The ending to your story is just that, an ending – the finale, finish, fin, finis, kaput, over with, done, gone, ended. There is a finesse to ending a story correctly which includes things like tying up plot lines and giving the reader some satisfaction while also giving hope or despair for what will come. But it is simply not ok to leave an ending open.
My biggest pet peeve in a lot of contemporary stories I’ve read (mostly in the young adult genre), is an open ending. This happens when there is an expected sequel, and that makes it sort of understandable but only kinda, not really (seriously, not at all). It makes sense because the reader needs to be ready for the next story, be intrigued and enticed to continue reading about the same characters and the same world, realize that things will continue in a much bigger context. But it is absolutely unacceptable to leave things that you promised to fulfill at the beginning, hanging at the end of a book.
A book has an overarching story arc, something that is introduced in the beginning and developed throughout and then concluded at the end. In order to keep your readers ready for a sequel, there is no need to make the current story arc continue into the next book. There can be a bigger all-encompassing idea, something like a dominant dictator who wants to rule the world, that can continue into the next books. But each book needs to have its own part of the story.
Let’s look at an example of an open ending:
This novel begins with the premise that humans have lost their ability to reproduce after age 18, so teenagers are now having babies and getting paid for it. The twin main characters, one of which is looking forward to having the most talked about “bump” in history and the other who is extremely religious and wants to save her sister from this abomination, start out with the idea that someone is going to end up pregnant. Guess what, someone does. But that doesn’t tie anything up.
The reader is left hanging on so many other points. The contract that was made at the beginning for one twin to deliver a baby is left hanging for the next book. The concept of this dystopian world is introduced, delved into, opened wide, and then left hanging like the end of a chapter just waiting for the next installment.
Now let’s look at a very good example of a clean ending with a sequel on the way:
This book ties everything up that pertains to this part of the story. The main character makes her choices and grows as a person, realizing that her hesitancy (introduced in the beginning) was right all along. She abandons her path. That ends the story. Then we get a tiny glimpse of where she is headed next, to bring in the next book – to show that the world continues and there are more choices to be made.
All in all…
Please take me out of my misery and end your book. Don’t make me invest my time into something that will be completely unfulfilling. Please?
Originally posted on the WiDo blog.