Happily Ever After? Maybe Not.

I was having coffee with an editor the other day and we were discussing how we’re both drawn to edgy fiction. We both like to see characters struggle, be in difficult situations, overcome adversity (or at least try to). We like to read about things that are real, even if they’re fantastical. Real emotion. Real language. Real challenges. I’m not always drawn to the dark side of things but I also don’t shy away from it. I like keeping it interesting, you know?

One of the things she mentioned, and I hadn’t realized I felt the same way, is how stories don’t need to end all tied up nice and tidy. As a matter of fact, I’m noticing that I prefer some things left unresolved, some questions, some “hey, wait!” at the end of a manuscript. I kind of like some loose ends. I do also like happily ever after, sometimes. But maybe not, too.

How about you? Do you like everything all tidy at the end of the books you read? How about the things you write?


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11 responses to “Happily Ever After? Maybe Not.

  1. I like to have questions at the end that build on the authors imagination. The feeling of being provoked is a gift sometimes.

  2. Is there a happily ever after?? Whoa Nellie, we do have a problem. Our grand parents and parents for the most part were shoveling pooh when they told us those stories. What blew that apart has been the era of electronic info. If the President burps at dinner…the whole world knows by dessert. You just can’t annoint your kids or your readers with the sacred water of “Happily ever anything.” The heart of a good writer is not covered with syrup and their readers wouldn’t stand for it. I love hearts and flowers and today may be the only day I really love it (Feb. 14). No way would I read and accept a great deal of malicious mischeif either. Somewhere between the hearts and flowers and the purposeful shockers there is the truth as we see it. And that is where the story telling should maybe start. As for me, I have always adored/ spirits/ sprites/hautings. And last but not least…a strong desire to eat chocolate…

  3. I like both depending on the story. In most cases, I prefer a few loose ends. From the writer;s point of view, there is always somewhere else you can take the story. I look at the untold back story for my characters and the future possibilities seem endless.

  4. I also like edgy stories dealing with issues which is what I’m currently writing and have been thinking about how much I want to tie up the end. I like to see hope for the future mainly.

  5. This came up a few weeks ago in a twitter #MGlitchat, too. The general consensus was that while middle graders like to be left with something to think about, they also need a fair amount of closure. As Ruth said, nobody likes to get to the end and feel like the last pages are missing–like somebody’s little brother ripped them out. This is especially true for kids, I think.

  6. Sarah

    Closure doesn’t have to be happy. In my own work, the mc has to make a tough choice that costs a measure of happiness. But it’s the right choice, and that’s what makes it satisfying. I like a little bitter with my sweet.

  7. I LOVE endings that dare to not be neat and tidy—that leave the reader with something to think about besides, “Well, wasn’t that nice” (not that that’s a totally bad thing).

  8. Linda, I agree with you and your friend completely. In my ms (which is now finished and under revision) the MC is a strong female and there’s no happily ever after with her marriage. She has to start her life all over again as a single mother in a large city.

    At the end of the book, there are several loose ends which are deliberately left untied. However I placed them there because there is going to be a sequel. Already written two chapters.

    After much thought about your post, one of my favorite books came to mind, which had the most fabulous loose end of all time, GONE WITH THE WIND, and the last scene.

    We hear Rhett tell her Scarlett he frankly doesn’t give a damn and the door shuts behind him. She is sad, but in true Scarlett fashion, she believes he will return and that tomorrow is just another day.

    What a perfectly un-happy ending! It beguiled readers for nearly a half-century until someone attempted to write (ugh) a sequel.

    But then again..you have to know when to write that sequel or say no and leave the loose ends simply a twisted mess.

  9. As a reader, I hate it when I come to the last page and think, what? Did they forget to print the last pages? On the other hand, endings that tie everything up too tidily can feel phony and forced. I like to be left with lingering questions, but not to be left simply scratching my head. As a writer, I tend to go for the big crescendo. Once I’ve gotten that out of my system, I can take a step back, and start shaving. The goal is to leave just enough to leave the reader satisfied, but with enough to think about so the story continues to live in the reader’s mind long after the last sentence.

  10. Rhona

    And from the author’s point of view, there’s always room for a sequel. 😉

  11. My writing has a little bit of both. I definitely leave some things open, but I like there to be enough closure that the reader is left with more than just questions, but some answers too. I don’t feel the need to answer absolutely everything though, that’s what imaginations are for.