The Problem I Have With Happy Endings in Books


I know how this must sound. Like I’m some kind of cynic. And, you know what? In a sense, I kinda sorta am. I don’t think life is a bucket of sunshine and rainbows all the time. I think life is full of struggles (but also triumphs, cool your jets) and because of that, I think books should accurately reflect those struggles. Likewise, the endings of books should also reflect how those struggles have affected the characters.

In other words, I don’t think I’m asking too much when I expect a book to end in-line and in character with the tone and themes that have been previously presented. So a white picket fence ending with a house full of children when it had been previously clear that the characters would never want either of those things, makes me a sad sad penguin.

The agony!! There is nothing more hollowing than going on an epic journey with a cast of characters only to receive to an ending that somehow gets boxed into a nice and tidy package all bundled up with ribbon. I’m talking predicable. I’m talking rushed. I’m talking barf-worthy.

Even that one person who has never stepped on a broken piece of glass knows that life isn’t neat. Even if they’ve never been unfortunate enough to experience it. (I’m sure you know at least ONE person like this. Bless their hearts.) Life is, dare I say, beautifully uncertain. So there’s something wrong when an author wraps things up so tidy that they leave no room for the reader to wonder about. I mean, they might as well slap on “And they all lived happily ever after. The end.” And just call it a day. Why bother to do anything else? I mean, if all they’re going to do is tell a happy story, why bother telling a story at all? What’s the point?

Stories should make us laugh AND make us cry. They should make us think at that very moment we’re reading AND ponder for days, weeks even months later. They should break our hearts WHILE mending them at the same time. I think mystery and the exploration of the unknown are part of what makes stories so captivating.

Stories that end with a hint of the unknown are my favorite. I love that feeling when I know there are probably still going to be trials ahead but for RIGHT NOW, the characters are happy. For the time being, things are okay and for this moment, they can be happy and do their painting, or play their piano, or dance their dance and not care that the evil sorcerer or dragon king waits for them. That looming sense of the future makes sense to me because there is always a future. I can totally jive with that. But for the endgame to just be played out, as in the END to be determined… I don’t know. It bothers me.

The first books that I am guilty of forgetting are the ones that have been wrapped up so neatly that there was no room left for me to wonder about the characters’ futures. It was already done for me. End of story. Bye. Because of that, those stories just fade to the wayside. Sadly, there was truly nothing left to explore. Even in a complete series, if the story is left with an open door, I feel like those endings parallel better to the uncertain promise of real life. It just feels more genuine.

You know what series I still think about because its series finisher punched me right in the feels? Allegiant by Veronica Roth. The way she ended that series was bold. It was a total risk, and a lot of people hate it, I know, but I think it was 100% in character. There was no other way that book could have ended, which is why it had to end that way. That ending also immortalized that book for me.

Other books that totally nailed their endings, setting the bar and writing the book on HOW TO END A SERIES:

*The Raven King
*Ignite Me
*The Winner’s Kiss
*Clockwork Princess

Books that end in unique ways stay on my mind because they reflect the truth and unpredictability of real life. Nothing about real life is bundled up in a nice and neat package of happily ever after. Sure, we all have our own happily ever afters. But they hardly ever come with these white picket Stepford fences.

So my question is this: Are authors inserting “white picket” endings because they think that’s what everyone else wants or it is because that’s what they want?

Because there are two problems with this. 1. Who’s to say that I want this kind of ending for my own life? Why would an author assume that? Is it because our social environment creates cultural standards that dictate the kinds of acceptable goals to achieve? If so, that doesn’t mean that those traditional life goals should or even have to be the norm. Everyone is different. The purpose of stories should be to explore the diversity of humanity, not shove it into a box. AND 2. Disingenuous endings are false to the characters and are incredibly disappointing. They make me lose faith in the author, my trust shatters and I’m likely not to read from them again.

Let’s Talk

What are your feelings about “white picket” endings? What say you on the reasons authors may be inserting them into their stories?

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10 thoughts on “The Problem I Have With Happy Endings in Books

  1. For me, it depends on the book. Sometimes I don’t mind the happy ending, but most times I prefer a realistic one. Realistic ones can have a happy too. Life does surprise us once in a while.
    Unknown endings tend to annoy me though. I prefer to know what exactly happens, whether it’s good or bad.

    1. Ahh! I wish I had said that in the post! Realistic!! Realistic can def be happy and omg plot hangers can be so frustrating! 😟 But I definitely just want a book that makes me think. I want to be left wondering about the themes and the characters for a while after no matter the ending, good, bad, happy, sad.

  2. I think there is a huge difference between a happy ending or happy for now ending that flows with the way the book goes and the “white picket fence” endings that end in a way contrary to what the characters have wanted through the story. I want happy endings in my books BECAUSE life is so screwed up that it’s nice to see things work out for characters, at least in some way. I read for escape, and having everyone die or be broken beyond repair in the end is not an escape. That doesn’t necessarily mean kids and marriage, though for some it does I suppose. I don’t think an author is trying to presume how you want things to end in your life, just how she wants to end things for her characters. I like to have things wrapped up enough that there are no plot strings hanging. You can know a couple gets together AND STILL wonder about their life. For example, Losing Logan by Sherry Ficklin and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins both wrap things up, but it’s not all sugary.

    1. I definitely like happy for now endings as opposed to the unknown plot hangers. I guess I get ragey when I read too much fluffy sub par lit that doesn’t challenge me, I read to be made to think. Thinking and pondering for me is an escape. Being heartbroken is transportive. But I’m also a total weirdo and like books that destroy my soul. 😂😂😂

      1. I guess I just feel like I have enough heart break in life, I prefer endings with hope. But I’ve just been having this debate with a friend who is thinking about changing the end of her current WIP from one with hope to one where everybody dies.

      2. I’m not saying I disagree with you. Hope is a good thing, but so is being realistic. Everyone dying may not be 100% realistic unless we’re talking the Hunger Games, bc in that sense if we are then it kinda sorta would make sense for everyone to die because that world sucked and everything sorta blew at the end.
        I like the idea that I can know that my fav characters are still out there doing their thing together, being in love, but fighting the baddies side by side all without that end-all finality to it. IDK, I like an open door bc, what if I want to go back?
        I just want my ticket to Hogwarts, okay!? Lol. I want to go back!!! 😂

  3. Umm…. How did I not comment on this? Girl! I am the QUEEN of unhappy endings! Why? Because I like to kill people… Characters! I mean I like to kill characters! Wow. That came out wrong. >.> Aaaanyway… it really does bother me when somehow everything works out magically in the end like no big deal, everyone survived, blahdy, blahdy, blah. Garbage. What’s more, unrealistic. Yeah, maybe the ending is tragic and maybe not everyone survives, and maybe it’s not happy, but that’s life, man. Sometimes I like my books to be tragic. Heck! Tragedies were REALLY popular back in Shakespeare’s day. So, what happened to them? If I get published, I’m bringing ’em back. Don’t expect no happy endings in mah book! *game face*

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