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Friday, April 29, 2011

Resolved ain't always happy...

Disney has ruined us. Sorry Disney, but it's true. We've lived in fairy tales full of curses and witches and castles and princes for so long that we've forgotten a vital truth.

"Happily Ever After" isn't always how it ends.

I know, I know. I'll give you a minute to recooperate from this revelation before we move on. Are you okay? Maybe you should sit down and catch your breath a minute. Here... Breathe into this paper bag while I continue.

I've been reading and talking to people a lot lately about the endings of young adult books, and frankly I've been shocked at the at the amount of griping I hear over endings. And usually it's because there's no happy ending. In some, usually trilogies, you can't even see the light at the end of the tunnel.

What I tell people is that  resolved doesn't always mean "happy."

I'm not blaming anyone for wanting a happy ending, but life isn't always sunshine and roses. Trials and tribulation make a story interesting, and that means that the sun'll come out tomorrow. Or, in the case of a series, about two weeks from Wednesday. But you get my point.

Life isn't a fairy tale. It's unlikely we'll get a "happy ever after," so we have to settle for "happy for now." I don;t know about you but singing birds don't help me get dressed in the morning, and Prince Charming has yet to show up to slip my lost Converse onto my woefully unmanicured foot.

When you think about all the sticky, raw, emotional mess in real life you have to wonder why we expect anything different out of books. It's a combination of hope and escapism that makes us want something better. I understand that, but let's face facts. It's unrealistic.

I feel like the problem doesn't just lie with readers and their expectations. I've noticed that more and more series books are ending with extreme cliffhangers, and it always gives me pause. Not because I'm floored by what just happened or cursing the author for making me wait for the next book. I pause because I'm wondering if it was necessary.

Is it because author's feel like if they can't give happy until three books from now they'll just leave the story where it lies?

What I love more than a cliffhanger is a sort of "installment resolution" that doesn't tie up all the strings. In some subtle, nagging way it leaves me wondering. These bits of mystery are what cause me to stress over a book for days after I've put it down, not the cliffhanger.

This goes back to that "resolved is not happy" thing I was talking about earlier. You can have a resolution without tying everything up in a pretty bow. I suppose I think about it in short-term and long-term problems, much like a TV show. Episodes are the here and now. The series tells the whole story.
One episode can be wrapped up and still leave you itching to know more without making you feel cheated. It’s a crude example, but an abrupt cliffhanger that leaves nothing resolves is the literary equivalent of…


  1. that like life and totally agree with books , there isn't always a happy ending. Look at Mockingjay, it wasn't completely happy , but it was realistic ie life.

    I totally agree Disney has ruined the HEA factor, and having girls who now see this , I have to talk with them about this :)

  2. I pretty much agree. I actually prefer books where the ending is realistic. I know for me, I get irritated when the ending is so contrived, or too perfect to be real.

  3. While I do love a good HEA, I don't want it to be too easy or faked, just for a positive ending. And I truly dislike massive cliffhangers that are clearly designed to get you to read the next book (though I'll usually cave and read the next one--though I won't necessarily buy it). I much prefer installments, like you mentioned. The story arc for this one book's finished but there are one or more arcs that will carry into the next book. That leaves me satisfied & not wanting to throw the darn thing across the room.

  4. I've long felt the same way, and maybe that's why my first novel has that kind of ending.

    But singing birds DO help me get dressed in the morning. ;-)

  5. Great post! Very interesting.

    I usually do love a happy ending, but the books that aren't happy at the end, or that leave unanswered questions, end up sticking with me longer.

    Like Delirium. The ending to that book is not what I expected and it leaves so many questions about how the next book is going to go. But it is kind of a cliffhanger.

    I do love a good cliffhanger, if done well and not just cut off in some weird place. Like, In the Fever series there is a cliffhanger on the second to last book, and it was epic. The great thing was that the last book was already out and I didn't have to wait, because it was gut wrenching.

    Jennifer of Little Shelf