According to Lost co-creator and Prometheus co-writer Damon Lindelof, “Good stories, you don’t know where they’re going to end.” He’s got a point. What makes a work of fiction great is when you can’t stop thinking about it once it’s done.
This means that you can’t end your story with “And they lived happily ever after.” It works fine for fairy tales. A cottage in the forest made of candy is enough for a story to be memorable to a 4 year-old, so there’s no need to raise any questions about whether the witch’s treasure will corrupt Hansel and Gretel in later life. But for an adult, this is where the story might get truly interesting.
I’d say it’s the difference between dead fiction and living fiction. Like a dead person, dead fiction might be wonderful in a nostalgic way: “Remember when such-and-such happened?” or “I loved the way he dealt with the turbaned guy with the big sword in the market square.” But living fiction, like a close friend or relative, is wonderful because you don’t have all the answers: “I hope things turn out all right for her,” could be what someone might say on sending a daughter off to teach English in South Korea for a year or after leaving the movie theater following the Prometheus end-credits.
Young Adult fiction by definition lies somewhere in the middle. (So does childish adult fiction, by the way, be it romance novels or trashy thrillers.)
My challenge in writing Silent Symmetry has been to find a balance between answering some questions while leaving others open, possibly to be answered over the course of the trilogy. Possibly not.
Now I think about it, it would almost be a good idea to start a story with “And they lived happily ever after.” Maybe I will…