The Quest for Happy Endings
Let’s talk about happy endings again. Question: why do we want to read a book with a happy ending? I know not everyone cares about that, but let’s face it, most do. I think there’s a healthy trend now days to avoid those sappy, everything-explained and wrapped-up endings that were so prevelant just a few years ago (especially in Christian fiction) but the desire for that happily ever after ending is still there. I also think there is a generational difference in play: older folks want that ending of bliss and feeling that all is well in the universe again at the conclusion of a book while younger readers (Generation X and younger) realize that life isn’t all peachies and cream and fiction doesn’t have to be either.
But let’s face it, let’s be real honest, even if you are, say, Generation Y or whatever your generation is called (I call them generation “Whatever” (said with attitude and a roll of the eyes)) deep down you still want a happy ending.
Why is that? Why do we preach and preach about keeping our writing real, telling the truth, and not being censored regarding language and violence and . . . whatever . . . because “it’s real life, man,” but then end all our stories with these happy little endings where mysteries are explained and all the messes are cleaned up? Is that keeping it real? Is that telling the truth? I doubt it.
My take? Reading is an escape, an escape from reality. You want the truth? The truth is that this world is an evil, degenerate place where sin rules and selfishness is god. Horrible, heinous acts are committed every day without justice, the most awful forms of pain are experienced with no explanation, questions are routinely unanswered. That’s the world we live in. That’s what we face every day. For many (most, if not all?), reading is an escape from all that and for many they don’t want to walk away from a book with the same feelings of unrest and confusion with which they end each day. They want hope, they want to know that at least somewhere, even if it is in someone’s imagination, right wins in the end, justice is served, questions are answered, and the girl really does get Mr. Right.
Is that sappy? Is it wrong? I don’t think so. In part, I think it’s what writing is all about. Yes, you want to present the world and life as it really is but also what it can be. Should be. Does that mean all our stories need to end with perfect endings where everyone is happy sappy and every question raised in the story is answered? Absolutely not. But it does mean, at least for me, that at the conclusion of the story, there should be at least some hope, some redeeming value for the reader to have spent how many hours engaged with your story.