Open-endings vs. Closed-endings

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We all like closure, don’t we? I think it’s safe to say that at the least, the majority of people in this world like closure. We like things tied up and motives explained. Just watch any TV show and you’ll see what I mean, especially the crime dramas–CSI,¬†Psych, NCIS, Castle, etc. And really, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is good story telling, right? It makes us feel good to know the bad guys were caught and why they committed the crime. Closure makes us rest easy at night.

What about open-endings, though? How do they make us feel? For most us, I’m willing to bet, it makes us feel uneasy, uncomfortable. There is an element of unknown that bugs us, eats away at our curiosity. It’s like ending a song with a minor chord or a sharp. A great example of this is the¬†Soprano’s. If you haven’t seen it, the final scene can be viewed on YouTube.

So is one better than the other? I think not. Both open and closed endings have their place and their purpose. What a lot of people don’t understand, I think, is the power of open-ending stories. An open-ending story is often, if not always, abrupt. And in that abruptness, it grabs our attention, makes us stop and forces us to think about what the story means–the point or lesson the author wanted to make. Because we don’t like those kind of endings, though, we try to change them. The Gospel of Mark is a great example.

I encourage you to read it. Most reliable manuscripts end the book at chapter 16, verse 8. It is believed that the two endings, a shorter and longer ending, were added sometime later, perhaps to wrap things up neatly. I am not a scholar so I don’t know. But reading the book with verse 8 as the end, makes me want to look more closely and the book to understand what the point Mark wanted to make is.

How does all this relate to the stories you write (or read)? Either ending is okay, but the important thing to keep in mind is this: a story can be, and should be concluded no matter what. Closure is not necessarily required. A story can concluded without having closure. So next time you feel like telling a story and leaving it open-ended, well, you have permission to do so.

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