Unanswered Mysteries?

4 years ago | AdamBolander (Member)

“Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations[...]The unanswered mystery is what stays with us the longest, and it’s what we’ll remember in the end.”
~Stephen King

What do you guys think? Is it good to withhold answers from our readers? Why or why not?

Author of The Gray Ranger, The Slayer and The Sphinx, Juryokine, Amber Silverblood, and more! Read for free on http://www.bolanderbooks.com

Read responses...


  1. Shaeor (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I think it needs to be heavily qualified. If you set up the main mystery, I want my primary payoff. But when I thought about, he is right in a sense. So many of the most memorable works I've ever seen really kept me wondering past the end. A sideways example are the ones which just get you talking. Worm is a good example of that. Ultimately, I think it's about engaging the imagination.

    I think some ambiguity can be really good, but there should always still be a clear set of options and rules. The last thing you want is for the mystery to feel arbitrary. IE: "Was Frank secretly the werewolf?" is superior to, "Why the hell is there a werewolf in this novel, what?" In the best cases, I think, it's woven into the themes.

    That's my sloppily thrown together opinion XD

    CHOSEN SHACKLES The screen is running static. Face your shadow.
    DIRGE The light is dying. Hold your breath and go gently.
  2. unice5656 (Moderator)

    Posted 4 years ago

    As someone who's bored to death by mysteries, I certainly disagree. As someone who watched the first few episodes of The Dome, I certainly don't give a damn what Stephen King thinks about good storytelling, hahaha.

    For me, the emotional life of the characters is what stays with me the longest. If a story can make me feel, that's what will make me come back and read it again.

    Leaving something to the imagination does have its value, but I don't agree it should be in the form of truly unanswered questions. I do think that a lot of authors who are commercially successful often drag their series on for too long to milk the very last dregs of sales out of them. A series should end when the characters are settled, but you can still imagine a lot of life ahead of them.

  3. TanaNari (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    *Looks over at Mitichlorians* ... Can confirm, some things should never be explained.

    But in a more serious light, it is a very interesting question... and I think the answer is "The mystery can add to a story, perhaps enough to make an otherwise mediocre story good, but it can't do it alone. You need something there to make the story worth caring about before anyone will care about the mystery."

    Now, I don't tend to be a fan of the mystery genre, so I can't speak to a lot of pure mystery stories... hell, most of the examples I can put together are movies... and a video game or two... and an anime...

    Let's start with Total Recall. One of the core premises of the story was that you couldn't be sure if the events of the story were *actually happening*, or simply a brain's dying hallucinations thanks to a memory download gone wrong. This was a fascinating premise, and really worked to make the story stronger- it carried that story. Then again, a lot of that era's action movies were good at integrating philosophical themes into their cheap excuses to blow shit up.

    On the other hand: the Total Recall reboot. Which made me feel like *my* brain was dying. Same premise as the original, but it failed on the delivery. And the acting. And the writing. And everything else. The mystery did nothing to carry that story. It couldn't, because there was nothing there to carry.

    There are a lot of Dream World stories to pick from and compare, of wide degrees of quality. Wizard of Oz, The Matrix, Vanilla Sky. Lewis Carroll started a fad that shows no sign of stopping over a century after his death. Some are better than others. We could compare all day long. But I'd rather move on to another style of uncertain circumstances:

    Pan's Labyrinth, which I consider one of the best stories (movie or otherwise) to have ever existed. A major part of that movie is not knowing whether it is the story of a fairy princess on a magical quest... or the story of a deeply traumatized little girl trying to cope with the hell that is her life in a war zone. Once again, the "mystery" added a lot of flavor, and a lot of power, to the story, but it didn't carry the story. What carried the story was a complex plot with believable characters set in a beautiful and disturbing world.

    It would have been amazing with or without the mystery. I know, because sometimes when I rewatch it, I do so with the explicit assumption as to whether it's real or fictional, and ignore all evidence to the contrary until the movie's over. Doesn't matter, I tear up either way.

    On the other side, there's Higurashi. This is a game (also anime later) that wouldn't have been very good at all if not for the mystery going on behind the scenes. It was a masterpiece of pacing out its secrets and knowing what not to show during the main storyline. In fact, when you get to the later installments that actually reveal the inner workings... it more or less ruins the whole thing...

    Me? I follow the "don't explain the mitichlorians" line of thought. Some questions should be answered, some mysteries revealed- especially ones that directly impact the lives of the characters in a direct manner, but never answer questions that nobody asks.

    Author of Price.
  4. Tintenteufel (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    It's important to keep in mind, though, that King is talking about nightmares, not about historical novels or "artsy" ones for lack of a better word.
    For them it's true, I think. The most boring stories from a horror standpoint of King and Lovecraft and Poe are where they overexplain, where they solve nearly every riddle they throw at you and go on to build an elaborate fantasy world. Horror does not work in the light where we see that the monster is made of rubber and really just a guy named Space-Bob who comes from a weird planet where eating another persons face is kind of lika a mating ritual. That destroys whatever mystery the monster might hold for me and makes it more about that weird planet. It's impossible to answer every single question in one novel or story, if only because every answer begets more questions that may lead into a different direction. So it depends on the type of story which questions are answered and which not and if it's necessary. One of the most fun stories by Lovecraft is "Music of Erich Zann" where we don't know jack except that there's a musician named Erich Zann who plays at night for some reason. And that's what makes it so awesome.

    On the other hand I read political fantasy novels precisely because they explain and show me a rich and detailed world. Altho even they leave certain mysteries for you to think about and tinker with. Spots and blotches on the map where there's just enough space for me to insert myself and become invested. Characters aren't the end all of stories, some of the best ones don't even really have characters to begin with or only really sketchy ones.
    It's a hard balance to find but I think King, in the gist of his statement, is right. Especially since Storytellers of all sorts are illusionists. And illusions only work if they get you to look where you're supposed to.

    Blut und Rost - German Webserial about the horror that is human interaction
  5. LadyAnder (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    It really depends on the story to tell you the truth. You don't want to give it all away in some instances and you to don't want to withhold information just cause.

    Somethings need to be elaborated other times, it doesn't. Sometimes you need mystery and other times you don't need the mirrors to be show. That ruins the fun of it all as well as nuance. Every story is different and we don't need to tell the same one in the same way but at least tell it well if using either method.

    A cross-genre slice=of-life, some adventure fluff fantasy stories about elves--> https://brotherhoodarchive.com
  6. Scott Scherr (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    For me, it all depends on the story. Mysteries solved can be woven into the fabric of any story, if the tale is big enough, and if the readers are paying attention and can read between the lines. However, any story that relies too much on those mysteries needing to be solved is destined for the unfortunate and often expectation-disappointing ending. Stephen King, with all due respect, is notorious for writing horrible endings.

    Author of the apocalyptic series, Don't Feed The Dark. http://freezombienovel.wordpress.com


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