Friday, April 9, 2010

Happily Ever After

Being a horror writer, I specialize in situations that are less than ideal for my characters. Scary, creepy, spooky, downright terrifying? Great. I can do any of those, no problem. But I also have scenes that are drawbacks; I talked a couple of weeks ago about romance and how it's a stumbling block for me, something that I hesitate to write because I don't want to seem too cheesy or corny. It is a part of life, so it needs to go in the book, just like everything else.

I've worked through the romance block and am handling it pretty well, I think. Of course that's something I'll have to review when the first draft is completed and has had a chance to breathe. But there's something else I've been thinking about, something that's been on my mind a lot recently as I've been edging towards the ending of my horrific little tale. I've hinted at some of the elements of the story: ghosts, peach orchards, telepathy, an old woman who may or may not be a witch. But I don't think I've stressed enough that this story is basically a tale of good vs. evil.

Up until this point, I haven't allowed myself to think about who will be the victor of this battle. I've been concerned with getting the story to this point. I'll be hashing out the details in the next few weeks of what actually happens, and now I'm wondering what each of my readers will (hopefully) be pondering when they get to this point in the book: Who's gonna win this one?

I don't know yet. I'll find out as it's written, I guess... but I'm wondering. And it makes me think of the horror novels I've read, and the way I feel about the way the stories end. I've mentioned that Stephen King is my writing hero. I've read almost everything that man has written, two or three times at least. And more often than not, the good guys win. Terrible things happen, but evil is vanquished. It. Desperation. The Dark Half. Needful Things. Misery. There are endings which aren't so great for the characters, but still, evil is defeated. Firestarter. The Dead Zone. Duma Key. Cujo. Christine. The Shining. Salem's Lot. And then there are the ambiguous endings... where you're not sure what happens to the characters, but you've got a feeling they'll be all right, like in The Tommyknockers, Delores Claiborne, and The Stand. Evil does triumph sometimes, but it's rare - the only one I can think of right now is Pet Sematary. I guess Thinner technically counts in that category, but that's a Bachman book, and Stephen King has said that Bachman is much darker than he usually is.

I don't know who's going to win, but it's going to be an epic battle. I can tell just by the lead-up I've created. I think I know who it's going to be... but we'll just have to see. And I'm wondering, which would my audience prefer? Would they rather have all the loose strings tied up in a neat little package for them, with a traditional Happily Ever After-type ending? Or would they rather it be dark and gritty, but a little more realistic? Or somewhere in between?

Which do you prefer?


Jessica Bell said...

I tend to prefer endings that leave you hanging with just a hint of happiness, but it seems, as far as I've been told, it's more commercially viable to tie everything up. Sad innit?


How about a sting in the tail ending? I like an unexpected ending to the story plot.

I enjoyed reading how an author goes through all the possibilities, you have shown me an insight of a writer. Thank you,


Anne Gallagher said...

Interesting question and one I've been wrestling with myself lately.

I wrote historical romance. Have about 6 of them stashed away all with the requisite Happy Ever After.

With this current WIP, I'm trying to be more women's fiction-y and really don't want the HEA although, like you say, I think it might be a better sell commercially.

It'a a wicked web we spin.

Anonymous said...

I'm all about the dark, gritty, realistic ending. Bring it on!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've read books where evil wins, everyone dies, or the hero is actually an anti-hero - and I didn't like any of them. I know it's commercial and sells, but I read books to escape that stuff. If I want a crappy ending, I can go read the news.

I guess that's the line you will have to walk when you reach the end of your book.

sarahjayne smythe said...

I tend to go with dark and gritty and realistic in my own writing and reading, but I'll take anything that is honest and respectful of the characters, the writing, the story that's come before.

Even if it is happily ever after. :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

A happy medium maybe? I like the dark, gritty, realistic ending more, but I want to feel satisfied - like it's clearly over (at least for now...mwa-ha-ha)

I popped over from Nicole's blog to say hi and congrats on your award. :-)

Anonymous said...

I remember Jim Butcher posting on his blog that 100% tragic endings are a much tougher sell. (which ultimately we have to take into account...)

All the more reason for us to have lots of layers going on in our stories I guess - a chance for much more complex and troubling endings even if we don't go for a complete doom and gloom finish...

Sophia said...

I tend to feel that the world is a little bit saturated with happy endings (or maybe that's just the fairy tales, disney movies and romantic comedies I've been raised on/subjected to as a female? But that's a whole 'nother topic..) but I think it depends a lot on audience expectations and genre. Happy endings have their place (women's fiction, historical fiction) while some genres (mystery/thriller/sci-fi) are more tolerant of 'realistic' endings where not everything is solved by an 'I love you' or true love's first kiss.

Personally, I like realistic which I use here to mean it's not the end of the world, people go on living. In a lot of stories that would fall somewhere in the middle: in a world spanning epic of good vs evil it would mean that good wins but suffers losses that can't be immediately glossed over. There's no sense of returning to the status quo.

With that in mind I think as long as the characters don't end up in either unbelievably perfect or unbelievably dire situations you have a lot of leeway as an author.
- Sophia.

Mel Chesley said...

You know, Stephen King was my first love, reading. I tried to write a horror, but I was 16 and didn't have much to go on. Lol!
As for getting to that ending, the epic battle... I have no clue who is going to win mine either. I mean, I sort of have an idea, but what's going to happen? None of the voices will tell me. Maybe it will be as much a surprise to them as it will be to me.
As for writing the romance into stuff... yeah I call it "Squishy Stuff" and try to hurry past it. I do a decent job, but seriously, romance writing is so not my thing. :D

Hart Johnson said...

I tend to like the 'alternate happiness'--A good wins ending, but NOT the good people think they are rooting for. I don't like things too neat, but I REALLY like the characters to have some sense of 'we made it and there is a chance now'

I don't mind a 'big evil vanquished but little evil meandered off to potentially create bad later.

and I can live with a happy ending... just not one that is too precious, but somehow I get the feeling that isn't you, anyway. I like a 'good... but,' where it is MOSTLY good, but a price has been paid... make sense?

I DON'T really care for evil prevailing, unless it's clear it's not quite over and there is a sequel planned.

(I read a TON of horror when I was young, but it hasn't been my main staple for years, though I checked out a Lovecraft book today and am very excited)

P.Miller said...

It wouldn't be "you" if you tied everything up in a neat package an had a happily ever after. How about in between. Give us a little resolution of conflict and plot lines but keep us guessing about others. muahahahaha.

Kierah Jane Reilly said...

I tend to like happy endings, but not the overly sappy kind. I like the endings where the characters are brought almost to the line in the sand and you can see them crossing over after the book ends, but they're not quite there yet. But you have hope for them. And evil can never prevail at the end of the book. I hate that. When I get to the end of a book, I want some kind of absolution.

Ella said...

The only time I like a neatly wrapped package, is when it's my birthday.

I want realistic with some grit, but with a sign of hope on the horizon!
That does sound difficult, but you asked! End it with some signs of hope; This gives you the option of a sequel.

I guess that would be like the movie,"The Road", ending with the potential of hope(kind of).

Helen Ginger said...

My vote won't count since I don't read horror. I don't even watch scary shows. I'm a wuss. Having said that, I do like things, mostly, tied up at the end. Some things can be left open, esp if it's a series book.

Straight From Hel

Steel Magnolia said...

Ambiguous. Leave a hole that we readers can breathe some thoughts into. Come up with our own conclusions ... or conjectures really. More realistic. Like life itself. Who gets a neatly tied package these days? Certainly not me. Cheers.

Lisa said...

I like it all tied up with a pretty pink bow. Maybe because I'm a reader and not a writer?

Raquel Byrnes said...

Americans tend to prefer the good guys to definitively win, the bad guys to get their come uppance, and the end to be clear.

Hannah said...

I just like when there's an ending. I hate when things are open ended. It drives me bonkers! When I write, though, I never create happy endings. Or at least, I haven't yet.

I think both are happy and "sad" have their place and it really all depends on the story. My favorite books are a mix of both. When you get to it, the end will almost write itself.

Great post!!

Sugar said...

I don't like endings. unless it's a horrible book. But most times, I just want it to keep going *sigh* so..sorry no advice from me

Beth Zimmerman said...

I think humans, and readers, need hope! Reality is that the good guy doesn't always win but most of the time my nose is in a book, or a blog, to escape reality. I don't read horror as I am given to an avid imagination and vivid nightmares. Dean Koontz is about as dark as I get and his stories some times bother me. So maybe there is something in the genre that I don't understand. But my inclination would not be to return to a writer who didn't allow the good guy the victory in the end.

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm a total sap - I love my happy ever after endings! They don't have to be perfect, but give me something! If the ending is too sad, I never pick up anything by that author again.

You might want to take my opinion with a grain of salt however because the only horror book I've ever read is The Shining - it scared the bejeepers out of me. It's been decades and it still gives me nightmares. So... I'm not your typical target audience :)

Elliot Grace said...

...bounded over from Lola's blog and couldn't help but notice King's name highlighted...was curious if you've read "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle." An authentic "voice" similar to King's, along with an ending that I'm still trying to swallow and keep down...a month later.
...Bachman was a sinister deviant in his day. Sadly though, Stephen killed him off. Not that he needed him around anyway. Just an excuse to dip a little deeper into the hellpot to see what he could find:)

Talli Roland said...

I'd like to say I enjoy things open-ended, but the sap in me wants all the ends neatly tied up and presented with a big cheery bow!

Al said...

You could be cheeky and write both types of endings. Then tell the audience it is up to them to pick which ever they like.


Publish or Perish

ggray said...

You know me - I love those ambiguous endings, but I do think a majority of the novel's threads need to be tied up. I just like leaving the big one open to the reader's speculation so they can deliberate themselves. Kind of like a philosophical question to keep them thinking.

Natasha said...

Fabulous post!

What I would like is a happy end, but an ending where you don't know what is the happy end till after the end!

And no, I don't like endings tied up neatly with a pink bow. I prefer that the main ends be tied up, but enough left for the reader to make up her own stories.

Lola Sharp said...

Hey B, I know I'm late to this post, but I wanted to say that I am with Watery Tart.
A happy-ish ending, where a price has been paid, and the ending isn't a total downer, but nor is it the cliche unrealistic perfect HEA. The protagonist should have reached some kind of solution/redemption/resolution to the Big Problem, even if it wasn't exactly the one s/he was looking for.
Also, the loose ends should be not left forgotten/unmentioned, even if they don't all tie up in a perfect bow.

All that said, you need to know your genre (which you do), as endings tend to be different to different genres. (hence romance novels have happy endings)