What I’m going to call ‘relational tension’ is at the center of just about every story. It’s the conflict between two characters where you can’t tell if they’re going to be friends or enemies, lovers or acquaintances. It’s usually romantic tension, but not always.
If you’re using that kind of tension in a story, you need to resolve it by the end. You can’t just leave us hanging.
This isn’t a TV series where that tension is the heart of the show and you can let it stretch on forever. And in most cases, when that tension is resolved the show loses it’s heart and flounders for something new (see: Buffy and Angel, Lorelia and Luke, Jim and Pam, Castle and Beckett [they haven’t resolved it yet, but you can tell that’s their struggle], Mal and Inara, Angel and Cordelia [Joss Whedon is good at relational tension]).
If it’s a love story they get together at the end. If it’s a tragedy they split at the end. If it’s horror one of them gets killed. That’s simplistic, but the point is something happens by the end.
I was reading Enclave by Ann Aguirre and [SPOILER ALERT], they never resolved this tension. Now it wasn’t central to the story. But two characters were forced together. They were navigating a post-apocalyptic world and facing death side by side. Their relationship was developing, but it was undefined. Then a third character was introduced and suddenly this relational tension developed. The dreaded triangle.
But the story ended before it was resolved. The girl didn’t pick one guy over the other. She didn’t choose to be alone. She didn’t even decide not to choose. It just ended with her clearly attracted to both guys, having developed connections with both of them, but nothing happening.
It was a good story. Unique and compelling with interesting twists and turns. The writer was even brave enough to abandon one world and introduce a new one halfway through, which is no easy feat. But the unresolved tension left a bad taste in my mouth. The central question of survival for any post-apocalyptic story was answered, but the remaining tension didn’t make for a satisfying ending.
Give us a satisfying ending. I don’t care if we cry or cheer, but give us closure.