Realism, happy endings, writing

When I started writing I understood how to write a happy ending. And then, for a while, I lost that magic.

I used to think that my writing had to be serious and dark, the kind of thing you could cut yourself on. I thought of this as the kind of art that real artists produce. Perhaps everyone goes through this stage, and it’s not entirely wrong. I don’t think I could have gotten to where I am now without that, and I doubt that serious themes and tragic endings will ever completely leave my repertoire. But recently, I’ve been struggling with a different beast. I want to find a way for my characters to reach some kind of Happily Ever After, and I worry about having the ability.

Writing happy endings is something that is often downplayed. Writing positive, hopeful stories that are realistic enough to keep the audience engaged is actually really hard. It’s easy to look at the world and see grimdark and sadness. It’s what we’re wired for. Our brains look for threats, our bodies remember negative emotions more easily than positive ones. And story thrives on conflict. How do you bring the character out of that conflict and into something that is, if not better than where they started, at least a place where they can be at peace?

A lot of writers do this very well. Ilona Andrews, for example, writes wonderful romances which nonetheless deal with gritty, dark events and high body counts. At no point do I feel like this writing duo’s romances are unrealistic, despite that. They do not shoehorn their characters into contentment – the characters make it there, sometimes despite themselves.

I think there is a lot to be said for the finesse that it takes for a happy ending to feel natural to a story. An ending doesn’t have to be romantic or wrapped in a neat bow to give the reader a since of hope or resolution for the characters. The more I read, the more I value that skill in an author, and hope I can manage the same.

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