Friday, June 3, 2011

What is a happy ending?

I read a lot of craft books when I decided to turn the ideas in my head into novels and there always was so much emphasis on that first chapter. I agree that the first chapter is very important. It is what sets the tone. It is what potential agents/publishers see. But what about the end? Will we be stoned to death if we don’t write that picture perfect ending, where are hero and heroine ride off into the sunset? What about cliffhangers? Is there a cliffhanger that is too much? Right now I’m thinking about endings a lot since I’m currently polishing the ending of my YA fantasy. And I’m not the only one. Recently I saw my friends at #WeWrite discussing endings as well.

My take on endings? I believe every ending needs to accomplish some arc. For example, when I decided that I wanted to write my YA fantasy series as a trilogy I created an outline for the overall series and then outlines for each book. The series has its overall plot arc, each character has their overall arc as well. Then each book has a purpose or something that it is out to accomplish. Another example, the big question to my heroine in book one is, who is she? At the end of book one readers will know the answer to the question, as will the heroine. So book one accomplishes its goal.

But (of course there is a but here) by answer the BIG question in book one it opens up other questions giving the reader a hook, AKA cliffhanger to keep reading.

A great example of this is Cassandra Clare’s ‘The Infernal Devices’ series. In the first book, ‘Clockwork Angel’ we are introduced to Tess Gray who at one time believed who she was but is thrown into a world where she discovers that she really doesn’t know who she is, or what she is at all. Spoiler, Spoiler, Spoiler. We learn, like Tessa that she is a downworlder. That is a fact, but neither of us, the reader or Tessa know what she is. So one question is answered only to open the door to other questions.

Some people don’t like cliffhangers. I hear readers complain, talking about how much they hate them. But by hating them, you’re proving how effective they are. As The Mortal Instruments Examiner at, I cover news stories related to the popular YA series by Cassandra Clare, ‘The Mortal Instruments’ and ‘The Infernal Devices.’ Clare is one of the best writers at cliffhangers and her latest book, ‘City of Fallen Angels’ really leaves the reader on the edge of their seat. It was my job to report the fan reaction to the book and for every reader that complained about the ending I would ask, “Will you read the next book?” The answer was always the same, “Yes.”

We read for entertainment. As a writer I want my readers to finish a story satisfied that the spent the time reading it. I want them to feel some accomplishment of the character’s journey but still leave them wanting for more. It’s good writing and smart marketing. So do I believe in writing a picture perfect happy ending? In the end—yes. I want the girl to get the guy and for the bad guy to get his comeuppance, but they will have a rocky road getting there.

What do you think about endings? Please share your comment below.


My non-fiction, “Caring for Special Needs Dogs” is out by Who Dares Wins Publishing. A percentage of the profits go to The Texas A&M Foundation to the benefit of the Neurology Section, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinarian Medicine. You can get it for $2.99 on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Help special needs dogs find their happily ever after.


  1. Endings are a hassle for me and I always have to write them several times before I'm happy with them. I think it's because I'm ready for the book to be done so I can go back and start revising. So I rush the ending. And I guess since I know how they turn out, and there's no more chances for surprises, seeing the endings unfold aren't as interesting to me as the surprises that come out during a first draft.

    I tend to prefer happy endings over sad ones, (reading or writing) but they don't have to be perfect or magical happy endings. I want my protag to succeed at whatever they were after, but bad things and disappointments can come with that "success." But stories where the ending was always going to be sad are okay, because it's clear that's where the story is going.

  2. Not all endings need to be happy. But if they are sad there needs to be a good reason, otherwise I feel cheated.

  3. Love this! The ending depends on the genre. I write romance and the ending HAS to be happy, or it won't get published! And I would be disappointed if I picked up a romance and it didn't have a happy ending.

    But from what I can tell, romance is one of the few (or only) genres that dictates an absolute HEA. If I'm reading another genre and the ending isn't necessarily happy, I want to at least understand and feel the book ended the way it should.

    One example of a great book w/out a typical happy ending is The Solitude of Prime Numbers. It didn't end as I expected, but it ended exactly the way it should.