Todays topic is something that has been widely discussed by many writers/readers since - well since before blogging started I guess. But today I'm having my say on the matter.
In my opinion, an ending is probably one of the most important things of any story - be it in book or film or even game form. The ending in the last scene in the story, the moment where the reader/watching looks back over the course of story and thinks either "damn, that was a great story," or "that was the worst piece of s*** I've ever seen/read in my life since Battlefield Earth." An ending should leave you with a lasting impression of the whole story and make you want to recommend it to your friends - or better yet, read/see it again.
The big question is, how do you end your story. I think it's fair to say that a common opinion is that every story should have a happy ending - but then there are some who consider that cliched and prefer to go with a "darker" or "sadder" ending.
Now, I like happy endings - but I also like bad endings. But which is better? There's only one way to find out!
Actually, that's just a joke. I just wanted to get Harry Hill in my blog. :)
Anyway, onto the subject at hand. To be honest, I don't think it should be too surprising that happy endings are more popular. After all, in the old days of film, these were the ONLY types of endings we got - as the Film Code of Authority prevented evil of any kind from succeeding. Nowadays, story tellers have a lot more freedom in the way they tell their stories - and even many video games include multiple endings (some good, some bad) to make the player decide the outcome based on their choices.
If I'm being honest, I'm actually a fan of BOTH types of ending. In the old days, I used to always try and avoid a "happy" ending and tended to go for something a bit darker. But as I grew more experienced, I started to realise the importance and power of a happy ending. But at the same time I appreciated the power that a "bad" ending could have.
I'll try and explain below.
Whilst it could be argued that happy endings are somewhat of a cliche and overblown, I actually do not have a problem with them. See, for any good story to work (and it doesn't matter if it's a Fantasy, Romance, Comedy, whatever) the protagnoist needs to go through a journey. Along that journey, he or she has to suffer somewhat, ie, lose everything, fail along the way, etc. Therefore, when he/she achieves their goal, the audience feels elated and pleased for them as they have suffered with him. A happy ending for the audience is somewhat of a "pain relief" as they have wanted the character to survive. Sometimes a happy ending can be sad as well, as the hero can look back on what they lost along the way.
Two examples of where I think a happy ending can work (and I should warn you this part contains MINOR SPOILERS) is the film Slumdog Millionaire. In that film, the kid is fighting to become a millionaire and is able to answer the questions quite easily - but it's only because the questions bring up moments of his traumatic past and the horror he's had to go through. Because we are seeing his past torments, we really want the kid to win. I actually really felt myself routing for the protagonist and hoped it would have a happy ending. The other example is Pursuit of Happyness, based on the real life experiences of Chris Gardner. In that film, Chris (played by Will Smith) has to struggle with homelessness, no money, whilst trying to look after his son. It's so heartwrenching to watch as Chris is a nice guy and you really want him to do well. Then when he becomes a millionaire, you feel so happy for him as he geniunely had to struggle to get there. Or, as another example, the struggle that Frodo has to go through to destroy the One Ring in Lord of The Rings and the happiness that we feel once Sauron is defeated.
I think the general feeling of a happy ending is that it makes a reader or viewer feel fulfilled and relieved - whereas a sad ending leaves them disappointed and unfulfilled. But you should NEVER underestimate the power of a bad ending. They can have just as much dramatic impact as a happy ending, filling the reader/viewer with a sense of fear and terror, or mourning for the loss of humanity. Horror movies, for instance, usually like to put a twist at the end of it to fool the viewers into thinking that the protagonist escaped the horror - when in fact there is something else out there to put a downer on their happy moment!
But at the same time, a bad ending doesn't necessarily have to be bad in the sense that the hero didn't win - they can be poignent and have real emotional depth to them - especially if they are based on true events. For example, Titanic didn't (and in my opinion, couldn't) have a happy ending because of the people that died when the Titanic sank. Ok, so the main heroine lived on - but they still didn't excuse the fact that she lost so much, and that people died. By the same token, movies about the Holocaust can't exactly end well due to the subject matter. I even once watched a film based on the Hiroshima incident and knew full well that wasn't going to have a happy ending.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that a happy ending is great and I think I would prefer it over a bad ending. But bad endings (if done well) can have a massive emotional impact and make us really emotional.
For me personally, though, ANY ending, no matter bad or good, has to be right within the context of the story. It has to feel like a natural outcome. If you're just trying to force a happy ending into a story for the hell of it, that's wrong. And if you just want to have a bad ending just because you feel like it, that's wrong also. An ending MUST fit in with the theme of the story, no matter the genre.
For myself, I will most likely go down the route of a happy ending - but I want to make sure that my protagonists suffer along the way, so that the ending feels like a justified outcome. I do occasionally go with a bad ending now and then, I'll make sure that it is justified. My lastest book, All Hail Emperor Gothon, for example, is quite depressing and doesn't have a great outcome, given that it's a prequel to the main villain - but if you read Trapped on Draconica, you know that the story ends ok at the end.
So that's my two cents. Sorry for being a bit neutral in the arguement, but I just can't choose one ending over another. However, I always love to hear your opinions, so please leave a comment below to let me know what type of ending YOU prefer.
Thanks for reading guys. Have a great weekend!