People love to understand stories in their entirety. It’s frustrating when we reach the end of a book and ask ourselves, “What the hell happened?” We don’t get it and it infuriates us. There are too many loose ends, too many questions that need answers. Are the answers even there? Maybe I didn’t read well-enough. Maybe I’m an idiot. No, Andrew, you’re not an idiot. Don’t listen to Nicole. She’s just jealous.
It’s called the Completion Principle. We want to complete things. Simple as that. It’s the reason why no one likes to leave the last slice of pizza in the box. Your mind obsesses over the nearly completed pizza, distracting you from other, more important tasks. But if you finish that last slice, your mind will finally relax.The Completion Principle is also why people obsess over complicated stories and cliffhangers. Think Inception, Interstellar, Bioshock Infinite, Donnie Darko, The Sixth Sense. I’d explain further, but I have no idea how to do that without spoilers. Nonetheless, you have to rethink the entire story when you get to the ending. You have to make sense of what you just experienced. You have to!
Another obsession caused by the Completion Principle: fan theories. Sometimes the author wants us to connect some dots. Sometimes the author doesn’t. But we want to connect some dots. Thus we search for evidence to connect characters and plots and places, even if the author didn’t want us to. Okay, not all of us do that. But all of us enjoy reading those theories. Whether true or false, fan theories help us create a more complete story.
So here’s an idea to all you writers out there: torture your reader with a little confusion or ambiguity, then watch the obsession and fan theories grow. Everyone loves a little extra attention.