Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ever after

We know things about stories. They begin "Once upon a time" and end "They lived happily ever after."

Except, well, when they don't. Except for when there's a whole second act beyond "happily ever after."

I recently read a draft of a story for a friend. She started the story, she said, with the aim of finally writing something with a happy ending. But when she was finished, that wasn't what she had. Except, the ending that she had was perfect. Well-paced, all the needful emotional beats hit, and something even better than a happy ending: an ending with potential.

It made me think about what I want when I read. Oh, I have my comfort books, romances mostly, that are the literary equivalents of a cup of hot chocolate. I love those books, and they fill a need for me.

But the books that really resonate in my soul are the ones where the ending is right, rather than necessarily happy. And that's actually, I think, a much harder trick to pull off. Because the good guys don't always win, and even when they do, not everyone survives to see it. Hearts get broken, and foul deeds go unpunished. A wizard may choose to break his staff and drown his books, and there is a truth there that is deeper than the fleeting pleasure of happiness.

3 comments:

  1. I suppose that it's like going through the door with the characters at the end of the story, rather than leaving them happily ensconced behind a golden window.

    (this makes me wonder about the proliferation of Jane Austen "sequels." Where does anyone see the possibility to crack open the smooth, gleaming end of Pride and Prejudice?)

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  2. oh... and also, thanks ;) Makes me feel better about my inability to write "And they all lived happily, blissfully ever after."

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  3. Honestly, I think Jane Austen sequels come from people being overly enamoured of the characters, more than anything else.

    In all seriousness, I think your differentiation between going through the door with the characters and leaving them behind a window is exactly right. Also, why I love the ending to Neverwhere so much.

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