Thursday, December 3, 2015

Happy Endings

I'm big on realism in books.  I can suspend my disbelief, but only to a certain point.  If things get too fantastical, I call bullshit and go on to something else.

Unfortunately, this can have drawbacks, and one of those is the inclusion of happy endings.  Let's face it - we live in a world that can be crappy at times.  It kicks us in the crotch and laughs at us when we least expect it.  Incorporating this into works of fiction helps add gravitas to what we're writing and lets the audience feel more like the story could actually happen.  The problem is that this can also lend itself to endings that don't always feel good since realism often produces results that aren't happy.

As writers, it's okay to do this every once in a while, but we also need to remember that people read books to escape.  We want them to connect with our characters, but they connect because they care, and people usually want good things for people they care about.  Sure, we want to see them struggling in near-impossible scenarios, but only so that they can get out of those scenarios and let us cheer their triumph at the end.

This has caused me to go back and rework the ending of my most recent work, and this isn't the first one I've done that for.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I got that people would be pissed if they invested so much effort in the main character, and all that happened at the end was that he died or became crippled or turned into another bad guy.  Most would fling the book aside in disgust.  How do I know this?  Because it's what I do.

Recently, I've found myself getting mad at movies and books that try to be "deep" by having an ending that doesn't let us cheer.  In spite of appearances, I like seeing people happy and overcoming challenges, so when folks just get sucked down deeper into the muck, I get annoyed(this is one of my biggest criticisms of The Walking Dead). The reason to invest in a character is to see them happy at the end, and when we are denied that, it affects us as well since we often see the characters as extensions of ourselves.  Why keep reading about someone if unhappiness is all you ever find?

Go back and look at all that "deep" material you've been writing.  Is there a way to make it happy in the end?  I don't mean flowery and unrealistic, but some way for the main character to come out on top.  Remember, the greater the struggle, the greater the payoff should be.  If you can find triumph in the end, include it.  Think of your audience.  Even better, think of yourself and how you'd react to nothing but crappiness.

Life is hard enough as it is.  Give it a little ray of hope when you can.

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