Happily Ever After?

October 13, 2009 at 12:00 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments

And they all lived happily ever after. A single phrase has become synonymous with Disney motion pictures and fairytales alike. I can’t remember a story in my early childhood where the princess wasn’t saved, where she didn’t marry the prince or find whatever enchanted object she was looking for. There is always a cleverly disguised moral, but in the end happily ever after is a given. I suppose when we are young, we don’t want to think about all those details.  Cinderella gets the prince, lives happily ever after… the end… full stop…

Let’s face it: did I, as a child, want to be read to sleep a story of the prince being a pyromaniac or the enchanted crown turning the princess into a toad? Of course not. When I was six, it was happily ever after or else.

But then I started to grow. With that growth came the sad realisation that life didn’t always imitate fairytales, and my book choices reflected that. Generally it was still happily ever after: the bad guy has a convenient exit, and the princess still becomes queen. But by this time it’s hidden. It’s no longer a specific “and they all lived happily ever after.” By now it’s taking the form of life somehow returning to normal, or better than normal. The best friends who were fighting are best friends again.  The lost puppy is returned unharmed.

But by the time we hit the YA range, happily ever after is not a given. Generally something happens to make it seem more real to life.

**SPOILERS AHEAD: In Harry Potter, we got hit with the death of half of the decent characters. In the Hunger Games, Rue dies along with all the other tributes, and in To Kill a Mockingbird – well, we all know what happens there.**

By this time, while we still want a happy ending, we accept that a happy ending does not always come without strings attached.  Not everybody will survive; some conflict will remain unresolved. It is the ultimate metaphor for a teenager’s life. Life isn’t perfect, and we young adult writers know exactly how to capitalise on the fact.

I’ll admit it to you all now. I thrive on the angst, the guilt and the tension as I sit on my bed rushing through the pages hoping for a happily ever after – but not too happy. There has to be a realistic balance.

There are, of course, stories that buck the trend and decide to go with the clearly unhappy ending. As much as the unhappy ending could be the difference between a good book that ends in a warm fuzzy feeling and a great book that has you thinking for hours about why you suddenly don’t have the warm fuzzy feeling, it’s a personal thing, but I find myself hoping for that warm fuzzy feeling.

Back to what I’m actually supposed to write about: writing. I more want to pose the question to you readers out there. How do you feel about happy endings? Do you prefer sad endings? Do you ever think about future reader’s thoughts when you write, or do you write how you feel the story ends?


~ Leasie



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  1. Interesting post! I like Nicola Morgan’s take on the ending in YA novels: “It has no visible boundaries or safety-nets and may be frightening, cutting-edge, brutally honest, shocking or sad, (but doesn’t have to be) but in fact there are boundaries of acceptability and hope: it takes them to the edge but will not throw them over.” http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2009/03/define-teenage-novel.html


    “In a teenage novel the trick is for the author to make it seem as though there is NO safety net: the worst possible thing could happen. However, secretly, there is a safety net: you will not allow the very worst thing (loss of hope) to happen because you care for your reader.” http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2009/02/common-mistakes-when-writing-for.html

    Basically, I think, no matter how much you put the characters through, there has to be a note of hope and optimism at the end. Because after all, it’s lit for and about people who are looking at their whole futures stretched out in front of them.

  2. Personally I long for that happy ending, but if it’s too “Happily Ever After”, then I moan. Haha. In my books, the endings I go for tend to be ‘Oh look, everything comes together…but we’ve lost this much/so and so had died/ life’s not perfect but this is pretty good.’

    There’s a fine line, I think – obviously there are non-traditional endings where everything ends badly, but for the traditional, you wanna give ’em the warm-and-fuzzies whilst not making everything too damn perfect.


    Great post!

  3. I can’t stand miserable endings. If things don’t get better, or if the MC/Love Interest/my favourite character dies at the end, I tend to throw things. =D

    • are you my long lost twin?

  4. Erm, Prim doesn’t die. Thats Katniss siste, I think you mean Rue. That death was so sad :(

    • You’re so right….. Whoops….

      *Disclaimer: Yeah okay i was wrong… Prim is alive and kicking and Rue is ….well…..not

  5. I like happy endings, for the most part, in YA books that I read, but I prefer only the possibility of them in books that I write. Books don’t have to have perfectly happy endings but I don’t like it when the entire outlook appears bleak either.

  6. Nice post! Like you said – I’m a fan of happy endings, but not TOO happy. As long as I feel the character will be able to move past whatever has happened, I’m content. Still, I’m okay with conflict obviously continuing past the ending. It makes you think the characters are really living outside of the book itself.

  7. I like satisfying ends. Sometimes that may be a happy ending. Sometimes it may be an ending like in “Inexcusable,” which no one would call happy but is very satisfying. I like endings where the main character learns and grows and the story wraps up. I don’t like overly dark or miserable endings!

  8. I’m more of a bittersweet ending person myself. I love books that do a good job of balancing the tragedy and loss with the glory and happiness of it all–because that’s the epitome of life, isn’t it?

    (But still–sometimes Happily Ever Afters are a breath of fresh air. :p)

  9. I’m a total HEA girl. I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered a book that was so HEA that I wanted to groan (if there’s ever been an obvious one, you expected it because of the type of book it was, such as a Cinderella story).

    My stance on Harry Potter was that Harry should die and Neville should kill Voldemort. Why? Because all of the readers were old enough now to appreciate that sometimes the world is a dark, cruel place, and that sometimes good people lose. I wanted the side of light to take a body blow, even though they’d still win in the end. But I really like J.K. Rowling’s ending. I think she found a good balance.

    My current WIP has a sort of HEA ending — almost more than I’m comfortable with — but I try to balance it with reminders that the story isn’t over yet, that tomorrow the characters are still going to get up and go on with their lives.

  10. I am debating still on whether to have a horrible ending that makes you want to punch someone (that is completely unpredictable) or a cute, sweet, predictable ending. I really want a bad ending, though. But I just don’t know.

    And, great post Leasie. Really nice. A+

  11. I don’t like tragic endings. Maybe my emotions are easily toyed with, but after reading a sad ending, I feel listless and depressed, and I wonder why it had to end like that.

    And a book with a happy ending? I put it down with a smile on my face. Not to say I like everything wrapped up with a neat little bow. Endings where everyone ends up paired off and happy-ever-after to boot annoy me.

    I realise, now, that not everyone is going to get a happy ending. I prefer the bittersweet ending: happy, but at the cost of something precious. A character close to the MC died. Someone didn’t get what they wanted. And on, and on. There has to be balance–sadness to counter the happiness.

  12. I prefer happy endings because it provides closure for me. The movies that have characters going their separate ways, or ending up with someone else, really suck. And the kind that leave you hanging or one othe main characters dies would just leave me pissed.

    My first two books–romanace, of course–there’s a happy ending. With the series I’m writing, there’s no romance. Well, at least not yet. But it’s more a sense of “The bad guy has been caught, my assignment is done.” I tend to write how the story should end, not what my potential readers think the ending should be. I write for me and no one else.

  13. As much as I love a happy ending, I know what’s real and what’s not. I’m a very big pessimist. Although happy endings are great at points, I feel like I’m being jipped because things are played out just a little too smoothly. When looking back on the sad endings I’ve read, I feel remorse, but am left with a powerful feeling with it. Bittersweet closings and endings that aren’t so happy are extremely hard to write. I find myself crying many tears as I type and wish so much to hit that backspace. We all want to write that “happily ever after”. But sometimes, even the saddest ending can be the best.

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