Happy endings, sad endings, open endings…

All good things must come to an end…but what is, exactly, that end?

Stories can have endings that are happy, sad, open, ambiguous, frustrating, set up as cliffhangers so you get the sequel…

In this month’s post, I’ll be focusing on the first three.

Depending on the genre we are reading, a “happy” ending can mean different things. In a mystery or suspense novel it could translate to a satisfying resolution to the conflict, as well as the antagonist facing some form of punishment. In romance, it’s all about love beating the odds and succeeding above all obstacles. The reader is usually left with a smile or with a feeling of satisfaction if the story was resolved in such a way that it respects the world created and it doesn’t feel like an unexpected twist that appeared at the last minute.

There are obviously bittersweet endings, where loss or frustration are included but there’s an overall sense of contentment. Think Harry Potter, Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers (2018), Marian Keyes’s novels…it’s a long list.

Sad endings leave readers bummed. Either love doesn’t overcome obstacles or the main character dies or something terrible happens…You get the gist. There may be an underlying sense of “the loss adds more meaning to the story”, as happens in Allegiant (2013), Before I Fall (2010) and The Fault in Our Stars (2012). Yes, there is a clear message that has to do with what happens throughout the book, and the ending is meant to reinforce it, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be sad (and maybe a little frustrated).

Then there are open endings, which may leave some things up for readers to decide, like The Giver (1993), Gone Girl (2012), Lord of the Flies (1954), or that simply don’t answer certain questions because it has to do with the story, like Tana French’s In the Woods (2007). These can be a bit frustrating for some readers, as most genres and books usually include clear-cut (or at least hinted-at) endings, and running into an ambiguous or open-ended book can be annoying. Yet open endings also allow readers to keep thinking about the story long after they’ve finished it.

What’s your favorite type of ending? Do you think it’s better to have sad, realistic endings instead of happy endings that go against the world created by the author? Do you like open endings?

Moira Daly

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