Discussion: Happy Endings

Since I don’t have as much time as I would like to read anymore, I think every once in a while I’ll take a reviewing break on Sundays and start a discussion post where you guys can engage with myself or even other commenters on a topic.  This weeks’ topic is happy endings.

Victoria Grefer did two posts this week on endings in novels.  The first is: Why authors and readers love their Happily Ever After: and why that’s a good thing.  The second post appealed to me a lot more and it was called: Books, Stories, Legends: Happily Ever After is great. Bittersweet can sometimes be better.  I highly recommend reading both articles for some interesting viewpoints on happy endings.

I personally enjoyed the second article more.  Bittersweet endings are more realistic, I feel, because in life you have to take the bad along with the good.  Good things will happen to you in your lifetime and bad things will also happen to you; that’s guaranteed.  So why should characters in stories get perfectly happy endings where everyone marries their love interest and then ride off into the sunset?  Bittersweet endings where there’s both happiness and a tinge of sadness or a lot of sadness with a bit of happiness really do appeal to me.

But personally, what I really want to see is a sad ending in a mainstream YA novel.  Young Adult novels traditionally have pretty happy endings, but I think teenagers know that complete happiness isn’t a reality.  Escapism is great, but a little more realism would be nice.  And in reality, yes, some people never get their happy ending, so to speak.  Will we ever see a truly tragic ending in a mainstream YA novel?  I honestly don’t know.

The thing I want to discuss this week is: Which do you like more: bittersweet or happy endings?  Why?  Does the overall feel of the novel matter to you when deciding if a happy or bittersweet ending was satisfying?  (i.e. a humorous novel should have a happy ending whereas a play like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which is quite dark all throughout should have a bittersweet ending.)


  1. Andy Szpuk

    A happy ending ties thing up neatly and is a conclusion, whereas a bittersweet ending leads to further reflection and greater engagement between reader and story. More powerful IMHO.

    • Carrie Slager

      Definitely, but it depends on how the author does it. If they tie up most loose ends in a bittersweet way, that’s great, but if they leave everything completely ambiguous then it’s annoying. It looks like they’re trying to set up a sequel, even if the series is over or if it’s a standalone book.

      • Andy Szpuk

        Also, some readers prefer a happy ending. I know of some who read the ending first before deciding whether to go ahead and read the rest of the book.

  2. adtrosper

    A happy ending is a must for me. There can be plenty of strife and heartache throughout a story (and if the story is a series then the only book that requires the happy ending is the final book in the series), but in the end everything needs to tie up and the characters have to be happy. I suppose there can be some lingering sadness over what was lost during the story, but overall they need to be content.

    Why? Because in real life a lot people don’t get their happy endings. If I want realistic I’ll watch the news. Plenty of unhappy endings there. When I read books, I’m not looking for true to life endings.

  3. cav12

    I’m a fan of both, but as you know I tend to lean more towards the ‘bitter-sweet’ endings. I think the story ends on a more interesting note and leaves the reader with ‘what?’ questions and speculate as to different possible scenarios.

    • Carrie Slager

      Stories like that really do appeal to me. Bittersweet endings can be great if they’re done right and at the same time, I do love a happy ending for certain types of stories.

  4. Rebecca

    Interesting post! I do love my happy endings, but sometimes I do prefer something a little different. Most of the time, for me, this happens in contemporary novels. I don’t like those to be wrapped up with a perfect little bow. Fantasy and dystopia, too, but not as much for some reason. I like realism in my stories…but I’m a bit of a hypocrite because I HATE it when authors kill off main characters (coughSuzanneCollinscough*).

    • Carrie Slager

      Haha, so true! I think what matters when killing off main characters is how it’s done. Suzanne Collins killed off many main characters abruptly and seemingly with no point at all. Other authors have killed off main characters to great effect as long as they have a good justification for it or there’s a message behind it.

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