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.