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.
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?