Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Does it leave you thirsting for more?

By R.J. Harlick

How do you feel about ambiguous endings?

An intriguing question that has the old brain cells churning. I will admit that at the end of a good book I do feel a sense of satisfaction when all the questions are answered and the loose bits and pieces are nicely tied up with no dangling threads. The Mountie gets his man, or woman as the case may be. The bad guy gets his just desserts. Love’s misunderstandings are finally righted and the couple walk off into the sunset. The ring is thrown into the fire, the evil forces are destroyed and peace is restored. You know the kind of endings I mean.

However, and there is always a however, I find the books that resonate the most with me are those that leave the odd hook dangling, have an ending that isn’t obvious or a story that left some promises unfulfilled and others changed. I find these books will leave me thinking about them days, if not months after I closed the final page.  What did the author mean by that? Why did he or she do that instead of this? Sometimes, an ending might leave me shaking my head and asking what really happened?

But for an ambiguous ending to be successful it has to ultimately make sense to the reader, otherwise I would say that it is merely a case of bad writing. A good, well-crafted ambiguous ending on the other hand requires much skill by an author who is a very good story teller and knows their craft thoroughly.

While we are on the topic, we might as well mention bad endings, because it can be a fine line between ambiguous and outright bad. I’m talking about those endings that seem to come out of left field with little or no foreshadowing or those where the author has reached their maximum wordcount and lumps forty years worth of stuff into the last chapter. There are also those endings that you as the reader simply don’t like or agree with no matter how well written they are.

Unfortunately for this reader, moi-meme, it can turn me off the writer. When I am dissatisfied with an ending, I rarely try another book by that author.  A good ending, ambiguous or otherwise, will have me thirsting for more.

I will admit I like to play around with the endings of my own books, leave a few hooks dangling, take it where the reader least expects it to go or add a surprise twist. It’s part of the fun of storytelling.


Paul D. Marks said...

I think, as you say RJ, that if you leave a few hooks dangling that can be a good thing, especially in a series. So if you tie up say the main plot, but leave other things unresolved you can come back to them in the next book and it gives your series and characters more of a "real" life I think.

Art Taylor said...

Yep, Robin--good distinction between an purposefully or skillfully ambiguous ending and one that seems to come without warning or that lazily leaves too much up in the air. The goal is to leave readers diving deeper into what's come before, thinking about it, not just scratching their heads and moving on.

Enjoyed your comments!

RJ Harlick said...

Thanks, Art. And yes, Paul, dangling hooks are one of the aspects I like about series. It gives me something to look forward to learning more about in the next book

Susan C Shea said...

The dangling hooks as you so aptly call them are essential for series, I think. If everything is taken care of, where does the protagonist go from there? No, we need to be left with some concern, curiosity, yearning for her/his future. That can be overdone, of course. See Janet Evanovitch, whose first few mysteries I really enjoyed but whose never-ending question about which hunky man her protagonist will bed began to be too contrived.

Anonymous said...

I agree with others who like some less significant aspects unresolved ..... especially in a series; but I think it is important to not be ambiguous with the main elements of the story or have the main characters doing something that is OUT of character. I am also turned off by a very unsatisfactory ending and likely won't seek out more by that author. Among the few TV shows I do watch, nothing turns me off more from following a writer's or producer's future work, than a bad ending (think "The Good Wife" series finale; very unsatisfactory, ambiguous and not at all true to the past stories).