Why I Believe in Happy Endings

There’s a widespread belief that any book ending in “happily ever after” can’t be a serious novel. I’m not sure where the idea started, but based on articles I’ve read and conversations I’ve had (real and virtual), there are a lot of people who think that if a book doesn’t leave the reader a little bit depressed, then it’s not good fiction. An ending that’s too happy is just, well, chick-lit.

They’re welcome to their opinions. I respectfully disagree.

I like happy endings. Not necessarily in every book I read, but I have no problem with the hero and heroine working hard and getting a good reward (as long as other elements of the book are well-done). But there was a time when I questioned if my preference for happy endings was evidence of a shallow taste in books. One of my sisters said something that really struck home for me. Happy endings are appealing to her and to me because happy endings are part of our religious beliefs.

She’s right. I believe that God is in charge. Life can be really, really hard and really, really unfair, but difficulties can mold us into better people. In the same way that I put my characters through trials to help force them to change (and to create an interesting plot), I believe God puts us in situations that can eventually make us better people.

I also believe God blesses those who are good and punishes those who are wicked. Not always right away, and not always in this life. But goodness and hard work pay off. Wickedness and laziness don’t bring long-term happiness. So if a novel shows goodness and hard work leading to a happy reward, I think that is realistic fiction. And I’m happy to read it and happy to write it.

And now a few disclaimers. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with “chick-lit.” If that’s what you like, awesome. I’m more drawn to mysteries or historical novels when I read fiction, but my reading preferences are preferences, nothing more. Also, though I believe that ultimately God rewards goodness and punishes wickedness, I am in no way pledging to never write a tragedy. I reserve the right to kill off good characters (wait, I’ve already done that) and even write a book that ends on a sad note. But I don’t think a sad ending makes a novel inherently better just because it has a sad ending.

But enough about what I think. What do you think?

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4 Comments

    1. Yes–I think hope is what I really want in fiction, more than a tidy ending. Hope that even though life doesn’t seem fair, it will all work out in the end, and that as you say so beautifully, tragedies can become triumphs.

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  1. I know a couple people who love tragedies and think they are the pinnacle of literature. I’ve come to realize it’s just their genre preference, just like I don’t really like fantasy, but love clean romance. I’ve read a couple tragedies, and Tess of Dubervilles (I know I spelled that wrong) stands out as one of the best I ever read in how it stuck with me…but in general, I yearn for happy endings. Sad endings can get depressing after a while if that’s all you read. Happy endings (unless it’s poor writing and far-fetched) never get tiring to me.

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    1. I haven’t read anything by Thomas Hardy yet. I probably should sometime. And some books do call for tragic endings. If 1984 had ended well, it would have kind of defeated the point of the book. But I agree–a steady diet of sad books leads to depression (at least for me). Tragedies have their place, but I believe no one is ever so far gone that they can’t be redeemed, at least in the next life, so tragic endings sometimes leave me feeling like the story hasn’t really ended, it’s just stopped at the wrong place.

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