to-answer-or-not-to-answerOne of the biggest problems with endings is answering questions. It’s not always finding the answers that’s the problems, quite often by the time you get there you know the answers, it’s how many you answer. Do you tie everything up with nice little bows? Do you leave them all dangling for an ambiguous ending? Or is it a mix of both?

The most conspicuous example of nicely tied up endings are fairy tales where evil is defeated, good triumphs and the heroes live happily ever after. In some ways these might be easier to tie up because they are relatively short, with no or few sub-plots, and, as morality tales, the ending is supposed to be understood. Cinderella would be an unsatisfying story if the wicked step-mother and her daughters didn’t get their comeuppance and Cinderella her reward.

However, tying up all the loose ends can be much harder in a novel or screenplay because the word count is longer, there are usually more characters and more subplots. In these cases answering all the questions can actually be unsatisfying ending if the reader doesn’t need to know all the answers because it can seem like too much information. Life doesn’t come with answers to all the questions so when a story tries to answer all the questions it has presented it can feel excessive and unnatural. Often a reader likes the space to build their own ending. Okay, so the world’s been saved and the protagonists are going to live happily ever after are they going to get married, buy a house in the suburbs have two kids and a dog and a family car?

Perhaps this is an extreme example but consider what an ending would have to be like to answer all these questions. For a start it would be long and potentially dull, sapping all the energy you’ve built up saving the world. That isn’t to say it’s not possible to answer all the questions posed in your story but you need to consider what kind of an ending you want because it might take more than a few extra chapters to answer these questions.

If you’re struggling to decide which questions need answering sometimes it helps to consider the questions you think you posed, which ones you think are the most important and which the least. Obviously in our scenario there’d have to be a little on the consequences of saving the world, even if it’s showing that everything goes on as normal. Having a romantic plot we might need to see the protagonists get together but that could be left on an ambiguous note where there is the potential but the reader can decide or we’re presented with a reason why they don’t.

Hmmm, two options on the protagonists’ conclusion. That’s tricky.

Despite the protagonists’ love story being a main plot it doesn’t mean we have to tie that off with a nice neat bow and say they lived happily ever after. Perhaps one dies in the process of saving the world, so they definitely can’t be together a sad but definitive ending. An ambiguous possibility might be that they come together through work channels, for example a soldier and a spy, and they’re separated by work with the potential to get back together in the reader’s imagination.

It entirely depends what kind of story you want to write and how you feel it should end. If you’re uncertain try different endings because sometimes you in experimenting with endings you discover the right one and it might be one you hadn’t considered until you write it.

Of course, we still have the problem of the completely ambiguous ending.


For more writing advice see my archive page or try Finding Your Voice for more articles on narrative structure.

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