I think most stories have happy endings, and I think that’s unfortunate. I’m bad for this myself. In fact, most of the time when I write, I plan for a happy ending. When I get there, I’ll write the rosiest, most satisfying ending I can think of. And then… scrap that and kill everyone.
Here are the top reasons to write a happy ending, and why they suck:
Reason 5: I can’t bear to hurt my darlings.
Liar! You’ve been torturing them for 200 pages. Why give up now.
Reason 4: The characters deserve it.
Similar to the reason above, but with slightly less emotion attached to it. Your characters deserve a happy ending after all they’ve been through. Do they? Be honest. If every one of your characters deserves that ending, something’s wrong there. And even if they do deserve it, why should they get what they deserve?
Reason 3: Death is too sad and/or grotesque.
This has an a) and b) answer.
- The sad and grotesque are far more worthy of being written than the happy beautiful.
- You are the creator of this world and you have the power to make death way more interesting than it seems to be from the perspective of the living, and you’re going to pass it up because it’s too cringy to think about? Get out.
Reason 2: Readers want happy endings.
Breaking your reader’s heart is mandated by the unwritten law of writers. Okay? If you’re not breaking hearts, you’re missing out. The best part of Atonement was the Postscript because it revealed the truth: happy endings are ingenuous
Reason 5: Reality has so few happy endings, so fiction should be full of them.
This is the opposite of a reason. Not to say that fiction has to mirror reality, it’s far better for fiction should to show a reader how to deal with reality (or how not to) by revealing it honestly, blatantly, remorselessly.
Now, ignore all of what I’ve said, because how-to’s for writing are totally subjective and this really only applies to me and anyone else who feels similarly and wants to be validated. Also, don’t expect me to live by my own rules, that’s exactly when I’ll turn the tables and write the complete opposite.
Happy sad writing.