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In Defense of the Unhappy Ending

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message 1: by Tamahome (last edited May 27, 2012 09:36PM) (new)

Tamahome | 4345 comments 'Escapist reading vs cathartic reading (she's not saying one is better) by Jennifer Pelland. An interesting post by an interesting writer: http://disquietingvisions.com/2012/03...


Tassie Dave | 496 comments Happy or sad, a book needs to have a satisfying end.

A book with an unhappy ending can have more impact than a typical "they lived happily ever after" ending.

The thing I love about "a Song of Ice and Fire" is that we have no guarantees any of our favourite characters are going to survive or that there's going to be a happy ending.


Travis | 24 comments An unhappy ending is not what I seek to find when I read a book. I still love to have the 'happily ever after' ending, no matter what the story. This stems from me identifying with and caring for the characters in the story.
Yet, even when there is an unhappy ending, as long as the story sees the characters coming through stronger I can still be satisfied with the ending. An 'unhappy' ending is still a good ending if everything is wrapped up in a satisfying manner.


message 4: by Kim (last edited May 27, 2012 10:46PM) (new)

Kim (shirezu) | 386 comments My problem is that though she's not saying one is better she is saying that you can only be one type of reader and not be able to enjoy both. I don't think there's a problem enjoying both types of books as long as the story works.


message 5: by Rik (last edited May 28, 2012 07:04AM) (new)

Rik | 501 comments I don't think you have to have a happy ending for a great ending. I guess its sorta of spoilerish to even mention the book I'm talking about so I'll put the book name in spoiler text so as not to ruin it for anyone considering reading it other than I'll say its a Brandon Sanderson book: (view spoiler). I think that is part of what I love about them though is that it surprised me so much and was done in such a well written if sad way.


terpkristin | 2693 comments I've got no problem with an "unhappy" ending, as long as the story is resolved in a satisfying way. For example, I didn't think the Farseer books had a particularly "happy" ending, but I was satisfied by the progression of the books and thought it worked.

One big thing for me is not having a rushed ending. That happens a lot in books I've read lately. Drives me nuts when everything gets tied up with a bow in 20 pages on a 700 page book.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 673 comments This column had one of the best explanations of effective story endings I've read lately. The author argued the audience is probably looking for the following three things:

1. Affirmation - Love conquers all, hope endures, freedom is worth fighting for, the truth will set you free, justice can't be denied, etc. You save the little kid, the evil overlord is defeated, somebody gets married, everyone celebrates the hero, cupcakes and ice cream. Ex: Frodo drops the ring into Mt. Doom and Saruon is defeated forever.

2. Explanation - All questions answered. Making sure it all makes sense also falls under this category. Ex: How did Gandalf come back from the dead? What made the Witch King undefeatable? What happens to the Three Rings if the One is destroyed?

3. Closure - How did things turn out? Did the characters have a happy ending? Ex: Sam married Rose. Frodo and Bilbo went to the Havens. Aragorn was crowned king.

You don't have to incorporate all three points into your ending, and some stories would suffer if they tried to do so, e.g., your "unhappy" ending story probably isn't very Affirming, but it probably has Closure. But if you're not incorporating any of the three, you'd better be damned sure of your writing skill, and be making a really good point.


Micah (onemorebaker) | 1064 comments terpkristin wrote: "One big thing for me is not having a rushed ending. That happens a lot in books I've read lately. Drives me nuts when everything gets tied up with a bow in 20 pages on a 700 page book."

Try not to read any Michael Crichton.


Fresno Bob | 190 comments Micah wrote: "terpkristin wrote: "One big thing for me is not having a rushed ending. That happens a lot in books I've read lately. Drives me nuts when everything gets tied up with a bow in 20 pages on a 700 pag..."

Or neal stephenson


terpkristin | 2693 comments Agreed on both counts. Stephenson, with Anathem and Reamde, went from an author whose book I'd buy on day 1 to an author whose stuff I'll buy if it goes on sale. A shame, really.


running_target (running_t4rg3t) | 52 comments Kim wrote: "My problem is that though she's not saying one is better she is saying that you can only be one type of reader and not be able to enjoy both. I don't think there's a problem enjoying both types of books as long as the story works. "

+1.

My main motivation in reading is to be entertained. If a book succeeds on that front then I win. If I get more than that; escapism, catharsis, insight, awakening, total cosmic awareness. . . even complete loathing of what I'm reading, that's a bonus and I win even bigger.


Dharmakirti | 580 comments Happy ending or sad ending as long as it works for the story, I don't much care. I would rather have a an unhappy ending that felt natural than a happy ending that felt forced (and vice-versa).


Catelijne | 11 comments ok this might sound silly.. I love a really dramatic ending from time to time but I want it to be beautiful. I remember reading a book when I was little, it was set in Pompei, in the end everybody dies basically. But the last thoughts of one of the main characters is about a future she will never get to see. It was just so beautifully written. That's all I want from a book: Beauty. Wether it is the stort or the wat It is written.


Tim | 360 comments Sad/bad endings and bittersweet endings are necessary if a happy ending is to have any meaning. By which I mean if the guy always gets the girl, or saves the world, or rescues the dragon, destroys the ring, wins the cup etc, you've lost the main source of tension in the story and it becomes almost pointless. But the story must achieve closure -- the quest must succeed or fail; the subplots must be neatly tied off, or the story simply hasn't finished.

That's not to suggest that you have to like the ending. After several months I still don't forgive Suzanne Collins for one particular ending, even though at one level I accept it was right.

I'm also with terpkristin: Rushed endings leave a sour taste in my mouth. As do epilogues. To my mind an epilogue is a sign that the author botched the ending, or rushed it. Of course there are exceptions, but very few (LOTR...). And very occasionally you end up with a perfect storm, a bad ending that's rushed, with an epilogue (mentioning no names. Oh wait, I already did!).

I should just add that I mean bad in the sense that bad things happen, not that the story is badly written.


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Books mentioned in this topic

Mistborn: The Final Empire (other topics)
Anathem (other topics)
Reamde (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Jennifer Pelland (other topics)
Brandon Sanderson (other topics)
Michael Crichton (other topics)