Tying up loose ends

I've actually taken a brief break over the past two days from revising my novel and spent a bunch of time revising and submitting a number of short stories. And I expect I'll be doing more of that for a little while here, though while also working on novel revisions (I'm about a third of the way through the first set of revisions).

One thing that's come up in the novel revisions is the question of how neatly the ending of a story ought to be tied up. I have to admit I'm very suspicious of works that tie up too neatly. I like the implication that life continues, that we've reached a new version of normal, but that uncertainties remain. I may overreact on those counts, though. And I suspect there's a certain correlation between the length of a work (and therefore how much time a reader has invested in it) and how much you need to wrap things up neatly. A short story can more easily end abruptly, when that snippet of an event or life is over, but a multi-volume series may require a longer resolution to leave the readers satisfied. Maybe--I haven't thought this through too carefully, so it's merely a suspicious rather than a belief. My novel is not part of a(n overly long) fantasy series, just a stand-alone, though I may return to it at some point. But I will have to think about the ending and how it all wraps up.

What do you think, my faithful blog readers? The person who brought this up in regards to my novel* mentioned that things left unresolved may be more true to life, but true to life doesn't necessarily make better fiction. Any definite preferences in terms of how resolved you like a story to be?

*Actually, what she was referring to in my novel was that I have a tendency to introduce a certain tension or rivalry or motivation in an earlier chapter...and then not resolve that by the time that character's role in the story is through. That's definitely a failing on my part, and something I'm glad she pointed out. I'll fix that in revision. But thinking about that brought up this more general question in my mind.


As a reader, I definitely don't need things resolved in one tidy Disney-style package, but I have to heartily agree with the comment that true to life doesn't necessarily make better fiction.

With a novel, I think you make a sort of deal with your reader--if you come on this journey with me, I promise it'll lead you somewhere cool. So when a theme or idea or conflict fails to reach any kind of resolution, the reader feels like you screwed them on that deal and left them lost without so much as a map. As a reader, I need some sense of resolution, even if it's ambiguous (i.e. that map so I can figure out my own way home).

So I guess the thing to do is look at the various ideas and situations your novel raises and ask yourself if each one serves a purpose by pushing the story and/or a character forward in some way. If it did, then it probably did it's job. If not, then it may be a thread in search of either axing or resolution.

[/my 2 rambly cents]
Daniel Ausema said…
Yeah, some good points in all that rambling :P I think we've discussed something similar in the past with short stories, ie editors or readers saying it feels like the start to something longer. I do like some ambiguity, whether short fiction or long...but as with anything it's a spectrum, rather than either/or, and just how much works probably has no definite answer.