Open Endings

THE PLAYWRITING SEMINARS > STRUCTURE > SHAPE > DIAGRAM > RESOLUTION > OPEN ENDINGS

Order 'In my work people are always trying to find a way out . . .. Some people complain that my work doesn't offer the solution. But the reason for that is I feel that the characters don't have to get out, it's you who has to get out. Characters are not real people. If characters were real people, I would have opened the door for them at the top of it -- there would be no play. The play is there as a lesson, because I feel that art ultimately is a teacher.'

-- Maria Irene Fornes


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Open Endings are a great way to infuriate an audience. But by leaving the major conflict initiated by the Suspense Plot unresolved, they can also force us to confront your themes.

As a story-telling technique, Open Endings are unsatisfying for most audiences: the pay-off of the play's conflict never arrives. Playwrights using this device often do so because they doubt there's a real possibility of a solution to the problem and conflict they've just explored. They take the risk of using them because they believe strongly that this is how they must end the play. Open Endings are not an idle choice.

Technically, here's how you create Open Endings: Don't allow the Obligatory Scene to take place -- which automatically means you won't have a Climax.
You don't have to look very far to figure out why audiences used to very conventional story telling from Film and the tube get driven up the wall by this sort of thing. But the compensation you offer them is the intellectual challenge of working this out for themselves and thus focusing on your thematic content.

Some classic -- and not quite so classic -- examples of successful plays with Open Endings . . .


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