What Is an Open-Ended Story?

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An open-ended story is one in which the ending is left uncertain to one degree or another. The reader is not told all the answers and is left to figure them out on his own. Some open-ended stories guide the reader to think one way or another even if the story does not actually specify certain facts, but other stories just leave the reader hanging.

Some modern authors, Anton Chekhov for example, use the open-ended story as a genre for sparking their readers’ imaginations. Leaving stories open-ended coincides with Chekhov’s beliefs about his vocation. He states, “The task of a writer is not to solve the problem but to state the problem correctly.” Similarly, he also says, “The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them.”

Some open-ended stories are situational and others are character-based. The reader makes decisions based on what he knows about either the character or the situation as to what is the most logical ending to the story. Open-ended stories more closely resemble real life in which perfectly tied-up endings are rare. Open-ended stories make excellent writing activities for students. Some teachers choose to take a close-ended story and leave it open to the students to finish before letting them compare their endings with the author’s ending.