Monday, April 26, 2010

In Which A Puppy Dies.

Okay, so no real puppies die.  That would probably ruin some of my vegan street cred.  We're talking fictional puppies and, more specifically, the happy ending.

There are a few of you who've read my book, or at least have a working knowledge of what I like to refer to as the Genius.  Without being too specific (I want you to buy a copy if/when it sells, fool), my book is about a guy looking for a happy ending.  So what I'm about to write?  Yeah, grain of salt and all that.

I'm the type of guy who leans over to you at the movie theatre and says, "Hey, the dude with the moustache killed that lady.  Believe that!"  This is usually followed with a vigorous bout of crotch thrusting and, sometimes, a loud BAM! 

Anyway.  It's the same with books.  Most of the time, I've got the ending pegged a couple hundred pages before I'm finished reading.  My wife likes to read books out of order (She read the last Harry Potter book without reading ANY of the others...) and is known to read the final pages of a book to find out what happens.  But you can see from this picture that she's not like the rest of us.

Right.  So me figuring out the ending has nothing to do with any of that heresy. 

Part of it is just my supreme intelligence.  (Of course.)  Most of it, however, is because I enjoy unravelling a mystery.  I love thinking about how a character has been portrayed in a movie/book and, from what I know, trying to figure out their thought process.  For writers, this is something we all do.  We create characters and give them personalities.  And then we let them go. 

This brings me to my question:  why are there so many happy endings?  Why does the girl always end up with the boy?  Why doesn't the dog ever die in those Man's Best Friend-type movies?  It's not that I enjoy the type of movie or book that has you questioning the meaning of life... I just know that life sometimes sucks. 

Do we expect everything to work out?  Is this part of the creative contract between writer and reader?  I have to say, I love when a book ends with a bit of ambiguity.  And I love a bittersweet, heart breaking ending - especially in a love story.  To me, this ambiguity mirrors real life.  Very rarely have I found people, situations, love, life, religion - any of it - to be black and white.  It's always this very nuanced sort of gray. 

Have you read Lauren Oliver's BEFORE I FALL?  Besides being a brilliant piece of writing, it plays around with this idea of what makes a happy ending.  I don't want to spoil the book for you, so I'll ask a question instead:  What is a happy ending? 

In theology, one of the biggest hurdles for people is the problem of theodicy or, the problem of evil.  Why does God allow bad things to happen to people?  I'll solve that question on my other blog (that's a joke, I don't have another blog.)  But my answer to that question is much like my feelings on happy endings. 

Sometimes healing is a matter of perspective.  And maybe the same is true of happy endings. 


  1. A happy ending for me is an ambiguous ending, one that leaves you thinking and touched and entertained. I am not a fan of the girl falling in love with the boy and it's all happy-go-lucky from there. Like in THE GIVER, you feel good, but you feel profound. I love the ending of THE ROAD because it fits with the rest of the book. It's not like the author just just gave up on the storyline and gave the characters the world. I think GOING BOVINE's ending is one of the happiest I've read in a long time. I don't even know what I am saying anymore.

  2. I'm sorry, but is it wrong that I thought something completely different when you said your character was looking for a "happy ending"? I'm sorry, I'll get my mind out of the gutter. Great post, though! :)

  3. Jonathon - Did you like GOING BOVINE?

    Pam - Ha... yeah, not what I was talking about. ;)

  4. I did like GB, overall. It's a long, strenuous, and enjoyable read that I gave 4/5 stars on Goodreads.

    Also, tell your wife that I think that picture is flippin' awesome.

    Verbatim, of course.

  5. I think if a character is strong, I sometimes prefer an ambiguous ending. I get to make it up for myself. The story lives on in my brain. And, I can't wait to read Before I Fall!

  6. Interesting post!

    Personally, I'm okay with a sad ending as long as it's the *right* end for the protagonist. Sometimes what a protagonist needs involves death or sacrifice (Dickens "A Tale of Two Cities", Season 5 Finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Other times the protagonist needs companionship (romance), and other times protags need confidence in themselves and so they are alone at the end of the story.

    It's all about making sure the characters gets what they need, and not necessarily what they want.

  7. Beverley - you're exactly right! But I still wonder if what's best for the character always comes through?

  8. Isn't everyone's perspective of what's best for the character different? Loom at Harry Potter and his happy ending. Some people were relieved, others were pissed.

  9. I think people want happy endings or closure in life and in books. I was at a conference where Patti Gauch taught a class. She said you should always have a surprise at the end.

  10. Bryan--I just finished BEFORE I FALL. And I have to say, I'm in a kind-of-blown-away stupor. It was marvelous. And, it was a perfect ending. BUT...the feelings I have...