Friday, January 20, 2012

The Lady or the Tiger - Open Endings

I think you all probably know the story of The Lady and the Tiger.  A man who has dared to get involved with the king's daughter stands in an arena with only two exits.  Behind one door is a ferocious tiger.  Behind the other is a beautiful woman, rival to the princess.  The man must choose which door he opens.  If he picks the one with the beautiful woman, he goes free and has to marry her.  It he picks the other, he dies.  The princess, his lover, sits in the stands by her father.  The man looks to her for help and she signals him which door to choose.  But will she save him or would she rather see him dead than married to her rival?  The man goes to the door and opens it.  And the story ends.

Last night my mystery readers' group met to discuss this month's book selection.  I won't mention the title because I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but it had this type of ambiguous ending.  In the final scene, the reader knows when the heroine wakes up tomorrow morning the disaster in her life will be over.  Or it will be the same.  The story ends as she goes to sleep.   

Our group was divided on this one. Some liked being able to choose what they believe will happen.  Others felt the story was incomplete.  They wanted something, perhaps an epilogue, to tie up the loose ends.  For myself, I chose the happy ending, but after following this character through four hundred pages of twists and turns, I wanted to share in her relief and joy when it happened.  I felt cheated.

How about you?  What books have you read that left the ending up to the reader?  How did you decide the story ended?  Do you enjoy open-ended stories or do you prefer to have everything nicely tied up with a bow and no loose ends?  If you're a writer, do you ever leave your endings open to the reader's choice?

Groaner of the Day:  No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

31 comments:

mooderino said...

I hate those sorts of ambiguous endings. I don't need the writer to hand the baton over to me, I opened the book to be entertained by them. I always see it as the easiest ending to write, therefore the most unimpressive.

mood
Moody Writing
@mooderino
The Funnily Enough

Sarah Pearson said...

I don't like open endings because it always makes me assume they're holding on for a sequel.

LD Masterson said...

Mood - Exactly. If I want to fill in the blanks, I'll buy a Mad Lib.

LD Masterson said...

Sarah - That point came up in our discussion group but for this particular book, we didn't think it was a sequel set up. Still left me unsatisfied.

Sarah Ahiers said...

i've actually never heard of the lady and the tiger before.
As for the other bit, it really depends on the story. Like for Inception, i loved the ending and the ability to choose whether he was still in the dream or not.
But sometimes it really ticks me off

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I prefer a definite ending in books. Movies I can handle it, like in Inception. I believe the top fell.

Margaret Yang said...

I was disappointed in the ending to Stephen King's CELL. I was happy they defeated the zombies but the relationship with the son was left completely in the air. Arrrgh!

Sarah Allen said...

Hmmm, interesting. I'm more of a tied up person too, though some ambiguity is good.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Eve said...

I would like the story to be finished too...and I love the groaner!

LD Masterson said...

Sarah - I'm probably showing my age. That story was a standard in English classes back when I was in school.

LD Masterson said...

Alex - Oh dear, two references to Inception - a story I'm not familiar with. Something to add to my list.

LD Masterson said...

Margaret - Yes, those make me crazy, too.

LD Masterson said...

Sarah - The only time I prefer ambiguity is when I'm afraid the author is going with the ending I won't like.

LD Masterson said...

Eve - Yea! A positive on the groaner.

Karin said...

Great question. I usually like a definite conclusion to a story. But I am currently finishing book 5 (each book about 1000 pages)of a popular series and I was SO frustrated because the plot never moved very far forward with each volume. It suddenly dawned on me that the series is more about the journey than the conclusion and now I am enjoying the ride with all it's twists and turns. I still want to see how this ends but it may be years until the next installment comes out. Oh well.
Karin

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

I like a story to have an ending. It can have an ending, yet still leave some things unresolved. After all, life is like that. But there is a difference between not having all the answers and leaving the reader to finish the story - to end it with some degree of completion. I think it's our jobs as writers to finish the story. I think most readers feel shortchanged otherwise.

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

ps I hated that lady and tiger story! Hated it!

LD Masterson said...

Karin - What series is it?

LD Masterson said...

Melissa - Shhh...I hated it, too.

Pidg said...

Okay, loved the groaner! Second, I hate stories with open endings. Yes, I feel cheated the way you mentioned! I don't want to read something and fill my imagination with all of the details only to be left standing at the end with no conclusion. Life is too much like that when things fall out of your hands. I like endings. I like closure...I actually like books that just keep going but that's just me ;)

Mike Keyton said...

My endings tend to be beginnings.

MaryC said...

I can't think of any that I've read that left an ambiguous ending like this, but I definitely felt cheated at the end of The Hunger Games Trilogy. Yes there was an ending, but it felt rushed and like a cop-out to readers who invested so much time and emotion in the three books.

Karin said...

It is the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R Martin. Actually the first book is the basis for the Game of Thrones series on HBO. I imagine so many good story lines for this series but things just stew and there are so many subplots that it is hard to keep them straight--and I read all five back to back. Note--there are dragons-- for someone with a grandson named after them!

Lydia Kang said...

You know, I think it depends on the story. Sometimes I really want my happily ever after, and other times, I'm find with open ends, because life isn't always perfect.

Melissa Sugar said...

I reall don't like ambiguous endings. I want the author to conclude the story that he or she has written. Let me decide the ending when I am the author.

LD Masterson said...

Pidg - I guess wanting books to just keep going is the root of fan-fiction.

LD Masterson said...

Mike - Beginnings are good, especially if you're thinking sequel.

LD Masterson said...

Mary C - It feels worse to have things left unresolved when a book or series has really drawn you in and let you feel a connection with the characters.

LD Masterson said...

Karin - I haven't read that series. Have to check it out.

Note: I gave that grandson a plaque that says, "Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup." He loves it.

LD Masterson said...

Lydia - I can live with a less than happy ending (although it's not my preference) but I don't like being left hanging.

LD Masterson said...

Melissa - Yup, that's how I feel.