September 26, 2011

Happy Endings

I recently read a novel that featured a heroine ("lead character" might be more fitting, since she wasn't a nice person) who had some serious mental health issues, and as I read I kept wondering how the story would end, because I saw no happy ending here.

To my surprise, the story did have a happy ending, kind of like putting a Band-Aid on a child's boo-boo and have them go from crying to smiling.  While I understood the author wanting to end on an upbeat, positive note, the ending struck me as just too sunshiny to be believable.

When I submitted the synopsis for my novel If These Walls Could Talk (originally published in trade in 2007, in mass market earlier this year), it had a dreary ending that in hindsight, I'm surprised the editor approved. As I wrote the story and got to know the characters better, I decided I wanted to give them hope, and I changed the ending to give one couple a second chance and to give the impression that another couple would do all right as separate entities. I informed the editor of why I made the change, and she had no objections. I shudder to think of how the book would have been received had I kept the original ending.

Women's fiction, unlike romance, allows for endings other than the happily-in-love fade-outs.  Regardless, women's fiction often ends on a happy note, because writers like ending optimistically, and readers enjoy stories that end that way.

The novels of the late bestselling novelist Jacqueline Susann tended to end unhappily, with characters settling for what they had, usually empty marriages in which they looked elsewhere for fulfillment, in their hopes for their children, wealth and status, etc. I always felt that the point she was trying to make was the old standby, "Money doesn't buy happiness."

While looking for some new books for my eReader this weekend I came across one by an author who usually writes romances, a rather somber-sounding story about a woman driving alone who crashes and is unable to call for help, and as she hopes for rescue, she reflects on her life and makes plans for her future...a future that, according to the reviews, doesn't come to pass because she is ultimately not rescued. Some readers who wrote reviews expressed huge disappointment in the way the book ended. Now, this was an independently published novel, and indie authors tell the stories they want to tell, so just because someone wrote a few romantic stories doesn't mean all their books will be the same. Still, I think we as readers expect the endings of stories, to be hopeful, even if the story contains some sad elements within.

How do you like your endings?  Happy, within reason? Happy, even to the point where it doesn't seem realistic?  How do you feel about sad endings?


DonnaD said...

I like endings that make sense. I can live with an ending that's not necessarily happily ever after if it works for the story. I do like optimistic endings though. Romances, I expect HEA endings. That's the nature of the genre.

bettye griffin said...

I agree completely, Donna! A romance must have a HEA, and the endings to women's fiction must make sense and preferably not be pulled out of a hat, or else it rings false to me.