1. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Happy endings

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by VM80, Jan 9, 2011.

    If there are any recent threads about this I've missed, sorry.

    My question is - how essential is a 'happy ending'? Do readers really expect it every time?

    The reason I ask is that two people who have read the ms of my dystopian would-be novel have said exactly the same thing.

    They liked the characterisation and sensitivity in the human relationships depicted. Lovely praise indeed. :) But they then also said the ending is too sad, open or not 'happy' enough.

    I had intentionally written it like this and ended on a note of uncertainty.

    My MC returns from the front line, badly wounded, but on the mend, with his future very much unknown & his state of mind/ strong opposition to the government pretty much gone. He had previously been separated from his lady love, and doesn't know if she is still alive, and has never met the daughter he knows he has.

    Advice I've been given is - end on a note of hope.

    I have a couple of ideas but I'm hesitant to have a silly happy ending that wouldn't be realistic in a totalitarian environment.

    I didn't really want the MC to meet his love again, but rather have it be open.
    I've come around to him perhaps seeing his daughter, with her not realising who he is, and end on that note.

    Any thoughts? Do you prefer happy endings?

    Thanks :)
     
  2. JoenSo
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    JoenSo Member

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    I guess it's a matter of opinion, but I really prefer the open/sad kind of endings that you seem to write. As you say, sometimes a happy ending just isn't realistic. Also, sad endings sometimes make me think a bit more about what I have just read somehow. Maybe it's because a happy ending makes me think: "Great, they're all happy and everything turned out okay. Time to read the next book."

    Besides, a happy ending can be pretty open and wague too. Take Star Wars for example. It's easy to cheer and say that the empire was defeated and all, but what happens after that? There's still a whole lot of imperials left.
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    maybe it depends a little on the genre, some kinds of stories seem supposed to be happy ending while others can get away without. maybe if you decide an unhappy ending it needs to have a message, some kind of resonance, not just be ended in the middle of things without defining specifically why this happened and what we should learn from it. I think if it ends badly it needs to be really BAD, not just vaguely unsatisfactory. It needs to end with some kind of a disaster, not just with the MC defeated and licking his wounds. Maybe with the MC dying but for a heroic purpose... or with a defeat but still hopeful about a future of some kind, ready to make a come back. Oh dear, im not sure if i explain myself, hope you understand what im trying to say?
     
  4. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks, I understand what you meant.

    Maybe 'unhappy' is not quite the right word. Nothing 'bad' happens either specifically at the end.

    It ends in a way that is uncertain and left open. The MC has - I guess - found 'peace of mind' by default; he is too wounded and tired to feel or think much of anything.

    I'm not sure if that is 'satisfactory' as such. Evidently not quite, because two people have commented on it.

    So I think perhaps something should be added about the daughter. It wouldn't be a happy ending as such, as he is not together with the woman he loves, but he's at least come face to face with his child.

    I need to think some more.
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like one thing or the other, What I hate, hate, hate is to read a blinding good novel and have a wishy washy ending (Bart Yates is my favourite example lol he writes some of the most gripping, fast paced, engrossing work and then ends them with pfft). I need a decent conclusion.

    I have mixed it - with my first I ended with an ambiguous ending. Angus and Beatrice my MCs are happy but they know their work to stabilize the country has only just begun it ends with hope but a threat lol My second was so dark it needed a happy ending so I inserted a scene with men dancing in their bedroom in just their shorts. My third has same ending as first (it was a retelling of same story from a different POV), my current has a postive bittersweet ending. It is the start of my MC starting to put himself back together. However just do what is right for your story, just don't not make it a wishy washy ending just to be happy. With the first Bart Yates one read I would have rather he had killed himself than gone on maybe happy.
     
  6. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    maybe your MC didnt achieve what he aimed for but gained something else instead (or at least gained wisdom of some kind) and you could focus on that?
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think it depends on the message you're trying to say.

    For example, Sweeney Todd had Sweeney meet his daughter but neither ever recognised each other, which worked in that musical. It was still tragic.

    Or have you ever seen Grave of the Fireflies? A Japanese classic, anime, based around 2 children during WWII - seriously one of the saddest films I've ever seen and I don't think I have the strength to ever watch it again. There was not really a sense of hope at the end - essentially, both children die after having their entire family wiped out.

    My advice is, study the endings of dystopian novels. I rather loved the book I Am Legend - the ending wasn't hopeful at all, but it was very interesting because by creating a hopeless ending - or hopeless at least for the MC - it asked the question: Who is the monster now? What is "normal"?

    I think your entirely sad ending could work - it really depends on how you've built it up along the way tbh.

    How does a sense of false hope sound? You could include some kind of false hope - by nature of being false would make your ending sad, but that it still sparks a sense of hope could make it bittersweet?

    Maybe a happy ending isn't the right term. Try a bittersweet ending. But in the end, write how you feel the story should develop.
     
  8. WastelandSurvivor
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    I like endings of uncertainty in dystopian and post-apocalyptic works. You have to keep in mind that the mood you are setting (dystopian, in this case) is one of uncertainty, struggle and hope. To end your work in such a way that you bring it to an uncertain conclusion fits very well with this mood and, in my opinion, forces the reader to continue thinking about your work after they have finished it.
     
  9. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    Whether it's a happy ending or a tragic ending, it needs to fit the story. The ending needs to have meaning, significance, and relevance; some stories need one or the other.

    Have you read 1984 by George Orwell? When it comes to dystopian+totalitarian settings, this book is the book. The ending is depressing, chilling, and tragic. But it sends a strong message, and has great meaning; I can't see it ending any other way and still being as good. Cyrano de Bergerac has a famous, highly emotional tragic ending, but it is right because Cyrano has represented what he believes in, up until his death.

    But a book that ends tragically for no reason other than to evoke sympathy and tears has a bad ending. I can't stand stories or books where the tragic ending occurs because the main character is defeated by fate, despite his greatness and potential. I read Ethan Frome recently for class, and I hated the tragic ending passionately because the MC has the realistic potential to succeed, and it is the author's belief in the supremacy of fate and social conformity that destroy him, when he should win. But that's my philosophical view vs. the author's.

    Then you get a book like Ayn Rand's novella Anthem, where the MC escapes from a society so collectivist that to use the word "I" is the ultimate sin. The ending of Anthem is very happy, because he discovers happiness and realizes that life can be lived and enjoyed. The book is a celebration of mankind. A tragic ending could work, but most wouldn't fit. Rand's other early novel, We the Living, has a very tragic ending, but carries a similar message because of the mindset in which the MC dies, and it works.
     
  10. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you all for the comments. :)

    YES, this was the book that got me writing dystopian stories. In a way, my ending is probably influenced directly by 1984, in that the sense of 'defeat' is similar. It's the most chilling thing I think I ever read and had such an impact on me.

    But I guess I'm going to try writing and see if I can 'bring the character home', as it were. Full circle.
     
  11. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Hey, I'm really into the dystopian/totalitarian genre. I'd love to give your story a reading and review if you want to let me :)
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    I think that my problem with the ending that you describe would be less the happy/sad question than the extent to which it's unresolved. I don't like stories that appear to be simply a section chopped out of a larger story, with all of the plot threads just hanging there with no resolution. I don't need all of the threads to be tied up all pretty, but I don't like that, "Uh, so why did you tell us all this?" feeling that I get when _none_ of them are resolved.

    ChickenFreak
     
  13. Rousel
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    They have almost no place in my works.
     
  14. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Happy endings piss me off. If I invest any time in a story and it ends with a protagonist who is both happy AND victorious, I feel violated. I can buy time travel, a pet dragon, or a lesbian pillow fight, but happy endings are too unrealistic for me.
     
  15. Unit7
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    Why? Because Happy Endings don't happen at all... ever? You have a really really pessimistic view of humanity, don't you? Happy Endings happen all the time.
    A drug addict who goes through hell and when he or she finally overcomes the addiction and finds themself on the right path might tend to feel Happy and Victorious.

    Someone who is coming from a family who has never gone to college who not only goes but graduates. I would think that person would feel both happy and victorious over it.

    A person who struggles through high school, who feels like they are going through hell, manages to graduate. That person might just feel both Happy and Victorious.

    Happy Endings to such things happen all the time. After certain events its not an unknown phenomenon within the real world for people to end up happy and victorious.
     
  16. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Allow me to illustrate:

    ...until they experience the inevitable suffering life brings, then die.

    ...until they experience the inevitable suffering life brings, then die.

    No one has ever "ended up happy and victorious". They've only ever ended up dead. You never get the girl and live happily ever after, you get the girl then, later, she rips your heart out your ass. Or, at the very best, you get the girl, you experience the inevitable suffering of life together, then you both get old and decrepit, your bodies start falling apart, and one of you dies, leaving the other one alone until their turn comes. That's the best possible scenario.

    Happiness? Sure. Happy endings? Never. A happy ending just means the author is either a pansy or ran out of ink.
     
  17. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I'm with Forkfoot, happy endings are just unfinished tragedies. If you're writing just to make people happy or something like that, then they're fine. But I can't think of many credible works of fiction that end unambiguously happily.
     
  18. Ragdoll
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    I love happy endings! But I love sad endings equally...
     
  19. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You know I was going to respond to this. I actually had a rather large post typed out. Then I realized something very important. It came up when I started rambling on the idea of people viewing their lives as one long novel or a collection of short stories.

    Its then it hit me. You are the type to view a characters life and your own life and anyones life as more of a novel. While I am in more of the favor of viewing life as a collection of short stories. Which means our definitions of endings would be really different.

    ...
     
  20. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    So what then, you only tell the "short stories" where things work out with the protagonist happy and victorious? Cutting them off at the exact right moment before real life kicks in and they gotta pay for that door they just kicked down and it turns out that the hot babe they worked so hard to save has terrible gas and emotional problems? Before the mortgage payments and PMS and a stillborn baby? It just doesn't work for me. Life is grittier than that. Life is deeper than that. A saccharine ending can't touch real life's beauty.
     
  21. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes it is just nice as I have given the character a rotten time during the novel to actually give them some fun at the end. Why can't someone have a moment of elation and fun with their lover ?

    Also my character is immortal only way he is dying is if he reproduces and he doesn't like the idea. So is his partner. They have been together as friends then lovers since they were seven, don't have to deal with PMS and think they have worked out any wind problems :)
     
  22. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well tra la freakin' la, then.
     
  23. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Then where's the conflict coming from? Sounds like they have nothing to lose, which makes for a very dull story.
     
  24. Elgaisma
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    The plot, they don't need to conflict between themselves - don't get me wrong they have had punch ups (give me a happy couple that doesn't fight lol). First book the conflict was with my MC having to 'come out' and abidcate, second was about their childhood and the conflict was the Crown Prince's parents and grandparents, third was about the Queen being kidnapped and they go to find her, one gets his mind invaded and the other rescues him. Current one, one of them has been taken away from the other and is about the reuniting. Never seperating them again though it has been like writing half a character and he is a grumpy git to boot. If I write about them again it will be as a time travelling duo.

    The conflict always comes from outside the relationship into it, rather than from it out to the rest of the world. As a couple and within their relationship they are happy. Which is pretty much the way I feel about my own marriage. Like one of my characters says (he is part sparrow) - he needs a secure nest to come home to and then the world can fall apart, but he himself is content. I have usually resolved the major conflict by the end of the story so at that moment there is none or only normal minor irritations to life. Like Socrates throwing his alarm clock at Nate because Nate is singing loudly out of tune and bouncing round the bedroom at 4.45am.

    I get fed up reading relationships with constant high levels of conflict - there are people for whom their relationship is the main source of happiness in their life. Any major sources of unhappiness are stresses from outside the home. Why can't that be represented in literature ?

    Plus whilst sadness, angst, terrible dark moments have their places in my stories, I don't want misery or gritty realism. I want an ultimately positive view of life in my stories no matter how bad it gets.
     
  25. Unit7
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    My short stories almost always end up ending on a depressing note. In one short story I have a ghost of a young child spending eternity haunting a building always trying to leave, always wishing she was at school. In another my MC spends his free time sitting beside his comatose wife. Another where the MC is killed because she believed in God. I end my stories when they are over. No sooner no later.

    Personally I am with you. Well sorta. I prefer the ending to fit the story. Whether it be happy or sad or bitter sweet. Just because the ending of the story turns out to be good is just as welcomed as one that has a depressing ending.

    Life is deeper then that. But doesn't mean a story shouldn't be able to end on a happy thought because its 'unrealistic.' Happy moments exist throughout life. The story would be how and why that moment came. Nothing more and nothing less.
     

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