Ends Well

“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together: our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not; and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues.”

Wm Shakespeare (All’s Well that Ends Well)

A story in seek of an ending must be looking for a happy one. To be sure, there are those that end badly. These are never the popular ones. Perhaps it is more literary to end with a lemon simmered in vinegar and seasoned with chilies, but for me? I prefer to sop my readers with honey at the end of the trials and tribulations recorded in my tales.

The Young Mrs. Savage is not one of my favorite DE Stevenson’s, but I wanted this quote to share. It summed up neatly why I was reading that book to begin with, and some of the philosophy behind my own writing. I trust that, when I read a Stevenson, I will find at the end happiness and hope for a better future. It’s not always an unalloyed joy… but it is there. Her stories are more quiet than dramatic, and in the last few months, have been the perfect anodyne for my own life.

We read fiction to entertain ourselves, to be sure. In a world of increasing insecurity, being able to pick up a book knowing that at the end, there will be good? This is the epitome of being entertained. Lifted out of our humdrum lives which may end with sorrow at any moment, and which drag on seemingly towards no resolutions? We all want a happy ending. Humans crave it. You see the theme over and over, from the early oral traditions to the modern resurgence of pulp fiction. Oh, yes, some of the early happy endings were not what we would consider happy to modern sensibilities.

Final lines of Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well

Still and all, we crave that sweet at the end of the tale. Despite knowing, if we are adult enough to have lived experience, there are only fleeting happy endings in life, we want more of them. And for children? They should know there is that possibility of joyful climax in life, lest they choose not to live at all.

We write stories for ourselves, but also for the readers. Let’s not disappoint them with no better an ending than it should be. Instead, let us reach for the stars with the promise of something good in the future.

22 comments

  1. For fiction I want either a happy ending, or a bit of a cliff hanger. I don’t do dour very well. If the hero gives up his life for a good cause that’s fine. But if the bad guy wins, there better be another book ready to come out to conclude things in a satisfactory way.

    For non-fiction I just want what’s actually happened to be portrayed truthfully. This revisionist cr** needs to go

    1. I’ll take an older, biased work of non-fiction over some of the post-modern revisionism any day. I can spot the bias and make allowances for it based on what I know today. The grey, gooy, “Everyone is a liar and a hypocrite unless they are the victim blah blah” stuff grates. And it is lazy writing.

      [Flees stage left, pursued by a soap box]

      1. :picks up soap box, moves a little, stands on it:

        I am very, very tired of the “make the worst possible assumptions about everything, and to the heck I don’t believe in with the evidence, I’ll flat remove it if it doesn’t fit the Story” for history.

        It’s more annoying than the “write a story based on real life and then Author Anvil it to a desired version” in fiction, and that takes some doing.

        :releases the soapbox back into the wild:

        1. Anytime I see a Movie labeled “Based On Real Events”, I think “and how much of the Reality was ignored and how much did the movie makers make up”. 😡

    2. IMO The Bad Guy may kill the Good Guy but the Good Guy’s death should be shown to leading to the eventual defeat of the Bad Guy.

      IE The Bad Guy may Think That He Won but the reader and the allies of the Good Guy knows that that War will continue leading to the defeat of the Bad Guy.

      Of course, that means that the author has plans for another book. 😉

    3. I’m having a bit of a problem with this in my own writing. I couldn’t manage to make the story work, and I realized that it was because I was trying to force a happy ending on a story that didn’t have one. I hated the idea of not letting her win, but the story didn’t work if she did.

      Fortunately, it’s Book 6 of 12, so she’s down, but not out. I just need to time things so that Books 7 and 8 come out quickly afterwards.

  2. And this is one reason why sequels are so dangerous. Do not undermine the happy ending of your last story.

  3. I have grown tired of grey goo in my life. All of those little compromises that just add up and add up and add up, until the end when you don’t even realize who you were anymore.

    That’s the appeal of stories, in that way. The good ones make us want to be better than who we are, even if we’re not the best people in the world.

  4. Heh, on the “not what you think of as a happy ending”– my first thought was Salamandastron.

    Spoiler

    Spoiler.

    Third spoiler, and then if yu’re still auto-reading, it’s on you. 😉

    The grand old warrior badger that I loved, dies. But it’s a good death, and it fulfilled him.
    Same way that I flat bawled when Masterharper Robinton died, but it was still a happy ending, because it fit.

    1. I was… not cured of wanting happy endings… stamped into acknowledging that some types of happy endings were just not right for some stories? when an English teacher handed out the script/screenplay for some adaptation of The Scarlet Letter that ended with Hester and Arthur riding off in a wagon together.

      I can see why somebody might want to imagine that, but something in me just recoiled.

          1. …. I think I’d enjoy a “manga version but improved.”

            I can’t think of any theme that wasn’t either already covered in common culture, or would be improved with a popular treatment.

  5. The grey goo of life is pretty bad, but it’s the #u##ing bits of razor blades mixed in that hit hard. For that, I need escapism.
    Sooner or later, I’ll be dragged back to reality. Until then, I need escapism.
    EVENTUALLY, I will recover from the latest round of razor-blades-in-goo. Then, I will stand constant, and confident, knowing that all things shall pass. Until then, I need escapism.

  6. I would say a satisfying ending rather than a happy ending. Sometimes doing the right thing has a steep cost, and it’s hard to say that the ending of True Grit, for example, leaves Mattie a happy woman. Still, it’s the right ending for the book, she did what she had to do and never turned away from the consequences. I was satisfied by the ending, even as I wished things could have turned out better in the end.

  7. Cedar, I am right there with you.

    Every story ends with a party, and everyone is there. Nobody sacrifices their life for The Cause. Even the Bad Guy doesn’t die. (Well, except for that one time, but he was -really- asking for it.)

    Bad Guys don’t get to go to the party. (Well, except for that one time. She wasn’t actually that bad. Or a guy.)

    I’ve pretty well determined that there is no -need- to be killing off characters to build suspense. It is sufficient to -almost- kill them, that happens fairly constantly in the Angels Inc. universe. How else to show off your over powered characters but with calamities prevented by wit, pluck and megatons per second? ~:D (How does one use megatons per second without killing anybody? Carefully.)

  8. Also, happy endings are *true*

    In the end we win, they lose.

    And for anyone who wants it, we’ve already got one. We’re living in a fairy tale, and as dark as the deep woods (and they are very dark) get, happily ever after has already been written.

  9. I need a story in which my beloved and I dance in Paris before WWII, then are separated because I am drafted, and she doesn’t want to return to Jim Crow after the freedom of Paris. Then, I manage to be among the first wave on D-Day, fight my way back to Paris, and find her running a covert aid station, caring for wounded members of the Resistance.
    We reunite, only to be separated until after VE-Day.
    She is awarded the French Legion of Honor. I get the ruptured duck. Post-war, she returns to the USA in triumph, as a representative of (insert prestigious governmental agency or NGO) while I get a job teaching high school. Despite the difference in our social standing, she consents to marry me, and we have to find someplace where that is legal, because it isn’t in North Carolina (from whence we hail).
    I carry her water, until my book is published, at which point her colleagues no longer feel sorry for her.
    In the last scene, we dance again. She is wearing blue silk, with gold trim, and a blue star sapphire necklace.
    Ya know. Something along those lines.

  10. If the story is good enough, and legitimately demands a non-happy ending, then I have no issue with that. But note the caveats.

    If you can produce a, “The Cold Equations”, or a Black Easter, then please do. Not a happy ending.

  11. A tragic ending is supposed to be big and grand, and a sad ending should pull at your heartstrings in a way that says it matters. Either way, you should get catharsis, which is Greek for a good cry plus a caution.

    Opera is very good at grandiose endings. And usually not all is lost.

    But a happy ending is what people usually want.

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