Why authors and readers love their Happily Ever After: and why that’s a good thing

1402725_girl_dances_with_an_umbrellaHappily Ever After. It might be cliche, but sometimes, it’s what we crave to write and read about.

I’ve written about happy endings before. I’ve discussed the things Shrek and Fiona can teach us about Happily Ever After, and I’ve explored what to do, and why it’s okay, when you discover your story isn’t headed toward a fairy tale ending (Disney style).

Today, though, a comment by Jess Baverstock really got me thinking. I had mentioned in a recent post that it’s not a good idea to shelter your characters too much, and Jess wrote:

Today I wrote a harrowing scene where I put my little character through an emotional experience that will scar her for decades. I was on the verge of tears as I wrote it.

I’m a nice person who treats other people well, but when it comes to my characters I do put them through dreadful things in the name of plot and conflict. Thank goodness I believe in happy endings!

That got me thinking about happy endings: not the mechanics of how to write them, and the instances when they might be appropriate for a story, but about WHY we love them so much, both as writers and readers.

Happily ever after has its place

Happily ever after has its place

Personally, I think the greatest value of happily ever after is that it gives us courage to keep fighting to create happy endings for ourselves and for others. It shows us that the struggle to improve our world and to help those who are suffering is worthwhile.

Even if we can’t make things perfect, and even if we can’t help everyone, we can do something, and that matters.

Life is so uncertain, for all of us. And we’re surrounded by reminders of that every day. With worldwide communications what they are, whenever tragedy strikes in the world, we hear about it in real time.

Just recently in the U.S., we’ve had three different classes of tragedy strike horrible blows of death and destruction.

  • There was the domestic terrorist attack at the Boston marathon
  • There was an industrial accident, a factory explosion, in Texas that destroyed a small town.
  • A natural disaster–severe weather and tornadoes–destroyed the city of Moore, Oklahoma just last week. Two elementary schools were leveled.

We always struggle to make sense of such events. We struggle to respond in a human and helpful manner where the victims are concerned, and we struggle to keep our own spirits up in the face of a world that sometimes makes no sense to us at all.


hope is everything!

hope is everything!

Happily ever after is about hope. It’s about reading about good things happening in the end to good people, and believing that good things can happen to good people in the real world too.

When we see a character go through horrible sufferings but come out stronger and better for it, we can find potential and purpose in our own suffering. We can hope we’ll see a similar result, and that hope drives us to be more proactive and more positive.

Happily ever after can inspire us to reach out to the less fortunate. It can spur us to help someone else come a bit closer to achieving relief and his or her own happy ending.

Happily ever after isn’t for ever story that we write. And we all know that far too often, in the real world, it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it feels like it never happens.

Maybe, though, that makes fairy tale endings all the more important when we read and write.



20 responses to “Why authors and readers love their Happily Ever After: and why that’s a good thing

  1. Great post. So why are two of my favourite novels ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘Madame Bovary’? Wonder what that says about me?

  2. I love a happily ever after.

  3. Most of my favorite stories seem to have “not as bad as it COULD have been; OK for now” types of endings.

  4. You are so right Victoria. It’s terrible disappointing for a book to just land flat.

    • I agree. Bittersweet endings can work if they make sense and the reader is prepared for it by the tone and flow of the story, but Happily Ever After is just…. it’s so refreshing and so human.

  5. Great post! I like happily ever afters, particularly if they’re hard-won.

  6. When life gets you down, it can sure be nice to turn to fiction for some happily ever after. 🙂

  7. Pingback: The Author | Creative Writing with the Crimson League | Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!

  8. Life is enough of a downer. I prefer a happy ending these days for my children’s sake, to help teach them to be positive that things will work out.

  9. Pingback: Discussion: Happy Endings | The Mad Reviewer

  10. angel7090695001

    In one of my stories that I have just written the main character dies after defeating the bad guy so no happy endings there.

  11. Sandra S. Richardson

    It’s part of why I like cozy mysteries. Usually, your main character and those closest to him or her have a happy ending. Sometimes, a character who was being threatened will also have a happy ending. Always it is at least a “not as bad as it COULD have been; OK for now” ending like Bill Parker mentioned.

    I struggle with depression. I need those types of ending and I know many other people do too.

    • I too struggle with depression, so I get exactly where you’re coming from! An ending with some amount of happy elements–even “happy for now”–can be a real pick-me-up and consolation.

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