I’ve been on a kick lately: NO HAPPY ENDINGS. Not necessarily sad and depressing, but more unexpected. Jarring. Close the book and say to yourself, “That was an effed up ending.” I don’t like them at first—partly because I’m in shock. Or because I foresaw a way it could work out with the characters and then at the last minute something changed, a wrench was thrown in, things went haywire and then…
It was over.
Uggh! It’s so frustrating, but in such a fantastic, thrilling, I-want-more sort of way.
I didn’t realize, but I write this way too. In fact, my agent says that’s one reason she signed me. Because I didn’t have pretty pink bows tying up everything. I left friendships in turmoil. Relationships hanging unresolved. Questions unanswered. And you know why I wrote that way?
Because that’s what happens in real life.
Think back to your teen years, or even now. Have you ever had a relationship fall apart and NOT be mended perfectly back together? A boyfriend who broke up with you or you him and never speak to you again? Yeah, me too. Friendships that fizzled out and never rekindled? Uh, huh.
So, you might be asking yourself, how can you write a book with a non-happy ending without it coming across as too dramatic, forced, depressing, or like a soap opera? One word. Hope. If there is even the slightest inkling of hope, the idea that things can get better for your characters—no matter how small—the story will work. It will be believable. But it needs to be valid. Depressing/jarring endings will appear soap opera-ish when there’s no need for them to be depressing/jarring. For instance, if everything turns out fine at the end of your story and the MC 'wins' as it were, and then a supporting character dies for no reason, just to give depth or something…well, let’s just say the effect of that is like emotional porn.
But be careful. There's honest/realistic endings, and then there's leaving things so open that the book feels unfinished. You need to carry the protagonist’s journey naturally through to the end.
I’m not saying I despise happy endings. Sometimes those books are nice to read. To see the protagonist get the girl or the job or find his long lost parents after years and years of searching. But I find the books that don’t end all pretty and pink are the ones I think about long after I’ve finished them.
Have you read any books where the ending floored you? Did you like it? Why or why not?