Staff Opinion: Why open-ended stories are the best

By Jennifer Ng | April 3, 2019 5:50pm

mg-0478
Photographer Jennifer Ng thinks the best type of stories are the ones left open-ended.
by Annika Gordon / The Beacon

With the impending release of Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame in April and “Star Wars: Episode IX” coming out at the end of the year, I’ve found myself thinking about endings. In particular, what it will mean to fans of these franchises, who have followed these characters and lived in these universes for years, to have to think about saying goodbye. 

But what if these epic finales don’t have to final at all?

Some people prefer a concrete ending – all loose ends conclusively tied up, a sense of closure given and accepted. Everything signals that it’s time to move on. But for me, when it comes to stories, no matter the media type – books, TV shows, movies, podcasts – the stories that end ambiguously are my personal favorites. 

As much as I appreciate an absolute ending, there is something more compelling about an open-end.

Part of the beauty of a fictional series is that it has the potential to expand in any number of directions, creating a complex and meaningful story. Even as one segment of the story comes to a close, an open-end means that there is more exploring to do, allowing it to live on even after it has “officially” ended. 

In my head, it is like the creators taking a step back and relinquishing a bit of control of the series to the audience, handing the pen over and asking, “What do you think happens next?” The best stories are able to inspire the personal investment and imagination needed to answer this question.

An open-ended ending done right hints at the possibility of more story to tell. It means you’ll be thinking about it for days afterward, imagining what could be, because there’s an “after” to imagine. Maybe there will be a spin-off or a sequel. It could come in a year or ten, the project could be helmed by new people with a new vision and new ideas, but the pure potential to revisit the world again is what generates a new wave of excitement.

On a more realistic or, perhaps, cynical note, I do recognize that creating cliffhanger endings also mean openings for studios, franchises and companies to create sequels and spinoffs in order to make more profit. I can understand those who are tired of predictable plot lines and recurring tropes and want something fresh and new. However, as someone who enjoys and appreciates complex and well-crafted stories, I love when sagas are told with additions and side stories, culminating in richly developed worlds or characters.

There is a saying that all good things must come to an end. But that doesn’t mean that the ending has to be sad or completely fixed. Open-ended endings allow for a sense of possibility and hope. Goodbyes don’t have to be forever. Legacies live on.

I don’t know what will happen in “Endgame” or “Episode IX,” but after the credits have rolled, I’m sure I won’t be the only one looking forward to the next chance to revisit these worlds.


Jennifer Ng is a photographer at The Beacon and can be reached at ng21@up.edu. 

B