1. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Ambiguous Endings.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Thomas Kitchen, Feb 15, 2013.

    Hi everyone, just a quick question:

    What do people think about ambiguous endings, I mean the reader in general? I'm ending a book by saying that at the next train station a woman may or may not be there, but as this is not important to the plot, and it would make more sense if I didn't give a definite answer, is it all right to end it there (obviously tying all other loose ends up)? If I'm honest, giving a definite answer would be superfluous.

    What do you all think? :D
     
  2. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    They might be artistic, but people don't like them. There was almost an armed rebellion at the end of the "The Sopranos" TV series.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't mind them. In fact, I prefer them over "forced" endings like the one found in The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
     
  4. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    I agree with Tourist. If you search the internet there are people actually gathering signatures to petition a change of the ending for several stories. The most recent example i can recall would be the uproar caused last year by the ending of the video game Mass Effect 3 where people actually did gather over half a million signatures and petitioned a new ending. If your story is to be continued in any way outside that particular story then by all means, but if not then most people will dislike the ending and possibly the entire story that far even if it has no other flaw.
     
  5. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ambiguous endings CAN work in select circumstances, depending on what is left ambiguous. But you have to deliver an ending that resolves the story and gives the reader a satisfying ending. Sometimes an ambiguous ending like that can work, but it shouldn't be done for the sake of ambiguity. Only do it if it's absolutely right for your story.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I like ambiguous endings. Some of Stanley Kubrick's movies end ambiguously, and that's fine with me (though I have endless arguments with my roommate about them - he HATES ambiguity!).

    I prefer Stephen King's original ending of "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" to the ending of the movie version. King ended the story with Red on the bus, hoping to see his friend Andy; he doesn't show the two characters meet on the beach the way they do in the movie. It works for me, because King's story is about hope, not about the fulfillment of hope.

    Christopher Nolan's movie Inception ends ambiguously, and I think it's the perfect ending for that story.

    I guess I like ambiguity because the writer is saying "That's all you get to know" to the reader. If the reader complains that the ending was not resolved, it simply means the reader missed the point.
     
  7. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Well, there is historical precendence. After all, in the play "Peter Pan," starring Mary Martin, Peter runs off with Wendy's daughter. Who knows how that turned out.

    The entire 1960s drama "Coronet Blue" left everyone hanging.

    What happened to the money in Peter Fonda's chopper? (Just kidding, who cares, they burned the frakken bikes--heathens...)

    The only one where I felt satisfied was at the end of Schwarzenegger's movie "Total Recall." As the last shot fades we don't know if he saved Mars, or is about to wake up at the Recall outlet. I've been through that movie several times, and they give you as many ups as downs. I think they wanted to create friendly cocktail table debates.

    All in all, you read or see movies to be entertained. A cliff-hanger is fine to set up a sequel, but the end should be "the end."
     
  8. xtracker85
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    xtracker85 Member

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    People weren't angry of the ambiguous ending of Mass Effect 3. They were angry because of the cheesy deus ex machina at the end. For someone who has invested so much time in the rich story, we were expecting more, but the ending was a major let down that introduced plot holes (made even worse by the extended cut) just for the sake of making it emotional and trying to be different.

    No loss for me though. I took it as a learning experience, as it showed me that even the greatest story could fail with a five minute ending. Best to make sure my story doesn't follow suit.
     
  9. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    I like an ambiguous ending, or certainly one that leaves me with some hope or dread for the character I've been reading about - I find a story lives longer in the memory that way.

    My hesitation with what you're suggesting (based on the limited information of course) is why it isn't important whether the woman is there or not - I think ambiguity should be over something important. For example, if an MC has been to hell and back for the love of his life, then I personally would like it if there were ambiguity over whether she's waiting for him at the station. But if he's already got her and it's his accountant who may or may not be waiting at the station, then I'd find that a bit pointless/messy.

    A bit more information would help with your specific example, but in general I say yay to ambiguity :p
     
  10. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Thanks everyone, that really helps knowing that some people like them whilst others don't - like a lot of things in life, I guess!

    I understand what you mean. However, I don't think I explained myself clearly enough. The actual fact whether the woman is at the station or not is irrelevant. What matters is what it stands for. Let me explain quickly :p. Basically my main character has problems, he has had a hard life. Close to the end of the book he falls in love with a woman, and asks her (perhaps a bit too hastily) to marry him. She is unsure and says if she loves him then she will be at the next train station the next morning. In the final few pages, he realises that it doesn't matter (in a sense) whether she is there or not - what matters is that he is beginning a new life with many new adventures.

    Is that all right? :)
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    like anything else in re writing, it all depends on how well you do it... written well, it can work... if not, it won't...

    i have no preference... if a writer is skillful enough, i can forgive a left-hanging ending...
     
  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    My own taste is that it's fine to leave certain things hanging at the end, and let the reader assume what (s)he will, as long as it is not the main story line. What I object to are "Lady and the Tiger" endings, wherein the main story line is left unresolved. To me, it negates the purpose for telling the story.
     
  13. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Ahhh, now that I could see.

    For example, the only thing I could think of quickly was Princess Leia and Han Solo at the end of Episode III. I know from 'buzz' they eventually marry, but it's unresolved at the end of the movie. But it's not the main lineage of the overall plot.

    Now, that I understand. However, (using the same movie to demonstrate the point), if Luke had been pinned to the floor with Vader standing over him, and Solo plants the last explosive charge uttering the line, "I hope this works," that would have left me not only hanging but feeling ripped off.
     
  14. jwideman
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    jwideman Senior Member

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    If you make it clear enough that he's had this epiphany, I as a reader would be comfortable with that ending. However, some readers may not accept this. You just have to decide whether you want to write for them or for yourself.
     
  15. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    maybe I've read it wrong but is that not the definitive ending? He thinks he's fallen in love with her, she puts him to the test, he doesn't love her enough to go through with it and leaves her wherever? Does it matter if she turned up or not? She came into the story at the end as a by-the-way and he's the main character; it's about him finding himself and not selling out to a mere crush full stop

    Unless there was another specific reason he thought he loved her that was crucial to his life and/or the story...

    With regards real ambiguity - I could have killed David Chase for the crap Sopranos ending while I loved the open endings left week to week because it gave me something to look forward to - Ah crap, who got shot? talking points at work etc but in the knowledge it would be revealed next week unlike the final episode where 10 years later we still don't know - so unless you have a follow-on book then you should probably tie up all loose ends for the reader.

    My wife - an avid reader of sf&f will not buy a follow on if anything is left open in the previous - maybe thats just her - she is weird. hope she doesn't see this hehe!
     

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