Don’t Write Alone | Notes From Class

How Ambiguous Endings Lure Us In

Ambiguity in fiction, when done well, is not an escape hatch for the noncommittal writer. It’s an articulation of something otherwise impossible to articulate.




This is a graph, with "Good Fortune" at the top of the Y axis and "Ill Fortune" at the bottom. About halfway down the Y axis is a marked point, with the description: "Six months ago, Shoba and Shukumar's baby was stillborn. Since then, their marriage has fallen apart and Shukumar can't finish his dissertation."
Graphic courtesy of the author

This next graph adds a new point to the same graph from above. Directly horizontal from the first point is a new point, which reads "Every evening for a week the electric company shuts off their electricity." The next point is further along the X axis but slightly higher on the Y axis: "Night One: They reveal secrets in the dark."
Graphic courtesy of the author

On the second night, the secrets they share are a little deeper, a little more potent—she skipped out on dinner with his mother to grab a drink with a friend; he cheated on a college exam. They both seem relieved to make these admissions, and it feels like their intimacy is deepening. The pattern is repeated for a few nights. At one point, they even have sex, proof that we have, in fact, been building to something, as a glance at our graph would suggest:

This is a continuation of the same graph from before. The next two point are also farther along on the X axis and a little farther up on the Y axis. The next two marked points read "Night Two: Same." and "Night Three: Same, and they have sex."
Graphic courtesy of the author

This graph is a continuation of the graphs before it. The next point, which intersects with the X axis for the first time, reads "Night five: Line fixed. game over." From there, the graph branches off with two possibilities. In one, the next point is high up on the "Good Fortune" Y axis, and reads: Hard earned honesty and openness allows them to grieve together for the first time." The other option is far down on the "Ill fortune" Y axis, and reads "It's worse than they thought--tragedy plus secrecy has doomed their marriage."
Graphic courtesy of the author



The Mist