will Red make Elizabeth Keen famous?
- What will be the aftermath of the Innkeeper's arrest? Will his network of safe houses be shut down?
- How many of the Innkeeper's clients will be arrested?
- How many of the Chemist's clients will be arrested?
- What number was Zamani on The Blacklist?
- Why will Red only [sic] talk to Liz?
- How is Red linked to Tom?
- Who and/or what is Tom?
- Why did one of the FBI techs wheeling in the cartons of files on Red have a kippah on?
Some of the questions are complex, others trivial. The answers to the former are likely to unravel over several episodes (if they are answered at all), while the latter may be answered in the next episode (if at all).
The same device, cliffhangers in the form of “unanswered questions,” can work for a novelist just as they do for a screenwriter. Of course, a novelist might have to jog his or her reader's memory from time to time, if the answers to some of the questions are postponed for more than a few chapters or books.
Many TV shows have their own Fandom wikis. By examining them, whether in regard to "unanswered questions" that create and maintain suspense or for other storytelling techniques, writers can continue to hone their own narrative and dramatic skills.