1. Just Jon
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    Just Jon Member

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    Is a sad ending acceptable?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Just Jon, Apr 15, 2012.

    The project I'm working on has a sad ending. I had the ending and the first scene from the very start and I've been fitting the pieces in between ever since. Now as I look back on it, I'm wondering if a sad ending is going to disappoint the reader. Imagine if Harry Potter had died after killing Voldemort (my story is not quite so awful, but close). They say everyone wants a happy ending, but somehow it just seems too predicable in my case.

    Which do you prefer to write: sad endings or happy endings? Which do you prefer to read?
     
  2. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes. Of course it is. Sad endings where the character is killed wouldn't disappoint the reader at all if you handle it suitably - i.e., kill them in a way that suits the reader's high opinion of them, and no glossing over it in one or two paragraphs.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's useless to ask this question about your own work, since the answer depends only on what you wrote and how well you wrote it...

    a good writer with a good story that a sad ending would be appropriate for could probably get away with it... otherwise, it probably would not work...

    as for my preference in writing or reading, i don't have one... endings depend on what each story calls for... as long as the writer is skilled enough and the ending fits the story, i don't care much one way or the other... life often doesn't have a happy ending for real people...
     
  4. Just Jon
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    Just Jon Member

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    That's a useful perspective. Thinking now about other successful sad endings (Lord of the Rings, Romeo and Juliet, etc) I guess those endings were fitting, rather than Frodo dying in a horse riding accident and Romeo catching pneumonia. Both sad endings, but very unfitting.

    Nice! Thanks! :)
     
  5. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    My story has a sad ending, or does it?

    The issue is really the difference between a "good ending" for the reader or one for your lead. My MC straightens out his life, finds out what is important and acts on the knowledge he has strived so hard to possess. In fact, I wouldn't mind his outcome in my personal life.

    The issue I face in telling that story is can my reader(s) accept the fact that he doesn't win the lottery, settle down with the woman he loves, attain the life he thought was important and then live a long life?
     
  6. Just Jon
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    Just Jon Member

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    Good point. It's definitely a bad ending for the MC, any way I look at it. I think I need to go back and determine if good came from it, and if the reader can feel like they learned something or gained something from the experience.

    Thanks!
     
  7. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I appreciate that. Now all we have to do is get my MC to accept the fact that he's hunted all over the continent, repudiated by his father, his best friend thinks he's crazy, the love of his life spurns him, he's shot at graduation and then crushed by a Kenworth.

    Other than that, he finds it "uplifting."
     
  8. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    Sad endings and happy endings are equally acceptable and I write both; I also write the type where it's sad for some people, happy for others, and maybe for another ends in death... I like writing those...

    Which one you should write depends solely on which will best serve your book. If a sad ending will end it better than a happy one, go for it.
     
  9. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Well, I believe that as a man ages--facing his own mortality--that all of the money, flashy cars, and beautiful women lose their shine. My Aunt Clara once pointed out that if you walk through a graveyard and read headstones you'll find things like "Good Father" or "Beloved Husband."

    You'll never find stuff like, "Philanderer Owned Six 'Vettes"

    Give you a perspective from my age. The truly expensive and collectible guns and knives I acquired over the last three decades have been sold off. I handed every nickel over to my wife. The implements and the cash had lost all meaning. I'd give anything to talk to my Guardian Angel.
     
  10. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

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    I always find that a downer ending works the best when the tone of the book has forged the way for such a series of events. If I'm reading a book and it's 300 pages of 'we can do anything if we all work together,' then come the final chapter, they all fail and reach their death, it's not going to work. Never use a tone change at the end for a twist, it can cause mood whiplash. A downer ending will work marvellously if the reader thinks about it and on reflection decides that it never could have ended any other way... of course that's not to say that you shouldn't give them a few glimmers of false hope.
     
  11. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Hmmm. You bring up a good point. I think what we're discussing is the issue of point of view, and it must clearly be demonstrated to the reader.

    I think redemption is worth dying for. The reader might think the painful death of all the MC's enemies, and a new car, might be the only way to resolve the story.
     
  12. Phoenix Hikari
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    An ending that compliments/suits/fits the story is a good ending be it happy or sad. As long as your sad ending is not just there for the sole reason of stirring emotions in your readers, then it is wonderful. As long as it fits the story and adds flavour to the plot then it's excellent. As long as the sad event is not bland, predictable and a quiet bore then I got to read your story. :)

    People don't care about happy or sad, they care about the logic of the ending and if it actually was unpreventable. When a character has to die, they has to die, no objection, no second thoughts. This applies to all endings, things that have to happen should happen.
     
  13. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    With apologies to one of my favorite tv shows ... "Of course you can write a sad ending. You just have to not suck at it." Which is to say, avoid the "Love means never having to say you're sorry" Love Story schmaltz type crap. Make it believable within the confines of your universe and don't spring it on your reader from out in left field. Other than that, it basically depends upon your ability to lace all the pieces of your story, including the sad ending, into acceptable parameters. And, really, only you can determine that.
     
  14. Just Jon
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    So much to think about with this. I think I have definitely sprung it on the reader. When they arrive at the final chapter, they will be likely expecting a sad ending, be given false hope for a happy ending a few pages from the end, and then thrown a seriously hard and fast sad ending on the last page.

    If my wife were reading this (or watching the inevitable blockbuster movie) she would throw her arms up in disgust and say "That's a terrible ending!".

    I need to rethink how I foreshadow the ending more, so that the reader isn't blindsided so badly. I want them to suspect what is coming but hope so badly for the happy ending that they refuse to see the inevitable.
     
  15. Mordred
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    I like a book with a definitive ending, sad or otherwise. I don't enjoy a book that simply ends and leaves you wondering (a'la Inception - the movie) what happened or just your run of the mill hero triumphs over evil. I've read a fantasy novel where the main character (a hero in the classic sense) is killed by the villain and the world is brought under his evil domain. Unexpected and enjoyable. As long as the storyline leads towards hope only to have it crushed completely and not some soppy ending, I would enjoy it. Deep down, I wanted Harry Potter's demise, much like I wanted the Emperor, Darth Vader and the Empire to crush the Rebellion. Good luck Jon!

    ~Mordred
     
  16. The Tourist
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    I wanted Vader to win, I just don't like guys like Palpatine. I've worked for a few of them!

    Funny, I went to go see "A New Hope" back when it was just 'Star Wars.' I told my brother that Vader was really the hero, and he poo-poo'ed the idea.

    That idea sums up my beliefs on a traditional 'happy ending.' I felt that Luke was just the archetypical pasty hero out of central casting. He didn't really fight for anything, he was just fighting against someone else's plan--the villain drove the story. As such, I wanted to see a "righteous conclusion" to Vader's life.

    And I did. While not flippant about anyone's death, taken as a whole, Vader finally did the right thing and made his life have purpose--to him. That's a win for me, and you can feel the tale come to a conclusion at the right time.

    I admit I always found this personal opinion odd until I became older. The 1953 version of 'Titanic' was the first one I ever saw. Richard Basehart plays a priest in crisis. As the ship sinks, he goes below to give last rites to the men in the engine room. One worker tries to stop him saying, "For the love of God don't go in there!" However, Basehart's last line is, "For the love of God I will."

    I'm not keen on 'the modern man.' They don't stand for things with fervor anymore. It's good to see a guy do the right thing, even at the end.
     
  17. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I don't mind happy endings, but sad endings, if done properly, could make me want to read the novel immediately again. When a person you know dies all sorts of memories about him/her lingers for some days. It is human nature I suppose, and writers writing sad endings should exploit that to make the character lingers in the readers' mind. That I think is a successful sad ending.

    It is also important to see that death of a character adds depth and meaning to the overall story/theme. One of the characters died in Brokeback Mountain which adds to the despair, angst and helplessness of the main characters even more. Don't kill a character just because you want a sad ending, because ironically, it doesn't always make the ending sad.

    I could go on and on about sad ending, but I should probably stop here :(
     
  18. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    Like anything else, it's how well it's done.
     
  19. The Tourist
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    Ya' know, I'm aware of that, and because of that I already wrote an epilogue addressing that concern. It's the life and the lead's choices that are the story. His death was just the price of admission.

    The twist I took was to introduce the guy who had to come after the story told. He's not even in the story itself, but to me he plays an important part. In other words, life goes on, and most choices in the end are personal.

    Epilogue
    “The Finality of the Push Broom”

    Irvin Zirbel loved his paycheck, he just hated his job. And he had hated it every stinking day for over thirty years. Still, as a union city worker for The Public Works Department he knew he would earn a sizable pension and probably never be fired. And at this point in his career, he could count the days to his retirement.

    Removing the debris from accidents was the thing he hated the worst. His co-workers would hear the dispatcher cite him a location and then regale him with comments like, “Hey, Irv, clean up on aisle three!” If only the jobs had been so mundane.

    His specialty for speed and thoroughness might be called upon for a mashed raccoon or a flaming six car pile-up. Sometimes a serious wreck would really tie his stomach in rolling bile. Various police officers at the same scene would bark contradicting orders at him. They actually expected him to both not disturb a crime scene and clear the highway for traffic at the same instant.

    Most of the volatility of this current wreck assignment was long over when Irv arrived. The bent Kenworth had already been photographed and backed out of the way. The shaken driver was sitting quietly in the back of a sheriff’s cruiser, head bent in remorse and fear. What appeared to be a charred motorcycle was so misshapen and clawed by errant flames that the make and model was unrecognizable.

    A van from the coroner’s office was being maneuvered into place, and the body of the deceased was being hoisted onto a gurney. Irv was saddened by the apparent youth of the boy. But what troubled him more was numerous bone breaks and shattered joints that made the youth contort like a sprung Murphy Bed. Mercifully, the attendants finally got the body under the cover of a blanket.

    Irvin set to work by rote. He tore down the fluttering yellow tape, retrieved the larger pieces of glass and chrome, and then removed a small shovel and push broom from his worn cluster of tools. If he could finish the accident scene early he could still get over to the Capitol Building and trim trees. He liked trimming trees. He could linger in the cooling of the afternoon air, and the scent of freshly trimmed plants tantalized him into deep, quiet breaths.

    Irvin threw the last of the bigger chunks into a waste barrel on the back of the truck. And with a lighthearted whistle, he swept the last of the glass, metal fragments and dust into the grate of a drainage sewer.
     
  20. eembuc1000
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    eembuc1000 New Member

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    I think a sad/controversial ending is definitely acceptable! If fact, I think it makes the story more interesting! Sometimes it does depend on the story you're writing, though.

    A sad ending doesn't necessarily mean that the protagonist has to die. For example, (spoiler alert...) in 1984 by George Orwell, Winston gets brainwashed in the end. I considered that a sad/controversial ending.
     
  21. Z. C. Bolger
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    Z. C. Bolger Member

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    Where The Red Fern Grows great book, sad ending... but still great book.
     
  22. jg22
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    I like it bitter-sweet! Life mostly consists of shades of grey, and I find a story more realistic when the main character experiences compromise rather than simply getting everything he/she wants or nothing at all. In the story I am writing, my main character does eventually achieve his goal, but not before losing things he treasures and sacrificing the other desires in his heart. I want my reader to ask themselves: was it really worth it? Even when we've achieved our goals, afterwards something usually happens which brings us right back down to earth- so my main character experiences loss even once his arc is completed. Life is sobering.
     
  23. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    That's the way my story is ending. I'm finding there's a line to where you and the reader part company.

    For example, look at the ending of Casablanca. That movie even adds a touch of whimsy in the final scene that softens the blow.

    Compare that to essentially the same three endings of the 1960's ending of "Spartacus," the "300," and "Gladiator." Spartacus was a truly sad ending, the sacrifices of the 300 made sense, and Russell Crowe went to heaven with his wife.

    In fact, the people leaving the theater after the 300 were stoked, the guys so filled with testosterone it was gloriying to see. Oh. there's one problem there, and that's history. The Greeks technically lost the next three major battles, succeeding in the end only because the Persians suffered true pyrrhic victories.

    But hey, it tells a good story, and that's all that matters. In fact, I don't mind an ending where the hero takes the villain with him. The arc of Harry Potter would have ended a lot better. Consider stories about the Alamo chapel.
     
  24. Lightning
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    I find myself agreeing with this. But what you need to watch out for is unrealistic and excessive loss, as well as not wanting to kill off characters.

    For instance, if you just start killing off characters left right and centre, the reader is probably going to start to think to themselves: "well come on now," simply because in most creative writing senses, it just doesn't feel right to kill everyone off. This is also true if a character takes out a billion foes before they die (not actually a billion, but you get my point) because that's just plain ridiculous.

    One issue that I've hit on the opposite side of the pendulum is that I don't feel right killing off certain characters simply because I like them and I feel bad killing them. Have no fear, understandable losses do exist, but it's still a tough call sometimes
     
  25. Tesoro
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    I think I kind of like bittersweet endings too. I've read some of them lately and they are the ones that stick with me and make me remember the story long after. I used to be all for happy endings but I think I have re-evaluated the bittersweet ones now. But I don't think I'm ready to appreciate completely sad endings yet.
     

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