Lynne Stringer – Author & Editor

happyendingsIt was my sixteenth wedding anniversary this week, and as my husband and I celebrated, it was nice to see others celebrate with us by offering their congratulations. Over 80 friends ‘liked’ my Facebook post about the anniversary, and it made me thankful that so many rejoiced in the sixteen years we’ve had together.

It also made me reflect on something I’ve noticed as an author, and that is that the majority of people like stories with happy endings.

Now, I’m sure you’re aware that numerous classic stories, which have stood the test of time when it comes to popularity, have sad endings. Wuthering Heights springs to mind, as does just about anything by Thomas Hardy. Perhaps one of the reasons for their endurance (in addition to the fact they’re brilliantly written) is because they’re in such a small category, because most writers seem to favour HEAs (Happily Ever Afters).

I’ve had a couple of ideas for stories with sad endings, and I’m not averse to writing one, I just haven’t had the desire to do it so far. I also wonder what my publisher would think. I’m not sure many publishers welcome those types of stories, particularly from first-time authors,  probably because they know the lion share of the market prefers HEAs.

I’m active in a number of fan groups on sites like Goodreads, and thought I’d encounter a large number of readers there who preferred books that ended sadly. I was surprised how few there seem to be. Perhaps there are more who prefer books that end realistically, although that certainly rules out some HEA stories. Because, let’s face it, if we’re being realistic, Mr Rochester would never have allowed himself to marry a mere governess, as he does in Jane Eyre; Edward Ferrars would have married Lucy Steele, not Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility; and even Cinderella would never have had the chance to even attend a ball, let alone have a prince fall in love with her.

Why is it that so many of us like happy endings so much? Is it simply the desire to escape harsh realism when we have so much of it in our own lives? It is a desperate longing, or realisation in our hearts that the world should be a happier place? I’m not sure myself, but I know I like HEAs, however unrealistic some might be.

Do you like HEAs or do you prefer books with realistic endings? Can you think of examples of both? Let me know what you think in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

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4 Responses

  1. Happy endings fit with the creation, fall, redemption model. I think this pattern is an important one in life and writing. Story arcs that come to a satisfying conclusion feel right to a reader.

    It’s like that in life too. We always have hope that things will work out, be redeemed, be alright in the end, turn out okay.

    Even if it’s not a ‘happy’ ending, the ending has to be satisfying. I’ve just finished a book with an unanswered question, but the character is at peace with that. It’s not a tragic or sad ending, but it’s not a neat, stereotypical ending. I guess I’ll have to see how readers respond to it!

    1. Yes, I think a lot depends on the reader and how skillfully it’s written, but I think we all have a yearning for a happy ending.

  2. Thanks Lynne for a thought provoking article. Personally I don’t mind a mix. Happy ever afters are lovely, feel good finishes to books and I concur with everything Elaine has said in her comments above.

    My first book’s final chapter was titled ‘not a fairy-tail ending’ chosen by my editor at the time, but it was a satisfactory ending because there could not be a happy ending. The second book was a Christian version of the first (and we are talking about non-fiction – a true and very emotional story). The conclusion came while I was trying to finish this book differently and the final chapter to the story my editor titled ‘a final twist in the tale’. Very appropriate although not a happily ever after conclusion. However, it did end with my subject gaining closure to a very difficult situation.

    I do love happy endings though. Probably a hopeless romantic!