Monday, August 22, 2016

The Ambiguous Ending

Okay, so here's the story -- my friend sent me her finished manuscript. One of her requests was that I take a look at her ending -- was it too ambiguous and should it be stronger. So, I looked. Oh yes, it totally needed to have a definite ending. This book was the third of the trilogy. I have been honored to read all three and this author put the MC through so much pain and heartache, she needed to find a little happiness at the end. And truth be told, as a reader, I needed the closure.

I finished my latest project a couple of weeks ago and I sent my friend my final draft. My novel is the first in a new series. It has an ambiguous ending. When the MC rides off into the sunset with the love of his life, we still don't actually know what is going to happen. A bad thing to do if you're a romance writer.

However, if you've read the last four books in the Reluctant Grooms series, you'll know exactly what happens to him, and why. In this new series, I'm turning back time so-to-speak and showing how he got there.

I don't mind that I've written an ambiguous ending. And I don't think my readers will mind either. They already know what happens. I'm taking a chance, I know, with new readers, but I hope if they enjoy this new book, they'll follow along as the rest of the series unfolds.

Because by the final book, he does finally get his own closure and it all ties in to the other series

Having said that, as a romance writer, we all know the rules--a Happily Ever After ending must be provided. My friend was not writing romance, but literary fiction with a semi-romantic bent. (I guess that could be a genre.) Her main character was not searching for love per se, but on the hunt to find herself, and I suppose if love came along, that would be great.

HOWEVER, as a reader, I placed my own EXPECTATIONS on the ending of my friend's book. I WANTED the MC to find happiness with a man. And that was not my friend's intention. Now, because we've been friends and colleagues for a couple of years, she trusts my critique and as always I told her this was her book and whatever crits I gave, she could take or leave. I don't know what she's done with the ending. But I'll find out when I read the published version.

Anyway, how do you feel about ambiguous endings? And I don't mean cliff-hangers, I mean no final resolution for the main character? As a reader, are you satisfied if the MC is satisfied without resolution? Or do you feel cheated by your own expectations of the story?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2016


Bish Denham said...

I think an ambiguous ending is dependent on the story and/or genre. Of course, in a romance, the ending has to happy. But with a literary or speculative piece, an author can leave it as ambiguous as they like. That doesn't mean I'll like it, that I'll be satisfied. But isn't that kind of how life is? We don't really know what's going to happen next, it's ambiguous.

Anne Gallagher said...

You hit the nail right on the head. Kind of like life. We don't really know what's going to happen next. Thanks, Bish.

Stacy McKitrick said...

You could still end the book with a "Happy For Now" ending, even if it is a bit ambiguous. I can live with those. But to leave an ending with me muttering "What the hell!" probably won't get me to read the next book.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I usually write my romances in three book series and the last book in the series brings all the heroes and heroines together in a happily ever after finish. I always feel like I owe the readers.

Liza said...

I'm with Stacey. If a bits and pieces of the ending leads the reader to concluded there is some happiness, then I'm OK with unanswered questions. Reading a story that has left some things open-ended gives all sorts of fodder for playing "what if" when I'm not sleeping at night! With romances though, well, I expect the happy ending, unless I know there is a sequel coming...

J.B. Chicoine said...

Depending on the story and the overall theme (when it's not your typical Romance novel), I don't mind an ambiguous end, as long as the main threads have not been left dangling. Makes me think of the end of the movie Inception--will the top stop spinning? If the path the main character ends up on is strongly implied, and I have confidence she has found closure to all the issues raised, I'm good with that.