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The Ending Debate: Make Mine Happy!

The debate continues!

The other day a group of us started chatting about the endings to stories and what we prefer. We quickly discovered that we all like something a little different, and decided to make a debate out of it.

Lisa Hall-Wilson started us out with her point of view. For her, a realistic ending, even if it means people die or things don’t work out, is the way to go. If you haven’t read her take, please check it out. Different points of view is what makes a debate fun!

As for me, I’m a sucker for a happy ending. You know, the boy gets the girl (or boy gets the boy, or girl gets the girl, if that’s what you’re into), love conquers all, the bad guy gets it, all problems are solved, they ride off into the sunset and you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that things are not only okay, they are amazingly wonderful.

My friends tease me about it. “That’s not a you movie” they’ll tell me. They know. If it doesn’t end well, I’m not a happy girl.

Take, for example, the movie Up Close and Personal. I was so upset when I left that movie that I literally shouted at everyone. I felt cheated, robbed, and pissed off beyond belief. I wasn’t the only one, judging by the tears and answering angst from the women near me. My husband started laughing about ten minutes from the end because he saw it coming and knew what my reaction would be. It would have been a great movie if the last ten minutes had been left on the cutting room floor. I will never understand their need to include them. It was mean, and a cheap cop-out. A stunt done deliberately to pull on heart strings. I felt manipulated, and betrayed. That is not how I want to feel when I leave a theater.

Another one that hit me completely wrong was Up! Yes, the animated feel-good whatever. I didn’t feel good. I left that movie, sat in my car in the parking lot, and cried. I’ve never seen an animated comedy that opened with a funeral. I wasn’t expecting it. All I focused on was that poor man and the fact that he lost his wife.

I pictured myself in the same situation and life felt useless, futile, and above all I was terrified that it would happen to me. I would grow old, my husband would die, and I’d have nothing to show for it. After that, I didn’t care what happened. Nothing was going to cheer me up. Not even the talking dog. The worst part was I went into that movie expecting a pure comedy and what I got was depression, followed by silly bits. Talk about a betrayal! If it’s going to be depressing I want to know up front. I can handle it better if I’m prepared. But in general, that’s not what I’m looking for in a story.

What I’m looking for is something like Ever After (yes, fairy tale, but it makes my point). If you haven’t seen it, you really should. It’s an example of a revamped fairy tale done right, as opposed to Snow White (I won’t start ranting again, really). Of course we know that the prince is going to end up with Cinderella. But the way it’s done makes my heart sing. There’s at least ten minutes of sticking it to the evil stepmother, then life for Cinderella as she moves into the castle and the arms of her Prince Charming. As the movie closed, I felt peace and contentment. They were, indeed, going to live happily ever after. Ahhhhh.


Does that mean I thought they didn’t have the odd squabble or that the toast is never burnt? Of course not. But they had each other, evil was vanquished, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. It made me happy. Even one of the evil stepsisters had her own happily ever after. I smiled from ear to ear when I left the theater, all seven times.

“Life is hard, it’s messy, it’s ugly, it’s unfair. But if it wasn’t, would we really understand the treasure to be had in joy and love? Without the bad, would we recognize the good when we saw it?” —Lisa Hall-Wilson

I hear this argument a lot. Yes, there will always be bad along with good. Yes, life is hard and messy and unfair and all those things. But I don’t pay to see a movie or read a book for “real life.” You might guess I”m not a huge fan of war movies. You’d be right. There’s no happiness in war. No, not even that scene where the guy hugs his girl at the airport when he comes home. It’s not enough. That scene right before where all his friends died in an explosion just did me in and I didn’t even notice that blip with the girl. I will feel that horror for the rest of the week. I take it with me where it lives in my soul and festers. No, that doesn’t inspire me to go volunteer with refugees or do something to help the homeless. It inspires me to sit in a dark room, eat a gallon of ice cream, and maybe yell at the cat.

If I wanted real life, I’d look around me, for free. Every day, real life happens to real people I know and love. I read, and watch movies, to escape and to dream of something different. Something better. Preferably with magic and unicorns and fairies and maybe some psychic abilities, although I do enjoy a good mystery or thriller without those things as well. Anything that allows me to leave my own world and enter one that makes sense works for me. In my dream world, there are struggles, yes, but in the end the bad guy gets it, the good guys win, the guy gets the girl, and you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are happy, and will be happy, and that life is full of good things worth living and fighting for.

No, it’s not real life. And that’s exactly why I like it.

How do you like your stories to end? Are you on team happily ever after? How does your favorite movie or book end? Tell me in the comments!

The blog debate continues all week. On Friday, all 4 of us are hosting a Twitter chat at 5pm EST on The Ending Debate. Come hang out with us at #storyend and join the discussion!

Monday – Lisa Hall-Wilson – The Ending Debate: Make Mine Realistic
Tuesday – Melinda VanLone – The Ending Debate: Make Mine Happy
Wednesday – Marcy Kennedy – The Ending Debate: Make Mine Hopeful
Thursday – Diane Capri – The Ending Debate: Make Mine Open
Friday – Twitter Debate 5pmEST #storyend


49 comments on… “The Ending Debate: Make Mine Happy!”

  1. Well, Melinda, you certainly know how to make your argument! This piece hangs together and I totally get your point. I know lots of people who feel the same way. Including — from time to time — me! I’m not saying I’m capitulating, of course. Remember why you guys made me go last!!!!

    • I can’t wait to hear your side! Lisa made good points as well, and I know a lot of people who agree with her. I’m having a great time seeing the different points of view!

  2. Well, I was all set to say how wrong you are when I read the title. But, I partially agree with you. I don’t like the death endings. Or depressing movies. And an army movie? No way! It’s way too realistic and I like to pretend that my brother is going to Disneyland when he’s deployed to Afghanistan. I don’t actually need the reality. I am a person who feels things deeply, like you obviously do. I am ok with the movies and shows that make me cry because they are so sweet. Oh, there was a commercial out for Father’s Day that had me bawling. And, I cry at CSI: Miami.

    But, the part about Happliy Ever After is that it ties everything up to much. I want to know that evil is vanquished, but I don’t want to see the wedding scene between the boy and the girl. That tells me it’s really over. And I like to just know that it’s going to happen, and then I can imagine it anyway I want. Not depressing, but not tied up, that’s how I like my endings.

    • Ah, I see you’ll really enjoy what Marcy has to say tomorrow! And Diane as well. You’ll be more on that side of the spectrum.

      I should have mentioned one of my favorite movies is Nanny McPhee LOL. Yes, it ends with a wedding! And I am so happy! Whenever I’m in a bad mood I watch that movie.

      I know it makes it sound like I only watch fairy tales. Nothing could be further. I loved The Fugitive, and a lot of other thrillers and mysteries. I love NCIS. A good who-done-it is very satisfying for me. No wedding necessary 😉

      But I want to SEE it tied up. I suppose that’s the difference. If I don’t, my mind tends to go down roads never intended and I end up with the worst possible scenario.

      • I think Marcy is going to get the protest vote. You know – those who don’t want the saccharine happy endings – but can’t handle the straight realism either.

  3. This was such a good piece. You and I are very close in opinion. My take on it is slightly different, and my arguments for my stance are slightly different, but you and I could easily watch movies together and come away with the same opinion, we’re that close. We could also easily recommend books to each other.

    I also won’t watch war movies. Being the wife of someone who served a combat deployment to Iraq (even though we weren’t together at the time), I’ve seen the aftermath. I’ve lived the aftermath. That girl at the airport is that one who’s going to have to convince him when he wakes up screaming in the middle of the night that he still has his legs. She’s going to be filled with gut-wrenching fear as he deals with survivor’s guilt. She’s going to be the one who has to leave events she wants to be at early because his PTSD took over and he can’t handle the crowds anymore. War movies are never happy even if the man comes home alive. Are those movies realistic? Yes. But do they do anything good for me? Not a chance. In fact, I think they do much more harm than their “realistic” depiction could ever do good.

    • Shame we don’t live near each other, I could use a movie watching buddy! But at least we can do book recommendations and commiserate over endings that didn’t satisfy.

      I’m still fascinated that you and Lisa are writing a story together. I’m imaging the discussions 😀

      • Hehe. It helped us when we finally realized why we were butting heads in so many places. There are still spots where one of us feels like the story went too far in one direction. It has been a learning experience.

      • hehe – I keep her honest and she keeps our characters alive 😛 Perfect balance. I think the most frustrated I’ve seen her is when I returned an edit where I killed off a minor character. She kinda snapped and I had to let them live and squelch a little on the realism.

  4. I love happy endings when they fit the story. (Yep, a realist here. ;)) I do have to say, though, that there’s an audience and reader for just about everything. I don’t think you’re remotely alone in your view. Looking forward to more discussion. Feel like I’m watching y’all on TV! Wonder what the ending will be like… (ha)

    • hehe we’re having fun this week sharing our opinions. Someday maybe we should do a Hangout or podcast! Please do join in on the Twitter Chat on Friday. It’s more fun if everyone chimes in. Be thinking of examples of stories that had a perfect ending for you.

  5. I have a lot of friends on your team. I go to a lot of movies alone. My husband likes happy endings – he gets too emotionally involved in a story to enjoy the realism like I do. Give me a slice of reality any day – keeps my feet solidly on the ground.

    • My husband doesn’t mind realism, but he doesn’t like the endings where the wife dies or things like that. He’d rather not think about those type of things. Me? Obviously I want to live in the clouds and make sure my feet never, ever hit the ground 😀

      He watches some movies alone *grin*. But we compromise on others. I think I need to meet your friends and you need to meet MY friends. Mine are more in your camp than my own. Ah well, it’s good we all don’t think alike. It keeps things interesting!

  6. Pingback: Lisa Hall-Wilson - Freelance Writer

  7. Ever After is one of my favourite films.
    I prefer HEA myself. I recently watched Dear John and waited patiently for some sort of happiness to happen for the characters. I should have quit after the first half hour 🙂

    • Mine too! And Princess Bride. Pretty sure I have that one memorized. I knew better than to watch Dear John. Sometimes you can just feel an unhappy ending coming from a mile away. That one had all the red flags, even in the promos. That would be one I’d go read the synopsis on Wikipedia before I’d invest in watching it. Yes, I cheat lol. Or I get my friends to tell me if it’s a “me” movie. I also don’t like movies where everyone dies at the end. Mob movies tend to be like that. To me, that’s just a pointless waste of time and screen space.

      I’m trying to remember if I’ve read a book that had an ending I didn’t like. I don’t think so, mostly because I can tell while I’m reading if it’s going in that direction and then I sneak a peak at the end LOL. So I’ll put the book down and not finish it. I think the closest thing to it was the Hunger Games series. I read all three, but the third had some parts that didn’t sit well with me at all. I did read to the end though.

      Oh, and I was totally pissed off that Fred died in the last Harry Potter book! Or George. One of them LOL.

  8. As a romance writer. It’s got to have a good ending and a realistic one too.

    I totally get that other people love a cliffhanger but even if it’s a series if the book doesn’t stand alone then I won’t buy the next one. And I know readers who spit nails in reviews if a story is not finished and simply a way of ‘teasing’ the reader to buy the next books.

    Any writer who does that, whether it’s romance, adventure or paranormal or whatever is totally unprofessional imho. And deserves the solid spanking they’ll get from readers. They’ve broken trust with a reader which means they’ll never be bought again. I see it all the time in reviews on Goodreads, Kindle boards etc. Not good. Nothing worse than a writer trying to be too clever. He/she is putting him/herself between the reader and the story. Pure vanity.

    Right, rant over. Love you guys!

    • I don’t think anything frustrates my husband more than a cliffhanger ending. He hates trilogies because of that. I don’t mind some things being untied for the sake of a series, but the main problem of the story I’m reading better be solved by the end of the book. Or if it’s a trilogy I’ll give them all three books because I knew going in that the story would continue. It might be all about expectations really. If I expect that the story goes on, I’m a little more on board with the cliffhanger. If I wasn’t expecting that, then yeah I’m miffed. But cliffhanger is preferable to killing off my favorite character or shoving everyone into the pit of despair. I guess at the end of the day I’d rather be anxious than depressed lol.

  9. You commenters are starting to see why the four of us thought this would be such a fun debt, hmmmm? Melinda, what was wrong with The Princess Bride? I seem to recall that it has a happy ending, doesn’t it? Maybe I’m not remembering correctly because of the “ROOS” 🙂 And Emma, Dear John is a Nicholas Sparks story. No Sparks book has a happy ending. Someone always dies. I never read/watch him any more because of that. And this will give Lisa and Marcy fits, but even though his endings are full of both “realism” AND “hope” I still don’t like them because they are so predictable — one of the main characters (or both) will die and the other carries on (or dies). And CC, I can see you don’t read series fiction!! LOL!!!

    • Oh, nothing is wrong with Princess Bride! I LOVE it :-D. I almost made my log line “Have Fun Storming The Castle!” lol. It was Dear John I was saying wasn’t a “me” movie. Good to know that about Nicholas Sparks. I’ll be sure to avoid him completely lol

      This is fun! 😀

    • haha – I love Nicholas Sparks – but The Notebook kinda bugged me. I mean – how likely is it to die in bed together like that? It tied up all the loose ends in a nice pretty bow. Boo. The book was much better. Noah didn’t die.

  10. Great argument, Melinda. There are times when I love a HEA ending. But I loved the movie UP, and I can enjoy the catharsis of movies that don’t have an upbeat ending. My tears flow for both types of movies. 🙂 But I have to say that sometimes, the HEA ending hurts more because life isn’t like that at all.

    Oh, man, Marcy. I know what you mean. My husband is a bit farther removed from his time in service. And there was definitely a time when we did NOT watch war movies at all. Now, sometimes. But a friend of his is still terribly disabled by his PTSD. My heart goes out to you and your sweetie. {{{hugs}}}

    • I think I posted somewhere else, but I can’t stand crying in movies or at books. Crying leaves me depressed, with a stuffy nose and a headache. It’s not cathartic. It’s miserable, and remains that way for at least a full day if not longer, depending on what caused it. I just feel it too much, and not in a good way. HEA endings, whatever they are, leave me feeling upbeat, happy, and hopeful. I can then look at my life and think “yes, I can do this.” My thoughts after a movie or book makes me cry? “why bother.” Not good! lol

  11. Melinda, I totally agree. If I wanted unresolved or unhappily resolved ‘entertainment’ I’ll read literary fiction, NOT genre fiction. I want the killer to be caught, the love to be recognized, the people to end happy. Why? Because I get all that other stuff in my day to day life all the time.

    Right now, a 46 yo staff member of mine, a widow with 2 children aged 10 and 14 is dying of lung cancer. From the day she got an ugly ‘cold’ to today? & weeks. She has a few months left to live. Her kids were born here but have no family in Canada, so after she dies, they will be moved to Hong Kong to live with family. She can’t talk for more than a few minutes because she’s getting so little oxygen into her body. She’s in constant pain but the pain killers make her dizzy and nauseous.

    You tell me, do I need a sad ending to a movie or a book? Nope. it would be too much. thanks for so eloquently stating my point of view.

    • Awwww! {{HUGS}} Oh those poor children. And that poor woman. Knowing she’s dying, and leaving her children to face such a frightening future alone. Oh oh oh. 🙁 Yes, that is indeed why I read genre fiction and why i demand a happy ending. Because life doesn’t generally have them. And I’m tired of that!

      See? That stuff kills me. 🙁 And in the back of my mind I think “that could be me.” If I’m going to think that, I’d like it to include unicorns and a Prince Charming!

      {{HUGS}} to those children, whoever they are. Wow.

  12. Melinda, you and Diane convinced me that I had to come over and check out the discussion…. And, umm, well… Hope you don’t mind, but as sad as the Ellie and Carl piece from Up! Yes was, I thought it was beautiful. Sad, but beautiful… because they so clearly loved each other and they had that when so many other people don’t. They had dreams and they had smiles; they had sorrows too. But they had love.

    That said… That was a sweet scene in Ever After, and I can really get into that kind of ending as well. (Secret confession… my favorite movie has always been Overboard. How’s that for corny?)

    However, my favorite ending in a book would be the one that promises more to come. I love, love, LOVE my serializations. I’m big into characters.

    • I’m not sure I subscribe to the whole “better to have loved and lost” theory ;-).

      I LOVE Overboard hehe. It’s corny and silly but fun! You’ll be a big fan of Marcy and Diane’s point of view. Please check out Marcy’s take on it this morning!

  13. Melinda, I’m a happily-ever-after girl, like you are. I want my movies and story to end upbeat. I don’t want to go away depressed. If I watch a movie are read a book that ends sadly, it takes a long time for me to shake the feeling. So I’d rather just not include those in my reading or watching material.

  14. Pingback: The Ending Debate: Make Mine Hopeful | Marcy Kennedy

  15. My daughter told me Up was horribly depressing, so I haven’t watched it. I like a satisfying ending. I don’t want to figure out 30 minutes into it that the boyfriend will die, she’ll be pregnant and she’ll marry the poor writer instead of the wealthy guy. (Thinking of a specific movie I just watched Sunday.)

    A good ending can have some sad aspects to it and I’m ok with that – just don’t kill someone off for the shock value – it should mean something, if you have to do that. George R R Martin killed his main character in the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire series and his readers kept reading.

    • To be fair, if you skip the first 10 min of Up!, the rest isn’t depressing at all. Silly and non sensible with a few ridiculous plot twists but not depressing. But it’s a running theme that his wife has died and he’s bitter and depressed, because I think in the end you’re supposed to learn that life goes on and blah blah blah. lol. There’s funny bits in it. The dog is the best part, it just wasn’t enough to cheer me up after depressing the hell out me lol.

      I think George RR Martin fans are a bit on the sadistic side *grin*. When I look at his stories, it’s the overall society that is the main character…something he hasn’t killed off yet. The people you meet are pawns, or bit players that make the society move. Not my kind of thing, though. Too much like war, and we all know how I feel about that lol

  16. YES! Ever After is my favorite movie of all time. I own several copies so there can be one near each T.V. I think I’ve seen it a hundred or more times, sometimes in French just to mix it up. Why? Because of exactly what you just wrote. It’s a fairtytale yes, but it has a happy ending that is so satisfying I always walk away feeling better about life.

    I don’t think books and movies always need a HEA, but they darn sure better give me hope at the very least. My friends are like yours ~ they know me and will say, ‘don’t see this movie’ or ‘don’t read this book’ because they know I’ll end up yelling at the cat. You and I are eerily similar on that point, I must say! I take movies and books personally. I invest in the characters to the point that their struggles become mine, I live with them for weeks after i finish a book. So if their story ends tragically I have a hard time shaking off my sadness for them.

    Team HEA all the way!

    • I’m ashamed to say my copy of Ever After is in storage. I think I might download it on iTunes. Just for the smile it gives me :-). That and Nanny McPhee.

      I have to say, before I went to see Brave I read the plot synopsis to be sure it wasn’t another Up! situation lol. I’m happy to say it’s not. You’ll like it, if you haven’t already seen it. 🙂 Yay! Team HEA!

  17. Thank you for this wonderful post, Melinda.

    Aww, I hadn’t seen Ever After before but after the love scene I really want to. I’m a mushy romantic at a heart but I can also appreciate some sadness and cathartic power of crying. But the end needs to be happy or offer some light at the end of the tunnel. Like in Gone With The Wind. There’s always another day.

    Genre fiction is my choice all the way. I hate war movies but can read about war in fantasy books. It is somehow more distanced. I like G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire but I don’t think that Joe Abercombie’s dark gritty books with total anti heroes is my cup of tea.

    So I’m propably in Marcy’s hopeful camp too.

    I loved reading all the comments and debates. I’ll likely miss the chat on Friday due to time zones (wrong side of the pond). But what a fun idea this all is 🙂

    As for the comments, I’m so sorry for Marcy’s husband and his friend who still struggles with PSTD. And for Louise’s poor staff member and her children 🙁 Much hugs to the kids from me too.

  18. I’m sorry Melinda. I meant to comment the other day. You guys are all getting me at a bad time. Ugh. I got to say, when it comes to romance I have to have that happy ending or I am not satisfied. But for a story in general, I tend to lean towards hopeful, possibly open. I need to hear Diane’s argument. But I would say looking at the stories (books, not short stories) I write they fall on the side of hopeful. So I guess I am scooting over by Marcy. Scoot, scoot. Don’t hate me. 😐 LOL.

    And Up was terribly depressing and I also had a hard time getting past the opening of the movie. Not a good way to start in my opinion.

    • I’m glad I wasn’t the only one depressed by Up!

      And no worries, I think we all like different types of endings at different times anyway. And I can’t begrudge Marcy and Diane because they make great points. Lisa does too, but don’t tell her I said so *grin*

  19. Have to admit, I am a sucker for the HEA, as long as it’s done well. Even though it’s fluff, it’s candy, who doesn’t want a little candy now and then?

  20. Pingback: The Ending Debate: Make Mine Open | Diane Capri – Licensed to Thrill

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  22. Sorry I’m late to the party but I’ve have major computer issues this week and I am playing catch up Melinda. Please forgive! In adding my two cents worth, I am a cup is half full kind of girl, so I vote for a hopeful, if not happy ending. It is the purpose of reading/watching a great story to escape from our reality. We want to feel good at the end of our 12 hour journey. We root for our MC throughout many pages and we want to see him/her succeed. Even if it is in some small way. Those are books we read over and over again. Thanks Melinda! This is a fun blog hop! 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by Karen! Any time you make it to the party is the right time. The cupcakes are still on the table 😀 And try to stop by for the Twitter chat tomorrow. 5:00 pm eastern, at #storyend

      Be sure to visit Diane’s take on this. I think you’re on her team 😉

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