I recently read I book I both enjoyed and admired a great deal, right up until the beautiful, satisfying, tragic end. Since it was a fiction based on actual people, I was compelled to read more about them, and that's when I learned that the love story between the real-life characters did not end in death, but marriage. So why didn't the book end that way?
Of course, some genres have a required format to their endings. A mystery must be solved. A romance must end happily. Commercial and literary fiction are more open as far as genre convention, and often that means the ending is more open as well. But in the book I read, the author avoided the romance-genre happy ending in
order to conform to a literary-fiction convention of a tragic or
bittersweet ending. In this case, it's a greater compromise to truth.
I like a happy ending. A tragic one can be satisfying and right, but
even better is a satisfying, right ending where the characters have
gotten what they worked for and feel hope, not regret. I don't believe tragedy is more literary than comedy. A well-written and plotted happy ending isn't less realistic. It's all a matter of when you end the story.
A wedding is often the end of a book, but it's the beginning of a marriage. We know that real
marriages are not happy-ever-after. They are partnerships, negotiations, and hopefully happy-most-of-the-time. So if you end the book at a declaration of love, it's a happy ending. If you end it when the couple has suffered a grievous loss and isn't sure whether they can go on, it's sad. If you end it when they overcome the loss, happy again.
Life goes on after happy endings. It goes on after tragic ones. But usually I prefer my books to end at the happy moments. It makes the living part easier to manage.
About Kell Andrews: Kell Andrews writes picture books and middle grade novels. Deadwood,
her middle-grade contemporary fantasy about a cursed tree, is out now
from Spencer Hill Middle Grade.