Writing Tip #84

Pick an ending. Any ending. Yesterday, I was finishing a lovely short story that I was really into. Couldn’t wait to find out what happened. And then as I got to the final page, then the final paragraph, and then the final sentence:

WHAM.

And when I say, WHAM, I mean nothing happened.

I was left hanging. The knife was in the guy’s hand. Whom would he kill? Him? Her? Himself? No one? Guess what? We’ll never know…

As I wrote yesterday on Facebook, unresolved endings drive me nuts. It’s like making your favorite sandwich and then throwing it into the garbage.

I know there are those of you out there who like those open-ended novels and short stories, where the reader is allowed to use his or her imagination to fill in the blanks of what happens next. But for me writing is all about making choices. All along, authors have taken great pains to create characters who are authentic and compelling, plots that are intricate and plausible. Why on earth would they want to throw their hands up in the air at the end and say, “Okay, you decide, dear reader, what to make of all this. I’m done.”

I just don’t get it. As I wrote yesterday, I don’t need things to be all wrapped up in neat little bows. I’d settle for some aluminum foil with big gaping holes. Go ahead and end with a little teaser that sets up the sequel. No problem. Just give me something. Call me boring, but I need to know if it’s the lady or the tiger, a little bit of closure so I can feel satisfied. Like I just ate my favorite sandwich.

How about you? Do you mind — or even like — open-ended fiction?

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4 thoughts on “Writing Tip #84

  1. For me, it depends on the novel or short story. If the vagueness feels contrived or gimicky in the I’m-doing-this-on-purpose-so-I-seem-avant-garde sorta way, then no. I don’t appreciate it. But if it makes sense for the story and characters, then yes. I’m okay with wanting more, as in “Gee, I’d love a few more bites of this delicious dessert.” I’m NOT okay with being left hungry, which is kinda how it sounds you were left with the story you were reading. Unless the author had a really good reason for letting us wonder about his knife-wielding character, I’m thinking I’d probably have been annoyed, too.

    I’m trying to think of a really good example of a vague ending that worked, but I’m coming up short at the moment. I’ll jump back in if one comes to me. (And I think I might poll people on FB and see what they have to say — good, thought-provoking topic, D!)

    • Hey, lady! For me, the most famous example of a non-ending I can think of is for a television series — The Sopranos. I remember — like most people — being dumbfounded at first when the screen went black and thinking my cable went haywire at the absolute worst time. In time, I came to assign my own little meaning into why the series ended that way, because, as you said, I thought, “Gee, there MUST be a damn good reason,right?” Did I love David Chase’s ending? No. Did it leave an impression? Yes. Did it make me think? Yes. But for nearly 10 years of building characters, of making us form impressions about the things we SAW, why have our final impression be of something we didn’t see? I don’t know… Seems kind of like the easy way out… Gee, I should have included this in my post. LOL! Thanks for stopping by, Robyn!

  2. To me, that has to be one of the most irritating ways to end a story. Other than the worst version of “It was all a dream.” I love to write in some twists, and even small details that others will wonder about for the next book, but in no way would I just leave it with no answers what-so-ever.

  3. Hi, I’m with you on this. To be left with nothing creates a disappointment that feels like I’ve just wasted time I could have spent on a story/book/movie that was actually finnished. It has to be said, endings are difficult to get right, or create at all for that matter and perhaps they’re difficult because they are SO important to a reader who will be left with either a good or bad feeling about the story/author. My two cents.

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