Monday, February 15, 2010

The Unfinished Highway

When my uncle lived in Virginia, we'd travel down there by car. At one point on our journey, we'd see an unfinished, abandoned highway. I always wondered why they stopped construction. Did they run out of money? Did the company go bankrupt? Year after year, we passed that landmark. For all I know, it's still a road going nowhere.

Our writing can become a road going nowhere, leading us and our readers down rabbit trails with no final destination. We reach the end of our book and our characters are still in limbo. If we don't tie up the loose ends, the reader walks away thinking, "I wonder what happened to Mrs. Quigley?"

I don't know about you, but I like a satisfying ending. Even if it's a series, I want a book to bring the immediate problem to closure.

Do you like unfinished storylines? Does it thrill your imagination to pick up the threads and invent your own ending? What are your thoughts?

38 comments:

Katie Ganshert said...

I like major questions to be answered, but a few minor ones left up to the imagination. :)

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I like a satisfying ending to my stories. I don't like getting all excited, holding my breath in anticipation of what might be and then find out the bottom dropped out and all the characters are hanging onto the cliff not knowing where or if they'll fall!

Carol J. Alexander said...

I'm with you, Susan. Plus once all the loose ends start getting tied up, you know the story is coming to a close.
I read a novel last year that left all kinds of questions in my mind. I finished it with a most unsatisfied feeling. Several months later, I found out it was the first in a series. :) But when I read it, the sequal was not even published yet.
Have a great week,
Carol

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Katie -

When books are done in a series format, I don't mind a few loose ends. Yet, I prefer that each book be able to stand alone.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Donna -

I feel the same way. Cliff hangers at the end of chapters are one thing, but I don't like them at the end of a book.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Carol -

When a book is part of a series, I would hope the author and publisher would make that clear. It should be up to the reader whether or not they want to commit to a series where major situations are not resolved until the end.

I'm writing a three-book series. Each manuscript can stand on its own.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Jody Hedlund said...

Genre may have a lot to do with it. In a romance, for example, we would expect for the romance to conclude in a satisfying manner. But in a mystery, perhaps the romance questions won't all be answered, but the mystery would need to be solved.

patti said...

Hey, Susan,
I resolved to create more satisfying endings after An Irishwoman's Tale seemed to leave folks hanging. What can be hard is when the novel is based on a true story and you're not sure where to change things!!!

The Moral Premises does a great job with this issue.

Blessings on an always-great post!
Patti

Karen Lange said...

I don't like unfinished story lines. When I read something like that, I get frustrated - not because I didn't enjoy the book, but because I like to see the loose ends tied up. I just invested time reading it; I want a satisfying conclusion. Perhaps I am too demanding as a reader? :)

I suppose I could create my own endings, but I'd rather see where the author took things.
Blessings,
Karen

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

It kind of depends. I like the big issues tied up, but I like leaving some point of wondering for the readers (me)! :0)

Denise Miller Holmes said...

Hi Susan. Liked the post. Love the picture because it says it all. I don't mind having a few loose ends at the end of the book IF I know it's part of a series and those loose ends will be answered in the next book. BUT I must have the main situation and character dilemmas resolved. Not finishing the story is frustrating for the reader, and, I think, a mark of a beginner for the writer.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jody -

I didn't think of genre. Awhile back, I read a political fiction book with elements of romance. As in real life, things don't always work out. The situation was resolved, but the two characters went their separate ways.

Perhaps the author will reunite these two in a later book, but under different circumstances.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Karen -

One of the most frustrating reading experiences I've had was the classic, "Gone With The Wind." The book was fabulous, but the ending left me feeling cheated.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Kristen -

I guess that's one way of keeping a read thinking about your book. Unfortunately, I'd view it in a negative light and not want to read the author's subsequent novels.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Patti -

You raise an important point. If you're doing a biography, you need to stick to the actual story. What about if you're writing a fictionalized account?

I've seen authors take a Biblical story and create historical/modern characters, settings, etc. While the original story provides the underpinnings and outcome, there's plenty of room for other elements.

In a non-Biblical story that's fictionalized, why can't we tweak the ending? Discussion anyone?

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Denise -

I recently read a story where several peripheral characters were left with unfinished business. They became the main characters of a subsequent book.

Because they weren't the main characters or the featured story, it didn't bother me as much as "Gone With The Wind."

I guess we need to define whether we're talking about a main story line or intriguing characters that might or might not be the basis of another book.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Jeanette Levellie said...

Susan: What a great question.

I like loose ends to be neatly tied with a purple ribbon at the end of the book. A few unanswered questions are fine, if I know there's going to be a sequel. If not, I'm reluctant to read another story by the author who tortured me.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jen -

I think you summed up how I feel. It's pure torture to be left with an unfinished story.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Jean Fischer said...

Interesting question, Susan. I like the loose ends tied up at the close of a story. My personal opinion is that books in a series should be able to stand alone.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jean -

Thanks for weighing in on this. So, for the book to qualify as a stand alone, ALL loose ends must be neatly tied in a bow?

Blessings,
Susan :)

Jessica said...

I definitely don't like to imagine my own endings. Though I use my imagination all the time, when it comes to a story I like to know it ALL. :-) Curiosity is SO annoying if left unsatisfied. Hahaa.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

We invest so much time into reading a book. I feel cheated if the story doesn't come to a satisfying conclusion.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I'm with you, Susan, the main problem has to be solved one way or another for me to be satisfied, even if it's in a series.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Eileen -

Thanks for joining in the discussion.

As a reader, I find waiting for the next book in a series makes me lose interest. If each book isn't a stand alone title, I'd rather wait until the entire series is written and then read them all at once.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Nancy said...

I love a good ending, too. A bad ending will totally ruin the whole book, movie, story for me.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Nancy -

You just gave me another idea for a blog post. We not only want the story finished, but we want to like the ending even if it is finished.

Thanks!

Blessings,
Susan :)

Carla Gade said...

How frustrating it is to get to the end of a book and have it just stop before the story is finished. Sometimes its ok to not have every question answered, but this should be done in a way that allows the reader to drift into thoughts of what might be, not feeling like they are left hanging with no way to find the end of their trail (like your unfinished highway). One book series I read was handled very poorly and rather than the first book bringing some sort of closure it left so much open that it felt like it stopped dead short. Then I had to wait about 10 months for the next book in the series to come out, and so forth. All in all it was good when I looked at the big picture (should have been one book), but I decided then that I would never do that to a potential reader that I might have some day.

Becky Lange said...

I like closure! I'm not a cliff hanger person. :-)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Carla -

I've had the same experience.

We must have the reader's well-being in mind if we expect them to come back for more. I know what I appreciate. As a writer, I strive to give them my best.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Becky -

I'm with you all the way!

Blessings,
Susan :)

Sharon said...

No, I'm like you, Susan. I like for a story to have closure. Whenever I see a movie or read a book that leaves the end untied I tend to get frustrated.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Sharon -

Thanks for joining the discussion. :)

Most people seem to prefer a resolution to the main story line. I don't appreciate wasting my time with an unfinished book.

Blessings,
Susan

Terri Tiffany said...

I want it to end in a good way with all the loose ends tied up or I feel cheated!Q

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Terri -

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I agree!

Blessings,
Susan :)

Shmologna said...

My comments are working now. Yeah!

I like this post. Unfinished storylines aren't popular sometimes. People want a happy ending.

But I kind of like the "what next" ending. Gone With the Wind left everything wide open. One reason the book was so popular is that people kept imagining what would eventually happen between Scarlett and Rhett.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Schmologna -

Your comments show how tastes differ. I used that book as an example of why I don't like an unfinished ending. LOL!

Thanks for stopping by. I'm so glad your comment difficulties are solved. We missed you.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Lily Robinson said...

I do enjoy a few loose ends that let my imagination do the finishing work. Just don't leave me hangin' on the main story-line...

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Lily -

A lot of folks agree with you, including me. I want that main story line tied into a pretty bow.

Blessings,
Susan :)