HAPPY OR CRAPPY/ENDINGS REVISITED
From the title, you can see that I’ve talked about this before. Why? Well, after 200+ articles on writing, I’ve talked on just about everything at one time or tuther! That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be addressed again when the muse strikes. In this case, my muse came from a recent discussion on the Facebook Genre Writer’s Retreat for Fantasy /SciFi/Steam Punk that I’m a member of. Someone brought up the subject of endings and I thought it was a perfect time to revisit this, especially after my recent burning from a Stephen King-endorsed author.
The gist of the Facebook thread was this: “How do you feel about happy endings?”
The general consensus was for happy, or positive, though there were those that either didn’t care or a few who liked bad endings. There are always a few. There are some who don’t mind if the main character or characters die for a purpose while others don’t like it at all.
We’ll get into that a bit here.
FIRST, THE NEGATIVE
Some people love to wallow in their misery. Because real life sucks, so should their stories. When you watch the news, see real life, when friends and family die, sometimes horribly, the author wants to reflect that in their prose. Some readers prefer to get that emotional jolt from their books. They want to be brought down with their story, knowing the hero/heroine/heroes die in the end. These stories are definitely for glass-is-half-empty people.
On the other hand, some people like surprises. What if? That’s right. What if you never know if this author is going to let a character live, such as in Game of Thrones? If you’re a fan, you well know that the author likes to kill off characters. There are only some survivors and when one of them dies, it’s a surprise. Kind of like real life. Though the story is fantasy, it’s also more realistic than other fantasies in that people die, even good guys, right along with the bad guys, and some of the bad guys live…a long time!
If you’re so inclined, these negative stories are right up your alley. True fake realism is your thing. Glass-is-half-empty is the way.
SECOND, THE BITTERSWEET
Okay, now we have the heart-tuggers. Those that like an extreme tug on the emotions. The hero, heroines or other well-liked characters die because they have to for some compelling reason. It’s all sad, but necessary. Not everyone dies, but often, you already know someone is doomed from the start, yet you keep on reading. Maybe the story is told in flashback, or from someone else’s point of view. As a reader and/or writer, you need that emotional jolt for whatever reason. These may or may not be for glass-is-half-full people but are usually still for glass-is-half-empty people as well.
THIRD, THE HAPPY ENDING
This is where probably, the majority of us fall. The hero or heroine lives to tell about it. This isn’t to say that someone doesn’t die, but not the main character or characters. This isn’t to say that one of the sidekicks may not die at some point either, if it’s a series. However, even that could be a severe blow to the readership.
For most people, the entire point of reading is to escape reality, not relive it! Ah, duh! Why do you think we read, go to movies, watch TV, or listen to music? To take our minds off our troubles!
If we wanted to be Debbie Downers and wallow in our misery, well…there are certainly plenty of books movies and TV around to do that, thank you Stephen King, for one. However, most people want to escape all that by reading something uplifting, something that’ll help them escape for a little while before they have to get back to the real world.
They want a story where the heroes and heroines endure in the end!
Can I say it any simpler than that?
From the question in the Facebook post poll, the majority preferred happy endings. However, there were a few who didn’t mind bittersweet and a few who liked unhappy endings. As writers, they have the power to steer their stories in any direction they want. That means they’ll also attract the readership they want.
Personally, I want to make my readership happy. I want them to have a fun time and be able to close the book with a smile on their face, not a frown or a sigh of relief, or a tear, though a tear of joy instead of sorrow (not bittersweet sorrow) wouldn’t be bad either.
How about you?
I don’t close each of these essays with “happy writing” for nothing!