Fiction – tie up the loose ends or leave us with a mystery?

‘Do you prefer it when all the loose ends are tied up in a novel or do you like to be left with a mystery?’ Recently I asked this question on Twitter and lots of bookish people were kind enough to share and reply. It’s an interesting topic and I thought I’d share the general gist of the responses with you. It might also be helpful to others like myself who are planning their next novel.

  • Many readers prefer a neat ending to a book, with all the loose ends tied up. That’s understandable and probably results in a more satisfying ending, particularly because it’s expected for certain genres.
  • In the context of a series, loose ends are OK as they make you want to read the next instalments, but the last book in the series should have all of the mysteries solved.
  • Unsolved mysteries should have a purpose, not just be there for the sake of being mysterious as that would be annoying. By not providing all the answers, a skilful author will make you question or think more deeply about something.
  • If fiction is to reflect real life, then it’s more effective to have a few loose ends. Of course, if we prefer cosy or escapist reading then it makes sense to read something which is neatly resolved to give that warm feeling.
  • It’s OK to leave some of the minor mysteries out there but the main issue needs resolving, or else the reader feels cheated, as if the author couldn’t be bothered to work it out properly.
  • Not wrapping the story up is riskier because it’s more difficult to do that successfully. It’s a safer option (although it can seem contrived) to ensure there are no loose threads.
  • Readers would prefer to have some kind of resolution – even if it’s an unexpected one – rather than no resolution at all. They also want some things left to their interpretation, rather than being spoon-fed the information.
  • A number of readers simply said it depends on the book! Leaving unsolved mysteries might be what felt right to the author at the time and was what seemed most natural for the story direction.

23 thoughts on “Fiction – tie up the loose ends or leave us with a mystery?”

    1. Thanks! Yes it seems like a lot of readers prefer a neater ending except for series. Glad you find this topic interesting ☺

  1. i do like some loose ends at the end of a book; i find it makes the story more memorable as im left reflecting what exactly happened to the chatacters beyond the page ☺ i especially love the way sally rooney ends her books!

    1. I agree that an ending which is not completely resolved can be more memorable! Thanks for reading ☺

    1. I actually just finished my latest edit and am having 3 trusted readers look through it before my next (and maybe final) edit – I lose count of how many times I’ve been through it! But I want to start my next novel soon.

  2. I think it depends on the book. For an Agatha Christie style mystery, I would hate loose ends, whereas for other novels (such as Murakami) part of the enjoyment is there are no clear answers and the whole thing keeps rotating in your head after you finished the book.

    1. Agreed! It depends what genre, as the reader has certain expectations of what those books are like. For a detective mystery, then certainly you want solutions. For Murakami or other books we think of as literary fiction, it’s more thought-provoking to leave some threads! Thanks for reading πŸ™‚

  3. This post felt familiar to me, then I realised I had replied to your Twitter question πŸ™ˆ.
    I’m not surprised most people prefer some solid closure but for me I do like a little ambiguity at the end.
    Another great post πŸ˜€

    1. You had a sense of deja vu πŸ˜‰
      I do prefer a bit of mystery to an ending but not so much that it’s annoying. Thank you πŸ™‚

  4. An interesting question. I agree with those who think it depends on a book. I think generally people prefer or rather probably just subconsciously expect and therefore prefer that a plot arrives to a neat and explainable conclusion. They expect to get to know who is the real killer in detective fiction or mystery by the end of the book, for example. I also think that a book should let people think by themselves too and imagine something by themselves – so in this regard a book should – to some extent – leave at least something hanging to ponder about without providing black and white answer.

    1. I think you make some excellent points. I agree that a reader should be able to think for themselves – having an ending that’s too neat is OK for certain kinds of book, but it’s good to have unresolved elements to think about.

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