Happy endings

happy_endings“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” Orson Welles

Sometimes when I write I think too much. I worry about things I shouldn’t worry about, and I write as if I’ve got something to prove to someone. That’s a mistake. Over thinking, trying to outsmart the reader only to outsmart yourself.

When I wrote Jazz I wanted for the ending to the story to deliver a certain message. Throughout the novel there’s some talk about happy endings, about what we want to get from life, and stuff like that. Of course, those characters are mistaken in their belief that happiness is a destination, but nevertheless… they want and try to reach for something, and they’re not even sure what that something is.

Actually, I find that we spend an awful lot of time living in a world of vague concepts. My characters often live in such a world, trying to make sense of the world by applying a series of strange principles. And they abide to those principles no matter what.

Now back to the ending. Half-way through the novel I felt my main character didn’t deserve a happy ending. As much as he wanted it, as much as he was willing to fight for it, I just felt that it wouldn’t be just. After all, life is constantly teaching us that we don’t always get what we want.

So I wrote the ending I wanted, an ending that was supposed to make the reader realize something I just couldn’t really comprehend myself. Some sort of karma, I suppose.

The truth is that I just didn’t know what a happy ending meant for that particular story. I just didn’t know what a reader would feel as being a happy ending. Or a sad one. I just didn’t know who they should be rooting for, or even if they’d root for anyone at all.

So I did the next best thing. Gave the story a new ending, an ambiguous one. And I gave the reader the choice.

It’s my favorite question to ask those who tell me they’ve read my novel: what did you think of the ending? Was it a happy one or not? Did the characters deserve for their story to end the way it did?

It’s quite a lot of power for a reader to have, and I’m well aware that some didn’t enjoy it. Because my ending does not give them an answer, it just raises a question.

Personally, I’m not sure if my ending is a happy one or not. And it doesn’t even matter what I wanted to say. All that matters is what you think I said.

Or something like that.

What I’m really trying to say is that we don’t always get the ending we want. In life and literature, we don’t always get what we want, and most times instead of finding the answers we’re looking for we find more questions.


17 thoughts on “Happy endings

  1. and sometimes when I think…I write too much. Hence, the problem. Like a vase under the hands of the potter, our shaping skills- tough love- refine the living work for what we desire for the audience…like ordering a take-out meal, we – like the audience- must savor both what we desire and what we are given…


  2. I like that you point out the power is in the mind of the reader. An ambiguous ending allows the reader to put their signature to the story you started, then respectfully stood aside to let him or her end. Thanks for this post.


  3. the rollings stones say it over and over, “you get what you need.” the lessons aren’t readily apparent, ever. we are fixed on what we wanted instead of what we received. in this season of compulsive wanting and giving, it’s a nice reminder that often what we give to others is really not at all what they need. nice post. best of luck and continued well wishes for 2014.


  4. Your first paragraph describes exactly what I go through every time I write a blog post. How can I be witty? How can I be profound? How can I get through it without jamming this nearby pen into my eye? I will now have to put “Jazz” on my ever-growing reading list. :)


  5. This is exactly what I needed to read. I’ve been struggling to find a way to give my character a happy ending…but those don’t always happen. I’m going to let go of that need and write the ending that is destined.


  6. Keeping calm in life is important, since life tends to pull unexpected moves on us. If we want to fulfill dreams that we think are worth fighting for, then we shouldn’t give up on them. We should keep on doing our best to fulfill those dreams. We can do it if we put our minds to it! We can have a happy outcome if we try to reach for a happy outcome, you know!


  7. I like an ending that is clear and definite. I don’t feel like I’m part of the story because the ending is ambiguous; I just feel like the writer has been stringing me along. Isaac Asimov said he always started with the ending and then figured out a story that led up to that ending. That way he (and his readers) knew that it would all make sense at the end. Even though he wasn’t a great literary writer he reached millions of peopel with his stories because they knew that the ending would be satisfying.

    With an open and ambiguous ending you’re basically handing the reader your notes and saying, “here, you make sense of it.” This will appeal to a handful of artsy people but I think the vast majority will feel cheated.


  8. I’ve thought about this as well. Maybe it’s tyrannical of me, but I feel one of the thrills of writing fiction is in the ability to impose resolutions. In real life resolutions are often hard to come by. So maybe one of the impulses to write comes from wanting to dispel that ambiguity. At least in fiction-world we can have clarity.

    I don’t know. My novel is in editing phase now. I feel I left the reader a choice at the end as well.

    Maybe I’m not so clear about being clear. ;-)


  9. Your post made me think of this quote from the movie Twin Falls Idaho:
    ‘ln time, every sad ending will become happy. The sad ending is only because the author stops telling the story. But it still goes on….it’s just untold.’
    I don’t necessarily believe it, but I like it.


  10. I totally agree with you that not every character is destined to have a happy ending. Romeo and Juliet would not be the masterpiece it is, without that ending. The story would never be as memorable if they ran into the sunset together. I think it’s more important to give the reader a lasting memory of your story even if it isn’t totally satisfying.


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