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Can You Live Without Happy Endings?

>> Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It's nearly euphoric, that feeling of utter satisfaction when you reach a happy ending in your current read. We're not talking about all-tied-up-in-a-pretty-pink-bow endings (blech), but rather those stories that grab you, get you emotionally involved and drag you through the pits of despair in conflict after conflict, only to place you gently on the mountaintop in those last few paragraphs.


I think of Belle dancing with her Beastly (human) prince in the ballroom. Or of Darcy’s marriage proposal to Elizabeth. Basically the opposite of the despair and emotional gutter ride readers experience at the end of Shakespearean tragedies. (My apologies to purists – I’m a fan of Romeo and Juliet, but still cannot stomach King Lear.)

Authors want to please their readers, and often assume that all readers want a happy ending. I’ll admit that I’m kinda partial to them and those unhappy endings stick like a burr in my romantic mind. But I’m curious about you all.

Can you live without happy endings? Can you ever forgive an author if the hero ends up six feet under or the heroine cannot win the day and save her fill-in-the-blank? Must your romance novels always end with nuptials or your mystery novels with a cracked case?

Why We Love Happy Endings

Story arcs map the path of a novel’s characters, and serve as an instant replay for readers as those characters fail, learn, develop and move forward. We root for our favourite characters and heap dark hopes onto those characters we love to hate. So it makes sense that we want to be the victor in the end, correct in our leanings and wearing the winner’s jersey.

But we know that life isn’t like that. Pause for thought… or maybe that knowledge is precisely why we crave happy endings.

I’m dancing in circles, and obviously need to fetch a coffee and sit down.

Creating a happy ending can be complicated when your story is set in a dark time or contains dark events. Readers raged over the way Suzanne Collins ended the Hunger Games trilogy, but the theme and plot of those books left no room for marshmallows and long stem roses. What we got was the best happy ending possible, given the story.

Writers who deal in tragic settings also deal with this issue. And their work may even be considered trite or insensitive if they overshadow the tragedy by creating too happy of an ending. Shrug. How’s that one going to work out?

What say you, readers? Are happy endings ALWAYS necessary, and why or why not?

Hoping Your Day Ends Happily,


Joanne Sher August 30, 2012 at 10:42 AM  

I do NOT need perfectly happy endings (especially the beautiful bow) - I want satisfying for sure. I do like the guy to get the girl, but everything else can be a bit more up in the air.

Great post, Di!

Deb August 31, 2012 at 10:12 AM  

I love endings full of pathos--that sense of enduring through pain and suffering, the telling of which arouses emotions. Sometimes I actively hate happy endings, but I sure do want to see all my questions dealt with (even if not actually answered). Unlike Joanne above, sometimes I don't want the guy to get the girl!

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