As many writers know, textual ambiguity has been a big hit with readers for a long time. This is the case for several reasons, including the fact that humans have a proclivity for being drawn in to narratives marked by mystery. Because this is the case, writers may find it advantageous to construct texts with an open ending. In essence, an open ending is one in which a major issue presented in the text is left unresolved or somehow unclear. Here are two reasons why using this literary technique can be effective.
1. It Makes Your Reader Think.
As many writers know, the type of texts that are likely to intrigue readers are those that get them mentally involved. Getting readers involved can be done in many ways, and one mechanism that can be used to accomplish this goal is to leave the ending open. When you do not offer your reader a clear conclusion to your work, she or he is likely to get caught up in a mental whirlwind marked by their own internal speculations about 1) what the conclusion of your work really means and 2) what will happen next. For example, in my short story “Maybe Marrying Margaret,” my protagonist’s internal monologues about whether he should marry his girlfriend are very primary to the unfolding of the plot. As the story concludes, he still cannot decide whether or not to propose. The work ends with him fiddling with the engagement ring in his pocket. This ending can send the reader’s mind in various directions. They may wonder whether or not the protagonist and Margaret eventually married or if the central character’s incertitude regarding his lover indicates that he doesn’t really love her. These are only two of many speculations that an audience might have after reading my story’s denouement.
2. Your Open Ending Becomes A Writing Prompt.
As even seasoned authors know, writer’s block can be a problem. Yet novels or short stories with open endings can function as a writing prompt that enables you to overcome writer’s block. For example, my story “Maybe Marrying Margaret” ended with the protagonist remaining in an undecided state regarding whether or not he should marry his girlfriend. If I woke up one morning in a mentally blank state and couldn’t think of anything to write about, I could use the indecision of this story’s central character as the beginning paragraph of a new work. Perhaps it could start off with him choosing to propose in three months at a quaint and quirky coffee shop just two blocks away from the art museum the couple frequents regularly.
As stated earlier, using open endings as a story’s denouement can be an effective literary technique for writers. This is the case because open endings make readers think and can also serve as a writing prompt if authors ever find themselves subjected to a serious bout of writer’s block. These are only two of the advantages that result from leaving a story’s ending open. And that is why I encourage writers to give this narrative strategy a chance. Good luck!
Jocelyn Crawley holds B.A. degrees in English and Religious Studies. Her work has appeared in Jerry Jazz Musician, Nailpolish Stories, Visceral Uterus, Dead Beats, Four and Twenty, and Haggard and Halloo. Other stories are forthcoming in Faces of Feminism, The Idiom, Thrice Fiction and Calliope.