We don’t get to know every story

I just finished listening to a wonderful podcast. If you want to read my review about it, click here to go to Haunted MTL. 

I won’t talk a lot about it here. What I will say is that some stories in this podcast weren’t finished. Some questions were left after the last episode. 

These questions will haunt me. I’ll come back to them every so often, and wonder what happened. What’s the story I didn’t get to hear?

I can tell you that I’ll remember because I already have those questions from other works of fiction I’ve loved in the past. I also have these questions from living in a world with other people.

This is something often overlooked in fiction. But it’s something we’ve all experienced.

Think of the coworker you lost touch with. The one who was having that trouble with her mother. How did that turn out?

What about the couple you heard whispering about their relationship at Denny’s? Are they still together? 

Here’s one of mine. I was out for a walk on Main Street, many years ago. A woman I’d never met before stopped me. She asked me if her makeup was okay. I looked her over and was able to truthfully tell her she was fine. She said, “Thanks because I’m fucked up right now and I need to go to work.”

I’ll never know what happened to her after that. Did she keep her job? Did she often go to work hammered? Why was she going to work in that state to begin with? Questions upon questions, that I will never have the answer to. 

I was probably the topic of one such story. Hell, I’m probably the topic of a lot of these kinds of stories. I moved around a lot as a kid and wasn’t very good at keeping in contact with people. But this one is funny.

I had to go downtown in the middle of the night. I don’t mean like 11:30 or so. I’m talking like four in the morning. I was meeting a friend of mine who was going to give me a ride out of town. It was a whole work-related thing. I had to go to a conference. It was a whole thing, but nothing shady. But it did involve me walking downtown at for in the damned morning with my little purple suitcase.

A man was walking toward me. No idea why he was out there. But I’m sure that I was a more confusing sight than he was. 

He stopped, and asked, “Honey, are you okay?” 

I assured him that I was fine, and continued on my way. So to the nice man who saw me in the middle of the night and worried about me, I’m okay. Thank you for worrying. 

These stories prevail in our lives, but they’re not as common in fiction. And I can see why, for the most part. It’s not as satisfying to have these questions. It’s far more satisfying, more rewarding, to know how the story plays out. We all like a mystery, but we like more the mysteries that can be solved. 

Not always, though. I’m among many who watch Unsolved Mysteries and BuzzFeed Unsolved. I sort of love stories that don’t have a satisfying ending. Stories that are real, that we’ll never know.

It’s the very questions that keep the story alive in our minds. Think of things like the story of the Romanov Princess, Anastasia. Did she survive the murder of her family? Did she live in secret until the end of her days? And what about the Keddie cabin murders? Who did that? 

These things haunt people. They are kept up at night wondering about them. Most people aren’t kept up at night, worrying about an answer. Though I could think of some answers that would elicit that response.

Take caution with this advice, though. You should be giving answers to most of your story’s questions. I’ll never forgive certain podcasts for having no end, not as long as I live. Please, unless you want people to find you and express their displeasure, give your story a satisfying ending.

But don’t be afraid to leave some things unanswered. The man your character meets at a bar, wishing he could see his mom. The friend from college who dropped off the face of the planet. The dog that steals someone’s dinner at a restaurant and runs out before anyone can catch him. These things bring up all sorts of questions that don’t necessarily need answers.

This isn’t to say that these things won’t impact your story. These are things that happened to your character. If they happened, and if you took the time to write them down, then they should have an impact on the story. Your character should be touched by this, make a different decision about her mother or dog or college roommates.

In short, some mysteries aren’t there for your audience to solve. They’re there to have an impact on your character. 

So what do you think? Are there any mysteries that still haunt you? Let us know in the comments below. 

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