We’ve all read a story that ended with a quick wrap up of what every single character is doing now, in which all of them are happy and healthy and thriving (except for the villains of course). There’s a time and a place for these flowery happy endings, but for the most part a happy ending needs to be earned before it can proceed. Especially so of endings in which improbably good things happen at the last minute.
I think something that many writers, myself included, struggle with is presenting the new and unexpected. While there are readers and writers who thrive off cookie cutter novels where characters fit the same archetypes and the same plot devices are used each time, many writers and readers are looking to embark on a brand new and original journey together. There are a handful of writing devices that are meant to create that experience, but that should be used consciously instead of peppered in for flavor. These tricks include tropes such as surprise undeath, and other devices and conventions that allow the author to wrap things up with sometimes minimal explanation.
But when things are wrapped up too quickly, it takes the reader out of the experience of the story. The goal in writing is to create a seamless flow of plot. You want the reader to be unaware that they’re reading essentially; so immersed in your world that they don’t even notice they’re reading a plot structure or characterization moments. Little things such as poorly chosen words and phrases, clunky exposition, out of character dialogue, or rushed through third acts can completely take the reader out and make them say “wait a minute, this doesn’t make sense.” This is why when a writer wants to create a happy ending, it has to be tempered with the reality of the story that precedes it.
This is why an unearned happy ending feels false. It feels like forcing characters who’ve grown out of a neat picket fence into a little yard. Endings in which the characters are nominally happy–or at least accomplished a goal–are better because they feel real. And of course, reality is not always the most important factor in fiction–but it still matters to an extent. If you can’t see the characters moving forward from the ending, and instead can only see them stagnate in their goals, then the ending is not satisfying and doesn’t feel earned.
How do you feel about happy endings, and what earns them? Let me know in the comments! And if you enjoy my comment, considering buying me a coffee!