Happy Endings vs. Sad Endings

Darcy and Elizabeth. {{PD-US}}

And Everything In Between

Endings are one of the hardest things for me to write. Obviously, I feel the weight of the readers’ expectations—hey, if anyone is reading this, they’re trusting me to end this satisfactorily! And I’ve read so many books where a so-so ending kept the book from becoming great.

But both happy endings and sad endings have pitfalls. Happy endings can come off too unrealistic and gushy. But do a sad ending badly, and no one believes your tragedy. Even done well, a sad ending can be rather—depressing. Really, does nothing good ever happen in life?

As a reader, I’d probably pick the happy ending every time if I have a choice. I can skim over glurge, and have many times, but a sad ending to a book or even a movie can leave me stuck on how it ends for weeks. That’s the point of most sad endings, of course. But I can’t handle every book I read to impact me that much. And, of course, I like to believe that though there are so many terrible things in life, sometimes people end up being happy.

One example of a good happy ending is, I think, (spoiler alerts ahead!) Pride and Prejudice. Yeah, the couple does end up getting together and getting married and all those other cliché happy-ending tropes, but Lydia is still married to Wickham. Her mother is still a fool—endings that are too happy change everyone’s characters into unrecognizable versions of their previous personalities—and her father still has to put up with her (or hide in the library). And as for Elizabeth and Darcy themselves… well, Austen makes it very clear that Darcy has a way to go in managing his pride, so their marriage will not be heaven. But I think it’s exactly those kinds of shots of reality that keep happy endings from becoming, well, too unrealistic.

How shall we call those endings? Gritty-yet-happily-ever-after?

But I think the best compromise between a happy ending and a sad one is a bittersweet ending. When things in life are happy, they’re never completely happy. The best book example I can think of this is Lord of the Rings. The One Ring is destroyed and the Dark Lord is vanquished forever, but Frodo is never the same again. Most characters go on to become leaders or get married, or do something great, but there is something about the world that is changed forever. It’s probably the best mix of the readers’ hopes andcynicism that a novel can achieve.


Now, I should go study for exams again. Comment below on what type of ending you prefer!


Looking for a story with an ending that won’t devastate you for days? I can promise you that if you find yourself mulling over my novella, Is He Prince Charming?, it won’t be because it leaves you feeling gloomy on the inside. You can decide for yourself if the ending is happy or bittersweet!

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Filed under GENERAL Bookish Thoughts, Jane Austen, Lord of the Rings, On Writing

11 responses to “Happy Endings vs. Sad Endings

  1. Yeah, I agree about this *smiles*, I’m working on the ending for my novel CARVE right now, and I’m going with a ‘saddish’ ending ( I say this tentatively) I flip-flopped back and forth trying to decide how to end it. I wanted it to end well, but when I started writing it, it just didn’t feel right.
    I’m hoping it will be satisfactory with what I’m doing now. I’m trying to leave it off with a bit of hope though!

    Nice post!


  2. I’m a fan of happy endings, as long as they feel realistic! Sometimes they feel a bit contrived, and I don’t know how many times they’ve ruined a book or movie for me. (Mission impossible 3 was terrible, but there is a scene where Tom Cruise dies, and if he had stayed dead I really would have enjoyed it, the protagonist NEVER dies.)


    • Yes, sometimes you’re watching a movie or reading a book and the main character dies, and you’re like, “wow, they’re brave to kill the main character off, but it fits the story so well.” And then the character comes back and ruins the message completely.


  3. Good luck for your exam.


  4. Alexia

    Sometimes, when I finish a book with a sad ending, I go through this “How could you do this to me, (enter the author’s name) ?” phase, but then I realize that it was the only way it could have ended and I accept it. It’s a really strange feeling. And yeah, some happy endings are just way too happy to be believable. But I think the most important is to make sure there is an ending. I mean, not everything can be resolve, but you still have to have this closure that tells you it’s really over. Some authors go with an open ending, where they leave everything more or less on hold, and I guess they want the reader to decide how they want it to end, but I find it awfully frustrating.


    • Yes, I feel that way too! I need some kind of closure, even if it’s bad closure. It’s worse to leave everything up in the air, and you have no idea what what happened. Then I don’t know why I read the book in the first place.


  5. Bleazy02

    I can’t decide how my story should end, I have two perfect endings, one happy and one sad, and both work so well that I can’t choose which one! Of course I’ve taken the LotR route and made them bode Bittersweet, but one is far more depressing with a single gleam of happiness and the other is that one great ray of happiness after a long time of dark moments that is what you wanted each character to feel. A) The hero and the love interest get married, live peacefully in the country side, remember the dead and such, dark lord gone forever etc. world at peace again, but everything is kind of fucked up forever now, like the world is scarred beyond belief, the creator of the universe has been destroyed, it’s basically a post-apocalypse now, but the world is rising from the ashes. B) the love interest dies, and the hero ends up alone, all his friends are dead and he’s left alone to rebuild the shattered remains of the fallen world. He’s sad and broken, and is changed forever from his ordeal, but has the strength to lead the world into a golden age of peace after the villain is, again, stopped. These endings are so perfect, they look much better when fully written than summarized. Tell me what you all think, this is going to be the next big thing!


    • Hi! Sounds like quite an epic story you’re working on! It’s really hard to say which ending is best without, as you say, actually reading them – without knowing the story that comes before it too. 🙂 Personally I tend to want happier conclusions, like your first one, because I find enough depressing things in reality not to want the same in my fiction. BUT many authors do use ‘downer’ endings, and they can be absolutely the best way to end certain types of stories. Definitely ask someone who’s seen your work as a whole, and can better judge what the overall message of your story leans towards. (An overall optimistic tone, or a pessimistic one?)



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