Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why do we Like Happy Endings?

For most of us the perfect resolution in a book/story  is the HEA (Happily Ever After).  Especially if it’s a love story, then we readers expect the lovers to unite despite all opposition, and walk away into the sunset their fingers entwined, bodies leaning into each other. Any other ending in  a love story has us gasping  in shock.

A sad ending makes us feel cheated, even though that particular ending may have been justified. When I read Anna Karenina the ending  disappointed me. Though I loved the book I felt depressed by  the ending. I  had followed Anna throughout the book and I felt cheated, though it was and is always a writer’s prerogative how they choose to end their books/stories. As readers we have no say in that matter.

 If in the last Harry Potter book, Harry would have died instead of Voldemort I  am sure most of us readers would have created a riot. For those of us who had followed Harry for 10 years, hated Voldemort as much as Harry and other wizards, Voldemort’s death was the perfect redemption. Any other ending would have been sacrilege.

I think the reason everyone reads is because we want to transport ourselves into  another world: a world of make believe, a fantasy world, where we can forget our personal problems and troubles, fears and worries. A Happily Ever After  completes  and fulfils that journey. We feel satisfied that  things  worked out for the MC, this feeling is subtly  transferred into our own lives; we feel  things will eventually work out for all of us too.

But sad and unhappy endings bring  us face to face with the bitter truth of life: the stark  and grim reality facing us. A fear creeps in. What if there is no solution to our problems? What  if our situation does not improve? What if we don’t make it? Then what?

I feel unhappy endings  not only make us sad, but they bring us face to face with our own personal fears and demons. This  leaves us flustered, troubled and disoriented. And this feeling is transferred onto the story. A happy ending is a part of Wish Fulfillment. It brings on the Feel Good Factor.  A sign that all is well with the world and that we are on the right track and that soon things will  work out for us too.

What about you all? Do you have a penchant for the HEA, or you like a good book/story  regardless  of the ending? What kind of endings do you strive for in the books you write and the what kind of ending you prefer  in the books you read? 

18 comments:

  1. Good post my friend! I for one actually loved the ending of Anna Karenin...to me it fit with the morals of the story...I am not against happy endings but I must say that I prefer books that challenge us and sometimes a sad meaning has more "challenge" value than a happy ending...Some of my favourite books have sad endings but justified endings all the same...another one of my favourites is Wuthering Heights that also ends sadly..there is of course a place for both types of endings and there will always be readers that will want both types of endings but for me sad endings tend to outweigh happy endings because they make me as a reader question more.

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  2. A very apt post for me, as I'm currently writing a story that could be used as the basis for a movie (it's for the A Tribute to the Stars Anthology) and I'm in a quandry over the ending. Currently my MC comes out on top at the end of the story but has to kill his main love interest to do so. So it does have a happy ending because the MC survives, but not a happy love ending. I'm more than happy with that ending but will my readers be?

    Personally, unless I'm reading a romance novel, I wouldn't expect a happy ending. As long as the ending is a logical progression of all the other things that have happened, then it's fine with me. I might not always like the ending but if it makes sense then I happy!

    Great post.

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  3. Kim...I agree that the ending of Anna Karenina fitted with the morals of the story, but I still found it a sad ending. Like you some of my favourite books too have sad endings. A sad ending does challenge a reader more than a happy ending. But, I hate it when the MC dies. I feel slightly let down.

    Ellie, I am sure your readers will be satisfied with the ending as long as its justified and has reached that point through a logical sequence of events. Like you, I too like endings that make sense, never mind the fact that they are not happy ones. But, for love stories, I prefer Happy Endings.

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  4. Ack! My comment disappeared! One more time, I'm a big believer in making my readers happy. I hate picking up a book and investing my time when it either goes nowhere or there is no HEA. =)

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  5. I love happy endings :-) But not just for happy endings' sake. It's got to make sense that it worked out that way. Otherwise believability goes out the window and then I'm just not interested...

    Thanks for stopping by my blog :-)

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  6. I love happy endings, but what's more important is closure that makes sense. Kind of like what RAchel said!

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  7. I'm totally with you on happy endings, Rachna, even though I'd like to be all sophisticated and worldly and say that any ending as long as it fits the book is fine by me :). I think you hit the nail on the head as to why the majority of us feel this way.

    I'm currently writing for middle-garde. I hope to end my WIP on an open-ended note, with some room for interpretation.

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  8. You said it! I LOVE happy endings or I do feel cheated--too much time invested to feel no good resolution.

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  9. I'm interesting in lots of different endings, it doesn't have to be happy for me to be satisfied with the story. But at the same time I totally agree with you in that most people do want happy endings.

    I think it has something to do with a sense of hope, that no matter how bad it seemed, all turned out for the best. People want to believe that it's possible to be happy even after great hardship. They need hope.

    Jai

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  10. Hi! Thanks for visiting my blog. I'm a follower of yours now. I love books with happy endings. Although I realize real life is not always like that, that's why I read books, to escape reality! So I get pretty bummed if a great book has a tragic ending.

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  11. I love happy endings too but have got used to the fact that apart from romance novels, all other novels bear a fifty percent chance of going with a sad ending. If it’s logical I don’t mind, but I don’t like it when it’s deliberately done that way.

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  12. It doesn't have to be a happy ending, but if I've devoted time to a book or movie, I don't want to feel worse when it ends.

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  13. I think Alex said it very well. I don't want to feel worse after the experience.

    Sometimes a tragic ending will uplift you in some way--where a character has made a sacrifice for the greater good--like the end of Pay It Forward. You'll cry, but you still feel hopeful about the world. Or with a tragedy like MacBeth, you know justice has been done. (Although not all tragedies do that. There's not a whole lot to feel good about in King Lear. A few years ago I decided I'd seen enough of Lear for one lifetime and I won't go through it again.)

    For me an ending doesn't have to be "happy" but it has to be hopeful.

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  14. I prefer happy endings. If books are part of a series, I prefer that they are able to stand alone. Good food for thought, thank you.
    Have a good weekend,
    Karen

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  15. I avidly avoid any books that do not have a HEA. They're a must for me. I started Anna K as a kid and stopped because I heard she killed herself and I just knew there was no way I could read that. Like you, I think there's plenty of sad, horrible things in reality. I don't like them in my entertainment. :-)

    Thank you for popping by my blog!

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  16. Great question, Rachna. I like a good HEA as much as the next person and they're required for modern romances, but what I really love are the HEAs with twists. Maybe the main story resolves well, but there's a bittersweet aspect, too. I love it when an author can add in an aspect of, "life continued after this story, ya know." Sometimes that life might be good. Sometimes, maybe not, which makes me consider what else those characters might have to confront. It gives them an afterlife. To me, that's par excellence writing. Thanks for dropping by! I'll have a two-part posting next week along with a give-away. ;D

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  17. I personally prefer the happy endings,... but I also like satisfying endings and they don't always have to be happy.

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  18. Hi Friends, thank you for chiming in. We all agree that the ending should be satisfying and should have reached that point logically, and should not make us feel worse or depressed after we have finished the book. After, all we read because we want to be entertained and not depressed.

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