Monday, July 25, 2016

Was that really the end?

How do you feel about ambiguous endings?

by Meredith Cole

It depends.

Endings are tough, but important. They need to feel satisfying and right to the reader so they don't go searching for the next few pages, wondering if the printer screwed up somewhere. And sometimes their ambiguity can inspire lots of discussion about what people think happened after the end. So I can't say that I mind an ambiguous ending.

Most crime novels have endings that neatly tie up all the bows in the story and take you to a place where there is truth and justice and crime always pays. Some of them don't end quite so cleanly, and are statements about how life is not always neat or just, and there isn't a moment in time where we can declare that this is the end. But I occasionally find that problematic as a reader.

Donna Leon is one of those interesting crime writers who often has ambiguous endings. Her sleuth figures out who did the crime (the mafia, etc.) but in the end there is nothing the police can do to bring the perpetrator to justice. The books end in frustration and despair about the corruption of Italy. Although I love her books (who wouldn't want to spend the afternoon in Venice?), I made the mistake of reading too many all in a row. I started to feel as despairing as the Italians and had to take a break.

As a writer, heading to the end can be both scary and exhilarating. I have yet to serve up an open ended ambiguous ending in one of my book, but perhaps I will be inspired to do so one day. And hope that the reader goes along for the ride and finds it as satisfying as a neat bow.


Paul D. Marks said...

I think the type of ending partially depends on the genre of the story and also the audience one is going for. If you're writing noir for that audience an ambiguous ending will probably work better than for a cozy audience. My two cents' worth.

Art Taylor said...

Thanks for kicking off the week's discussion here. I have to say this may well be my favorite question that we've had on Criminal Minds (at least our weeks) and I'm looking forward to what everyone has to say!

I've not read Donna Leon (I'm embarrassed to say), but understand exactly what you mean here--have seen those kinds of situations before in books, of course.

Interesting stuff already!

Susan C Shea said...

I tried something a bit different in my second book, THE KING'S JAR. There was a solution to the actual crimes, but it wasn't satisfying until...well, I'm not going to say, but my intent was to make the reader feel true justice hadn't happened until a sort of second ending.

Meredith Cole said...

All great points! Thanks for stopping by to comment everyone! Looking forward to hearing what everyone else has to say this week...