When Story Feels Unresolved

Photo by lekcej/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by lekcej/iStock / Getty Images

It’s terribly uncomfortable, in real life or in fiction, when the story just doesn’t feel finished. Something about it needs more attention, more stitches, more thought.

But no thoughts come. No action occurs. It’s like the actors are stuck frozen on the stage but the curtain won’t fall.

We crave a significant resolution, and without it, the second-guessing begins.

Why did I even write this dumb story?
I don’t even understand these characters anymore….
Nobody wants to read this….

I have been at that exact point again and again.

So I suggest a little reprieve from your story while you examine situations from real life. How did you handle that memorable interaction from summer, that good little story from your life right when everything seemed to be going so well…. And then all the players in the game just stopped! They vanished. All interaction ceased and you wondered if you dreamt the whole thing. What did you do?

I’ll use one of my youthful summers as an example, a time when I house-sat for Carrie – a friend of a friend of a friend – who had an immaculate home, two small cats, and renovations in the works while she checked into the hospital for life-saving treatments. The home and cats had a long list of needs, and it meshed perfectly with my summer plans, ad I had run out of rent money and I was lonely as hell.

Did I mention that this place was a mansion? I’m not kidding. Room after room of artifacts that showed off her success and wealth. I took a feather duster to every shelf while I sipped my morning coffee. I swept daily. The cats were young and always underfoot, but I had an instinctual desire to maintain the pristine posture of the home as a spiritual thank you for not ending up on the street.

Carrie would call from her hospital bed while I sat upright on her king-sized Fosters-Simmons and offered an empathetic ear. Our friendship was growing. I would send her pictures of the cats and I even collected cards from her friends.

She was gone half the summer, but our bond took shape and I felt like I had a big sister. I delighted in the idea of welcoming her home.

But it all changed the day she returned. I don’t think she even noticed how shiny the house was or the roses I had staged on the dining room table. Her words were harsh, almost militant, and she sent me on my way within 15 minutes of her return.

I felt sick. I remember crying as I walked to the bus. Where had I gotten the idea that a woman of such novelty would want to be dear friends with me? I was just hired to do a job. Just a poor student. That’s all. At what point had I changed the story?

I found my way to my new, shared apartment. Everything about my life felt uprooted, as though there were no finishing touches within my reach. I wanted to know her forever. I thought we had bonded on the phone. But I could only assume that she needed me then, needed me no longer, and that I had been foolish to have any emotional attachment.

I was still in my twenties, so I gave myself permission to call my mother and wail. My mother is the wordsmith of empathy. She knows coddling. She invented it.

“You have to do things that make you happy and let this friendship rest.” How dare she say this; she was supposed to save me! I could not see at the time that she was offering a grand tool of self-empowerment. She knew I could weather this damp season if I found warmth elsewhere. “You have other friends. They love you.”

So for months, it all felt unfinished. I did not hear from Carrie. I picked up my hurt self and focused on other things, like new employment, and I let it rest. Sometimes, my heart felt very unresolved, but as days passed, I realized this was a similar storm. I had been through such “fall outs” many times before and they always resolved themselves later on, usually while I was busy attending to the next chapter of my life.

Like fictional stories, sometimes the need to resolve all tension right now is just unbearable. Writers know that this is going to come up – a deep desire to just finish!

But it may be similar to the experience of the marathon runner who has paced himself for miles and can hardly endure the remaining mile. He can’t see the finish line – not yet – so he questions whether he can see at all.

Yet the hard-wiring must kick in. Our best training must take over. Runners, writers, EVERYONE alike wants to know how it will end BEFORE it ends. The desire is great, but if the words are not there, you must have the wherewithal to be strong, courageous, and at peace with your story. Acknowledge that struggle and let it rest.