Thursday, 10 December 2015

Open mouthed and open ended

Last month I wrote here on the distilled wisdom of five years of writing, well I have been writing all my life really, but that was unaware putting down of words on paper, whereas last few years I have approached the writing a little more armed and aware;  a little less emotional, more in control, but of course only just.  And I said in that post that the endings I liked were a bit messy, a couple loose ends here and there, something that could go on in the reader's head after s/he had shut the book.  Open ended stories, in other words.

Just after I posted that nugget, I had the rare fortune of having a short of mine critiqued in detail by a publisher.  The patron goddess of wisdom, who is also the patron of writing incidentally, obviously has a wicked sense of humour.  The critique I received, itself about half the length of the story, a thorough job! and its message was that my story had a beginning, and a middle, but no end. It apparently failed to deliver because it left too many unanswered questions.  If this had happened five years ago, I would probably have been reduced instantly to a wreck.  But that is irrelevant. I hadn't submitted my work for publication, and so perhaps the 'rejection' for it was definitely a rejection, didn't feel overwhelmingly catastrophic or anything.  More like a quiet joke life was snickering at.  "Open endings, hah! Take that!"

Coming back to the point - the whole thing made me wonder, are open ended stories such damp squibs really?  Forget  my short, it might have other flaws apart from the unanswered questions, but generally? Didn't the father of the modern short story Chekhov himself favour open ended shorts? So many other writers seem to do too - take at peek here, and I am sure there are readers who do as well.  I mean, I'd understand a reader who wouldn't want to be left hanging after reading a 200 page novel, but a 2000 word story? What do you think? Do you feel cheated if some of the questions are left unanswered? Does an open ending deliver any reading satisfaction for you?


  1. Nice blog post here, just catching up with it now. Confusing endings (with unanswered questions) can produce a tiny light of disappointment, but it is always the writer's decision whether to craft such an ending. Been guilty of it myself.

    1. Confused is quite different from open, imo. open gives the reader a choice to take the story forward. Thanks for visiting and your comment.