People Vs. The Cliffhanger
I just rewatched (thanks, Amazon Prime) a favorite show of mine from a few years ago. Perhaps you watched it, too? It was called Chuck, and it was a mix of several genres: comedy, spy caper, romance, and pop culture love. Pretty weird, right? For some reason, it seemed to work, even birthing a creative fan protest (using Subway sandwiches, no less!) that ended up saving the show from almost certain cancellation its fourth season.
Although I thought the last season deteriorated in creativity, when Chuck worked, it had heart, excitement, and a sense of fun that a lot of shows would do well to emulate. Because the show writers had a heads-up that their show was cancelled, they took the opportunity to go out on their own terms. For the most part, they tied up all the loose ends in a happily ever after bow. But for the two main characters, the writers had the temerity to leave things a bit up in the air.
I won't bore you with plot details that you may not care about, but suffice to say, the two main characters, who were in love but faced difficult obstacles, weren't 100% certain to be together forever. The viewers could form their own conclusions as to whether the couple's love might conquer all. The ending was hopeful, but a little bittersweet ... very similar to the show's five-season long run. Cue an amazing backlash from reviewers on entertainment forums!
I read these negative reviews with confusion. Why all the hatred? Was a little uncertainty that inconceivable? I kept reading, and the acrimony got worse. How dare the writers not give everyone a happy ending! How dare they ask the viewers to use their own imaginations to decide the characters' fates! (Of course, those comments were sometimes typed with varying degrees of obscenities.) Yet, I loved the ending and immediately began building future adventures for the couple in my head.
I started thinking about my writing and how I use cliffhanger chapters in my books. I even leave the endings of said novels somewhat up in the air. I re-read a few short stories and discovered the same thing. Even my "romance fiction" may not end with the main couple riding off into the sunset together. The conclusion was inescapable: I'm a sucker for the uncertainty of life.
I like the fact that characters experience life with varying degrees of success. I enjoy mapping journeys that take these people I care about (after all, I created them) down the "road less traveled." And I believe that the most interesting destinations are the ones you may not have planned at all, but just happened upon accidentally.
So I say, "long live uncertainty!"
I'm going to open myself more to the mystery of life, both in fiction and in real life. I ask you to do the same. Let life happen to you -- and to your characters, if you're a writer -- with all its vibrant, unexpected, and sometimes unexplainable consequences that shape you as the unique person you were meant to be. Because, after all, if you already know everything that's going to happen, why bother to read the book?
P.S. The title of this blog is an homage to the show itself. Chuck's show titles always used the "vs." in them, so I did, too. RIP, Chuck and friends!