Should you be careful not to leave your conclusion TOO widely open?
Lesson 4 warns against creating “‘tidy’ or ‘closed’ conclusions,” saying that they “tend to seem facile or fake (even if they’re true for the author) because they’re presenting something as final, when in reality, life is always changing and full of new surprises/possibilities.”
I love how the idea is presented in the sentence above, and the conclusion examples used in the lesson are incredible. But I’m wondering, is it possible to leave your conclusion too open? Readers need some sense of conclusion/finality to the story, don’t they?
Good point- I do think it’s possible to leave your conclusion too open… too, well, inconclusive.
It seems that openings and endings are the most difficult for most new writers (and many seasoned ones, too). Over time, you learn how to find and develop your own voice so that your stories are authentic and personal while having some shared value for a general audience. The curriculum will address this topic in much greater depth when you get to the chapter on Finding Your Voice.
This is a really interesting question. I think open conclusions can leave the reader feeling unfulfilled, but if you’re publishing online like most of us, there’s really no such thing as a conclusion as long as you keep writing somewhere. If a reader is left wondering, they can follow up by checking out your author profile, or another article you wrote – once the curiosity is engaged, there’s a trail of work for the reader to follow. This is a good thing.
Keep ’em guessing, keep ’em wanting more.
As an example, I just finished the excellent book Beautiful Boy, by David Sheff. I didn’t want the story to end because, since it’s about the real life addiction of Sheff’s son, there was obviously more story unfolding. I went online and found photos, interviews, videos, podcasts and even a book by the addicted son.
Most nonfiction pieces that are strictly information-based (for example, news bits, roundups, or Q & A’s) need some kind of summation at the end. At the very least, they should give the reader a sense of closure.
The idea of leaving the reader with a final image or question, something that’s essentially ‘open,’ pertains more to narrative nonfiction.
I think Eva’s recent piece on World Hum (read it here: http://www.worldhum.com/features/travel-stories/love-and-marriage-on-the-shatabdi-express-20090723/) is a great example of a conclusion that’s not too tidy and not too open. Eva could’ve wrapped things up by saying something convenient like, “and then I learned that actually, arranged marriage isn’t always a bad thing and can actually be great!” That would’ve left a bad taste in my mouth, a facile happy travel lesson learned. Instead, the point was to express the ambiguity she felt, and to plant that seed of ambiguity in the mind of the reader. I think a great travel narrative, one that really forces the reader to think and question, should do that instead of coming to some definitive conclusion.
Some sort of conclusion is necessary, but leaving things a little bit open can also make room for lots of comments, which many online articles allow for (and encourage). Sometimes the discussion below an article is just as interesting as the article itself!
(And I loved Eva’s piece- amazing.)