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Do You Have to Write Happy Endings?

do you have to write happy endingsIn the 2003 film adaptation of Peter Pan, Wendy describes the stories she’s been telling the Lost Boys as “adventures, in which good triumphs over evil.” In response, Captain Hook sneers, “They all end in a kiss.”

Like Wendy and the Lost Boys, millions of people escape into the world of fiction to find happily-ever-after endings. We cheer when the good guy defeats the villain. We applaud when true love conquers all. We find hope and encouragement in the fictional examples that peace and happiness await on the other side of seemingly insurmountable trials.

Without doubt, happy endings are enjoyable, uplifting, and reaffirming.

But does this mean all endings should be happy? Are sad stories with sad endings the domain of the lonely, the manic-depressive, and the masochistic?

In his essay “Writing toward the light” in The Writer, creative writing teacher and short story author David Harris Ebenbach shared his experiences:

More than once I’ve been asked why I don’t write happy stories. I’ve been asked by friends, family, strangers, and even the president of the college where I teach. My wife, too, messed up a perfectly nice date by reminding me in the middle of my complaining about how hard it is to get published that, after all, people like to read about hope, beauty, and wonder.

Is that what we’re doing when we write sad stories? Are we squelching hope, beauty, and wonder?

Or are we perhaps exploring the opposite side of the same coin?

Life is just as full of sadness as it is of happiness. To ignore that fact is to limit both our personal experience of human existence and our ability to write truthfully about life. To cap every story with a happy ending is dishonesty to both ourselves and our readers. The moment fiction becomes dishonest is the moment it becomes useless.

Novelist Aryn Kyle commented in her article “In defense of sad stories,” also published in The Writer:

“You should write something happy,” people tell me, and I don’t understand. Happy like Anna Karenina? Happy like The Grapes of Wrath? Happy like … Catch-22 or  Hamlet?

Take a moment to think about the stories that have changed your life. Many of them were undoubtedly stories of pain, loss, sacrifice, and sin.

These are stories that speak bluntly about hard subjects and force their characters—and their readers—to face hard truths and, hopefully, walk away from those realizations slightly different and perhaps slightly better. Few of us would want to subsist on a steady diet of tragedy, but all of us are better for having occasionally cleansed our reading palate with the astringent bite of these unflinching portrayals of bittersweet truth.

As writers, not all of us are cut out to write the next Crime and Punishment. Light humor is just as valuable as stark reality. But if we’re going to call ourselves authors, we must be brave enough to stand unflinching before the truths of life, even—and perhaps especially—those that don’t end happily ever after. Readers won’t hate you for writing a sad story. In fact, if you execute it properly, you have the opportunity to leave an impression they’ll carry all through their lives.

Sad stories don’t have to be depressing stories. The stories that have broken my heart and changed my life are stories of great tragedy, but they’re also stories of great hope. That, right there, is where we find the true power of the sad story—because light always shines brightest in the darkness.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you ever written a sad story you were afraid would turn readers away? Tell me in the comments!

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K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I think out and out happy endings (and they lived happily ever after) or devastating sadness are both quite rare in adult fiction, they make the story feel melodramatic and contrived.

    Most stories have a mixture. How to Kill a Mockingbird, Boo Radley saves the kids, Tom gets killed, life goes on. Cuckoo’s Nest, the Chief suffocates McMurphy and then escapes the asylum (quite an uplifting ending). Catcher in the Rye’s ending is neither happy nor sad.

    I would suggest what you want to avoid is a simplistic ending, happy or sad.

    Moody Writing

    • Brian Berta says

      One of my biggest pet peeves is how people say that all tragic endings are bad. Sometimes, a tragic ending can be more effective than a happy one. I like the feeling of reading/watching something with a tragic ending, knowing that it will end in a sad way, feeling sadness throughout it, and feeling even more sad when the tragic ending is about to happen. It hits me very hard, and it makes me feel a lot of sad emotions if I’ve become attached to the characters in whatever has a tragic ending. However, if I know that something is going to end in a happy way, it destroys that sense of sadness, and I usually don’t feel tension or suspense at all near the final act if I know that all of the characters are going to make it out okay. This applies to many books, movies, games, etc.

  2. There’s nothing wrong with sad stories. And I marvel at writers who can plumb the depths of depressing material and make it real. But marketing the stories is a different issue — I’m thinking of how the ending of movie Pretty Woman was changed from Gere and Roberts going there separate ways (a realistic ending) to the fairytale end scene that’s now movie history.

    Ultimately, though, I’d like to think readers read for truth. And if a writer has achieved that, sad story or not, people will value it.

  3. moody makes a good point. I tend to like happy endings because there’s enough unpleasantness in real life. But I also like ambiguous endings where there is a resolution and some of the things you hoped would happen did but perhaps not in exactly the way you guessed. Ship Breaker is a good example of what I’m talking about. That said, I also enjoyed The story of Edgar Sawtelle, which is not happy. At all.

  4. Very pertinent for me at the moment as I’m struggling with the ending of my book.

    It is about a Aussie teen who gets cancer so it isn’t a “happily ever after” fairy tale. I hope that the reader can get the good aspects out of the characters. I can’t just wave a magic wand and make her all better and cure all the kids on her ward. Making the sad parts of the story go away would in some way reduce the power that these kids can hold.

    Through the pain i hope that i can show growth and love. I guess that that is what we need to get out of sad movies. something positive. Have a good cry, connect with someone in a bad spot and get on and do something with your own situation.

    anyway excuse the dribble it is after midnight and i’m off to bed before i write any more blog responses.

    great post and great blog

    sarah ketley

  5. My writing tends toward the maudlin, naturally. I find I prefer those because we get happy endings at nearly every turn! However, I find I often have to ‘defend’ my choices and resist changing to fit what everyone else believes is a better way – the happy ending. I think there’s room for both, but not a lot of acceptance for both.

  6. I agree that the power of tragedy in literature seems to have waned somewhat in modern times. I can really only speak from experience in my genre, fantasy, but I remember how must many people hated Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin, and that was a tragedy in the classical sense.

    I set out to write a tragedy and found that in the end I couldn’t pull a Shakespeare and kill everybody off, but it did end up tragic for more than one character. I’d label that a tragicomedy, which also seems to be written less and less in our culture. It seems we don’t like to mix our genres too much.

    Good post and it’s always important for readers to remember the breadth and scope of human experience when writing.

  7. @Mooderino: Very well said. I couldn’t agree more. Bittersweet endings, to one degree or another, are almost always the most powerful. Life rarely leaves us entirely without a spark of sadness – or entirely without a spark of hope. And neither should our stories.

    @Bluestocking: Truth is always one of my chief as as a reader (and a writer), but, as proven by the Pretty Woman example, many readers want escapism instead. Would Pretty Woman have been ad popular with the alternate ending? Probably not. Would it have been more powerful? I bet so.

    @Mshatch: I would venture to say that almost everyone prefers happy endings for the most part. I certainly do. But happiness, as you and Mooderino have pointed out, is rarely fairy-tale complete. The characters rarely escape from their trials completely unscathed, and so there is some sadness over what they have lost, even in the midst of their triumph.

    @Sarah: Great example of how to use sadness, not to depress, but ultimately to uplift. Your story sounds like it has all kind of meaty opportunities for depth.

    @Tawyna: Because many people use fiction as an escape from the problems of their own lives, they want to find happy endings. So happy endings are always more popular. But if you look at some of the most enduringly powerful stories through the ages, you’ll find plenty of sad endings. Know your audience. No what they’re looking for, so you won’t turn them off with the wrong kind of ending.

    @Brokam: I’m in the midst of writing a comparatively sad story (hence the inspiration for this post), and you’re right – it is more difficult than slapping on a happy ending. But following the dictates of the story is always its own reward.

  8. I think I prefer a lingering overtone of melancholy rather than a sad or depressing ending. I think I like the bittersweet balance in a Nicholas Sparks book…where we swallow the pill with a spoonful of honey!

  9. When I was 10 years old I was shocked when Robin Hood died in prison in the last chapter of the book. I expected a happy ending and justice for the big hero. Later I learnt to appreciate books without a happy ending >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  10. @Desert: Nicholas Sparks seems to have discovered the formula for presenting sad stories the public still love.

    @Cold: Guess I haven’t read that version! Most of the Robin Hood stories end by blithely overlooking the fact that King Richard dies and Prince John becomes king in his own right. What happens to Robin and his amnesty then?

  11. I used to be a “happy no matter what” ending type of person. But as I’ve gotten older (and hopefully, a little more mature) I’ve gravitated more toward the type of ending the story demands–providing, of course, that good triumphs over evil. Most of my story endings now tend to be a mixture of happy and sad, but always filled with hope.

  12. Hope is the key. A story can be tragic as all get-out, as long as it ends with a ray of hope shining through the darkness. Readers accept that sadness exists (how can any of us not?), but hope makes it bearable, makes it possible to believe joy will rise again.

  13. I somehow don’t think it was the wife who “ruined a perfectly nice date”. Be sad by all means, but don’t be pretentious.

  14. Well, we can hope Ebenbach meant it with tongue in cheek. 😉

  15. Probably not a happy ending. My MC has to make a tough choice, and I doubt he’s going to be dancing in the roses about it. But it is for his own good. 🙂

  16. Those are often the best endings, IMO. I love it when heroes make hard, right choices. They made the right choice, so we can rejoice for that, but the ending still remains bittersweet because sacrifices had to be made to reach that decision.

  17. Excellent post! Happy endings are nice, but sometimes fiction must imitate life. It’s within those types of endings that may not be happy, but a learning curve has been established. We learn how the character deals with their circumstance, and whether or not we would react the same way. I like ambiguous endings. It’s also what I mostly write.

  18. Happy endings are great, but I despise pat conclusions, in which every single loose end is wrapped up to a fuzzy conclusion. And I admit I tend to lean toward decidedly bittersweet endings in my both reading tastes and my own writing.

  19. I think the worst kind of ending could be described as futile. One where nothing seems to have been accomplished and neither the characters nor the reader seem to know where they’ll go from there. That’s the kind of feeling I got from Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady. Then there’s the kind of story that seems to be working its way upwards, toward a happy or hopeful solution, only to let everything plunge downward again at the very end. Either way just makes the book feel like a waste of time.

  20. In a story, something has to change, something has to be gained. That something doesn’t have to be happiness, but, you’re absolutely right, futility is, well, futile. :p

  21. “…but all of us are better for having occasionally cleansed our reading palate with the astringent bite of these unflinching portrayals of bittersweet truth. “

    What a beautifully constructed metaphor…nice.

  22. Thanks! 🙂

  23. “I like sad. It’s happy for deep people.”
    I liked Children of Hurin–don’t ask me why. It showed how the death can actually be the Gift of Men.
    As for in writing, my current WiP is a fanasty apocolypse. In other words: Death. Lots of it. But it will end with the return of the King (not Aragorn, a god-figure, so I guess it could called a happy ending.
    As for the above quote, it comes from Doctor Who, and reminds me of another quote from the Silmarillion, about the Third Theme of Iluvatar, which was slow and blended with immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came..

  24. Great quote. It resonates a lot, actually, and makes me think of the Japanese term wabi-sabi, which indicates a feeling of simultaneous happiness and sadness. It’s a very good feeling, IMO.

  25. The first book with a sad ending I ever liked was Scottish Chiefs, which was somehow filled with hope, wonder, and beauty, despite its tragic ending. The Children of Hurin though, had sooo many things happening… it was like one horrible thing after another, and I found it kind of depressing. 🙂 Still, I just watched Hamlet, and actually found myself liking the ending… Which maybe has something to do with the fact that I tried to write a story with a sad ending this year, and when I got to the end I just couldn’t do it. 😀 I have a hard time actually letting characters I like die… but I’m working on it.

  26. I’ve never written a story that ended on a sad note, but I’ve read some that do. I have mixed emotions about this. Sometimes a sad ending frustrates me, and other times it was powerful and lingered on my mind for weeks.

  27. I agree it’s not an all-or-nothing thing. It needs to feel real. I like to torture my characters, putting them through a lot of sadness and trauma, and then have a hopeful ending. I wonder if Suzanne Collins was purposely trying to be more “real” in her ending of The Hunger Games. I hated the ending because it tore asunder the very reason Katniss was fighting in the first place: her sister Prim. I think if the sad ending doesn’t have meaning, it doesn’t work.

  28. @Katherine: Oh, you and I would so totally get along. 🙂 The Scottish Chiefs has been one of my perennial favorites since childhood. It’s one of the few books that consistently makes me cry.

    @Julie: What do you think makes the difference between the sad stories that don’t work for you and those that do?

    @Jennifer: I agree. Sad endings have to have meaning, or, as we discussed in the comments above, they end up being futile. The points I covered in this post on how to get away with killing a prominent character apply generally to getting away with a sad ending, I think.

  29. This is my first time visiting your blog. What took me so long?
    Intriguing, thought-provoking post.
    Endings are often determined by genre–preaching to the choir, I know.
    In my contemporary romance novel, there is a happy ever after–but not for everyone. And life isn’t easy-peasy along the way.
    I stopped reading one book because it was all bad, badder, baddest–with not a single ounce of hope woven through it. I understand life is a delicate mixture of difficulties and dreams coming true. But when I read, I don’t want to close the book and be depressed.

  30. Well, I’m certainly glad you did stop by! 🙂 Your description of your romance novel is a perfect example, IMO. You’ve conformed to the expectations of your genre while still maintaining realistic shades of emotional gray.

  31. Marianne Spitzer says

    First, I have to say I love your blog and have learned a lot from your postings. Second, in my current WIP I was debating over which way to go with my ending. I didn’t want to do the typical “happy ending,” but I thought that is what people prefer. Now, I think I am going to go with my original idea. Thanks for always keeping me thinking.

  32. With my current WIP, there is a both happy and bittersweet part of my ending. I didn’t set out to write the story so some things didn’t get resolved. It just happened that way, the way the character arcs were. So I’m not sure. Sometimes the happy ending for my writing is obvious; other times, it’s just not meant to be.

  33. @Marianne: In the end, always be true to the story. Writers (me included) are often tempted to cave to what we perceive as reader preferences. My litmus test is always the question, “Would I, as a reader, think this is a good ending?” If the answer is yes, I have no reason not to go ahead with it.

    @Lydia: Happy endings with a twist of the bittersweet are often some of the best. They present a satisfying conclusion without being pat.

  34. I honestly thought this novel I’m working on would have a sad ending. No reconciliation of the lovers for me. And then I went and changed it. I wanted it and they wanted it. Maybe we all do just want a happy ending.

  35. I’ve done that on a story or two. I intended to give my medieval novel Behold the Dawn a sad ending by killing off a prominent character, but the story had its own (better) ideas.

  36. Excellent topic for discussion. I think stories should be told how they demand to be told. If they end in a kiss, so be it. If not, then that should be respected and even celebrated as well.

    As for me, I like some angst and emotion and a happily tragic ending. How’s that for vague?? Ha!

  37. The story always knows best. You can’t force a happy ending or a sad ending, but when either flows organically from the story’s needs, the result is often a powerful conclusion.

  38. I’m writing one now and there is a lingering fear that my story of former lovers reunited before tragedy strikes will not resonate. I also remind myself that I can’t please everyone and some people will hate / love the ending. It won’t change how I’ve decided to finish this particular story. As you say, to write the happy ever after is not always true to real life. I hope readers will care more about the meaning and themes than the sad ending.

  39. As you say, some readers will indubitably dislike it (nothing polarizes readers more than unhappy endings), but among its target audience, you’re sure to find those of us willing to step out on a limb and accept the hard truths just because they *are* truths.

  40. I’m rewriting my first and have concepts for at least three more – it seems that what I’m coming up with are endings that are happy ‘in the moment’. The feeling is that their lives go beyond the end of the book and there is something looming that they have to address; but it’s hopeful that they will face it together. Would like to say that I did it purposefully, but I didn’t notice until I wanted to comment on this post.

  41. Bravo! That’s the best kind of ending, IMO. Conclusive, but realistic in the sense of life continuing in its painful beauty.

  42. I used to say that I love stories with happy endings – and I do – but what I really meant was that I didn’t love stories with unhappy endings – and sometimes I still don’t. But I’ve noticed a shift in my tastes, especially since I wrote a couple of short stories that didn’t end happily. Maybe these unhappy endings have a place in literature after all. 😉

  43. I did write a book with a sad ending. I was unable to sell it until I changed it. I felt the story would have been stronger with the sad ending, but publishers worried that readers would not feel satisfied. And they were right. In general people devote hours of reading not to find a sad ending, but to be uplifted. I’m just saying…

    • Brian Berta says

      Your comment is actually very subjective. I’d be willing to devote hours and hours of reading to find a sad ending. It’s okay if you feel the opposite. However, don’t presume that everyone feels the same way as you. It feels like you’re trying to speak for everyone.

  44. @Michelle: Nobody can be blamed for liking happy endings. Very few of us want sad endings for our lives, and, of course, that preference is mirrored in our literature choices. But sad stories have their place too, if only to make us appreciate the happy ones all the more!

    @Kathi: Definitely true. In general, the audience for genuinely sad stories is limited to literary and some historical readers. But there’s room for a balance of less-than-happy elements in every story

  45. Many of my novel endings are both happy and sad. Happy that the trouble is over, but sad because the villain had great qualities that were wasted in his or her obsession. Either the villain winds up in jail, converted, losing his way, or dead.

    I try to vary both the type of villain in my stories and the way their threat is ultimately resolved. But since most people like to see heroes survive the ordeal, I’ll at least show them a little worse for wear, or perhaps one member or two dies at the end, or is seriously injured.

    ~ VT

  46. I enjoy villains who show enough good points that the reader can find some reason to mourn him – not his death so much as his wasted potential.

  47. HELL NO! In fact, I’d only consider a second option compared to something dark and ambiguous. Those are always better. Always avoid being too on the nose.

  48. Not all readers are enthusiastic about ambiguity. Most prefer some sort of resolution, but I’m totally on board with leaving *some* ambiguous loose ends. The story should feel as if it will continue for the characters even after the reader has closed the back cover.

  49. Daniel Ch says

    When i feel and/or know the ending will be sad i just skip the show movie or book everytime i get a sad ending all i can think is “well that was a waste now i feel crappier than before” i get the realistic and life is not always happy blah blah blah but wtf would u be reading books if not to escape reality? A happy ending leaves a good war fuzzy feeling in your stomach a bad one makes u wanna either get you money back for the waste of time or if it was especially sad throw up in the toilet. (sorry for the grammer i am nativly a polish )

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Why would you be reading books if not to escape reality?”

      Lots of reasons. I read for pleasure, for education, to learn about life, to feel emotions vicariously–both the good and the bad.

      Nothing wrong with reading just for escapism, but stories are about so much more than just that.

      • Nicolas Lopes says

        personally since happy endings tend to be the default i feel like making a bad ending without a good enough reason is kind of a betrayal of the reader’s trust

        it could be said that the author is abusing his authority over his work to cause unwanted suffering upon people

        and no i don’t think anyone is entitled to that right its like a girl who purposefully give hints to you just to reject you in front of everyone while you can argue its not wrong per say i would definitely hate such person

        i have got to say every time i see one of those sad endings i feel that its extremely presumptuous of the writer to think that he can teach a lesson to the reader

        in those cases i feel like i read a entire encyclopedia just to be told a single message which either i already knew or that i know for a fact

        if anything it makes me less likely to trust any writer and prevents me from enjoying good stories since i will be to worried about he writer being an asshole

  50. Christopher says

    Really well written article! 🙂 As I read it got me thinking about whether a negative or positive ending is less or more appropriate depending on the genre of the story. I think that literary fiction offers much more leeway in this regard, more than fantasy or romance. It seems to me that a negative ending would be less welcoming in mystery/crime, romance and fantasy. I think there’s an expectation of success in these books, and if the hero, heroine or main character fails, readers COULD be put off. I wonder if the genre one’s writing in has a strong influence on the type of ending that’s written . . . not sure. I don’t see too many stories where the “dark lord” wins, the “criminal” outwits the “detective” or the “lovers” end by hating each other. Actually, I can’t say about the latter because I’ve never read a romance novel (ha ha) but seems as if in the movies it would be against “the formula.”

    Anyway, thanks again for the link!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Genre is definitely a factor. We can’t play *too* fast and loose with reader expectations (otherwise, they get very, very cranky). But there’s a home for every story. Write the end your story needs (foreshadow it appropriately, of course), and let it find it’s home.

      I was just reading a great interview with Dennis Lehane (there we go back to Shutter Island!) in the latest issue of Writer’s Digest about how he was frustrated that so many wonderfully nuanced (and, coincidentally, tragic) stories were getting passed up by the literary awards, simply because they were squarely in the mystery/thriller genre. He said he *decided* to write genre fiction because he realized you could write something that’s wonderfully literary, even within those confines.

      • Christopher says

        Yeah! I was thinking “why not” too! Sounds like a good interview. 🙂 That’s some of the stuff I’ve been pondering lately. I want to write a fantasy story but want to deviate from the norm and make it more literary, so this is really relevant to me right now. I was thinking why can’t I write about a fantasy character who’s father suffers from Alzheimer’s (something similar, maybe) and incorporate the main character’s struggle with that. Why can’t I bring very personal, contemporary issues (but universal and timeless at the same time) and incorporate them into a genre that tends to focus more on the classic plights of fantasy. I’m sure it’s been done before, but I haven’t really read anyone who’s done that. These ideas/plots tend to gravitate toward literary fiction. And it seems, by the interview, that it is due to missing out on recognition, that writers don’t want to be devalued because of writing “genre.” I think that’s kind of limiting. 🙁

        Anyway . . . good advice—I’ll write the ending the story “needs.” 🙂

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I think that sounds amazing! The great thing about fantasy is that it’s such a milieu genre–there’s so much room for so any types of stories within the overall setting.

  51. Hi Katie,
    I am currently writing a fantasy novel that I know will not end the way reader will want it to. I have written a short story that blew the socks of many people, but a lot still commented that the ending should have been rounded up with a happy feeling. Well, for me, the story was over. The problem I am facing here is, my antagonist isn’t actually a ‘bad guy’, he’s just hugely misunderstood and had been double-crossed. So, I was delighted to read this post. The protagonist is going to have his ‘lie’ addressed and the question will be answered, it just isn’t going to be the answer everyone expects!

  52. I think the ending should be down to what the author is trying to convey in the story. You’re right, not everything should be a Disney ending. Note: I pick on Disney on account of reading the actual Hans Christian Anderson version of “The Little Mermaid.” Sorry, back to the point. I wouldn’t call my ending in my last novel mega happy or tragic. It ends with the parties who are at odds with one another coming to a reconciliation. With the one I am working on now, the first part of the novel is a collection of short stories of people being let down by the justice system. None of those stories end happy.

  53. I actually looked up this subject because I had two of my beta readers ask me if I could possibly change the ending. They were not happy with my ending AT ALL! I was expecting to hear that but not for people to ask me to change the ending. It made me feel a little insecure because I wasn’t sure if it was the ending they hated or the fact that it was sad. Up until that point the feedback had been positive to the point of manic. They were really into the characters and the story and the relationships but the moment they read the ending it was a huge drop in their enthusiasm. As a first time novelist, I’m a little unsure of myself. I want to keep my ending but I think it fits. The book is not billed as a romance novel at all. It has always been described as an epic contemporary fiction but after reading this article I’m going to stand my ground. Romeo and Juliet would end up being just a cute romance novel if it didn’t have it’s ending so I guess that’s what I need to focus on.

  54. I don’t think that all endings should be happy. Bad endings are surprising, sudden, and kind of fun. I mean, it’s not the best kind of ending for kids books, but they’re not that bad. You can have bad ending once and a while, can’t you? Cormac, age 7.

  55. Nadia Syeda says

    I’m writing a book right now. I can see the ending very clearly.He’s someone who’s manipulative, doesn’t take responsibility for his actions and how they affect others, and that all changes when a girl demands that he uses his intelligence for the greater good or else she’ll make sure he gets behind bars (and since she’s a ghost, he can’t do anything to her). He dies returning her ghost to her body (sort of like Sleeping Beauty) because every time I try to imagine a happy ending, I feel dissatisfied. He still committed many crimes. He still has a bounty over his head. How can he make a future with a princess? It’s too morally complicated for her to handle.

    I don’t know, I don’t think I’m ready to write something like that. It’s a dark reality and I’ll think I’ll cry. But maybe the readers will appreciate too. I hope they’ll understand why he had to die, why he couldn’t have a fresh start. Sometimes, the past won’t let you have a fresh start. But the girl will always remember him as her first love, the person who she shared her life with instead of being visited like a dementia-riddled grandma in a nursing home, and a person who taught her a valuable lesson about her self-worth

  56. Thank you for this; I am writing a historical novel that ends tragically for the main character. But I also saw extraordinary courage and grace in her demise which I hope I can adequately impart. I have been living with her story all my life but most especially in the last 8 years with my research. She has made me cry on more than one occasion but I also find myself wishing to emulate her. I read a similar book once where the main character died tragically and I was preparing myself for the death scene only to discover that the author skipped over that scene, depriving this reader of a good cry. Does that make me morbid? 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      True-life stories are some of the most powerful tragedies. The fact that they really happened that way, and the author did not just arbitrarily choose the sad ending, is sobering and forces readers to contemplate deep themes.

  57. Ken Farmer says

    I personally like to write hills and valleys…Drama, pathos, humor, love, tragedy, action, suspense. All of it. Every twelve pages or so, there will be something in my stories that will evoke one of the emotions above. A roller coaster, if you will. I want my readers to slide sideways to the end and just say…”Wow, that was a hell of a ride.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Although tone should be consistent throughout, I agree. I like stories that run the gamut of emotions. Joy is more poignant for pain, and vice versa.

  58. I agree with this.
    After all; even a sad ending can feel like a happy one.
    Like in Lord of the Rings; everything is stricken by war and all of the fair folk leave Middle Earth, even Gandalf, Elrond, Frodo, and Bilbo- and they leave behind everything that is left of what they love. But still there is hope. There’s still a Shire, there’s still love, there’s still things that grow and people to enjoy the peace…
    But then we also can’t help but feel sad as the grey boats slip away into the sea.
    Right now I’m working on a novel that has a sad ending myself, so this was really nice to read.

  59. Usvaldo de Leon says

    I don’t mind the ending, whatever it is, as long as the groundwork has been laid. Genre expectations would play a role here (not many romances end in disappointment), but proper foreshadowing is critical. Out of Africa is a great example of a sad ending that was properly set up – the whole thing is a slow moving obvious disaster. The reader hopes they’ll work it out but it’s pretty clear it won’t happen.

    What I would object to would be something like an Ocean’s 11 that ended “And then Danny got life in prison for his crimes and everyone was sad. The End”. Nothing in the film gives any indication of an unhappy ending.

    Stories need to end how they need to end, but they need to be properly foreshadowed to avoid disappointment in the reader.

  60. Why are you writing? Are you creating a cautionary tale? Are you trying to lift people out of their horrid little lives? There is no right answer. Only a goal.

  61. Hi Katie! Another timely post for me. Life isn’t always a bed of thornless roses, so it’d behoove us to explore those times when we experience the pokes, cuts, and bruises…then the healing that comes if we’re open to it. For myself, I’ve had many blessings in my life. But they are all the sweeter because of the valleys I’ve had to tread. I want to write that journey.

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