writing

Loose Ends

Mirror-Posted at Mad Genius Club this morning

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALife is all about uncertainties. Fiction, on the other hand, is required to make sense, or your readers throw things (like your book) at you. I was contemplating this as I was driving today, loose ends, and the raveling up of said threads, taking the untidy things and tucking them neatly into the tapestry of the story.

My problem is, as I’m getting ready to write the third book in a series, that I need to make a ‘bible’ for the series, which is going to include things like physical descriptions and setting notes for the world. It will also include a list of dangling plot threads. Some of them will become the central plots of the final book, as minor incidents come back to bite my protagonists on the butts. But I don’t want to wrap all of them up. I’d just as soon leave a few.

In real life, there are a lot of loose ends and untidy things. You might meet someone while traveling, hit it off, and when you both separate at your destination, never speak again. I have fond memories of folks who were dear friends of the family when I was a kid – Jim taught me how to ride, and my Dad how to bust broncs – but they dropped off the face of the earth twenty years ago. I think about them from time to time, and wonder. Life has loose ends, so why can’t my stories have a few?

I know that readers don’t like to be left hanging. If you introduce a character, they expect that person to play a role in the story. And this is so, most of the time. Especially in a short story. But if life is a stage, there are an awful lot of bit characters who merely walk across the stage from time to time. Of course, sometimes one will linger and insist they need a speaking role, but that just richens the story.

On the other hand, by leaving some loose ends, I let the reader have room for their imagination to stroll down the garden path with me, making up possibilities of what might be there, in the uncharted waters off the page. (Good grief, my metaphors are out of control today). So I am trying to strike a balance between too much, and just enough. I don’t want to tie them all up neatly, what if I want to come back to the world I’ve built again? A whole world is full of possibilities. You can’t bundle it up and present it with a bow, there are always messy parts to clean up.

Right now I don’t even have time to re-read and make notes. This is just going onto the list of what needs to be done, as I am working on writing two other projects, alternating. I got really blocked on the SF, and have been stressing over whether pandemic stories are overdone, and should I even bother? So I’m working on something completely different, which will come out under an open penname, as I don’t want readers to pick it up expecting Fantasy and get the mundane. Or vice versa.

So here’s the question, how many loose ends can I get away with? Do you, as readers, prefer there to be no dangling bits to distract you at the end of the tale wondering what happened?

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4 thoughts on “Loose Ends

  1. I have been frustrated with a few books (don’t ask for titles!) over the last few years that seemed to leave too many loose ends dangling — it kind of makes you feel like the author forgot some things. But a few loose ends are okay — I hadn’t ever really thought about deliberately leaving loose ends, unless it was obvious the character was destined to figure in another book in a series.

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  2. What is the core story? The key threads to that need to be tied neatly, to give the sense of closure to the book (unless and except for the ones intended to lead to the sequel, if any). If that is done, other threads, leading to other people, other events, other thoughts, can be left open. If you leave too many of these, you probably have cluttered the story itself up with too many distractions, and gotten off the path and need to go back and weed some of them out.

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