Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cliff-hanger Endings: Are They Really That Bad?

Hey guys! In order to make up for my silence over the last while, I thought I'd just give you a short update on what's going on, and then I'll start my post. So, I'm actually in the midst of exams right now so I am taking lots of time studying and writing those (normally my exams would be in June, but because of the kind of courses I'm taking, they're in May). I'm also getting ready for wrapping up school completely and graduating high school in only twoish months! Eek. :D Let's see... I'm also trying to prepare a short story to enter in a local writing contest. I hope to start some fun new blog stuff after I'm done more of my exams, so you have that to look forward to. I have a few ideas up my sleeve. ;)

Anyway, I wanted to talk about endings. The two books that my English class most recently read were A Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence and A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Neither of them had very satisfying endings. A Stone Angel ends with the two words "And then..." and that's where the novel ends. The story ending of A Handmaid's Tale ends with the main character being taken away, and whether to safety or to her death the reader doesn't know. Then the last line of the epilogue-like ending is a university professor asking his students "Are there are any questions?" which is funny because, um, YES.

A lot of the students in my class complained loudly about how these endings were horrible, you don't get to find out anything, it wasn't wrapped up nicely at all, etc, etc. Then they write the entire book off as awful because you don't get to find out anything - and what's the point of reading a book that doesn't answer any questions it raises?

Well, that's a discussion for another day. But are these somewhat cliff-hanger endings really that bad? I feel like they are very effective, and they make you think. That is what I like about these endings - they force you to think. If there is anything that makes me love a book, it is that it makes me think. That's part of the reason why I loved Jellicoe Road so much. The intertwined and complicated plots required a whole lot of thinking to figure them out.

I think this is also why those "20 years later" epilogues sometimes really bug me, such as the one in Harry Potter or Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles. I feel like they shut down any opportunity for the reader's mind to wander and wonder further about the characters and story. Basically, it shut downs any opportunity for the reader to think about the book.

Yes, endings need to wrap up loose ends and whatnot. But I think they also need to be left at least somewhat open-ended to allow the reader to think and wonder.

So, I want to know what you think about all this... Do you like books that make you think? Do you like endings that wrap up completely, or that are left open? What books have made you think the most?


  1. I haven't read A Stone Angel or Handmaidens Tale (I'm thinking I need to get Handmaiden), so I can't be specific there. But in general, if a story feels complete - several character and secondary plots resolved - then I am completely satisfied NOT to know how the rest of the character's lives turn out.

    I don't consider this a cliff hanger either. Cliff hangers leave an issue to be resolved for a sequel. I think that is how Handmaiden ends; all the "stand alone" issues are wrapped up, but the overall plot extends beyond the scope of the one novel.

    But I like being able to imagine my own story past what I read.

    I was disappointed with the Harry Potter Epilogue. I would have preferred writing my own ending to all the prospective love relationships. The HP epilogue was redundant; but, probably did satisy readers who need that "and how did it all turn out" type ending.


  2. Ugh, I hate The Handmaid's Tale. Though not because of the ending.

    There's a big difference between a cliffhanger ending and an unresolved ending. Cliffhanger endings are fun, but not at the end of every single chapter or every book in a series. If that happens too often, it gets predictable and annoying. I know the question of "but what happens next???" is supposed to propel you through the book, and I do like cliffhangers -- but use them too often and you start seeing more and more desperate attempts to put the character in peril.

    Unresolved endings are equally maddening in their own way, although I like them. :) The problem I had with the Harry Potter epilogue was that I thought all the necessary loose ends had already been resolved in the final chapter. However, I did like getting a glimpse of them as grown-ups -- and I liked that Rowling eliminated the possibility of a sequel with a new villain. "All was well" = the happy-ever-after that Harry always wanted but had never gotten. It worked better in the movie than in the book, because it was kind of a Hollywood moment.

  3. So I guess there's two groups of threads in a novel, then - one group that needs to be tied up in order to leave the reader satisfied, and one group that needs to be left loose in order to keep the reader wondering.

    1. That's a good way to put it. I want at least some resolution, of a subplot if not a main plot, or I feel cheated/want a sequel.


Hey there! I really treasure every comment... whether it just be a hello or a deeper thought. I love hearing your thoughts! :)


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