Although this is an article about writing, comics and storytelling, I’m going to have to start by talking about films and TV shows for a while. There’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later.
However, I should warn you that this article will contain SPOILERS for both “Battlestar Galactica” and “A Field In England”. It’ll also contain spoilers for my “The Horror Of Hardtalon Hall” comic too (or, at least an explanation for the second half of it).
Anyway, a while before I wrote this article, I finally watched the last few episodes of “Battlestar Galactica“. Although I’d accidentally heard about some of the ending to this show before I actually watched the last episode, some parts of the ending still left me absolutely baffled.
In the ending, one of the main characters (who seemingly returned from the dead earlier in the series, without any real explanation) just suddenly disappears. There’s also a whole sub-plot about “god” and “angels”, which is only barely foreshadowed in earlier episodes. Although it’s a very dramatic ending to a spectacular series, some parts of the ending just make no sense.
This then made me think of a rather surreal film that I watched in 2013 called “A Field In England“. Although a lot of this film doesn’t quite make sense, the ending is especially puzzling.
About the only logical explanation for it is that the main character is trapped in some kind of bizarre time loop… in the 17th century. Either that, or he hallucinated some of the events of the film. Or he died on the battlefield and is possibly in some kind of old-fashioned purgatory. It’s a very puzzling ending to a very puzzling film
For writers and comic creators, mysterious and puzzling endings are a real double-edged sword. One the one hand, they force your audience to think about the ending of the story and to spend quite a while working out what really happened. Because the ending isn’t fully explained, these kinds of endings can make your audience feel curious about your work and more interested in re-reading it to try to understand the ending.
On the other hand, there’s also a good chance that your audience will feel cheated by an ending that doesn’t quite make sense. If your audience have invested quite a few hours of their time in reading your story or comic, then a puzzling ending can make them feel like that time has been wasted.
A good compromise if you plan to include a “WTF?” kind of ending in your story or comic is to logically resolve at least a few parts of the story, before you include something bizarre. This way, your audience still has something to feel curious about – but, because there’s some resolution, your audience won’t feel completely cheated.
For example, although the ending to “Battlestar Galactica” had some really bizarre scenes in it, the main plot of the series was still resolved in a fairly logical way. The main characters defeat the bad guys and finally find a planet to settle on (our planet, no less)… and then a few weird things happen a bit later.
However, if you’re going to include a mysterious ending in your story or comic, you should know what it means. In other words, even the most bizarre ending must have a meaning of some kind that your audience actually has a chance of working out for themselves if they think about it for long enough.
In other words, you shouldn’t use these kinds of endings as a way to finish your story abruptly because you don’t know how to end it. And, yes, it can be very tempting to do this when you have writer’s block at the end of your story. In fact, I almost did this with my “The Horror Of Hardtalon Hall” comic, which was posted here in late October.
Basically, in the second half of the comic, a lot of strange stuff happens. At the time, I thought that this was a way of including a lot of interesting drawings and vague parodies of various things in my comic.
The last page also contains a tiny bit of lazy writing too (eg: the laws of physics are conveniently suspended for a few seconds, although it is foreshadowed by other strange stuff happening earlier in the comic). But, a while after I finished this comic, I suddenly realised that the second half of the comic did have a meaning.
Roz and Rox are excited about it – and they discover lots of cool stuff in the mansion (Roz discovers more cool stuff, since she’s more excited). Derek is indifferent to the news and has a rather boring (and mildly crappy) time in the mansion. Harvey, on the other hand, is shocked and terrified – and he’s the only one to find anything genuinely terrifying in the mansion. In other words, the mansion is a reflection of each character’s emotions. It’s a strange mirror of some kind.
So, yes, make sure that your strange endings have at least some kind of meaning and try to resolve at least some of the plot before you bewilder your audience.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂