After having written and published several novels and short stories now, I find there is one piece of feedback that regularly comes back. People want their stories to have endings. The problem is, my stories generally don’t – and that can be frustrating for some readers.
This isn’t to say my stories just end abruptly, mid-sentence, but when I tell a story I like to think of it as a telling of a span of time, glimpsing a character’s emotional journey. There’s some semblance of a plot, but I prefer to tell a story where the plot is a catalyst for the journey vs. the purpose of the journey or story.
Recently I had a chance to see the movie ‘The Lobster,’ and while I honestly didn’t love the movie, what I did love was the ending. I’m the kind of person who loves the questioning and open-ended nature of a vague ending, devoid of closure. What happened at the end of ‘Inception?’ Or ‘Enemy‘ (a severely underrated movie)? Or even in The Sopranos?
The point of endings like this, in my opinion, is that how it all ends doesn’t really matter – what matters is what happens along the way. The paths our characters took and the personal rides they went on.
Of course, being a media junkie, I do still enjoy stories where everything is answered too. Where they all live happily ever after in the end, either safe or just ready for their next adventure. The Mosasaurus coming out of the water to eat Indominus Rex at the end of Jurassic World? Loved it. It’s just that these aren’t the stories I like to tell. When I sit down to write, I aim to take my readers along with me to experience a part of my characters’ lives – looking at how the events might shape the person. What questions do we deal with on a daily basis, whether in ordinary or extraordinary circumstances.
My point being, some people like their stories to have an ending. A clearly defined three-act play. Other people are okay when those stories don’t follow the expected structure. And some of us are happy with both, depending on the experience we want to have. ‘Lost’ was an absolutely fantastic show, but it ended without answering a lot of questions. That ending was acceptable for some, and not for others. Personally, I was upset by it – not the ending in and of itself, but the fact that they brought up so many questions that they put directly in the viewers’ face that they had no intention of answering. I’ve done the same thing, I’m sure – so I can see the frustration.
But still, why did that statue have only four toes? And why did they specifically call it out on the show? I still want to know … and that question is part of why I’m still talking about ‘Lost’ all these years after it ended.
P.S. One of my biggest pet peeves is when a show gets canceled, a movie series just ends, etc. without giving it a chance to have an ending. That’s just plain rude to your audience. Abruptly stopping, without reaching the end intended by the creator, is simply inexcusable. If cost is the issue, at the very least, let the story be finished, as planned, via other media.