Hey! So my question is how often a writer should utilize mystery and enigma in stories.

  •  In Star Wars, there was a huge fiasco when in the prequels they explained the nature of the Force, as many fans would have preferred it had been left ambiguous and unexplained.
  •  In Dragon Age, there are mentions of a people called the Voshai who faced some sort of cataclysm on the other side of the continent, and while I thought this was surely foreshadowing some future event in a future game of the series, other fans thought it and the people themselves should be left mysterious and unexamined as it is more realistic that way.
  • And then, in the Witcher series, a country to the far south is named Zerrikania, and some fans have expressed interest in one day visiting that far-off land or even just the much mentioned and narratively important country of the Nilfgaardian Empire. But then many also believe that exploring these areas will utterly ruin their mystique and appeal, and knowing too much will make them boring – the unknown is more exciting and appealing.
  • And, as my last example, in Trollhunters one episode has the main protagonist delve into an area known as the Deep where he fights a mysterious shadowy figure. The next episode he escapes the Deep, and no mention is ever made again of that strange shadow or what exactly happened down there, and some fans seemed to prefer it that way as delving deeper (ha! puns) into that mysterious apparition would ruin its appeal and otherworldly ethereal charm.

So my question kinda boils down to when/if it is appropriate to dispel the unknown mystique of a character/place/event.

I kinda feel as though if the main appeal of something is the lack of information you know about it, then there really is no appeal at all because you just don’t know anything about it to make it appealing – to me, that enigmatic mystique is boring and raises more questions than answers.

Thank you so much! Keep being awesome!!!!!

~ Bonnie

Hi Bonnie,

You’re right that mystery comes with its own benefits. As you mentioned in your examples, it can create an enjoyable atmosphere, allow fans to imagine whatever they want, and in the case of villains and other dangers, enhance the sense of threat. It’s hard for something that isn’t mysterious to be scary.

However, it’s worth noting that sometimes mysterious elements will also feel like unfinished plot hooks. I haven’t seen that Trollhunters episode you mentioned, but when something mysterious happens to a protagonist off-screen, many fans will expect those questions to be answered. If no answers are forthcoming by the end of the series, those fans will leave the show feeling unsatisfied. The closer the mystery is to the plot of your story, the more likely it is that fans will expect answers.

It’s also possible for dispelling a mystery to have enough payoff to make up for the reduced novelty. If you dispel a mystery in a way that doesn’t fit everything you’ve already established or is just underwhelming, people will be unhappy. But if you dispel it with a reveal where everything clicks together in a satisfying way, they could love it.

Mysteries at some level beg to be solved. Many fans will want a closer look at the mysterious part of the world. Writers just have to be careful not to do it in a way that offers less value than the mystery did. If they didn’t plan what’s in the mysterious part of the world ahead of time, that can be hard to do. In those cases, it’s probably safer to leave any mysteries that don’t feel like loose ends the way they are.

Sorry I can’t give you a clear-cut answer here. It’s a matter of looking at the particular situation and weighing pros and cons.

Chris

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