I read a book the other day that ended with a tragedy. It was completely unexpected, which of course made me cry. When The Man walked in on me sobbing to my Nook, he crouched beside me.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, concerned.
I sniffled and sobbed, “He died. And I liked him so much and then he was gone just like that.”
The Man smiled and laughed. “You’re crying over a book?”
I looked up at him, thinking about the story. Which of course made me cry even more. “It’s just not fair,” I said. “He shouldn’t have died.”
And then The Man got all serious. “That’s why all books should have happy endings.”
(He strongly believes this, not just about books but movies, too.)
It got me thinking. I, for one, enjoy the rollercoaster of emotions that come with reading a sad book. In a lot of books, a not-so-happy ending—someone dies, the main character doesn’t get the guy or is trapped in a terrible society for the rest of her life—makes the story stronger.
I’d name books I’ve read that are strengthened by an unhappy ending, but that would basically be one giant spoiler.
I’m all for a happy ending (I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t love it when the main character gets everything she needs?), but some books don’t call for one. I think the story has to dictate the outcome, and we shouldn’t always wrap things up nice and tidy just because that’s the way it’s done most of the time. I can think of two books off the top of my head that make great points with their unhappy endings.
So, I wanted to get your opinion. Do you prefer books with happy endings or unhappy endings? Both? How do you decide which to use when writing?