Happily Ever After–Yes or No?

…and they all lived happily ever after.  The end.

Happy endings. It’s the stuff our childhood.  The goal of our lives.

But is it always the best ending for your story?

Certain types of fiction do lend themselves to happy-ever-after endings.  Romance, for instance.  And some contemporary fiction.  Christian fiction, too, perhaps.  Then again, maybe not.  But what about historical fiction?  Or science fiction?  Or literary fiction? Or global fiction?

One of my all time favorite historical novels is Year of Wonder, by Geraldine Brooks.  It’s a grim setting, to be sure, and a harsh topic–1665, during the plague years.  But Brooks draws us into one village and focuses her story on one person.  Not only are we pulled into a gripping tale, but we come away with a whole new understanding of a time and place in history. Unfortunately, she felt she needed to tack on a fanciful happy-ever-after ending.

Much of my writing is also set in the shadowy periods of our past.  There wasn’t much happiness for slaves. The Indian caste system is extremely resistant to change.  Becoming a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean one walks out of life’s oppressive fog and into no-problem, no-worry sunlight.

I do love happiness.  And I am not a fan of downer endings.  And I know an ending must be satisfying, or why go to the trouble of reading the book?   But for me, the best endings are hope-ever-after.  (Which, by the way, are oftentimes quite happy.)  Even a novel set in the plague years, or in strife-torn Sudan, or on a slave ship, or in a nest of human traffickers, can end with hope.  And hope is happy.  And extremely satisfying.

But, of course, that’s just me.  How about you?  What type of ending do you find satisfying?  Does your preference define what type of fiction you read?

“True love stories never have endings.”

Richard Bach, author



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4 responses to “Happily Ever After–Yes or No?

  1. Jeanette

    Honestly, my preferred ending usually depends on my mood and what life happens to be throwing at me. The other day, I completely enjoyed a formulaic, predictable story (actually, it was a movie) that I might have picked apart if not for my desperate need to relax and know that everything would be okay in the end.

    As a rule though, I’d rather have realistic-yet-hopeful than happy. I want to see the characters grow to the point where they don’t need to be wrapped-in-a-perfect-Disney-bow happy in order to move forward. But there does need to be hope. I remember two specific times when I finished a book and practically tore the back cover apart searching for the missing pages because no story could possibly end on such a depressing note. I wasn’t just disappointed, I was mad. Even now, I think, those endings were so unneccesary.

    Thanks for this post. Giving this some thought was fun.

  2. Thanks for replying, Jeanette. Great points!

  3. I too (like the other Jeanette who posted), sometimes go away “mad” from a novel where the ending is strangely incomplete. My desire is for a redemptive ending–even if only the suggestion of the possibility. I guess that’s a lot like hope. Historicals definitely need to lean toward the realistic–otherwise, they aren’t historical! Recently we watched the film version of “The Grapes of Wrath.” I had forgotten the ending of the film, which was absolutely not the unforgettable ending of the novel. The real ending was steeped in despair, but cracking open the door to hope. When I finish the novel I’m writing, I want it to have a powerful ending that isn’t cliche or commercial. Keep on your path, Kay. I’ll keep reading your books!

  4. Thanks, other Jeanette. Good comments.

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