23 September 2011

The No-Resolution Resolution

by Diane Carlisle

We read a story for my creative writing class and it was one of those stories that end where the hero and villain come together, the final battle, they both reach for the last sword. Both are bruised and bloodied and basically on their last breath. When they reach for the sword at the same time, the story ends. What? It’s called a no-resolution resolution.

I was thinking about the no-resolution resolution and this whole thing about nobody in the end winning. That ending feels so not right to me. There's no period on the end there that tells me I just read a great story. The two just reach for the sword and that's it?

How about the ending of some horror movies where it's obviously over, the protagonist/hero/heroine has overcome these horrible events. They are safe and away from this dangerous lunatic. Then BLAM! A decaying hand springs up from a freshly dug grave...screams everywhere, OH MY GOD!

Yea, I hate that too.

I don't like open conflicts with no resolution, especially in a story. I'd still be taping soap operas if that were the case. Characters in those even come back to life to make sure the conflict stays fully engaged! Come on, really?

I prefer a more classic story that resonates forever, that nothing could ever take away even when it ends, something that has a real impact and a resolution. Once I experience the journey of a character, please don't destroy it (years later) with, "...and THEN." I'm like, "Nooooooo, don't!" Well, with the exception of Grease 2, loved it. But it was a complete new cast and a different story.

I'm getting away from writing now and moving into the movies, so sorry about that.

Another example is The Matrix. It was a hit. Then they came out with Matrix Reloaded and Revolution (back to back literally). In the first movie, Neo learns to use his powers to battle the wonderful Agent Smith. Then in Reloaded, he's stronger and more powerful, so he can essentially battle several of these replicated Agent Smiths. Finally, in Revolution he fights an insane number of Agent Smiths. With power growing exponentially, thus does the number of Agent Smiths. Really? REALLY?? I feel about this no-resolution resolution this same way. What's the point?

It's not natural. It goes against our basic human instinct, survival and resolution. If there is no resolution, then there is eternal conflict and the need for another chapter. This is good for capitalistic minds, but for the sake of art, I don't like it. It doesn't work for me because it's a cop out to the final product. Some write to market, others for the art.

A no-resolution resolution isn't something that I imagine a good read, especially not in a short story, maybe not even in a novel. An epic series, maybe, like Harry Potter. Eventually, each character must come to the end of his or her journey and there must be a reason, that reason is a resolution.

Until Harry Potter gives up his wand, his journey will continue, one right after the other. Dorothy went home; she gave up her ruby slippers. Something needs to be resolved for the protagonist when I read those final two words, The End. That's when a story is truly a story, not when the final two words are, stay tuned....

Are you okay with the no-resolution resolution?


  1. I hate the no resolution! A lot of movies are ending like that because a sequel is already in production.

  2. I understand this concept but now I'm a little scared b/c the 1st book in my series is a bit of a cliffhanger. Eeeeek!

  3. I agree, Deb. It's the movies that I see this happen with and I understand, because it's commercial and they need to make the dollars.

    Stephanie, it's okay to leave a cliffhanger. I can still love your story, I might not love the ending! :)

  4. A "no-resolution" book has to be extremely well written for me to buy the next one, because I'm not a fan of the "no ending." French movies have that approach of "a slice of life," no resolution, just a look into someone's experience. Not a fan. My French friends say it's because Americans like happy endings and are not content with an "as is" situation. Yep.

  5. I'm even good with a sad ending, Suzette, so long as it feels like something was resolved. For example, when Bruce Willis' character dies in "Armageddon" it was a sad ending, but he saved the planet from destruction.

  6. I go with you, Diane! I don't like no-resolution resolutions. Having a good ending through resolved conflicts will make the readers and viewers more satisfied. Just like life, it feels kinda abnormal if something is not resolved or put to an end. I always go with the general rule that all things, even good things, must come to an end. Endings can either be happy or sad, as long as there is a sense of completion or fulfillment in it.

  7. Exactly, Shyxter! When I discover a problem, and in the case of conflict in a story, I have this thing in my mind that I want to find closure. When it doesn't happen, then I think that the storyteller isn't really a storyteller. They are more of the pied piper looking for followers, and that path will lead to anything but a satisfied ending for me.

  8. I'm actually okay with none if it's a horror story. Not sure why. But in others, I need my ending! Otherwise I feel jipped! Like there was more to the story and now I'm left with...wait! I wasn't done yet!

  9. That's when you have to pay to watch the sequel, Nicole! lol

  10. I hate it, but outside of say a modern day sequel, in the old days the point was that the reader's imagination would take the story anywhere they wanted it to go and for that humble and strange, slightly egotistical reason--I think it's wonderful. I remember asking my parents, "Will they die? Will they get married? What's going to happen?" and they told me that it will all end the way I want it to. Doesn't that make you feel special?

  11. That's when me and my sister would have to be broken up from fighting...

    Sister: They're going to get married!
    Me: Nu uh! She's gonna die in a river and he's gonna marry someone else (dark grin)
    Siter: No she's not!
    Me: giggle - yes she is!


  12. Suzette's French friend is just making the point that not knowing is a bitter reality. Although it's human to want resolutions, answers to our fundamental questions, reality often deprives us of them. That's a realistic ending and a statement about whatever the conflict may be.

  13. Like the Twilight Zone, a very effective way of telling a no-resolution story, can be done well. The entertainment value I receive is important if there is no resolution, but there has to be a conclusion whether it's just a theory or thought provoking query, or so then one begins to question, what was the point?

  14. There was an episode of Magnum called Death and Taxes in which a serial killer challenges Magnum to stop him from killing prostitutes. It's very personal with this guy. At the end, Magnum stops him, figures out who he is, and looks for him in old case files. He was a guy who thought his wife was cheating on him. In reality, she was arranging a birthday surprise. Magnum found out in less than an hour and didn't take the guy's money. He never really knew why the guy killed the prostitutes and challenged him.

    The rule against a no-resolution resolution is a good one, but it has the same caveat all other writing rules have..."unless it works."

    1. I think the whole ironic mistake in itself has a feeling of resolution to me, sort of like nothing was done for the sake of nothing. Challenge to stop the killings, he stops the killings. Maybe he hired Magnum to find out what his wife was up to rather than the fake challenge of stopping him from killing? Sounds interesting to me.

  15. I always came out of those horror movies thinking I had just been emotionally ripped off. However, most of the literature I love, and that I write, always leaves an opening for another tale. But there should still be a resolution to the battle. My newest work in book one has a series of battles. The final fight of Book 1 is won by the soldiers against a force they couldn't imagine. But the story isn't over. There is book 2 and on with more conflicts, but that one conflict is wrapped up neatly and put to bed. It is over and done with. The story, Diane, you were talking about at first sounded like one of the modern let's have a story without really telling a story pieces. I noted that Weird Tales had moved to that kind of literature almost exclusively in the last couple of years. They went under again recently. Go figure. People still want stories that are stories, not just a bunch of pretty words put together.

    1. I agree. I look for stories and if I don't see a story coming along in the first chapter or a strong hook, sadly I do not continue. A movie is different though, once sitting in a theater, I sort of feel stuck for two hours and then when it ends and there's nothing resolved, I'm like, "What the hell...!"


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