Thursday, January 16, 2014

Do Readers Really Want a Happy Ending…No, Not that Kind

Do Readers Really Want a Happy Ending…No, Not that Kind
By Brad R. Cook

Happy endings, do readers really want them? Collectively, do we just want to believe in them, or do writers just want a nice bow to tie everything together?

I know we are writers, but I’m going to talk about a movie. I watched Twilight, Breaking Dawn Part 2 and for those who haven’t seen it yet, you may want to skip the next two paragraphs – have they moved on? Good, lets’ talk. So at the end there is a huge epic battle, beloved characters die, your heart gets wrenched several times as these characters you’ve invested in for several movies are torn apart. The bad guys get obliterated… I mean was there anything better than seeing the Volturi get what was coming to them. Then…oops none of that happened it was vision and then we get to why I wrote this post. The movie ends not with an epic battle but everyone agreeing we don’t really want to die today so we’re all just going to go away and leave everything as it is. (I know the book ends differently, but I’m talking about endings, I could care less about Twilight, except for Alice and Jasper, I liked them.)

My point, the movie ends not with the emotional heart wrenching ending that would have left me scared for days. It ended in a happy, everything’s going to be okay, kind of way.

I felt robbed. I wanted the emotional jarring; I wanted to sit around and lament Jasper, or bask in the glory that was Jane being ripped apart by wolves.

Okay, you can all come back now.

That made me think about endings. I write a lot of middle grade, and they almost always have a happy ending. I get it, kids need to believe that everything is going to work out in the end, and the emotional wrenching they got during the story can be eased by an ending that wraps up all the loose ends and knowing the characters will be okay until the next book. I consider this part of the “It gets better,” campaign. Which can be helpful to all kids.

But for adults, NA, Y/A and more, do we need the happy ending, do we want the happy ending? I love when a writer surprises me, when I get a twist I wasn’t expecting. I’m not referring to the gimmick twist, or the non-ending when nothing is resolved as the writer gears up for book two.

Would you really have wanted Romeo and Juliet to run off and live happily ever after. Two star-crossed lovers…who ran off to Genoa together. No, the tragedy has made it timeless.

If you are looking for happy endings then look no further than A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as Puck sets right all the night’s crazy antics. Everyone wakes in the morning and all the strife of the day before is gone, leaving only the lovers with the implication that now they shall live happily ever after.

So what is your ending preference? Do you have a favorite ending to a novel? Let us know in the comments.

I leave you with this…
If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.  ~Orson Welles.  

Brad R. Cook is a historical fantasy author and President of St. Louis Writers Guild. Please visit , follow me on Twitter @bradrcook , or my tumblr page Thoughts from Midnight


  1. I think it's very much darned if you do and darned if you don't. Some readers like pretty bows at the end while others like room for interpretation. I think by and large people much prefer happy endings but those aren't usually the endings that get people talking.

    1. I agree. I think on some level endings may be defined by the style of the rest of the novel. A happy book probably needs a happy ending, but a gut-wrenching book may require that ending everyone will talk about.