Five Great Quotes: Writing – Talent or Hard Work?
Four writing prompts: Removal

Should you write a happy or an unhappy ending?

When writing Writing-336370_640the climax your story, you’ll need to decide if the ending will be happy or unhappy.

In a happy ending, the main character solves the story’s problems by restoring the status quo that the villain upset at the tale’s beginning. For example, in “Star Wars IV: A New Hope,” protagonist Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star, allowing the rebellion to fight another day against Darth Vader and the evil Empire.

An unhappy ending, in contrast, sees the main character either not solving the story’s central problem or in doing so dying. If in “Star Wars IV” Luke Skywalker either failed to destroy the Death Star (which means swift destruction of the rebellion) or dies when blowing it up, the story ends on a dark note.

Most readers prefer happy endings; after all, what is the point of reading a story if after doing so we feel uncomfortable or depressed? Indeed, the structure of most modern Western literature calls for happy endings, so many readers even expect it. The danger of happy endings, however, is that if not handled well, it will come off as “unrealistic” and “artificial.” While readers want and expect a happy ending, you don’t want to force a story to disjointedly fit that mold.

Unhappy endings typically are popular with critics and cynical readers. Both prefer tragic and ironic variations of endings to those that are “unrealistic” and “artificial.” After all, what are the chances that Luke Skywalker – whose never flown a combat spacecraft before – really could make the one shot that destroys the Death Star, even if he just believes in some magical concept like the Force? Of course, these readers are in the minority. And while an unhappy ending may seem more natural in real life, you really need to be a skilled writer with a powerful message to make a depressing story work. But it has been done – witness F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” or Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet.”

There are a couple of things you can do to ensure happy endings are more realistic and less artificial. One approach is to follow the dictum that anything won has to be done so at a cost. Luke Skywalker, for example, loses his aunt and uncle, his mentor Obi Wan Kenobi, and several companions from his squadron on his route to destroying the Death Star. A second approach is to ensure a fatal flaw of the character still exists at the end, though the character has improved. A Roman general might possess the fatal flaw of a superiority complex that causes him to act rashly when battling barbarians, but after a long cat and mouse game in which his forces at great cost finally vanquish their enemy, he comes away with a new appreciation of their intelligence and acumen as warriors.

Another way to avoid creating an artificial story is to simply follow British SF author Brian Stableford’s advice – simply extrapolate a sequence of events to its most fitting conclusion. Savvy readers will appreciate and respect your story for it.

Professional Book Editor: Having your novel, short story or nonfiction manuscript proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. I can provide that second eye.


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