Tag Archives: Happy endings

Fairytale Endings

Deciding on the ending to a story is one of my greatest writing challenges. I enjoy it, but I find it tough nevertheless.

Fairytale endings annoy me. Even putting aside the question of death, people just don’t live happily ever after, in my experience. You can marry the one you love, but there will be challenges and troubles, temptations and arguments down the line. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just life. You can find the person who killed your daughter, even find her alive and trapped in a cell, but there are going to be years of therapy, guilt and fear to go through afterwards. So even if it’s realistic for the characters to get together / solve the murder / etc, I don’t like it when the end of the book implies the end of the story.

But as often as not, happy endings aren’t realistic and are hideously predictable. As readers, yes, we want everything tied up nicely, but is it realistic that even the minor characters find true love / solve their problems / whatever at the same time as the major ones?

Of course, annihilation endings are pretty rare and also hard to get right, and leaving things open can seem to the reader like a cheat or a pitch for a sequel, both of which are annoying too.

In last week’s Friday Fiction, I wrote something that arguably wasn’t a story so much as a scene: A dentist, looks out of his window and sees a woman getting off the ferry every Thursday. He feels a connection, but never spoken to her. Many readers wanted him to run out and get the girl – you’re a bunch of romantics!

Unusually for me, the scene is based on a true story. I used to walk down a hill to work, and at least once a week, sometimes more, I’d pass this one guy walking up the hill.

I saw him so often, I felt a sort of connection with him. I never spoke to him, and I certainly had no dreams of a romance with him (I was happily coupled up), I just felt a little connection. Seeing him made me smile, not seeing or speaking to him didn’t make me sad, but I did sometimes wonder about saying hi, making that connection real.

The point is, this story has a happy ending (I’m happily married, in spite of the trials and tribulations we, like all people, endure), but it also has the same ending as the one I wrote.

As writers, we don’t want to leave our readers hanging and unsatisfied. It’s part of our contract that if they read to the end, we’ll clear up our messes and leave our affairs in order. But we shouldn’t be afraid to surprise them, to play about with the concept of the happy ending, and to admit that in life there’s more than one sort of happy and only one real end.

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Inspiration Monday / Monday’s Challenge

A tough one this week – why do I set myself these challenges?! I’m going to try to write a children’s story as promised in Monday’s post AND use one of BeKindRewrite‘s prompts. Let me know what you think!

UPDATE: Huge thank you to Sam Agro, who heard about Sally Duck and sketched me the amazing illustration you see below. I am constantly amazed by the talents of my friends. Do check out his blog to see what else he can do!

What Are You Going To Do With It?

Sally Duck liked to watch the river from her nest. One day, something exciting bobbed past on the river. It was square and brown. Sally Duck jumped out of the nest. She chased the something as fast as she could. She paddled with her feet. She flapped with her wings. She quacked with her beak. When Sally caught it, she picked it up in her beak. It was big and soft. Sally Duck carried it back to the nest.

“What is it?” asked the ducklings.

“It’s bread,” said Sally Duck.

“What are you going to do with it?” asked the ducklings.

“Eat it!” said Sally. She shared the piece of bread with all the ducklings. It was very tasty.

The next day, something exciting bobbed past on the river again. It was long and thin and white. Sally Duck jumped out of the nest. She chased the something as fast as she could. She paddled with her feet. She flapped with her wings. She quacked with her beak. When Sally caught it, she picked it up in her beak. It was big and light. Sally Duck carried it back to the nest.

“What is it?” asked the ducklings.

“It’s a feather,” said Sally Duck.

“What are you going to do with it?” asked the ducklings.

“Line the nest with it!” said Sally. She dried the feather in the sun and lined the nest with it. It was very warm.

The next day, something exciting bobbed past on the river again. It looked like a silver circle. Sally Duck jumped out of the nest. She chased the something as fast as she could. She paddled with her feet. She flapped with her wings. She quacked with her beak. When Sally caught it, she tried to pick it up in her beak. It was big. It was not soft like the bread. It was not light like the feather. It was hard to pick up.

By the time Sally got it back to the nest, she was very tired.

“What is it?” asked the ducklings.

“It’s a can,” said Sally Duck.

“What are you going to do with it?” asked the ducklings.

“I don’t know!” said Sally Duck. “It is no good to eat. It will not help to keep us warm.”

The ducklings tried to eat the can but it tasted bad. They tried to sleep against it but it was cold and hard. Sally put the can at the edge of the nest and went to sleep. The next day, it was still there.

Sally put the can outside the nest on the ground. Then she heard a voice. It was a little girl.

“Look, Mummy,” said the girl. “That duck is drinking from a can!”

“Cans are not good for ducks,” said Mummy. “Let’s take it and throw it away properly.”

The Mummy bent down and picked up the can.

“Would you like to feed the duck a bit of your sandwich?” Mummy asked the girl.

“Yes please. Here you go, duck.” The little girl threw a piece of bread into the river.

Sally Duck chased it as fast as she could. She paddled with her feet. She flapped with her wings. She quacked with her beak. When Sally caught it, she picked it up in her beak. It was big and soft. Sally Duck carried it back to the nest.

“What is it?” asked the ducklings.

“It’s bread,” said Sally Duck.

“What are you going to do with it?” asked the ducklings.

“Eat it!” said Sally Duck. She shared the piece of bread with the ducklings. It was very tasty.

“From now on, I will only chase bread and feathers,” said Sally Duck.

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Open to Interpretation

As a writer, writing, I generally have a strong impression of the surrounding truths of the story I’m working on. Even in a short piece, such as the 100 word flashes I post every Friday, I know a lot more than I put down on the page. With a first person narrator in particular, I may not give you the age, description or even gender of the main character, but I know in my head a few salient pieces of information and I definitely know whether it’s a male or a female character I’m writing.

Similarly, I know a lot more background than I can give to the reader. In Friday’s story, which I wrote based on a picture of barbed wire (you can read the story by clicking the “Previous Post” link at the top fo this page), I had a strong feeling in my head that the main character was the reincarnation of a holocaust victim who had died in a concentration camp. I gave hints of this in the piece, but I couldn’t find a way to give it all, and in particular to make the reincarnation element crystal clear (as opposed to this being a holocaust survivor some years later), without breaking the flow of the story and interrupting with pure exposition.

Maybe, to an extent, this is something I will get better at with practice, but I am also a firm believer in the reader finding his or her own way through a story.

In another recent fiction piece (http://wp.me/p1PeVl-6i), I wrote about a bench at the end of a tunnel with a plaque to the memory of a young girl. I deliberately gave no clues to the fate of the girl apart from the years of her birth and death. There were two reasons for this, one was that I simply couldn’t decide in my own head what had happened to her, but the other reason was that I wanted the readers to decide for themselves. And people no doubt did.

It’s a difficult line to tread. I don’t believe readers need happy endings, but I do believe readers want answers and resolution. I find it immensely frustrating when a writer sets up a dilemma and then fails to resolve it (Jodi Picoult is an expert at doing this – I don’t read her books anymore as a result). If there’s a twist, we want the writer to give us a fair chance to have seen it coming, even if we didn’t, so that afterwards we can look back and go “Oh, that was a clue!” and, importantly, so that we know when we get to the end that our reading is “correct”. The reveal has to be clear enough, but so do the clues before it.

In my view, the barbed wire piece just about succeeds. If you read reincarnation and holocaust, I think you would look back and find enough pointers to confirm you were on the right track (although if you didn’t, I think you could read the whole piece without seeing them). But I can’t decide if the tunnel piece is a great work of reader involvement, or a frustrating cop-out on the part of the writer. I’d love to know what you think about this balance.

If you read the tunnel piece and you want answers, here’s what I think happened. (If you don’t want to know, stop reading now.) It’s easy to assume that the girl was (raped and) murdered in the tunnel. A perfectly valid alternative would be that she took an accidental overdose of drugs there and died as a result. There are probably a few other possibilities. Given the state of the tunnel and the recent nature of the bench, not to mention the location of her ghost, it is unlikely that it was just here favourite place to walk or play and she died of something unconnected, in another place. But if I have to pin my colours to the mast on this one, I think she killed herself in the tunnel. I don’t think she suffered at the hands of anyone else there, although I’m sure she suffered both before and during the suicide. But I think she came down there to hide and take her own life.

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