Sunday, January 29, 2012

Call me unsophisticated, but I LIKE happy endings!

When did stories that end happily become the literary (or cinematic) equivalent of drinking wine from a box?

I really love stories; I am in awe of great storytellers, regardless of the medium, and I respect a storyteller's right to have that story take whatever direction suits his or her fancy.  I count many stories that end sadly among my favorites, but to be perfectly clear, I completely prefer happy endings.  I like the couple to get together, the sick person to recover, the goal to be reached.  Good stories can and do end this way.  So, why is it that stories that don't end in sadness, heartbreak, or confusion (as in "wait, what just happened?") are often dismissed as commercial (although I still don't totally understand what is wrong with appealing to consumers) or worse, as unrealistic?  Nice things DO happen you know.

Here is an example:  I was lucky enough to be able to see an incredible film that just played at Sundance at a special screening (I won't spoil the film in any way by naming it).  Afterwards there was a Q&A session with one of the writers and the director.  An audience member asked if any drafts of the screenplay had the lead characters ending up together and the writer explained that no, the ending was the first scene written and it never changed.  He said he and his co-writer felt that this ending was more realistic.  The other people in the theater loudly applauded.  I was so confused- why were they applauding?  Yes, this was the best ending for these writers, but why were people applauding that the sad ending was more realistic?  The crowd was an artsy one and I could feel the judgment oozing out of our neighbors as my sister and I discussed that we liked the film but still wished the ending had been a happier one (and you should have seen the sneers that question-asker was getting- brutal!).

I don't think all films or all books should have feel-good endings, but I also don't see why stories that end nicely attract so much automatic derision as if they could never be as good as their gloomy counterparts.  Readers, what do you think?


  1. Oh, I agree with you. I'm a sucker for a happy ending. Sure, I believe some stories call for a not so happy ending and I still can appreciate them, but overall I prefer the happy ones. And there are some stories out there that have the sad ending and I absolutely love them. The Fault In Our Stars is the most recent one I read that was like that.

  2. Melissa- I loved, loved THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. That is the perfect example of a favorite story with a sad ending- in fact I cried the entire time I was reading.

  3. I don't see anything wrong with giving readers what they want. The reader always wants a happy ending for the characters. The reader develops a relationship with the text and we want the resolution to be a good one. That said, yes sad endings can work. Yes, sometimes they are the most realistic. But is that what the reader wants? I don't think so.

  4. I'd like to think that the writer writes the ending that works for the story. I suspect this is more true in books than movies.

  5. I love both kinds of endings but I hate a sad ending just because it's more shocking. I watched something this weekend I am SO conflicted about. It was happy, sorta. But I was so invested in the characters that anything but the HUGE fairy tale happily ever after was hard for me to take. Sorry if I'm rambling. This may not be the best time to answer this question. LOL.

  6. They say that art reflects life, right? I guess the question is then, 'whose life if being reflected'? When I read a book or go see a movie I'm often looking for something 'feel-good.' I guess I'm only going to get that if the author or screenplay writer is taking inspiration from the more happy parts of life. I guess it's up to me to screen better for what type of ending that I'm looking for! Three cheers for happy endings : )

  7. McKenzie- I completely agree. Most people want happiness most of the time, yes? Sure I like a good cry once every now and again, but I need daily laughs and sighs (the good kind).
    Sarah- That is a nice bit of wisdom. I hope that is what writers are thinking- what is best for this story?
    Jenny- I hate when it seems like an ending was thrown in for shock effect. I can think of one book in particular (which was a huge success) but where there was a death right at the end that seemed so gratuitious to me and it bummed me out.
    Caitlin- You never read reviews or see trailers so it's hard for you to screen out the sad endings!!

  8. I don't think we should squeeze our endings into anyone's preconceived notions. I think we need to do what is right for the story, whether good, bad or in between.


I love to get comments! Please keep them PG as I am writing for kids and young adults and hope some of them will find their way here.