The stories that we remember the most–the ones that move us and make us experience the strongest emotion–these stories tend to have unsatisfactory endings.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a happy ending as much as the next reader/writer. Most of the greatest successful stories in history have glowingly happy endings–any fairy tale, Jane Austin, etc. But many of the other most popular stories–especially newer ones–tend to have cliffhangers, unhappy endings, unanswered questions, and all that good stuff.
Take Charlie Brown, the lovable underdog who’s never flown a kite, kicked a football, aced a test, or talked to the beautiful little red-haired girl. Most of his stories start and end with good old Chuck feeling depressed over a holiday like Christmas. In the end his feelings are bittersweet; but I don’t know if I’ve seen a Charlie Brown show that ended truly happily. (If you have leave me a comment and let me know.) And yet over 50 years after Charlie’s first comic strip appearance, he’s still going strong with a new movie and lots of devoted fans. It’s his humanness, his inability to do anything completely well and right, that appeals to us. That’s part of what makes Chuck so popular. (I mean, I’m sure Snoopy helped with the popularity thing…) 😊
Oh my, and then there’s Lemony Snicket, author of the wildly popular Series of Unfortunate Events and king of unhappy endings. None of the 13 books in his series end happily; a FEW of them might end remotely hopeful or at least bittersweet. And his newer series, All the Wrong Questions, (a personal favorite of mine) is even worse with endings. All 4 books in the series raise more questions than they answer.
However, that’s life, and I’m beginning to think that people like unhappy endings because they are more realistic. Like, let’s be real here–it’s highly unlikely that Susie is going to get back together with Johnny. So what does that mean for writers? I’m glad you asked. Your job is to stop with the sappy endings and write more unsatisfactory ones. Don’t tie up every loose end. Leave a mystery for your characters to solve in the future. Raise two questions for every one answered.
“Yeah,” you say, “I know you’re supposed to do that for books in a series. But what about a stand-alone novel? Or the last book in a series?”
Yes. That’s what I mean. You want to leave unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries for your reader to dream about. That’s a big thing with happy endings–they END. Susie marries Johnny and they live happily ever after. But–let’s say we end the book with Johnny asking Susie out and leave it at that. That way your reader gets to speculate and dream and write fanfics and threaten you if you don’t reveal if they get married or not… That way your stories and your characters never really die. They live on forever in the imaginations of your readers (and you!).
Well, that’s my writing tip…if it helped you or you liked it be sure to comment/follow/like. Thanks for reading!