What makes the end of a story satisfying for the reader? I’m not talking about what makes a good or bad ending, but one that leaves the reader feeling like it was time well spent.
I’ve heard some people state that they like an ending that ties up all the loose ends in a nice little package and provides closure for the main characters. Preferably, a happy ending. I feel like this type of reader wants something we don’t necessarily get in real life. That’s understandable. Life is so chaotic and random that these readers want to read as an escape. They want to experience a world that makes sense, where the good guys always win, the bad guys always lose, and love conquers all.
There are others, not many that I’ve met, who prefer ambiguous endings, ones that leave unanswered questions, loose ends, a bit of a mess on the floor. I can understand this, too. These readers are more about the art of the story, the picture it paints, the themes it addresses. They aren’t looking for a run-of-the-mill story. They want art. Cliffhangers. Chaos. The messier the better. It’s still an escape, but going in the other direction.
Then there are readers like me who want some closure with a story, but with enough loose threads that it leave us wanting more. Or better yet, allows us to continue the story in our heads. In other words, I like it when the main story ends, the characters find what they’re looking for, but their lives continue. Maybe there’s a character or two who mostly get what they want but they’re still searching for some missing piece. It leaves things open for sequels or spinoffs, but even if that doesn’t happen, the reader is left wondering what happens later.
For example, two people fall in love in a story and at the end, after the usual misunderstandings and misgivings, they end up together. The main story is done because the two characters got what they wanted – each other. But what if the story ends with them getting together, but they now have to decide where they want to live, or if one of them should take that teaching job in another state.
It’s not a great example, but it shows how there’s still more going on with their lives. They don’t just get together and everything is perfect from that point onward. They have decisions to make that affect both of them. They have their own baggage and issues to deal with.
If I read a fantastic story that sticks with me afterwards, I end up continuing the story in my head. I think about the characters, how the story ended, and what comes after. It’s a habit of mine, for good or ill. But to me that means those stories had satisfying endings. I was happy with how the main story ends, but it left me wanting more. I want to know what happens those characters, what other things did they end up doing that would also make a good story.
Maybe it’s the writer in me. I read for fun, mostly, but while I read I’m also looking at different aspects of the story, how the author wrote the dialogue, or how they foreshadowed some plot point, or how the story dovetails to the ending. And that’s when I wonder if the ending could have been done differently. If it’s too clean cut, I think about how they could have left me wanting more.
What do you think about endings? Do you want everything tied up nice and neat, or do you prefer a few loose bits so you can continue thinking about it later?