As a reader, I often enjoy when an author has provide the details I need to make a leap into the unknown, a leap that takes me into another realm. This leap often comes at the end of a story, where the character is brought to the point of more than one possibility, but the reader is left not knowing what, if any, choice or action was made.

Think The Sopranos, the HBO series. The last scene has Tony and his family in a restaurant, eating dinner, and then everything goes black. Was Tony going to be killed? The Masters of Sopranos blog’s author says that David Chase “directed, edited and scored the final scene of the Sopranos to lead to the interpretation that Tony was shot in the head in Holsten’s and how this ties into the ‘never hear it happen’ concept that Chase hammered into the viewer before the show’s final scene.” My husband would dispute that finding, but that’s the point. No one can be certain what happened after the screen goes black. It left a lot of viewers perturbed.

Ending a piece this way can upset a lot of readers. Some people want everything spelled out for them, but I like having to use my own powers of perception to imagine the possibilities. Has the character changed (or died)? Has she changed her life? Will he go on with life the way it was before, having learned nothing? Checkov was known for returning his protagonist to life as it was before the particular story unfolded. But is there a seed of change in the character that will inevitably lead to change down the road, even though we, the readers, don’t necessarily see it?

Of course, it all depends on what we bring to the table as readers. Years ago researchers found when they played popular music for the people in their study, they could leave out little parts of it (a few notes, a few lyrics) throughout the piece, and the subjects would never notice. Their brains would automatically fill in what was missing. This is what we do as readers – we fill in from our own experience what might (or will, we are certain) happen. A friend of mine read Cold Mountain and insisted Inman did not die at the end – and yet, it was quite clear in the book that, indeed, Inman did die. But that was a difficult death – no one wanted him to die. Readers wanted him to live – so much so that some readers were certain the author couldn’t kill him off.

We also fill in what we want to happen, what we wish will happen. I do like stories that wrap things up, but when a writer can artfully inject all the clues and leave the finale up to me, I enjoy that too. It makes me a part of the story.

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