It’s time to learn about the elusive open ending
Writing is full of controversies. Should novels be written from multiple points of view, should they include obscenities, should they be written in the past or present tense? The list of topics up for debate is long and can be intimidating, especially for new writers.
Of all the writing styles that are currently scrutinized, there is a practically taboo one. It is the open ending or ambiguous ending.
This type of ending leaves readers with no specific conclusion to satisfy them. Understandably, this can cause anger and confusion, particularly when this technique is used inappropriately.
There are, however, plenty of popular movies out there that perform this ambiguous trick flawlessly. Right at the end, when the audience’s hearts are still racing in their chest, the story cuts to black. This technique allows the watchers to ride out the movie high longer than if they knew what happened to the character next. Also, it creates room for conversation and theories to be had.
So, how do you conquer an elusive, open ending in a book?
You treat it like real life.
Good characters should be as realistic or as human as possible. There isn’t any human that is perfect or has a perfect, squared-out end to any of their stories. Life is ambiguous. Stories end abruptly. We don’t always get to find out what will happen next. And that is okay. The important thing is that you provide some sort of conclusion to the main plot so you don’t create angry readers.
Reasons for Open Endings
You shouldn’t choose to write an open ending just for the sake of it. Like any other piece of the plot, the ending should be meticulously planned out and executed to enhance the story.
Commonly, open endings are found in a series of books. Each book will have a climax that potentially includes a resolution, and then the book will end suddenly. This leaves the reader wanting more and makes them very likely to read the following books to find out what happens next. It is common for readers to be angry about an abrupt ending but if there is a sequel in sight, it will placate them.
Another reason for writing an open ending is if you plan to re-write the story from another point of view. In this situation, the first character may not know or be present for the continuation of the story to be possible. You will begin the new book with a new character and add in the ending from that character’s point of view.
In some cases, you’re telling an important message through the characters or the theme of the book and you will want your readers to take that away. Endings can distract from this, so you can leave the ending open so the reader is forced to focus on different aspects.
Open endings also open doors for discussion and encourage readers to come up with their own version of an ending. In this case, it’s your job to pave the way so that more than one ending is foreseeable. Then leave the honour of choosing the ending to your readers. If done correctly, it can create a buzz about your book.
How to Write an Open Ending
Open endings are like a rickety, old bridge across a cavern. Sometimes you’re able to sprint across the snapping boards but other times, you fall down, down, down. There is no safe and guaranteed way that any book with an open ending will be accepted by its readers. It’s a precarious thing to toy with. However, in those rare moments, you will be able to conquer it.
Most often, open endings are written as a cliff-hanger. A cliff-hanger is used to leave the reader suspended in a moment of uncertainty. For example, the character is left with a decision to make or is injured badly. The cliff-hanger should be unrelated to your main conflict or plot. You need to have a resolution for the main problem or a highly inferred resolution. The cliff-hanger needs to be related to the story or character but must stand on its own.
A gentler way to create an open-ended story is to have a character with an unresolved subplot. A subplot is a part of the story that happens alongside the main plot. It leaves an impact on the story but isn’t the most important part. Leaving one subplot open will create a discussion for your readers or it could open the doors for you to write a sequel.
The final and perhaps most risky technique is a cold ending. A cold ending occurs when you end a book very abruptly. For example, ending the story on a character’s thought or having them walk off into the distance. The trick is, you don’t want to leave too much open, as this will make your readers outraged.
Don’t Leave Your Readers Feeling Cheated
Whether you plan on continuing the book in a series or ending it at that moment, you must provide enough information to the reader so that they can infer a win or lose ending. No matter which technique you choose, you must ensure that you know how the book will end. This isn’t an opportunity to be lazy and end your book because you feel like you can’t write anymore. Open endings are a purposeful way to generate discussion and leave an opening to continue a book, but not a way to cheat the system.
These types of endings help you to avoid having a long, drawn-out conclusion that could be viewed as boring. Just like you don’t want to upset your readers, you don’t want them to walk away before the book ends either. Practice making your endings more concise. Draw up the conclusions and quickly tie up your loose ends.
You should never create an open ending that teases the readers or is puzzling. It must fit with the rest of your storyline. You can’t just throw in a crazy plot twist and end the story there.
Controversies can be overcome. New techniques can be learned and perfected. Open endings tend to be frowned upon but they can be an opportunity to stand out in the literary community and create conversations between readers. There is nothing more interesting than seeing your readers theorize an ending for something amazing that you created. Open-ended stories may be taboo but with time, they can be more widely accepted.