Let’s Talk About Endings

By Jeff Salter

Our blogging question this week is whether we prefer happily ever after (HEA) or happy for now (HFN) endings… or “tragic” endings in a story.

First let me clarify two things: I respond to this question as though it refers both to the written word (novels, novellas, and short stories) and to the visual word (motion pictures, television shows, and theatre).

Secondly, I believe the “ending” of a story is more often merely the “stopping place” of the narrative… rather than the complete resolution of everything which has occurred to that point. In some cases, the stopping place IS the end, but in many (perhaps most) of the stories I read or watch, the stopping place is merely where we say goodbye to those characters.

What the Foxes (so far) have written

I had not thought a lot about his topic until I began reading what the M,T,W Foxes had to say. [We’ll have to wait ‘til tomorrow to see what the Friday Fox writes]. Here are my responses to their posts:

To Angie (Wed):

I went through a “dark” phase in my life, as a much younger man, when I did find some sort of closure in those bleak, “realistic” endings. But now, I’ve seen enough of real-life bleakness and don’t want to spend my available reading (or viewing) time with stories that end in tragedy.

To Janette (Tue):

While I believe fiction reflects life, it also gives us an alternate SENSE how things could or should be. So, I enjoy writing HFN and I also like reading it. To me it’s not as much a matter of “DID it happen” as it is a matter of “COULD it happen”?

To Patty (Mon):

What I’ve mostly written, in the 11 complete novels and 4 complete novellas (so far) is HFN. To me, that settles most of the “business” and gets the couple together on a positive note. So they — and the reader — can hope for the best. But it doesn’t nail down exactly how they’ll be together… plus, it leaves open the possibility of a second episode! But, about most of my couples — I’m optimistic they’ll stay together.

Classic Literature

There are many literary works which end in tragedy and (reading or viewing them) it seems to be the “right” way to end that story. I mean, I can’t imagine Romeo and Juliet ending with them growing older together, her raising 14 kids and him boozing with his buddies.

I’ve read several other plays by Shakespeare and his tragedies usually end with a high body count and often with major characters among the deceased. Even his plays which are grouped as “histories” often have large characters die. A notable example is the popular Falstaff, who plays the comic foil in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, but is hanged for a crime in Henry V.

There are other examples in classic literature, but let’s bring this back to more contemporary times.

Romances and Romantic Comedies

Except for my two screwball comedies – a genre of their own, with its own widely-known parameters – and my tribute to the Greatest Generation, most of my other 12 completed titles are a blend of action, romance, and comedy. A few also have suspense.

Writing in a hybrid of multiple genres makes it somewhat difficult to pigeon-hole my stories and therefore can make it more challenging for interested readers to stumble upon them.

But I seek to leave my characters and their stories at a suitable resting place. No, it’s not the “end” and it’s not typically HEA. But it’s usually HFN with (I hope) a sense of reader expectation that the main characters’ relationship will continue to grow and they will be happy.


Let me say a word about serials. In an earlier generation, movie theatres showed “serials” which nearly always ended in cliff-hangers. TV soap operas followed that pattern but were not nearly as exciting.

Folks, I do NOT enjoy being left hanging — whether it’s Friday afternoon (for Monday’s new soap episode) or Saturday night (for the next weekend’s serial installment at the theater). I guess I’ve become one of those instant gratification folks and I want to see the entire series of Walking Dead in one (long) sitting! [Right now we’re watching the PBS series, “Wolf Hall”, and it bugs me to have to wait a week to see what happens next!]

But comic books took this to a new low, back in the early 90s as I recall, beginning with the much-heralded “death of Superman”. I didn’t want S-man to die, but having been told he would croak, I was bitterly disappointed to see him in the next month’s issues, slightly reinvented. I felt deceived.

These three examples are merely to say that I – and, I suspect, other readers/viewers – do NOT like being “played”. If the creative folks (writers / artists) are going to CHEAT, it makes me mad. If they didn’t want S-man to die, they could’ve / should’ve had him rescued in that last page. But don’t “kill” him in the March issue and bring him back in April with a different costume!


What about YOU? Do you prefer HEA ending or HFN ending? Or is it fine with you if the couple splits up and goes their separate ways? Did it bother you they killed S-man one month and brought him back in the next issue?


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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13 Responses to Let’s Talk About Endings

  1. jbrayweber says:

    Oh yes, it chafes me to read/watch something only to have it completely changed out of convenience, like your S-man example. I do like HEA, but I also like HFN and tragedies. It really depends on the story. However, I really do feel cheated if the tragedy was 100% preventable or gratuitous (the movie adaptation of The Mist comes to mind, and I mentioned my displeasure of that ending here on 4f1H multiple times).

    I also like reading/watching/writing ambiguous endings. Does she walk away with him or without him? That sort of thing. 🙂

    Great topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      thanks, Jenn. Yes, the ambiguous endings also appeal to me, at times. Such as when there’s still something else to be resolved before they can get together and the reader/viewer is pretty sure they can do it. But the author doesn’t nail it down. That’s sometimes okay with me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Carol Todd says:

    I am definitely a fan of Happily Ever After, or at least Happy For Now! There are a few exceptions, where it obviously can’t end well, and we just have to accept that the story requires that sort of ending. Sometimes I think the author has lost his/her mind when the main character(s) are killed off. Please note: that doesn’t apply to Shakespeare, although, honestly, I’d have preferred to see Romeo and Juliet survive and happily so. It just wasn’t in the cards, and would not have made for a very high impact conclusion, either!

    I guess what I’m saying is that I’m a fan of resolution. I like to see most of the details neatly tied up and settled, unless there is an obvious sequel in the offing. I’m a big fan of continuing stories – my biggest regret is when they just STOP. That especially applies if I’m fond of the characters/story. Bringing back a character that’s been killed off? It’s okay by me – if we’re talking sci-fi or maybe fantasy. Real-life type stories – nope. It just doesn’t happen that way.

    After all this, I guess what I’m saying is that I want to enjoy the story above all. Some sadness or sad endings may be required (and I can think of dozens of examples), but overall, I want to see good outcomes and closure. For me, at least, reading is, above all, entertainment, and if I’m going to be entertained, I want it to be a pleasurable experience, not a painful one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      beautifully phrased, Carol.
      Thanks for your thorough reaction.
      I should invite you back as one of my Guest Foxes!


  3. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I love the way Carol put it. As long as the conflict has been resolved in a believable way, I’m good with the ending, but I prefer to read HEA or HFN.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There are indeed a few great stories that simply would not work as HEA, I agree. We have talked about HEA, HFN and tragedies, but there is one ending of categories that none of us hit on, which I will discuss tomorrow.
    Sorry, Jeff…that may be a cliffhanger! But Joe and I have found a way around being overly annoyed with them and that is waiting until the series runs and watching them on HULU, Netflix, etc., and then you don’t have to wait to find out what happened next. The problem is that when a series continues and you are caught up on the previous seasons, it makes the weekly waiting game all that much harder!
    As for hitherto killed-off characters returning, I am afraid that a few series have overused the ploy so often as to render it no longer useful as a dramatic tool. It is being overdone by everyone, series on screen and in books; I seldom believe that a character won’t show back up again.
    Honestly, is Neal going to show back up on UOAT ? How many times, (and how many captains or androids), had to deal the ending blow to the Borg on Star Trek series and movies? Surely, no one seems to ever be really gone in Supernatural. We’ll see them again on Earth, then in Heaven, Purgatory or Hell, then back on Earth at some point. To be asked to suspend one’s belief for the sake of a story is one thing, to be toyed with is another.We’re on the same page.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh that bugs me when someone gets killed off then they are right back there. I always figured it was a ratings thing, draw people in by telling them that someone is going to die or it will be the last episode and then they bring you back to find out how they survived or the series is going again. I don’t follow DC comics so I did not know they did that to Superman but I would have been upset and probably would not have bought more after that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      yeah, they had collectors in a frenzy to get that issue. I used to buy comics at that point and I NEVER found one at regular cover price.
      Then, next month they backtrack. Furious!


  6. Pingback: Which Genres Do I Read? | Four Foxes, One Hound

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