1. Drstrong
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    Drstrong Active Member

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    Stories with Ambiguous or Explained Endings?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Drstrong, Mar 11, 2013.

    I'm just starting as a writer, I prefer sci-fi, with a little mix of horror. I wanted to get opinions on whether or not you prefer an ending where not much is explained, or where the details of the events leading up to the point, are explained in great detail.

    This really applies to sci-fi stories, IMO. If you have a plot where something destroys half the population, would the story be more effective if the ending was open ended, or if everything came together nicely?

    I'm confused by these two forms of storytelling. I have a short story, which has a beginning and a middle, with a climax, but I'm not sure if I should explain the ongoings, or just leave it alone, and have the reader wondering what just happened.
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A novel needs a satisfactory ending. The reader needs to have a feeling it is complete. Does every detail have to be wrapped up and explained? No, I don't think so. Is it okay just to end, without direction or even implying an outcome to the major conflict? No, I don't think so.

    To find out what's 'acceptable,' read some of your favorite novels, especially in the genre mix you're interested in writing. How did those authors handle the ending?

    Good luck moving forward.
     
  3. Drstrong
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    Drstrong Active Member

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    I think I'm more interested in short story format. I just finished my short story and I left the ending ambiguous, and I feel it is more powerful.

    I guess it just depends on the contents of the story.
     
  4. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    There was another thread on this exact topic less than a week ago in this section.

    If you write the conflict and then leave it hanging without a conclusion of any kind, reviews won't be pretty. Guess who doesn't buy sequels of books with too unresolved endings.
     
  5. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    A story needs to have an ending. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to explain everything or that the ending cannot be ambiguous. It depends on the story and how you write it.

    You'll never satisfy all readers anyway. Some need to have everything spelled out, otherwise they feel cheated. Others prefer to work things out for themselves and too much explaining will put them off, as if you thought them stupid. The rest is somewhere in between. Decide which ones you want to aim for and then weigh the amount of facts carefully.
     
  6. Drstrong
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    Drstrong Active Member

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    I get what you guys are saying, but I don't think I'm getting my point across. Let me give an example:

    Say something attacked the Earth, whatever attacked the Earth was destroyed, but no reason was given for the attack, no explanation of who initiated the attack. The only thing known is that the attack is over. Things go back to normal for a short time, the government is cleaning the city and getting things back to normal, when another attack seems imminent....end story.
     
  7. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    That doesn't sound like an ending. That's what I was trying to say in my first paragraph. If you just stop writing, that isn't an ending. Is that what you were asking?

    If there is another storyline that gets an ending - the hero gets promoted, finds what he was searching for, gets the girl, whatever - while the attack on Earth is in progress, that's OK (or at least doable), you get an ending. But leaving off in the middle of a story without a reason wouldn't make readers happy.
     
  8. Drstrong
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    Drstrong Active Member

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    Here is the last paragraph in my short story, would this make an average sci-fi reader mad, or would they appreciate? In your opinion.

    Does that make you want to read further past this point, and see what's going to happen? Or would this be sufficient for a short story?

    I use Rod Serling as an inspiration, while most of the Twilight Zone episodes had endings, some of them just left you hanging. I like where alot of questions are left unanswered.

    EDIT: Since you don't know the rest of the story, EAS is described as the Emergency Alert System earlier in the story.
     
  9. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    "What is happening?" indeed invites further questions and unless it's been suggested earlier in the story (so that the reader knows or can guess what's happening, even if the character doesn't), it does sound too open.

    But I've just realized that my previous post was maybe a bit wrong - especially with short stories, you don't need to end the storyline if you manage to communicate an idea. In such a case, an open ending regarding "what happens" is more acceptable. But I'd say that that would be far more diffucult to judge and certainly can't be told from a single paragraph - how you view the ending depends on the whole story and how it's written.
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This doesn't look like an ending - it's less about what happens and more about how you word it. I understand what you're going for - it's like the horror movies that always show that there's still one egg left and it's just hatched after the people thought all the monsters were destroyed. But the way you've written it, you've written it as a hook and not as a perpetual cycle that tells the reader what's about to happen, if you understand me. Let me explain.

    In a horror movie where there's that last egg left unharmed - the audience knows what that means and knows what's gonna ensue, which is why it serves fine as an ending. They've just watched the film, they get the implication.

    Or like in I Am Legend, the book, not the film - spoiler below-

    --SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER--
    the main character is imprisoned and it is obvious that he will die and be sentenced to death, and yet the book finishes right before we see that concrete conclusion and leaves us to wonder.

    --SPOILER ENDS--

    and that ending is fine because the reader can assume what will happen next quite logically, there's no need to tell us anymore.

    In other words, if you want an open ending, the reader must know exactly what it is you're implying. Don't leave the reader to wonder without direction - if you give them an open ending then you must put very specific and concrete questions in their heads. They must understand the implication and can imagine the horror that is about to follow - and this horror cannot be anything new. It must be what the reader already understands. Or take the film Splice, which I haven't watched but I've read the synopsis on wiki - spoiler below-

    --SPOILER SPOILER--
    The female scientist is raped by the monster and later she also has sex with the male scientist. At the end of the film, the woman is seen as obviously pregnant - this leaves the reader wondering: is she pregnant with the man's baby, or the monster's baby? But you see, this question has a very clear direction to it. The reader understands exactly why it's scary, and they understand only because they understand the possibility that it could be the monster's baby and not a human baby at all.

    --SPOILER ENDS--

    I hope I've made my point clear. As you have it right now, I do not understand what I'm meant to be afraid of or what sort of terror is about to happen - thus it feels more like an opening rather than an ending.

    Btw, this sentence below - the punctuation is all wrong. You've misused the semi-colon as well.
     
  11. Drstrong
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    Drstrong Active Member

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    Can I PM you the story? Its approx 950 words and isn't really a chore to get through. I'm curious for someone else to put their eyes on this.
     
  12. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    No problem. I won't be able to read it straight away, as I'm just on my way out, but I'll get back to it later.
     
  13. Drstrong
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    Drstrong Active Member

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    I absolutely understand what you're saying and I appreciate the advice. I guess if you actually read the story, you'd understand what the danger would be. I was told by a moderator that I can't post the story unless its in the writing workshop forums, which I don't have access.

    I'm in the process of submitting my story for editing, so some of the punctuation will be sorted out.
     
  14. Drstrong
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    Drstrong Active Member

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    Sent.
     

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