Closure is SO important in fiction. Every reader needs some sense of release and “c’est fini” at the end of a novel. A sense that something important–if not everything, at least something major–has been resolved or completed.
This is a main reason why, generally, I can’t stand cliffhangers, even in series novels. I prefer that each novel wrap up a completed story in and of itself.
(Even if there are some lose threads and a larger story arc still in development, a series novel can tell and wrap up a complete story from start to finish. Each Harry Potter novel is a great example of this.)
“Closure” can be a funny thing, though. There is no one way to provide closure and no one definition of what closure means.
“Closure” means something very different from genre to genre and from story to story. You can leave societal unrest not completely settled in a romance novel set during the Civil War and still provide closure.
You probably should bring some stability to the government, though, if you’re writing “save the world” sci-fi or fantasy. See what I mean?
Generally, editors and beta readers will clue you in if you haven’t provided enough closure for your audience. They’ll let you know when they have unanswered questions that left the end unsatisfying.
Before involving other people, though, it’s important to remember what closure is NOT, so you don’t drive yourself nuts trying to provide it.
CLOSURE DOESN’T MEAN THERE’S NO ROOM TO ENVISION THE FUTURE.
You don’t have to map out the rest of your characters’ lives to provide closure. In fact, most readers will prefer you don’t do that. A novel is supposed to be a chunk of life, a piece of someone’s existence.
Part of the fun is imagining what might happen after the curtain falls: where characters might go, what might happen to them. What adventures will they have next? No two readers will have the exact same answer to that: and that’s so cool to me!!!
CLOSURE DOESN’T MEAN EVERYONE’S LIFE IS IN COMPLETE ORDER
It doesn’t mean things are perfect and your characters are now living in a utopia.
Much more often, it means a reader is sure that your characters are now mature, knowledgeable, and brave enough to face whatever persistent problems plague them after a big problem has been taken care of.
Maybe a character has come to accept a major loss, or a change that is irrevocable. That acceptance is closure.
Closure doesn’t mean a lack of problems. It means the reader has seen character development: the character has become, in one major way or other, a better (or at least) different person than he or she used to be. The cycle of that transformation is complete.
CLOSURE DOESN’T MEAN EVERYTHING HAS TO MAKE PERFECT SENSE.
Illness, suffering, and death never make sense on a philosophical and emotional level. They’re just wrong. There’s a part of human nature that always recognizes these things should not be. That recoils from them because they just don’t fit in the world as it’s meant to be. (Thanks, G.K. Chesterton…. Picked this idea up from one of his books, and it really resonated with me.)
Closure doesn’t mean these things make sense. It can mean that if a human or human-like entity is responsible for suffering, we know who that entity is and that entity is held responsible in some way.
It means that the actions your characters take are understandable to the reader. The reader doesn’t have to agree with them; but the reader can accept that this character did this or that because of this or that.
Closure means the mechanics of the story make sense; not that evil is explained away or completely vanquished.
So, what do you think of closure? As a reader, what is the most important aspect of closure for you? How would YOU define closure in your writing?
I hope you enjoyed this post…. Closure is such an important topic, and relates so much to real life as well as fiction. Psychologically, it’s such a deep and important concept.
One reason, in fact, that fiction MUST have closure, and MUST make sense in an elementary way, is that real life so often does not.
If this post resonated with you, you might enjoy these related posts:
- On Plot Resolution and Closure: When is your novel supposed to end?
- Why Writing and Reading Books Matters
- Writing as Therapy
- How Plot Relates to Genre