Sunday, June 6

Happy Endings

'Do not speak slightingly of the three-volume novel, Cecily. I wrote one myself in earlier days.'

'Did you really, Miss Prism? How wonderfully clever you are! I hope it did not end happily? I don’t like novels that end happily. They depress me so much.'

'The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.'

-An excerpt from the play script "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde.

Every reader has a different opinion on how they feel stories should end. Some people are just suckers for happy endings - which is perfectly okay - but what does a happy ending necessarily mean?

Does the underdog triumph in the face or oppression?

The hero gets the guy/girl?

Peace is brought to the land and the woodland creatures have a tea party?

...and they all live happily ever after.

Yet it's implausible that everything can end on a happy note. Every ounce of conflict can't be resolved by the end, surely. Not every story is a coin flip to see if you get the sugar coated or creepy version of the fairy tale.

Miss Prism says that the good end happily and the bad end unhappily. Is that true or is it as Cecily says?

'I suppose so. But it does seem very unfair.'

I don't set out  to write characters who are represented as flat out "good" or "evil" because I don't particularly like to read about them. There are characters I know who are interpreted or seen as evil, but their own perceptions - regardless of whether they are empathetic - should be multidimensional.

Rather than "happy" endings, I'm inclined to want to read "satisfying" ones, which I'll admit sometimes means I am a sucker for a happy one. What it usually means is that I am pleased with the outcome.

The story might end on a sour note but the message is strong and impacting.

Maybe the hero doesn't get the guy/girl but gains a valuable experience and learns to live life in a different way.

Perhaps peace isn't brought to the land but there is a smaller, personal - but just as significant - triumph.

How do you believe stories should end? How do you want them to end?

Are you a sucker for happy endings or are you content with a satisfying one?


Anonymous said...

Oh this play takes me back to my year 10 days where I played Lady Bracknell. Such fun! *happy tear*
I'm partial to realistic endings myself. I think (specifically I'm talking about fantasy here) that some of the 'good guys' should die just as some of the 'bad guys' should die. For other genres, it does depend on the plot, but yes - I like realistic.

Christina said...

Well said. I love the Snoopy Comic.

I like to read endings that fit the story. I expect an unsettling ending for horror and a happy ending on romance. If the genre is about war, I expect the ending to be settled, at a cost.

I think Jessica Page Morrell says it best in "Thanks, But This Isn't For Us," when she said:

Most of all, endings need to be realistic or possibly bittersweet- the protagonist wins in the end but the price paid or losses accumulated steal sweetness from the victory.