Welcome to the start of a new series of blog posts! Writing Thoughts will be primarily opinions on aspects of writing in all forms of media, from books to movies. The purpose behind Writing Thoughts is to promote discussion on the topics I discuss in each episode. I give my two cents worth on the topics and you can let me and others know your thoughts on the topic in the comments below
While I will be choosing most of these topics myself, should you have any suggestions or questions that fit this informal series, let me know in the comments as well!
The Topic Today
The first topic I want to discuss is the ambiguous endings in science-fiction. I know that science fiction isn’t the only genre to use these either-or endings, but I have noticed it to be pretty commonplace in science fiction literature, movies and series. There have been very few post-apocalyptic adventures, space voyages and cyber-punk-themed stories I’ve read that did not have an unsatisfying, ambiguous ending.
I understand that the primary purpose of the ambiguous ending is to promote thought on what has happened throughout the story, particularly the conclusions made in the last quarter of the novel. If such speculative fiction was to end with a definitive ending it’s very easy to accept that ending as the last word and spare little-to-no thought on the questions raised throughout the novel.
Sometimes the ambiguous ending is there to provide a level of discomfort and dissatisfaction because it reads like that kind of story. Other times it’s because the author themselves have trouble deciding how they want to end the novel, so they construct an ending where it is up to the reader to decide.
As this is an opinion-based series, here is my opinion on ambiguous endings; I don’t care for them.
I have come to expect them at the end of science fiction unless the story is a really simple one. These endings no longer surprise me, which is one thing, but they no longer elicit much thought either. The reason is that I have already established so many opinions by the end. The conclusion leaves me unsatisfied, not wondering about the metaphorical meaning behind it all or even in a state of slight existential angst.
Now, this feeling of discomfort is perfectly fine if the topics discussed are uncomfortable or horrific. Yet, ambiguous endings are so commonplace in science fiction that even the most basic of stories might have an ambiguous ending. In these moments, it feels like I’ve read an incomplete story, not a good one.
I’m not talking about this topic in the hopes I shake things up in the science fiction writing community, nor do I speak out of anger from a recent novel I read, but because of my own opinion on the kinds of stories, and endings, I enjoy reading.
Of the hundreds of short stories I have written, I am sure a few have ambiguous endings, but probably the most common one is a twist ending. With an ambiguous ending, a lot of the story gets called into question and you try to decide for yourself what is right or wrong when you imagine what happens a chapter later.
With a twist ending, everything you read up until the end turns out to be wrong, or some greater story hidden beneath it, but the ending is there. There isn’t any question about what comes after in the sense of finding an explanation for what just happened. It is explained, it happened, the end.
I know that sometimes the true ending is revealed in a sequel, but I think those endings are more like cliffhangers than ambiguous endings. I have to know that the ending is ‘the ending’ before I count it as ambiguous.
Even then, I might seek out the true ending online. Perhaps there is a draft that has a definitive ending, or some record of the author openly stating the true ending. Of course, this applies to movies and series as well. When it comes to TV, there is a greater chance of finding out the answer as there are a lot of people involved, and plenty of interviews where hints and clues are given.
Yet, it is always the writers out there who are the most elusive when it comes to giving a simple answer. Most likely such an answer will never be given.
My Final Thoughts
At the end of the day, I will still read science-fiction stories, even if I know beforehand that it has an ambiguous ending, one that will leave me unsatisfied and annoyed for a few hours. It’s not because I feel the writing is bad, because if it was, I would most likely stop reading after chapter 2. It’s because I feel the story would have been a level better had there been an ending, good or bad, or in between.
I don’t think I will ever write such an ending when it comes to my novels. I am so simple-minded when it comes to stories that an ambiguous ending is not within my realm of thought when writing. Also, after spending months on a novel I like to feel that I have finished it. I know there are many stories with either-or endings out there that do feel finished, but when working on my own project I need to have a definitive ending.
If anything, I want to be left with the feeling that the story has ended well and I have to stop myself from taking it further. No doubt that is a ‘feeling’ many writers desire!
Having heard my thoughts on this topic, what are yours?
Do you enjoy ambiguous endings or not? Do you feel too many science-fiction novels use these endings or not enough? And what is your favorite ambiguous ending in literature/film?
Let me know in the comments below and also any questions or future topics you have in mind! I hope you enjoyed this episode and as always…
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!