Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Caitlin Considers: Ambiguous Endings

Welcome, dear readers to another edition of Caitlin Considers, a fortnightly discussion post. Today I am discussing the issue of ambiguous endings to series.

First  I guess I should define an ambiguous ending. In novel terms, it would be when in a book or series, there's no clear ending. Where some of the strands of the story are left untied, left open for interpretation. Like in Inception, or Shutter Island. (I watched this recently) People debate WHAT actually happened. In a book though, it's usually slightly different (in my experience anyway) in that you just don't find out what happens with a certain plot element, rather than having a disputed ending. Best examples I can think of are The Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater and the Strange Angels series by Lili St Crow.

Personally, I'm a huge fan of ambiguous endings. I like it when a series is left open to a bit of interpretation, I think it adds another dimension to a series and makes it a bit more personal to the reader as each individual can imagine it ending how they want it to end. It sort of ties in with the idea that a story doesn't live and die with the author but exists as a separate entity from them and is maintained through the readers. With an ambiguous ending, the story extends far beyond the final page, leaving room to speculate and talk about it, and there's less scope to do this when it's all tied up.

Plus, you might not have liked the ending the author would've chosen. If there was a definitive ending, maybe they would've killed off your favourite character, or the MC didn't get with your favourite love interest. With an ambiguous ending you can imagine your own result, you can think it happened how you wanted it to happen.

But there are downsides. Sometimes we do want closure, and certain series warrant it. I think everyone would've had a MASSIVE paddy if the ending of Harry Potter had been open. Plus with an ambiguous ending, there's always the possibility of coming back and writing more, which not everyone wants to do (like Rowling). Some authors like to put a line under a book/series and call it DONE which you can't do with an ambiguous ending. Sometimes an ending you imagine doesn't feel as REAL as if the author had written one.

A big problem with them is how far to go. How much do you tie up? What gets left unanswered? You don't want to piss off your readership by having a series that looks unfinished, that's just frustrating. But you have to leave enough that it can be classified as ambiguous. It has to be tantilising, but not feel as though you just couldn't be bothered to create a good ending.

How do you feel about ambiguous endings? Are they something you enjoy or do you resent them? Can you recommend me any good books/series that have them? How do you think they work best?


  1. It sort of ties in with the idea that a story doesn't live and die with the author but exists as a separate entity from them and is maintained through the readers. Love this idea Caitlin!

    I must admit, I was really put off by the ending of Forever, with it I NEEDED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO (insert name here).

    But, I was pretty a-okay with the ending of Reckoning because I felt that it was better wrapped up than the ending of Forever was, after all, we at least know that Dru lives until the end of the series(though I would in no way be opposed to Lili writing the series as an adult one in the future, which I am pretty sure the likelihood of happening is slim to nil- a girl can dream, right?) ;)

    1. Lol, I LOVED the Forever ending, but I totally know why you wouldn't. I loved the ending of Reckoning, whilst I would've liked it to go the way *I* wanted in a certain aspect, I'd rather it be an open ending than go the OTHER I'm happy ;)

  2. You know I totally agree with you. I'm a fan of ambiguous endings too. For the one in Forever, I thought it was okay-ish as the ending was really good but then you wonder what happens to certain characters.
    But, sometimes they are really frustrating as then you have to really think about what happenes at the end like in Entangled by Cat Clarke, it is quite ambiguous. I had a really hard time figuiring out exaclty what happened at the end.
    But I think that's what great about ambiguous endings. Somethimes it's because of that ending you love the book.
    A great disscussion post Caitlin! *applauds* :D

    1. Yaaay I'm glad someone else likes them too! I still haven't read Entangled, but I've heard the ending is a bit frustrating...I like the debate ambiguous endings creates!

  3. This is a really good post!! I haven't read the Wolves of Mercy Falls series (though I want to) but I have read the Strange Angels series and the ending really annoyed me because it didn't clear anything up at all!!

    It didn't clear up who Dru ended up with or what she was exactly and how she dealed with the council and if Anna survived and if so, what was to be done with her. I felt it was too open unless there are more books and as far as I know, there aren't!

  4. I prefer both. Like you say, some books and series really need to have a good closed ending but ambiguous ones are good too. Speaking of Dennis Lehane, I like his book, and the movie, Gone Baby Gone. It's a pretty closed ending but, man, it leaves you wanting to discuss like crazy!

  5. Hmm. I don't really know if I prefer one over the other when it comes to ambiguous and clear endings. I guess it really just depends on the way the author writes it for me... I normally really don't want everything spelled out for me like the epilogue for HP but that is certainly a special case. Like you said, if JKR had left it vague, I would have... aghh.

    I actually haven't read either of the series you referenced! D: More books I need to get to, I suppose LOL.

    Great post!


  6. I love Inception and Shutter Island btw. Just sayin'

    I don't think I like it. Unless it's supposed to be all psychological and messes with your mind, than I'd rather just know what happened to the characters.

    At the same time, if an ambiguous ending fits, why not?

    For me, it really depends on the book. Usually I accept ambiguous endings for contemporary novels more than say, paranormal.

    Cool post :)

    1. Haha yes, I love them too. We have lots of debates about the endings of both haha!! Yeah I see what you mean about contemp and paranormal. I think with paranormal, you want answers, whereas with contemp it's usually a snapshot of someone's life so you're happy for it to be more open

  7. Ambiguous endings... I think for me, it varies. It really depends on a) how into the story I am that's being told, b) how invested I am in the characters and c ) based on all that, is it an ending I can live with.

    There are some books I've read that meant enough to me that I couldn't have done a wide-open ending (ie. Stephen King's Dark Tower series...I HATED that ending because it was left open and well, it was just so WRONG); on the other hand there are others like Victoria Schwab's The Near Witch, or Hannah Harrington's Saving June that had a bit of an ambiguous ending in that you didn't really know what was going to happen to the characters - and that was okay, because they had a new beginning in front of them. You knew the characters were going to be okay, and that's what mattered.

    Sometimes, too, it depends on if it's a series or a stand-alone. The first book in a series, I can handle a cliff-hanger or an uncertain ending. The LAST book in the series? No, not usually, because if it's a GOOD series, I get way too attached to the characters and I HAVE TO KNOW what's going to happen.

    A stand-alone? Both the novels I mentioned above were stand-alones and I am FAR more likely to accept a "what-if" or uncertain ending in that case.

    VERY VERY awesome post, Cait. :) (I hope my rambly answer made some sort of sense!)

    1. I agree that open endings work better in standalones, because it's a snapshot into someone's life so obviously it wont be all sorted out. But yeah, with a series it's a journey, and a lot of the time, you want that journey to have a definitive end.

      I think you're right about the vested interest thing I said NO ONE would've handled ambiguity in HP

  8. Too ambiguous drives me crazy. I need a definite answer. Openness at the end just leaves me to imagine ALL possibilities, including the bad ones. It's the author's world and only the author can give us a genuine ending that doesn't feel like a fantasy we've drawn up to comfort ourselves. So I daresay I hate ambiguity in novels, particularly series.


  9. Too ambiguous also drives me crazy. I don't mind if a couple of strands are left untied, but I don't want to sit there at the end of the book going WTF? Actually, that just happened to me at the end of Mara Dyer (which I loved!) but at least I have another book to give me some answers - at least I hope I get answers!!

    I like books with endings that leave food for thought, but still provide little morsels to chew over. :)

    I liked the ending of Forever - it was realistic, but I totally get why it drove people crazy!

  10. This is a great post. I do like ambiguous endings, but like you said, not too ambiguous. I need to feel it's finished up somehow.

  11. I like ambiguous endings for the sole reason that the book seems more realistic to me that way. After a huge conflict, not every single problem is solved, and I like that.

  12. I have to say I hate ambiguous endings. When I read, I do it because I want to be told a story, not to make one up for myself. I haven't read the books you've talked about in this post,so I don't have much of an opinion on that specifically, but yes, in general, ambiguous endings bug me. To me, it seems like the author is afraid to commit to an ending, or is afraid of possible backlash if fans don't like the ending, or they are just lazy. I know it's probably not the case,but thats how it feels to me.

    -Kate the Book Buff
    Recent Post: Better Book Titles: Round 2

  13. Huge fan of ambiguous endings too. I actually disagree with you about Harry Potter - I think that if she hadn't included the epilogue, it would've gotten more or less the same reaction: half the fans hating it, the other half loving it. And I bet fanfiction writers would have looooved it. This also reminds me of Mockingjay and that epilogue debate.

    To be honest, though, I can't think of many ambiguous endings in YA--there is Bloodrose from the Nightshade trilogy--but most series/books I feel like keep the whole, wrapped-up happy ending type, and I think that says something about YA in general.

  14. Im the same, I really love ambiguous endings but there are some books that it cant be done with, like Harry Potter.. I love thinking up of my own results to the story and I think thats why I love Cat Clarkes books so much, especially Entangled.

  15. I'm sort of undecided. Sometimes I like them, sometime I really, really hate them. Like, I loved the endings of Inception and Shutter Island because they were so clever and really just fit in with the story. But other time, I feel like films/books have ambiguous endings JUST for dramatic effect, where it makes no sense to have an ambiguous ending and it's like the creator just gave up, couldn't be bothered or just wanted to be different and so rushed a completely unexpected ending. Those are the kinds of ambiguous endings I reaaaaaaallly don't like...


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