Yesterday, I wrote about the reasons we love “Happily Ever After” in stories, and why we are drawn to fairy tale endings.
While I do love and need the occasional fairy tale ending, most of my favorite novels–including Les Miserables and Don Quixote–have endings that are bittersweet, if not downright tragic. Sometimes, a writer just can’t write Happily Ever After.
I’ve always preferred Shakespeare’s tragedies to his comedies. I like stories with weight and substance, stories that make me think and reassess things. As a general rule, and in my personal case, stories that are bittersweet in tone do that to a greater extent than lighthearted comedies.
I connect with bittersweet endings because they ring true to me. After all, real life tends to be bittersweet most of the time.
We all have to deal with illness and with grief, some of us at a tragically young age. No major accomplishment comes without its price and its sacrifice; it’s because of the cost that we value our accomplishments.
If Happily Ever After can teach us how to hope, bittersweet endings can teach us how to cope. They can help us to persevere through and make some sense of our own suffering.
Reading tragic events in literature, and their bittersweet resolutions, as young adults helps to prepare us to face the unfortunate truths of the world: that not everyone is trustworthy, that hatred and evil most certainly exist, and that bad things sometimes happen to good people.
Realistic, bittersweet literature helps us to come to terms with these difficult lessons. Perhaps most importantly, bittersweet endings reveal that life is beautiful and something to be cherished, even though bad things sometimes happen to good people.
A story that ignored the losses, failures, and struggles that come with being human would be no story at all. Stories are always about what it means to be human; that’s why we’ve told them for as long as we’ve existed.
EVEN HAPPILY EVER AFTER COMES AFTER STRUGGLE
Even classic fairy tales, Disney style, that you can be sure will end up happy involve their share of struggles on the part of the heroes. Who didn’t cry when Simba lost his father in The Lion King? Who can forget the abuse Cinderella suffered thanks to her step-family? Heck, Belle was taken prisoner and held against her will; I’ve read articles analyzing the presence of Stockholm Syndrome in Beauty and the Beast.
Don’t get me wrong; I love Happily Ever After, and it has its place in stories. But as an author, don’t feel as though you have to have a fairy tale ending for people to like, appreciate, and learn from your story. Don’t feel as though you have to force a “happy ending” on your characters if that isn’t what you’re called to do.