Leave ‘Em Wanting More?

The End Green Road Sign Illustration on a Radiant Blue Background.

Do you like stories with unsure endings? Where you don’t know if the main characters will live happily ever after?

I am a reader who doesn’t like open endings, probably because I enjoy novels that are heavy on romance and I like to know the couple can expect a happily-ever-after. My personal preference is for a novel that doesn’t beg for a sequel for the protagonist.

A Satisfying End?

Gone with the Wind ended with Scarlett O’Hara saying that tomorrow is another day. Because we had spent considerable time with Scarlett — 1200 pages, in fact, we knew that Scarlett would get her way. Somehow. Because she was Scarlett. So while in the most technical of terms, Margaret Mitchell left us with an open ending, it was still satisfying enough. Except that later, some felt the story did beg for a sequel. The sequel was panned in most quarters.

Do I Tie Up All Loose Ends?

The open end is quite different from tying up all loose ends, though. Leaving some loose ends untied makes for the ability to turn the first story into a sequel. Or two. Or three. When I was writing novels, often fans would ask to find out what happened to one of my minor characters. A favorite example of mine is a character I had planned to throw away. He was a raging alcoholic, last seen sleeping on a buggy seat, drool dripping from his mouth. But my readers wanted Lord Cecil to be redeemed. And he was, in The Lady and the Cad  (The going rate? A penny. God keeps me humble.)

Do I Plan for Sequels?

I think it’s good to propose three books. Throw in a charming sister, an errant brother, or a friend in early books who might capture readers’ imagination just enough that they’ll want more. Another way to tie in stories is through an engaging location that readers will want to visit again and again.

For nonfiction, it’s also a good idea to show that you have ideas for other books. They won’t be sequels in the same sense, but will make sense for your ministry. Perhaps three books on various aspects of marriage or family relationships or financial management, or social justice. You get the picture.

Your Turn:

If you read Gone with the Wind, were you satisfied by the ending? Or did you think the book needed a sequel?

Do you like open endings? Why or why not?

What is the best open-ended book you have read?

What is your favorite series of books?

25 Responses to Leave ‘Em Wanting More?

  1. Ron Estrada May 16, 2013 at 4:10 am #

    I was a fan if Jan Karon’s Harmony series. I got caught up with all the minor characters and the unfolding romance between Tim and Cynthia. Which brings me to a question. I’m ubpunlished and finishing up mt 4th mystery. My two main characters have a budding romance. However, something happens to make one lose trust in the other. I’d like to leave that hanging until the next book. Is that not advisable for a new writer? Should I tie that up and leave the open issues with my minor characters?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 16, 2013 at 7:09 am #

      Ron, I hesitate to comment without reading your work, but based on what you said, you sound as though you are writing a series much like the Nancy Drew series, where Ned was her boyfriend but they never married. I don’t recall their relationship being a big part of any of the books. But since you seem to have set it up differently, then I recommend you do tie it up in this book. That way, if people read your series out of order, they aren’t lost, so to speak. Does that help? :)

      • Ron Estrada May 16, 2013 at 8:46 am #

        Yes, Tamela, that’s a good point. I’ve often started mid-series with a new author, so I can relate. Thanks for the advice!

    • Iola May 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

      With a mystery series, I think it is important that each novel deals with one mystery, and that is solved by the end of the novel. The series can then have on ongoing relationship story arc.

      Mindy Starns Clark did this well with her Million Dollar Mystery series (five books), and again with her Smart Chick trilogy. In both series there was a developing relationship, and in A Quarter for A Kiss there was a definite ‘something’ that happened to make one character lose trust in the other, so the final book was working through that mystery.

  2. Diane T. Ashley May 16, 2013 at 6:00 am #

    I prefer for the main characters to get together at the end of a romance. My favorite open-ended book was a 1970s scifi by Arthur Clarke, Rendevouz with Rama. It was at the same time unexpected and totally logical. So many wonderful authors do a great job with series that its impossible for me to pick a favorite. I’d recommend reading series by any of the following: Laurraine Snelling, Tracie Peterson, Terri Blackstock, Brandilyn Collins, Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee, etc, etc, etc.

  3. Jaime Wright May 16, 2013 at 6:05 am #

    Not a fan of open endings. I thought Gone With the Wind was verging on open ended, but you’re absolutely correct when you say we knew Scarlett’s character and that she’d get her way. Besides, the final scene suited the tension that would have been unbelievable had Rhett and Scarlett kissed and had a happily ever. It was contrary to their personalities. :)

  4. Sara Baysinger May 16, 2013 at 6:19 am #

    If the stories are well written, I love my romances to leave me hanging! I’m always disappointed when the book ends, but if it’s open ended, I know that story isn’t finished yet. It gives me something to look forward to. (Yes, I’m one of those people who gets depressed when they finish a good story… ;) ) My favorite open ended book is A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers.

  5. Meghan Carver May 16, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    I’m unsure if I like unsure endings. :) Truly. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. But I do know that sometimes romance feels like an unsure ending. I guess I prefer a marriage proposal or a wedding, rather than just a declaration of love. Maybe I’m too much of a realist or just too romantic, but so much can happen to prevent them from happily ever after.

  6. sally apokedak May 16, 2013 at 7:12 am #

    Hate open-ended books. I was disappointed with The Giver for this reason (it won the Newbery in 1994) and didn’t read any more of Lowry’s books, because of this. Stupid of me, maybe, because she’s a great writer. But I feel that strongly about satisfying endings that tell me the characters survived the big plot problem and there’s good reason to hope they will go on survive all that life threw at them.

    In other news, I had to click over to see The Lady and the Cad, and then I bought it. Never could pass up a good deal. :)

  7. Jeanne Takenaka May 16, 2013 at 7:13 am #

    I’m not a huge fan of open endings with the main characters, but I do okay with them, if the story is satisfying. I think open endings with minor characters is more acceptable, especially if it means we can spend more time with them.

    Favorite series? Wow, that is hard. I loved Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series, Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series (I think that’s what it’s called—read it over 20 years ago). I read the Thoenes’ WW2 series’ MANY years ago, and I really liked those back then. I’m sure I’ve read more recent series, but they’re not coming to mind right now. :)

  8. Naomi Musch May 16, 2013 at 7:31 am #

    I like the warm, satisfied feeling I get at the end of a wrapped-up tale, especially if it’s a romance. I recently read an inspy historical I really liked that was leaning me toward giving a 5 star review. But at the end, the knot wasn’t tied tightly enough for me, so it lost a star. The book probably could be categorized as more women’s fic than romance, possibly making a difference, but even so, I expected closure. So, no, I don’t like open endings for the most part. I feel like if I’ve invested a number of hours reading a book with expectations of a certain outcome, I should get rewarded. Selfish, I know. ;) *Sigh*

  9. Timothy Fish May 16, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    I don’t see the point in leaving a story unfinished. To me, the ending is the most important part of a story. When an author leaves it unfinished, it is like he couldn’t be bothered to write the most important part.

    Even in cases where the author intends to write a sequel, it is important for each book to have its own story with its own ending. If having a sequel requires an unfinished first book, it would be better to combine the two books.

    • Tanara McCauley May 16, 2013 at 11:12 am #

      Hear hear!

  10. Tanara McCauley May 16, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    I’m not really a fan of open endings when it comes to the main characters. I like books that leave room for a sequel using the minor characters. My favorite series is Mark of the Lion by Francine Rivers. When I read the first book I nearly had a panic attack at the ending. Fortunately my desperate search for the epilogue was not in vain, and I could at least put it down knowing the next book continued the story. In general, however, I don’t like when books end that way.

    • Terrance leon Austin May 16, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

      Thanks for the advance notice on Mark of the Lion. I am beginning to read it. Personally, I would leave room for continuing with minor characters( if appropriate for story). And ending main characters role with their hope and expectations from prayers met. Coming soon…Lord willing :-)

  11. Jennifer Major May 16, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    Favourite series?? Dee Henderson’s O’Malleys.

    Open ended books are like dating someone, falling in like, thinking maaaaaaaybe you’re really in love with this person and seeing them at your special restaurant…with someone else.
    Hug, snuggle, buh bye.

  12. Terrance leon Austin May 16, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Thanks for the post Tamela.

  13. Terri Weldon May 16, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    I don’t mind open endings. In fact, I absolutely loved Sara Mills Miss Perfect and Miss Fortune and they were totally open ended.

    • Terri Weldon May 16, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

      One complaint – they never published the third book in the series!

      • Iola May 19, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

        That was a real shame – the publisher pulled their fiction line and left the hero and heroine in a very stick situation.

        I’m still hoping Sara Mills will finish and self-publish that final book.

        This might be why I prefer that each novel stand alone in it’s own story, even if it’s part of a series – because I never know when the publisher is going to pull the plug on an author/series/product line.

  14. Jackie Layton May 16, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    I like to have a tidy ending to a book. I want the girl to get the guy or the hero to save the day.

    I enjoy series, but I like the spinoffs to be about another character in the original story.

    I try to make my secondary characters interesting enough to make a series out of my stories.

    Thanks for sharing today, Tamela.

  15. Jan Thompson May 16, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    As a reader, I prefer a proper ending, even if the novel is part of a series. There’s a way to do it, and good writers have done it, even if they have to leave enough threads for the next book.

    IMO readers lose interest when they have to wait a whole year to find out what happens next (for traditionally published books, I mean — self-published books take less time to reach their readers). Readers can feel strung along, as if the $14.99 they pay for the first book was just an advertisement for the second. And worse is when the second book in the series has an open ending as well. Another $14.99…

    True story — Three years ago I read a historical fiction in which I had to wait a year to find out what happened to the man and woman. One year later, it turned out that the 2nd book in the series was just a bridge to the third and the two people never went anywhere in the 2nd book. So I had to wait another year to read the conclusion. Unfortunately by the end of the 3rd novel, even though they had a happy ending, it was flat, and I stopped reading that author’s future works. It was over.

  16. Lenore Buth May 16, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    Count me with those who like some kind of resolution by the end of the story. Maybe not every character, but at least forecasting what likely would happen.

  17. Patrick Craig May 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    Best open-ended novel I’ve read? The Fellowship of the Ring. Of course Tolkein had planned the book for a sequel but It still was good to find the Two Towers and read that. And then of course, The Return of the King. In my own novels the stories are character-driven. If the character is strong enough, I leave a few loose ends to allow for a sequel. But that can play tricks on you. When I wrote the sequel to “A Quilt For Jenna,” the main character was so strong that I had to drop the idea for the third book and go with the character from the second. Sure messed up my writing schedule. :)

  18. Leslie May 19, 2013 at 4:17 am #

    I don’t think Gone With the Wind would be the classic it is today if it had any other ending.

    Someone mentioned The Giver. I love that book. So I guess, if it is done well I like open endings.

    And I love surprises. One of my favorite books to discuss with book clubs is Life of Pi. It’s so fun to discuss THAT ending!

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