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Discussion: Rushed Happy Endings

So. I think we’ve all been there. We’re reading a wonderful book, and maybe there’s some heartbreak or some drama, there’s about a quarter of the book left, and we’re desperate to know “how is this going to resolve?” We’re rooting for the main character, their friends and family, and we want a happy ending. But as the pages turn, the climax hasn’t started yet. Then. The last twenty pages happen. On one page, the antagonist or drama is defeated. On the next, everything is fixed with a simple solution. On the next, we find out where our characters are now. It’s too fast, too rushed, and doesn’t feel earned.

Rushed happy endings are just never satisfying. Of course we want our favorite characters to have happy endings. We want the characters we’ve fallen in love with and followed on a journey to be rewarded. But the whole point of the journey was to earn that reward. And a single paragraph ten pages from the end where the character sums up everything they learned in some dramatic monologue isn’t earning anything. It’s very sitcom like, in fact, where the moral of the story is summed up in the last few minutes so the kids at home are taught something.

Rushed happy endings feel wrong because they’re unrealistic. A happy ending is usually still the middle of a story. The wedding isn’t the end of a story, it’s the beginning of a long commitment in marriage. The baby isn’t the end of a story, falling in love, starting a new career, all of these are beginnings or middles. So it’s frustrating to have these things thrown about in a handful of pages.

For me, the worst rushed happy endings are ones where the dramatic climax of the book just…doesn’t work. A book with minimal drama that brings in three or four surprise twist elements in the last few chapters in order to amplify the reward for the heroes feels like too much. Likewise, a book that does have high stakes and intensity throughout its story that ends on a flat “and they lived happily ever after” sort of note feels like a cop out. This is not to say I don’t want the happy ending, I just want more time to be spent on getting there.

Cop out endings are frustrating because often times, wrong doing is left unpunished. This may be the antagonist, who gets off on a technicality or warning that is undeserved. This may be the protagonist, who caused a major issue and then never has to own up to it. Sure, many readers pick up a book to escape the real world and its consequences, but even in suspending disbelief it’s difficult to reconcile a world that sets up consequences and never delivers. (I’m acknowledging that there are some genres whose tropes necessarily revolve around unrealistically low level consequences for high stakes situations–for example, superhero stories traditionally end with the bad guy going to jail but never permanently, and death is generally meaningless. As these are tropes directly and historically part of that genre, they are exempt from this discussion.)

Rushing through the climax and the ending is for me, even worse. Books set their pace. You know generally by the end of the first quarter if a book is going to be fast or slow or somewhere in between. Surprises aside, most books stick to their pacing in order to prepare readings for plot beats. If you know that every five or so chapters the next part of plot comes up, then as a reader you’re more likely to stick through slower parts for that fifth chapter, or blow through the other four to get there asap. When a book is consistent until the climax, it drives me bonkers. Partly because I set my reading speed based on the pace, and if I’m reading quickly to get through a well paced novel and suddenly find that I’ve missed the entire climax by reading it too quickly…I get disappointed. Alternately, I’ve missed climaxes by reading them too slowly and not realizing that everything is happening all at once.

Getting the pacing of a dramatic climax and rolling into the wrap up is a difficult part of writing. I’ll be the first to admit that as a writer, I’m great at beginnings, but endings aren’t my strong suit. In fact, my specialty in my creative writing courses was twist endings that basically allowed me to avoid writing the wrap up and explaining what came next for the characters. If an ending feels difficult but still manages to pull off its goal, I’m more forgiving because I can see how hard the author worked to get the beats of the climax and ending right.

I think that part of why rushed happy endings are so dissatisfying is that they often hinge on a moral or a message that may not have been present throughout the story. Getting to wrap up a story in a paragraph, or a sentence, or a page, or a short chapter requires the author to summarize the entirety of the book. It’s far easier to summarize a story with a moral–“and that’s why we don’t trust strangers in the dark woods”–than a story that’s a messy beginning to the rest of a protagonist’s life. On the one hand, no, most readers don’t want to end a book with “so that’s how this person got over their first love, but as we all know life is messy and who knows if this will happen again; probably since they didn’t really unpack how that relationship went wrong.” At the same time, we don’t want an ending that says “and they solved all their romantic issues by meeting Person B, whom they are now dating and in love with!”

What do you like or not like about rushed happy endings? What are your favorite sort of endings, and why?

By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

2 replies on “Discussion: Rushed Happy Endings”

I kind of prefer open endings to happy ending where as many threads are wrapped up as possible. Of course, I want the main plot of what I’m reading/watching to be resolved, but I don’t mind when certain things are left open so I can imagine the endings for myself. I felt the ending of Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners had a rushed happy ending for the main couple, they just got back together after a lot of drama and it fell flat.

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Love this discussion! I agree, I don’t love when the conflict takes foreverrr to build, but then is resolved super quick! Also, not a fan of romances where they resolve the conflict and then BAM happily ever after!! But, I also prefer character driven novels so I love when the characters interact to solve issues slowly, but then as a reader you truly believe in that resolution!

xoxo, tree

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