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  1. Mooski
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    Mooski New Member

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    A rough road ahead, with a rougher ending...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Mooski, Aug 9, 2010.

    Hey guys, just thought I'd introduce myself here. I'm Nick, and I'm dabbling in the very complex world of writing.

    I have a question that I'd like to ask, in reference to a piece I'm writing myself. I haven't put pen to paper yet so to speak, as I'm still planning things out; there's just one question I have yet to answer before I'll feel comfortable starting to write.

    The 'bare bones' idea is that a person finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and what ensues are a series of events focused purely this protagonist trying to survive and escape this situation, though he does not know what he is trying to escape and how he will do it initially. There will be a revelation as to why these events are occuring, and then ultimately, a surprising, bleak ending that results in the imprisonment of the protagonist.

    Wow, vague right? :D I'll clarify...

    Essentially, what I'm asking is, is for your opinions on stories with rather bleak, 'unhappy' endings as opposed to the protagonist overcoming his or her strife. The unhappy ending is something I have been planning from the onset, and I feel it is necessary to create the very dark storyline I am aiming for. I don't, however, want to risk the ending being unsatisfying to the reader - the main character going through so much, only to then... well... go through so much more, with nothing ultimately prospering than 'evil'. I've been doing a little research, and I've found that that seems to be the case - that your typical reader is looking for some 'uplifting' ending in these situations, though I must admit my sources will likely not represent my target audience.

    Any thoughts? I will clarify further if need be. As a further question, can anybody recommend any books that offer ambiguous or unsettling endings?

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. Phlogiston
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    Phlogiston Member

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    Hi Mooski,

    I personally have no issues with unhappy endings. From the Empire Strikes Back to The Trial, there are many examples of good writing with unhappy endings.

    However, I think you are correct in assuming that most readers are looking for something positive in a conclusion. This is not to say that all conclusions must be really happy, just that there is often a sense of resolution to them. Does your protagonist finally accept their fate? Do the evil forces conclusively win? Does the protagonist subvert the evil forces inevitable victory with some small achievement (saving a lover/child/friend etc)

    An alternative is to have a dark, negative ending but conclude with an unexpected twist. In this case even though the story ends badly for the protagonist, the narrative as a whole is like a joke or a magic trick. It draws the reader in, leads them on a tale, builds up their expectations and then, just as quickly, pulls the rug from beneath them.

    Phlogiston
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    The Hollywood ending is pretty much all that is seen in Western mainstream narratives at the moment (in both film and literature), but historically (and now, out of the mainstream), less conventional endings are often encountered. There's the history of tragedy, for instance, which by definition ends with the death of the protagonist, that has endured from Ancient literature to now with only minor variations. Social realism through the 20th century and a less narrative-centred approach to writing in the Postmodern period also saw a rejection of the notion of the happy ending.

    The important thing is not to end your book unsatisfactorily. There are many ways you can interpret that. In tragedy, for instance, the protagonist is redeemed before their death, and so while we are left feeling a sense of loss and sadness, it is not unsatisfying. Likewise with the 'unhappy' endings of many Realist works: they force us to realise something about our society/culture/worldview and encourage us to resolve to change it.

    So, there are reasons to end unhappily, and readers who won't mind, but you'll need to still offer something in the way of resolution or satisfaction.
     
  4. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I have two questions about your ending:

    1) Does the MC to be blamed for the bad things that happened in some way like doing something (unintentionally or intentionally) that triggered the unfortunate events? Or, did he cause some bad things (which amounts to criminal offence) in his attempt to escape? (in both scenario he realizes his mistake only in the last scene)

    2) Does the MC simply being wrongly accused by some evil force just to put him away for their selfish motives? (which can be translated from a writer's perspective as: putting him in jail just to provide a bleak ending and a twist)

    In the first case, even those who hates 'unhappy' endings can live with that. There will be twist in the end scene, resolution of conflicts etc etc to make the readers satisfied.

    However, in the second scenario chances are very high that the readers will be unsatisfied no matter the reader like 'unhappy' ending or not.
     
  5. Capt Bob
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    Capt Bob Senior Member

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    Pure speculation on my part,--I smell the opener in a Si-Fi series, where you have built reader sympathy for your MC, even though he is down in an "unsettled" ending.

    If so, could be appetizing chum, inducing purchase of the next, -follow up-in the series.

    For some reason "Book of Eli" comes to mind-??.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    read and see orwell's '1984' [book and both movie versions] for the ultimate in great bad endings...
     
  7. Mooski
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    Mooski New Member

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    Thanks for the replies.

    A great book, with a great ending. The difference between 1984 and my idea (aside from the obvious, with Orwell being a superb writer and all! :D) is that the 'bad' ending in 1984 arguably serves to make a point just like Arron89 wrote in his post about unconventional endings in realist works. The 'bad' ending in mine will not give cause for discussion about the underlying theme or the like, it is moreso simply where the character must end up given the plotline; though it's not a cop-out, existing purely for shock value. The protagonist has done things that warrant his imprisonment however he is not aware he has done these things; the closest approximation I can think of is a person with a form of 'delusional' mental illness such as schizophrenia carrying out unlawful actions that stem from their delusions, and being punished without the person in question having any knowledge of doing wrong.

    With that in mind, I think you've managed to do the impossible, and enlighten this daft head of mine. :D I'm thinking something along the lines of an ultimate realisation and coming to terms with the end-situation, and perhaps even something that offers a glimmer of hope for the protagonist without compromising on the ending I have in mind. I've been toying with 'happier' endings all day and whilst it could work... I don't know. I'm not convinced. I want to create some real empathy, a combination of sympathy and despair for/with the MC, where he fights through so much and then the minute he sees the bigger picture, realises the outlook is overall, truly bleak. Maybe ending with the tiniest glimmer of hope will give it just enough of a lift. Nothing's static though right, the storyline may be taken elsewhere depending on how it unfolds. I suppose I'm not going to know if it'll work until I stop rambling on a load of rubbish here and start writing! ;)

    Thanks for the advice, and if anyone has any more, my cup is empty (both figuratively and literally speaking at present).

    Nick
     
  8. SerraSwift
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    SerraSwift Member

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    I think it'll depend on your target audience. The literary fiction audience is going to (probably) be more receptive to a bleak ending than a commercial fiction/pop fiction audience. Can you imagine the backlash JK Rowling would have gotten if she'd killed Harry off? People had a hard enough time dealing with the darkness and deaths in those books; the main character HAD to triumph or readers were going to have a fit.

    Personally, I think "bleak" endings can be incredibly satisfying, especially when they convey something interesting about the human experience. And of course, you aren't going to pull one over on the audience... it sounds like the book is setting the reader up for a potentially bleak ending. It's not as though you are writing a story about a unicorn and a wizard playing Gin Rummy, when suddenly the unicorn stabs the wizard. Your audience is going to realize something bad might happen--but they hope the ending will be a "happy" one, which will get them emotionally involved.

    For some reason your post reminded me strongly of "The Fixer" by Bernard Malamud. His is a story about a guy that gets royally screwed over...but it's an excellent book and one of my favorites. Proof that your story doesn't have to be a happy one to be wonderfully written and satisfying--it's all in the way you handle it!

    Good luck! :)

    Serra
     
  9. themistoclea
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    themistoclea Member

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    I think to achieve a truly "unhappy" ending, you must first work to make the reader absolutely on the side of your protagonist. Otherwise it'll be an empty ending, and quite the opposite of what you may wish to convey.
    I also don't have an issue with an unhappy ending. At the end of a book/story I want to feel something!
    Have fun, and good luck!!
     
  10. Sang Hee
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    Sang Hee Contributing Member

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    You only need to perfect the art of unhappy but satisfying ending.
     
  11. caimomile
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    caimomile Member

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    Hello.

    Tragic endings are indeed less prominent compared to happy ones. However, I think a sublime unhappy finish is defined also by the reader's reaction to the piece.

    I remember a previews read in which the hero died to save the heroine. It was a very sad ending especially because it is written in first person POV, following the hero's perspective. I mean when he was about to die, his narration was very casual, even sarcastic, very evident that he is forcing himself to smile to ease the heroine's pain.

    I believe that tale is a great one and the tragedy at the end made it even greater. It may be sad, but it was able to use that sadness to stay on the reader's mind for a very long time.
     

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