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As someone who doesn’t always write happily ever afters, I may be a bit biased in this discussion, but I do think it’s worth discussing nevertheless.
Like most discussions hosted here at Writability, I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong answer, though I suspect that genre expectations may play a pretty decent role with this topic. People reading horror, for example, have wildly different expectations than those who pick up romance novels.
But if we’re speaking generally, I suppose the thing to consider is what people generally expect when they pick up a novel, and how acceptable (or advisable?) it is to defy those expectations.
Usually, in genre fiction, people assume the hero will overcome the antagonist (or antagonistic situation) and live with the spoils of victory, whatever that means for the novel. But what if the hero doesn’t win? Or what if the hero wins, but the victory isn't how they imagined it, or has consequences they didn’t anticipate?
Personally, I don’t think a happily ever after is a requirement. What is required is that all loose ends are tied up and the story arc comes to completion (more on that in this post)—but that doesn’t necessarily mean your protagonist has to gallop off into the sunset on a white horse.
To me, bittersweet or even occasionally unhappy endings are a nod to reality. Because sometimes things don’t work out the way we planned or the good outcome we imagined turns out to be not so golden.
On the other hand, I think it could depend on the reason people are reading: some read to escape reality, others to see echoes of reality or view their reality in a new way. For escapist readers, a not-so-happily-ever-after may be disappointing.
In the end, you can’t make everyone happy, and as I said before, I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong answer. But it’s certainly something to think about.
What do you think? Are happily ever afters a requirement?
NOTE: Let’s avoid spoilers, yes? If you know of a book, popular or not with an unhappy ending, feel free to refer to the book, but please avoid details and title mentions. :)
Do you think happily ever afters are a requirement? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)
Writer @Ava_Jae muses on the necessity of happily ever afters. What do you think? (Click to tweet)