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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Happily Ever After

Does your novel need to end in a happily ever after scenario? That's a question we discussed this week on the #WritersRoad chat and people came up with many different answers. The general consensus was that most people liked a happy ending, they wanted it to feel natural, as if it wasn't forced by the author. But there were many different version of what exactly a happy ending is.

Some genres are more likely to have a happy ending while others are not. Cozies almost always tie up neatly with things turning out well for the protagonist in the end. One never knows with sci-fi and fantasy (which I discovered is a big reason I love it so much), and horror almost never ends well. So it's clear that there are some genre-related expectations. Does that mean we have to follow them? Heck no, we're fiction writers after all. But it is good to be aware of what the industry may expect. 

It took me a few books to realize I wasn't the one who got to decide how the ending turned out. This hit me when I came to the end of a fantasy trilogy and had no idea which decision I should have a particular character make. Then it hit me, it wasn't up to me, it was up to her. I allowed her to make the decision she would have made~true to her character~rather than force something else on her. That was the moment I knew happy endings weren't a necessity, staying true to the story and the characters, was. 

33 comments:

  1. I'm struggling with this right now because the ending I envisioned when I first planned my novels isn't the one that is evolving right now. I'd planned a not so happy ending, but after spending so much time with my character, I'm not so sure I can do that to my MC. But I need to get over it--torturing the MC is what it is all about anyway, right?

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  2. I love a happy ending, but I can handle a not-so-happy one too - as long as the conflict is resolved. I hate that moment - in a book or movie - when it finishes abruptly and I'm still waiting for answers.

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  3. I love that insight, Heather. It's up to the character. If it's not clear what the character will face and choose at the end, (and the seeds are planted so it could go either way) so much the better for the page-turning quality of the book. I'll bet your ending was great.

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  4. Heidi, that's happened to me too! And yes, unfortunately, that's what it's all about! It's tough when we love them so much though.

    Amanda, me too! I like all the loose ends to be wrapped up.

    Linda, it really is! And thank you. :)

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  5. Great insight. Yes, that's a tough one. Some readers complain if an ending is realistic, rather than a forced happy ending. I agree with you that it should be character driven.

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  6. Great food for thought. I prefer a happy ending or at least a happy-ish ending, but sometimes it works better the other way. I think, ultimately, the ending has to be satisfying, however it ends.

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  7. Lin, it is tough! One thing to remember is that we can't please everyone so in the end we have to go with our gut.

    Elle, exactly! Well said!

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  8. My endings never seem to end the way I thought they would when I started :-)

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  9. I have to say, I am a sucker for happy-endings, it's the only way for me to watch/read a stressful or emotionally charged movie or book.

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  10. When you reach an ending you never know what might happen. Unless you write contemporary romance, then it is a given it better be a happy ending or your reader will have something to say about it. :)

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  11. I had that problem when I finished my Nano last year. As I reached the very end, I wanted that... Happily ever after, tie everything up in a big, pretty bow.... And instead, the story ended with a lot of things... Well, open. I had finished the primary story, but all of the characters had lives to lead that they would deal with, without me.

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  12. Great points.

    I've noticed that about SF/F, too. I'm in the middle of reading a Science Fiction anthology, and it's interesting to see the contrast between the happy endings and the not-so-happy ones--and how they related to the characters.

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  13. I love happy endings. They don't happen enough in real life...
    erica

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  14. I always let my characters decide who they are. Makes life easier for everyone. :D

    I prefer happily-ever-afters, but I don't complain too loudly if the book doesn't end that way.

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  15. I will resolve certain things, but during the story I throw something at you so that it makes you want to get that next book, by golly!

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  16. Sarah, me too! Funny how they surprise you like that isn't it?

    Saba, I have to admit that I love them too!

    Ciara, lol! So true!

    KCarey, congrats on your NaNo project, even if it didn't turn out like you expected.

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  17. Golden Eagle, I completely agree! Not knowing how it will end is part of the excitement for me.

    Erica, so sad and true!

    Stina, me too, for the most part. I have been known to throw books though.

    Lorelei, something enticing near the end is always a good idea. And you my dear are a master at it. ;)

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  18. Heather, it wasn't too bad. I looked around for the 'ending' I wanted, then realized that not all stories have to have that "THE END", and that some are just fine with 'The rest, is another story'. It's a great ending, makes me smile as I look at it now [or think about it, as I haven't even touched the story since November...], cause... It leaves it open to the readers imagination about what happens now.

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  19. KCarey, sounds like it has grown on you! Tthat's excellent. I really enjoy endings that leave the readers thinking so I don't think that's a bad thing.

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  20. Heather this was a great chat. And what a great example of how to end the book. Allow the character to decide. I actually had a happy (still open for interpretation) ending, but then I let fate decide. And fate gave what could be a happy ending to some, and others... oh no! And you're right, I didn't decide... it just had to be.

    Thanks for hosting this great discussion, and the wonderful recap. I'm excited to get to the end of your trilogy and see the decision she makes.

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  21. Excellent point! I adore a happy ending, but sometimes when you read something you can just feel a HEA wouldn't stay true to your story--or your characters. Tough call to make, though!

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  22. If I had my way, every novel would have an unhappy or very ambiguous ending. :) However, for the genre I write in, it does need to have a happy ending, so I suck it up!

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  23. I love books that have a more realistic twist to the end. Books that aren't all happy sunshine and lollipops because it makes me suddenly dislike a character I may have felt an affinity to for the whole rest of the book.

    Endings need to feel right and not forced. Whatever feels right when you write it - probably is :D

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  24. Karlene, you're welcome! I love how your book ends, very organic to the story and characters.

    Lorelei, you're very welcome!

    Portia, unfortunate but true. It is tough isn't it?!

    Talli, me too! That's the nice thing about reading certain genres though, you have an idea of what you're going to get when you want a little consistency.

    K.T., exactly! That's the key, it shouldn't feel forced. Well said!

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  25. I LOVE this post!! I'm a sucker for happy endings, I admit it. BUT that doesn't mean I'll always write them! In fact I torture my characters so much throughout I'm not sure you could call anything a purely happy ending.

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  26. That's a very good point you make, and you're right. It's not up to us to make things proper in the books. Our characters decide everything; we simply write so the world knows what they've done in our heads. I have story that I'm working on that doesn't have a happy ending. It's a very tragic tale, yet that's what makes it so great. All the building up I do for it is put down near the very end. It's a hard thing to write, but it's a story I'm sure the world will love.

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  27. Great post with some really good advice. I'm just stopping by to let you know I've given you a few awards at my blog.

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  28. If we listen to our characters, I don't think we, as writers, can make bad choices. We must be true to the story.

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  29. Yep. I absolutely agree. Some people like HEAs, but it is not easy to just force that fit. Simone Elkeles told a story at a book signing about how Leaving Paradise refused to be an HEA and so she made her publisher sign on to take another book so she could have a happy ending.

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  30. You are absolutely correct. While I love a HEA as much as the next person, it has to be a CREDIBLE happily-ever-after. There's nothing worse to me than a contrived ending that basically makes no sense. Closure, for me, is what's most important.

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  31. Lisa, lol! I would expect no less from you my dear.

    Forbidden, exactly! Tragedy is what makes us love many stories, so true!

    Stephanie, thank you, on both counts! I'm on my way to check them out.

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  32. Isis, beautifully said!

    Christa, lol, I didn't know that about Simone!

    Crystal, well said, credible is exactly how it must be.

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