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You know that feeling you get when you read the final words of the last line in a really good novel or when the credits start rolling at the end of an awesome movie?

There are many ways to describe that feeling. Sometimes you don’t want the story to end, you yearn to stay in this fictional world for just a little longer. Sometimes you don’t really want to stay in this world, sometimes you’re just left with the sense that you will be forever changed by what you have just read or seen. Sometimes it’s something else you can’t really put into words, you just know that you loved it.

Well, for me there is a definitive word to describe this feeling: haunted.

When I come to the end of a story and I feel totally enamored with either the story, characters, or setting, or all three, it is most often because the story has left me feeling haunted. There are exactly three things that leave me feeling haunted: a mystery, an idea, or an emotion.

The Mystery

When a story ends leaving some piece of information withheld, some mystery unexplained, I am more likely to feel affected (or haunted) by the story. One of my favorite movies is Waking the Dead, an independent film starring Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly. SPOILER ALERT: When the credits roll, the viewer is left wondering whether or not Jennifer Connelly’s character is alive or dead. Most of the movie is spent watching Billy Crudup’s character, Fielding, suffer with this mystery. When the movie ends without a definitive answer to this question, it leaves the viewer feeling almost as haunted as Fielding.

The Idea

Sometimes a story sparks an idea in your mind that you can’t seem to forget for days, weeks, or years. One of my favorite books is Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach. I first read this book when I was sixteen years old and incredibly impressionable. When I came to the end of the book I found myself haunted by a simple but absurd idea: anything is possible. It may sound corny or naïve, after all people aren’t telekinetic and it’s physically impossible to swim in a field of grass… or is it? This book taught me to open my mind to the possibilities of the universe. The idea it planted in my mind was life changing.

The Emotion

When a story leaves you extremely sad or uplifted, you are usually reluctant to close the book. People want to experience deep emotions. It’s why we seek love with such vigor. It’s why we continue to visit those family members we know we should avoid. Sometimes, even feeling sadness or anger is better than feeling nothing at all. I recently read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and cried for almost an hour as I read the final chapters and epilogue. Even though the ending left me feeling incredibly sad, I have repeatedly recommended this book. This story will stay with me for years to come because I had such an intense emotional reaction to it.

Those are the three things that make a story memorable to me. Those are the three things that leave me feeling haunted. When a book or movie contains all three of these characteristics, I’m sold. What do you feel makes a story “un-put-down-able”?

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