Endings are hard. It’s difficult to live through a change in life whether it’s the conclusion of a relationship, the loss of a loved one, or the termination of a job. Writing the ending in a story is also challenging as it’s the part a reader will always remember. It will define the story. Or it won’t.
And while we’re on the subject of endings, let me reassure you we’ll get back to the short story “Alvina’s Quest for Knowledge.” But I’m interrupting that story to write about endings because the grand finale matters in every story. Also right now, I’m inspired to write about this topic. So I’m running with it.
If you read my stories, you’ll quickly learn that I lean heavily towards couples with arms clasped around each other riding a sweet high of nothing-can-touch-us-now-because-life-is-so-damn- wonderful! Or you’ll find that in the final pages of a story, my main character will make a difficult decision that will at least “appear” they are moving in a more positive direction. To summarize – the final curtain will drop when everything is happily resolved.
I’m a sucker for epic conclusions. When I am writing the final pages, you will find me sobbing uncontrollably over my computer hoping I am communicating a fantastic death of one of main characters to readers. (Which may not sound like a great ending, but somehow it will be.) Placing a more positive spin at the conclusion of a tale, my foot will bounce uncontrollably under my desk as my fingers tap at the keyboard as I attempt to summon the right words to convey the emotions my hero/heroine feels before they make a difficult decision that empowers them.
I’m not particularly a fan of endings where the villain wins, or the protagonist loses, or the main character doesn’t learn from their experience. (A bad ending.) After all the time invested in reading a novel, I can’t help but feel a little betrayed when the main character loses or doesn’t use an experience to change their life.
Part of my belief in happily ever after endings in stories (besides the fact that as with all children, I read fairy tales when I was a kid) is my opinion that all lives of good people will end well. I’ve known people who worked hard their whole lives and were generous to everyone, and expected them to win the lottery if not sooner, than close to the end of their lives. (Yes, I believe really good people should win the lottery.) All those clichés about good things happen to good people, and karma convinced me that good people will live at least their last few days in comfort before the grim reaper comes to take them. I felt they deserved that, dare I say, were entitled to it. Life taught me differently.
It’s hard when an ending doesn’t quite happen the way you expected. I wrote a short story in this blog titled, “What I Meant to Say” (https://tortuoustales.com/2017/12/10/) and imagine my surprise when I returned home from work, and my husband announced to me that he read my blog post, and said he thought the story was depressing. I remember casually asking, “Why?”
“Because,” he said, “I thought there would be something big like a car accident at the end or something, and they’d realize how wrong they were, and there wasn’t.”
“Funny,” I remember saying to him, “because originally that was going to be the ending”.
But in that story, there was no big conclusion. No final heightened climax. The ending of that story was left unfinished. It was a fizzle that lingered and continues to linger. Or if you prefer, it’s like hanging onto a rope swinging back and forth, and you want to let go, but can’t. Recently, I’ve realized these stories are a more accurate reflection of life. More times than I care to say, endings don’t end with a final hurrah! or with a big band playing. They end quietly.
But maybe my definition of “happy endings” needs to be redefined. Some of those people whose lives didn’t end the way I wanted them to, still had good endings. When I lost a family member who was generous to his detriment, the funeral home overflowed with friends and family. Unlike in The Great Gatsby, people cared and they came with swollen red eyes, carrying tissues, to say their final farewells to a great man.
Maybe not every story needs to end with a finale of two lovers embracing with the caption Happily Ever After written below them. A better conclusion, perhaps a more realistic ending, would be two people holding hands dressed in their best after getting married with a question mark below them.
After all, life, just like a story, never promises anyone a happy ending.